Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Douglas County
Produced by Liz Lee.

Part 1      Part 3

City of Omaha

Note: Please refer back to the Omaha first page, or to the Chapter Table of Contents for the complete listing.

SECTION 1:  The Early Days

The Overland Freight and Telegraph Lines | First Grist Mill
Omaha in 1860 | The Call for Troops | The City During the War
George Francis Train | An Indian Scare | A "Boom" in Business
Removal of the Capital

SECTION 3:  Omaha in 1870SECTION 4:  Present Day (1882)
SECTION 5:  CrimesSECTION 6:  Fires and Public Works
SECTION 7:  Health, Parks, MailSECTION 8:  The Press in Omaha
SECTION 9:  Press ContinuedSECTION 10:  Religious
SECTION 11:  Religious (cont.)SECTION 12:  Cemetery and Schools
SECTION 13:  Legal and MedicalSECTION 14:  Opera House-Hotels-Business
SECTION 15:  SocietiesSECTION 16:  Societies Continued
SECTION 17:  BusinessSECTION 18:  Manufacturing
SECTION 19:  Manufacturing (cont.)

20 - 46:

   ** Omaha Biographical Sketches **
| WOODARD~ZEHRUNG | West Omaha Precinct | Douglas Precinct |

List of Illustrations in Douglas County Chapter

City of Omaha 2


Before spring had run its course a freight line was established to Denver by Chapman and Coffman, and a line of nine wagons was started in that direction early in May. About the same time Congress appropriated $60,000 for the construction of a telegraph from some point on the Missouri River to the same city, and interest in the proposed venture found frequent expression among the citizens who regarded this undertaking, as also the location of the Pacific road, as then virtually determined. Soon after, work was commenced under the direction of Edward Creighton, a native of Belmont County, Ohio, where his youth and manhood were passed. He first came to Omaha in 1856, and in the following year located permanently in the city, where he erected a home on Chicago street, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth, still standing. After executing a contract providing for the construction of a telegraph line from Jefferson, Mo., to Fort Smith, Ark., he returned to the city of his adoption and engaged in the construction of the line between St. Joe and Omaha. Labor was prosecuted thereon diligently until October 5, 1860, when the latter city was in telegraphic communication with St. Louis, and from thence to all parts of the United States. On that date, the wires were all strung, a small battery put in operation, and the same evening one or two unimportant despatches were sent to and received from Brownsville. On the following day connections eastward were completed, and Omaha experienced the felicity of its first electric communication with points at a distance that had previously been comparatively out of hearing. What a transformation! Rivaling the most remarkable ever witnessed upon the lyric or dramatic stage. Six years before, the site of Omaha had been the favorite hunting and camping grounds of a tribe of Indians whose name it bore. Two years later the dwellers of a growing village watched the arrival of a boat with an anxiety grown feverish by long waiting. In those days of slow coaching and bad roads, letters that effected a transit from New York to Omaha in three weeks, were thought to make the trip in an almost incredible period. Now the scene is changed--Omaha was no longer "out of the world"-- the telegraph, a sure forerunner of railroads was present.

"Westward the star of Empire takes its way" and westward speeds every enterprise the developed resources of a young empire may demand. Some one has said that in those days "the emigrants' way over the western prairies was marked by camp fires long consumed and bones that bleached in the sunshine." But the experience of later years has demonstrated that the winds have scarcely scattered the ashes of the emigrant's camp fire ere the human sea which follows, deposits in their last resting place the remains of the unfortunate who may have fallen by the wayside. In the place of the camp or station, cultivated farms, comfortable dwellings and enterprising occupants are found, and flourishing villages have sprung up as if by magic. Who shall set a limit to Anglo Saxon enterprise?

Mr. Creighton was also the builder of the Pacific Telegraph Line. He had planned the enterprise in 1859, and soon after the completion of the route to St. Louis he succeeded in interesting the Western Union Company in the venture so far as to enlist their aid for a preliminary survey between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. This was in 1860, and notwithstanding the difficulties to be encountered he made the trip from Omaha to Salt Lake by stage in the prosecution of the enterprise. From the latter point, after acquiring the friendship of Brigham Young, he proceeded to Sacramento, there meeting J. H. Wade, who was heavily interested in the Western Union, through whose instrumentality arrangements were concluded by which Mr. Creighton was to build a line from Julesburg to Fort Laramie, thence through the South Pass to Salt Lake, to connect there (the Missouri and Western Line having been from Omaha to Julesburg) with a line to be put up by California parties.

