Romance of Omaha, Chapter I

The story of Omaha, which is spiced with historic romance and leavened with the realization of wonderful dreams come true, really begins with William D. Brown, pioneer owner of the first ferry to cross the river between Council Bluffs and the future site of Omaha, looked westward across the Missiouri and with prophetic wisdom declared that on the farther bank would some day arise a great city.

Mr Brown kept his vision. Early in the summer of 1854 the new townsite was surveyed and laid out into 322 blocks, each 264 feet square and separated by streets 100 feet wide.

Whether William D. Brown or A.D. Jones - the surveyor who later became the first postmaster of Omaha - was responsible for the width of the streets is not known, but someone of that day must have realized that wide streets would at some time be an asset to the city that was to be.

Omaha City's Actual Beginning

The actual beginning of Omaha was on a bright summer day in 1854, when Mr. and Mrs. William P. Snowden crossed the Missouri river on a ferryboat and took up their abode on the new townsite then being surveyed, and became the first residents of Omaha.

Their first home was a log house located at what is now the corner of Twelfth and Jackson Streets. It was a "hotel" and boasted the name of the St. Nicholas.

The second building in Omaha was a combined dwelling and store at Twenty-second and Burt streets, erected by M.C. Gaylord.

It was not until late in the summer of 1854 that the first building to be occupied exclusively as a home was erected.

It was built somewhere on the west side of Tenth street for the Snowdens. They gave a big dance and house-warming when they moved in. That was the first dance held in the new town.

First Building of Logs

Other buildings had been constructed in the meantime, all out of logs. And from that time on settlers began to arrive steadily. Many were drawn by the offer of the townsite company to give them a lot free if they would improve it.

Although it is to William D. Brown, A.D. Jones and other hardy pioneers that the Omaha of today is indebted for its existence, they were not the first to realize the desirability of the location as the site for a future city.

As far back as the summer of 1811, H.M. Breckenridge, a roving barrister from Maryland, strolled over the plateau on which Omaha now stands. He was in the company of Manuel Lisa, famous fur trader.

At that time, so the story goes, Breckenridge was so impressed by the beauty and availability of the site that he remarked to his companion that it would make a wonderful location for a settlement.

Site Discovered in 1811

The fur traders of that time, however, preferred the present site of Bellevue to the south, and the United States military forces made choice of the present location of Fort Calhoun. As a result of this the Omaha Plateau went uninhabited until the day the Snowdens crossed the river in the old ferryboat more than 40 years after Breckenridge made his original "discovery."

Three years after the coming of the first residents, the city of Omaha was formally incorporated and the first "step forward" was taken. It was then a city of log houses, scattered here and there, with a few "stores" doing a rather casual business.

The town of 1857 bore little resemblance to the city of today, yet there were men and women in that Omaha of long ago who were able to see far into the future, and in spite of panics, drouth, floods and grasshoppers, they kept the faith of the pioneer.

Pioneers Proved Their Courage

They perseverved in the building of the city they loved and called their own and they lived to see the full fruition of their planting.

The reasons for the pioneer selection of the site of Omaha for settlement were obvious in those days.

A level plateau that rose well above the water's edge stretched from some distance along the river. Back of this plateau rose bluffs and hills which, in the eyes of the early settlers, offered enticing locations for their future homes.

Captiol Hill, where the Central High school now stands, was the site of the territorial capitol, and the pioneers had visions of Omaha remaining the seat of government of Nebraska, which had not yet been admitted to the union.

Far beyond Omaha to the west lay the rolling prairie and the far-reaching valley of the Platte. The latter offered the shortest and easiest route over the "plains" to the beckoning west.

Early Days in Omaha

Through Omaha in those early days passed the bulk of the westward travel. The tide of commerce flowing toward the Pacific found Omaha the most available gateway, just as it is today.

The passage of the pioneers to the "back of beyond" and to the golden hills of Colorado, brought money and settlers to Omaha. Many of these families remained in or near Omaha. Thus the city grew.

The first census of Omaha, in 1860, gave this city a population of 1,883. Ten years later the population had increased to 16,000. By 1910 Omaha had 124,000 inhabitants, and in 1920 these had increased to 191,000.

On July 1, 1928, the federal census bureau estimated the population of Omaha to be 222,800, a remarkable growth for the little frontier town in less than three-quarters of a century.

Faith, Opportunity, Achievement

Young, as the ages of cities are reckoned, Omaha is one of the great metropolises of the west. In wealth it ranks high, and as a city of real homes it leads all other cities in the country.

Omaha now boasts 51,000 homes, while across the river in Council Bluffs are approximately 10,000 additional homes.

No other city can show a record for home ownership equal to that of Omaha and Council Bluffs combined. More than 55 per cent of all the homes are owned by those who occupy them. That means that the citizens of Omaha have faith in their city, that they are investing in savings here, and that they have "a stake" in their own home town.

The per capita wealth of Omaha is high, much higher than that of the country as a whole. According to the federal census, the wealth of Omaha is more than $4,000 per individual. In reality it is more nearly $5,000. The average for the United States is somewhere around $3,000.

Per Capita Income Is High

The average income of the Omaha citizen, counting wages, salaries, income from investments, etc., is estimated at approximately $750 per capita.

The total annual wage paid to 90,000 workers in the city is $125,000,000, an average of about $1,400 a year for each person employed. Practically all of this money is spent in Omaha, which means a distribution of many millions of dollars every 12 months. What isn't actually expended here is deposited in the Omaha banks.

This condition of the bustling streets and stores of today are in marked contrast to the humble beginnings of 70 odd years ago, when there were not a dozen wage earners in the town, and the luxuries of 1928 and the fast modes of travel of today were not even dreamed of.

Imagination is the father of achievement - but in the infant days of Omaha there was no imagination so acute or hopeful as to picture the future as wonderful as Omaha's present has actually become.

Chapter II
Return to Table of Contents Homepage