Romance of Omaha, Chapter IV
One of Omaha's indisputable claims to fame - and it has many - is that it ranks first among all the cities of the United States as a "City of Homes."
That is a proud boast, but it is supported by the facts.
Not in all the country can be found a city wherein more homes are owned by those who occupy them.
Nowhere is there a city in which it is made so easy for a man to buy his own home.
As a result Omaha is, to a large extent, peopled by homeowners.
There are 51,000 homes in Omaha valued at more than $150,000,000.
Across the river in Council Bluffs are 10,000 additional homes.
Of these more than 55 per cent are owned by the people who live in them.
In other words, approximately 34,000 of the homes in Omaha and Council Bluffs are owned by the occupants. And every year adds to the number of these "owned" homes.
55 Per Cent Own Their Homes
This love of home, made more real by ownership, which is so pronounced in Omaha, seems to have been inherited from our pioneer forerunners. The first thing they wanted, according to the stirring story of their time, was a "home."
When Mr. and Mrs. William P. Snowden, first settlers in the new town of Omaha, crossed the Missouri river, they lived in a log house which had been built for a "hotel." Mrs. Snowden, however, was not satisfied. Like all women of her time she wanted "a home." Needless to say she got it.
It was only a few weeks after they had moved into the "hotel" that Mrs. Snowden had the pleasure of fitting up a little log cabin, erected "on the west side of Tenth street," for her very own. This was the first "home" in Omaha.
Omaha's Very First Home
Mr. and Mrs. Snowden were so delighted over the new dwelling that they held a big house-warming and dance to which all Omaha was invited. People crossed the river on the ferryboat from Council Bluffs to attend the first dance held in Omaha.
From the meager accounts available the Snowden "house-warming" was a great event. It deserves to go down in history as one of the outstanding early incidents in the life of the city which now boasts 51,000 homes.
It is very doubtful if any Omaha woman of today gets as big a thrill out of furnishing her modern bungalow or colonial mansion as the pioneer Mrs. Snowden did when she furnished, in simple fashion, her little log house "somewhere on Tenth street."
Other pioneer women followed Mrs. Snowden in getting homes of their own. All these houses at the first were constructed of logs. Then a sawmill was established and lumber began to be shipped up the river on steamboats. Frame houses, common to the west, began to go up on every hand.
Old Districts Are Changed
In early Omaha the residences were confined to a district now occupied by the wholesale business section of the city and stretching out toward Twenty-second and Burt streets and to the north along the level portions of the city.
The bluffs and hills of the west beckoned to the pioneers as beautiful sites for homes, but Indians were still numerous and there was safety in keeping the homes together.
For some years the only home west of where the Central high school now stands was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. W. I. Kierstead.
They were regarded as living "out in the country." Yet so great was the demand for homes that the Kiersteads had many opportunities to sell or trade.
At one time Mr. Kierstead was offered the corner where the Conant hotel now stands in an even trade for his home. He refused, because if he had accepted the offer the Kiersteads would have had no place to live.
Every building in the city was occupied. Lumber was so in demand for homes that if a man who ordered lumber was not on hand when the steamer arrived, someone else took his order without ceremony.
Residence District Spreads
As the town grew the residential district began to spread. The business section absorbed the early residential portion and the home builders went west, north and southeast to erect their houses.
For years the district along South Tenth street was considered the most desirable for homes in the entire town.
The section around Capitol Hill, now the site of Central high school, also was regarded as choice residential property. Here some of the finest pioneer homes of Omaha were erected. Some of them still stand, shorn of all their former glory and attractiveness.
West along St. Mary avenue was another select residential section for many years. Most of this time the sections of the city to the west were uninhabited, except by a few adventuresome families who preferred the open spaces to the growing town.
Hunt Where Homes Stand
Men are still living in Omaha who remember going hunting where splendid residences of Omaha now stand.
However, the scenic beauty of the land to the west in time called irresistibly to the homeseeker. The West Farnam district was built up. Dundee began to grow. The Hanscom Park district was dotted with homes. Steadily the town grew westward and for a time northward.
Eventually the extension of the residence district took on definite form. It grew to the west, extending both north and south over a large area. During these years of development Benson was founded and in time was joined to Omaha by natural growth of the city.
This growth continued until today there are few cities that can boast of finer homes and more beautiful residential districts than Omaha. And these homes are steadily increasing in number.
More than 6,500 houses were built in the city in the last five years. Most of them were purchased by the people who now live in them.
Omaha's Type of Home High
The type of home in Omaha is high. The average home, be it bungalow, cottage or colonial manor, has most, if not all, the comforts of modern day.
Virtually all the 51,000 homes in Omaha are wired for electricity. More than 90 per cent of them have city water. Almost 90 per cent of them are supplied with gas. Most of them have furnaces. Few, indeed, of the homes owned by the occupants are without comforts.
The high type of home in Omaha is due chiefly, if not entirely, to the desire of the people to "own their own."
The builder erects a house, not primarily for rental purposes, but because he believes he can sell it. Therefore, he must build well.
Many of the "owned" homes of Omaha have been erected under contract for the owner. That has been possible because Omaha has specialized on making it easy for a man to own his home.
Home Owners Are Helped
Perhaps nowhere in the country is the path to home ownership as well defined and as easy to travel as in this city.
Omaha is the home of 12 building and loan associations which have nearly $100,000,000 in resources. Two of the largest associations of the kind in the country are located here. They all have plenty of money to loan on homes. They extend every possible aid to the prospective home-owner. They loan money as low as 5½ per cent per annum and arrange for payment in very easy monthly installments.
Real estate firms, building contractors and private money lenders also do all in their power to make home-owning accessible to the many instead of the few. The man with a few hundred dollars can easily buy a home in Omaha. Even a mere $100 will start a man on the road to home ownership.
It is this encouragement given to the would-be home-owner combined with the desire for a house to call their own that has made Omaha "the City of Homes."
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