Acting under the provisions of this contract Mr. Creighton began work in the spring of 1861, Congress granting a subsidy of $40,000 per annum for ten years to the Pacific Telegraph Company in which Mr. C. owned $100,000 of the capital stock. So sanguine was he of the success of the undertaking that he invested his available resources and became a one-tenth owner of the company's stock. It was a lively race between him and the builders of the California line as to who should reach Salt Lake first, and a wager was made that the victorious line should take the earnings of the other until that terminus was made. Mr. C. anticipated the arrival of the Pacific line by one week, reaching the city of the saints on the 17th day of October, 1861; in seven days after the lines were connected and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were united by the electric current.

Soon after this line was completed, the Western Union doubled their stock and the Pacific trebled theirs, when the latter rose from twenty cents to eight-five cents. Mr. Creighton sold one-third of his franchise for $85,000, netting $200,000 for his services in the enterprise.

Omaha is greatly indebted to Edward Creighton. In making the city the initial point for the Pacific Telegraph, he virtually made Omaha the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific, and as he made the city his base of operations, it was his influence that attracted capital and enterprise, which were employed in building it at a time when it would otherwise have been dormant for years.


The first grist mill to be erected in the city was built by Thomas Davis, in 1860, at the corner of Ninth and Jackson streets. Mr. Davis was an old pioneer and at one time President of the Common Council of the city of Omaha. It should be stated, however, that in 1855, E. L. Childs put on the first grist mill in the county, at a point on the Missouri river four miles below Omaha. It was run by steam and was destroyed by fire in 1859. The mill built by Mr. Davis was a small affair, 25x35, two stories high, with a saw mill beneath the same roof, requiring a large proportion of the steam power employed, and for nine years its buhrs were kept constantly in motion grinding out the staff of life for those who in the interval made Omaha a transient or permanent abiding place. In 1866 the mill was enlarged to 60x42 and three stories high, and business which at first was limited to grinding the grists, few and far between, of farmers, reached a business of a trifle over $100,000 annually.

OMAHA IN 1860.

All this time few straggling troops from the great wave of immigration continued to pass through Omaha in the direction of Pike's Peak, and numbers of disappointed gold hunters journeyed in the opposite direction. The hearts of those going out beat high in anticipation of a wealthy future, while many of those returning told dismal tales of crushed hopes and profitless labor. These incidents were of constant occurrence during the summer and fall, but they made business for the merchants and the wind that blew ill to one brought profit to the growing city. Another feature of excellence to be witnessed in this year was the land sales at the Land Office in Omaha, by direction of the President. They were unprecedentedly large and attracted an army of bidders, who became sources of profit to the business portion of the city.

Taken altogether the year of 1860 was marked by a degree of prosperity decidedly reassuring. The farms in the vicinity of the city, though few in number, began to be improved; the mines at Cherry Creek and Denver yielded their richest treasures, and many of the returning emigrants from these points were able to show from one to five hundred dollars as the result of their summer's labor. As an evidence of the favorable consideration in which Omaha was held by the miners it may be stated that $33,500 in gold dust was shipped eastward from the city on October 17, of this year. The public schools which had been established but a short time previously, were noted as particularly prosperous during this year. The whole number of scholars admitted 456, of whom 234 were males and the average daily attendance was quoted at 220, though the introduction of a new system and an entire want of funds for the first few months presented many difficulties that had to be disposed of. The expenses of their operation was upwards of $1,900, and was insufficient for the purposes mentioned. One principal and three subordinates were employed, and to supply the deficiency of funds for the payment of necessary bills, during the succeeding year, a small tuition fee was charged each pupil in attendance.

Politics assumed a wonderful prominence this summer. The candidates nominated at Charleston, Baltimore and Chicago possessed no inconsiderable following in Omaha, who made their presence felt and labored with a zeal born of intuition. Previous to this year to be a Democrat of the Jacksonian school, reliable and unchangeable, was the air-line route to political preferment. But the wave of popularity upon which they had seemed to float at ease up to this period, ebbed and left them stranded. The opposition prevailed in the contest, electing their several tickets, and a new order of things was ushered in with the convening of the Legislature in December. At the re-convening of that body, after the holidays, the threatenings of the impending conflict between the sections awed the people, and seriously paralyzed material interests. The important events of the early portion of the year included the veto of the bill passed by the Legislature interdicting slavery in the Territory, and the death of the Hon. Augustus Hall, Chief Justice of Nebraska; the one causing unbounded excitement and comment, the other unbounded sorrow and sympathy. The state of the country, too, impressed all with a well defined apprehension in which residents participated. A certain element was in favor of compromise, though the doctrine of coercion was openly advocated in the Legislative halls, in the pulpit and on the streets. The failure of a just and honorable basis of settlement to both parties must result in a recognition of the Confederate States, or a fierce, determined civil war, were the arguments advanced. In short, the condition of public sentiment pervading the North at that period was thoroughly typified in Omaha.

The city debt during 1860 had been somewhat reduced, and in March, 1861, aggregated a total of $46,000. Though expenses had been light, some complaint existed at the lack of improvements undertaken or completed by the municipal authorities. No streets had been graded, it was urged; the crossings had been suffered to remain in a lamentable condition, culverts and bridges had not been built, nor the Fire Department encouraged or assisted, nor had anything been done requiring an outlay of money. This was a melancholy fact, and it is by no means improbable that the unsettled condition of a number of the streets in later years can be attributed to this negligence. But in the race for existence as it was run in those days, the contest was often for life, and it is not to be wondered at if minor matters were often neglected.

Omaha still continued to be selected as the outfitting point for emigrants to the gold mines, as also the place of exchange and deposit for the proceeds of their working; and was more than liberally patronized by voyagers in "prairie schooners," proceeding thitherward or returning with their "pile."


Affairs remained nominal, so to speak, in the city up to the commencement of hostilities, when what had before seemed the rash and impracticable schemes of madmen, passed into history as accomplished facts. Immediately after the proclamation of President Lincoln calling for troops was promulgated, three military companies were organized in Omaha--one each of light artillery, dragoons, and infantry--and the war spirit pervaded the populace universally. Gov. Black issued a proclamation recommending the formation and organization of companies of troops, and immediate and vigorous action for a full defense against every danger however remote or contingent. It was not expected, however, that when mustered into the service they would be employed in protecting the frontier and garrisoning Western forts, left defenseless by the employment of regular troops in other service. In June, Capt. Baumer's company was mustered into the service, and other troops followed with each year during the war.

Upon the departure of one of the regiments, a lady whom the papers incited was the lineal descendant of one of the fearless women of Revolutionary times, donned soldier's attire throughout and took passage as one of the "boys." Her sex was undiscovered during the trip to St. Joe, but when the boat left that port and proceeded down the river the romance had an end, for she was discovered by her husband and sent back to Omaha, where it is said she still lives.

In addition to furnishing soldiers and officers, Omaha supported a soldier's aid society and contributed liberally of its means to the comfort of its volunteers in the field.


During the continuance of the war, beyond "spurts" of trade at long intervals, the city profited little, compared with municipal corporations nearer the scene of action, which, by reason of their developed resources, were capable of participating in accruing benefits. In 1862 the population of Omaha was scarcely equal to what it had been four years previous. The inhabited part of the city was bounded by Ninth, Fourteenth and Jackson streets, and Capitol avenue, not compactly built, but, save in the business portion, the houses were scattered about with delightful promiscuity. The bluffs, now so generally covered with handsome residences, were almost totally barren of edifices--the Capitol standing there solitary and alone. But in this year was made the first practical attempts at building the Pacific road, to which Omaha and Nebraska are so unequivocally indebted for the measure of prosperity which has since attended their growth. In that year, it will be remembered, Congress passed an act authorizing the construction of a trunk line west of Omaha to San Francisco. The act provided for a main line and two branches--the one to start from some central point on the western boundary of Iowa, the second from Sioux City, in the same State, and the third from the western boundary of Missouri--all to connect at the point of location on the 100th meridian. In 1863 the act was modified by changing the Sioux City and Missouri branches, and empowering the President of the United States to designate the point where the eastern terminal should be located.

There were no improvements of moment perfected nor many accessions made to the population during 1862, say those conversant with the facts; but when President Lincoln, in 1863, decided that the same should be "at a point on the western boundary of Iowa, opposite Section 10, in Township 15, north of Range 13, east of the 6th Principal Meridian, in the Territory of Nebraska," the city received its first real impetus since the disastrous panic of 1857. In December, 1863, the great undertaking was formally dedicated amid great enthusiasm and in the presence of a large gathering of people from Omaha and Council Bluffs, and ground broken on the west bank of the river, near the old telegraph crossing, with all the pomp and ceremony that the importance of the event demanded, the pick being handled by George Francis Train. Certainly this was the most important event of this year in the West, and has done more to secure the prosperity of that section than the labors of decades could have accomplished. From this point the success of Omaha was assured, though its effects did not become apparent until a year or more later, when work upon the route was begun and continued to completion.

Very few became citizens of Omaha in 1863, and the only improvements of the year now remembered, were the stables of Wilbur & Coffman, on the corner of Fifteenth and Farnam streets, now occupied by Boyd's Opera House, and the Commercial Block, corner of Thirteenth and Douglas streets, erected by Kennard & Hanscom.


Among those who came to Omaha for the first time and became prominently identified with her interests was George Francis Train, whom George D. Prentiss thus describes: "A locomotive that has run off the track, turned upside down with its cowcatcher buried in a stump and the wheels making a thousand revolutions a minute--a kite in the air which has lost its tail--a human novel without a hero--a man who climbs a tree for a bird's nest out on the limb, and in order to get it saws the limb off between himself and the tree--a ship without a rudder--a clock without hands--a sermon that is all text-- a pantomime of words--an arrow shot into the air--the apotheosis of talk--the incarnation of gab.--Handsome, vivacious, versatile, muscular, as neat as a cat, clean to the marrow, a judge of the effect of clothes, frugal in food and regular only in habits. A noonday mystery, a solved conundrum,--a practical joke in earnest--a cipher wanting a figure to pass for something: with the brains of twenty men in his head all pulling in different ways; not bad as to heart, but a man who has shaken hands with reverence."

In 1865 he bought 5,000 lots in Omaha, and in 1867 erected Cozzens' hotel. In connection with its origin the following anecdote is interpolated. He was a guest of the Herndon House, and one day sat at a table in the dining room opposite a broken window through which the wind was blowing at a lively rate. He complained of the annoyance and after every expedient had been exhausted except putting in a new glass he paid a darkey ten cents a minute to stand between himself and the draught until he had finished his dinner. He there vowed he would build another hotel immediately and that very afternoon purchased two lots and employed men to commence the foundations. Within sixty days he had the Cozzens' house completed at a cost of $40,000 and rented the same to the Cozzens, of West Point, N. Y., for an annual return of $10,500.

Early in 1864 business appreciated and all the avenues of trade were clogged with activity and excitement. The war was at its height, money was plenty and speculation rampant. Yet anomalous as it may seem, there were few new arrivals and excepting the brick block erected by Bemdorff & Megeath at the northwest corner of Thirteenth and Farnam streets, few improvements of a substantial character were either projected or completed.


Early in this year an Indian scare of more than ordinary dimensions occurred in the Territory. It was immediately subsequent to Quantrell's destruction of Lawrence, Kansas, and parties in Omaha had received anonymous communications admonishing them of a similar attack upon the city, to which valuables and money had been sent from the surrounding country for safe keeping. About this time a large band of Indians appeared on the west side of the Elkhorn River, and the residents fearing violence fled to Omaha for security. Upon their arrival business was suspended, a meeting convened at the court house and every precaution was taken to protect the inhabitants. Governor Saunders commanded that all able-bodied men in the Territory, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, who did not belong to some militia company meeting regularly for drill, should enroll themselves and form companies in accordance with the law. Under this proclamation four companies were organized in Omaha as follows:

Company A.--R. T. Broll, Captain; G. C. Yates and J. H. Barlow, Lieutenants.
Company B.--John Taffe, Captain; Edward Patrick and Abraham Deyo, Lieutenants.
Company C.--Jesse Lowe, Captain; E. Estabrook and O. B. Selden, Lieutenants; also a gun squad officered by E. P. Child and A. J. Simpson.

On the morning of August 24, 1864, families to the number of twenty from the south side of the Platte sought refuge in Omaha, and Capt. Taffe, with fifty mounted men, hurried to the vicinity of Forest City, but learning nothing of the Indians returned to Omaha. The expedition demonstrated the fact that no hostile Indians had made their appearance on the north side of the Platte and thus quieting apprehensions of an attack, quiet was restored, the settlers returning home. The fear of an attack by guerrillas was maintained, however, and strict vigilance observed for some time after. The home guards were drilled daily, and the stores, workshops, and places of business generally closed between the hours of four and six in the afternoon. All persons subject to military duty were enrolled, the militia forces within the city limits were placed under the command of Capt. Broll, the city was kept under guard day and night, and for the time being bore the appearance of a military camp. But as security became more and more established these precautions were abandoned, and the ordinary condition of affairs being restored are to-day remembered as amusements outside the usual current of laughable experiences.


In 1865 the "boom" in business commenced but did not fully get under way until the following year. The close of the war brought thousands to the West, and Omaha in the pride of a growth superinduced by the building of the Pacific Railroad held out inducements to which heed was given by large numbers, many of whom remained and have become substantial characters for wealth, enterprise and influence in the city of their adoption. The buildings put up this year numbered among them the First National Bank, and the Union Pacific round-house. The Herald was established this year also. But the annual was in this respect, at least, as a preface only to the years which immediately followed. The previous years the dull times had been, as the sequel proved, a calm, so to speak, which precedes the storm. With the dawning of 1866, the city grew more rapidly, trade was extended westward and to remote points in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Manufacturers increased, public and private improvements began to rise in various quarters of the city, additional schools were provided for the education of youth, new religious and secular societies were organized. In 1866 the erection of the superior class of elegant brick structures which line Farnam, Douglas, Harney and Cross streets in the business portion of the city was begun. Few were finished that year, but the foundations then laid have since been the bases of superstructures which tower above the stranger and citizens, monuments to the liberality and enterprise of their founders. In the meanwhile work on lines of railroads, hence from distant points, was progressing so rapidly that it was a question of but a brief period when the iron horse and trains of cars should be substituted for the steamer and coach. In short the substantial prosperity of Omaha dates its origin in the year 1866.

In January, 1867, the Northwestern Road was completed to Omaha, the first line from the East to salute the people of Omaha with the whistle of an engine. It was on Sunday, January 17, that the train hove in sight and, crossing Missouri River on a pile bridge, soon halted in the growing city where its arrival was greeted with enthusiastic rejoicing.


The following month an act of Congress, providing for the admission of Nebraska as a State, was ratified by the Legislature in session at Omaha. Immediately upon its taking effect, the capital was removed to Lincoln, and Omaha from that date ceased to be the base of Legislative wisdom and Legislative folly.

The building commenced during 1866, notably the Caldwell Block, on Douglas street, from Thirteenth to Fourteenth, was completed at a cost of $200,000; as also was the Central Block, occupying a similar site on Farnam street, the latter erected at an outlay of $250,000. This year the upper plateau evidenced the taste of citizens who had built private residences thereon, but not more than did the elevations in the northwestern part of the city. The years 1867-68 are said to have been epochs of extreme prosperity, if so desirable an experience can be so qualified, caused not more by the amount of business transacted than by the judicious manner in which these transactions were managed. These years the terraces which overlook the business portion of the city, and had begun to be selected for residence purposes, became fully recognized in that behalf, and the homes of opulence and elegance included in the territory bounded by Eighteenth, Twentieth and Harney streets, and Capitol avenue, were erected. From these beginnings the multitude of residences which crown the summits of hills and this portion of the city have since been added.

The decade which opened so inauspiciously, closed amid prosperity, and rejoicings were heard where but ten years before the notes of mourning resounded.

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