A wealthy streetcar suburb in North Omaha was home to businessmen, bankers, doctors and retired pioneers whose money built fine homes, decadent churches and strong businesses. Lined with enormous churches, filled with a lavish history and home to some of the best homes in Omaha today, the fancy area has had many lives. This is a history of the Kountze Place neighborhood.
Popular after the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898, Kountze Place was a middle- and upper-class development built in North Omaha at the turn of the century. Omaha banker Herman Kountze laid out the neighborhood in 1882 as a commuter suburb, reachable only by streetcars running up and down North 24th Street or wagons along Florence Boulevard. The neighborhood was intended for wealthy people, including Omaha’s bankers, lawyers, doctors and business leaders. Although it took time to become popular, it worked.
The new Florence Boulevard, designed by renowned landscape architect H.W.W. Cleveland in 1890, ran the entire length of Kountze Place. Early on, passengers enjoyed the country ride in their carriages, and later, in their new automobiles. Between its establishment in the 1880s and the 1920s, the neighborhood became home to several lavish homes and distinct family names, giving it an air of exclusivity and wealth. Extravagant churches filled the neighborhood, and all of the luxuries local businesses could provide were at hand, too.
Businesses lined North 24th Street on the north and south ends of Kountze Place, with several dotted along the neighborhood too. There were also hospitals and theatres, the Omaha Old Folks Home and the St. Paul Lutheran School. A reward of hosting the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in 1898 was the fine Kountze Park, with its beautiful lagoon and lush lawns. The Kountze Place Golf Club was located at Florence Boulevard and Emmet Street for a few years, too. Truly, this neighborhood was a grand place to live!
People from Omaha had been traveling to Herman Kountze’s land for at least two decades before the Kountze Place neighborhood was platted. Following what was then called Winter Quarters road, people went a few miles north of present-day downtown Omaha. Spread out on a wide, flat plain, Kountze’s land was an ideal spot for festive events before houses were built on it.
The Douglas County Fair, the Nebraska Fair and several other fairs were held at a large field off of what is now Commercial Avenue since the 1850s. In the 1870s a group of businessmen made a track on that field to race their horse-drawn buggies around. That Omaha Driving Park lasted for the next 25 years, until the turn of the century when the area was subdivided and made into several blocks of housing on Kountze Place’s northern fringe. Legacies of the Park include Sunset Speedway, which originally began on the site, and a car wrecker which still operates there.
Easily the most important event in Omaha’s early history, the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition happened in Kountze Place in 1898. Over nine months over 2.6 million visitors came to the Expo, which had a grand court lined by buildings more than five stories tall and made to look like glimmering Greek temples.
Featuring displays from a variety of industries across the western US, including agriculture, mining, logging and shipping, there were also more than 23 states with exhibitions to promote their wares. A long, wide lagoon carried visitors in gondolas, and new brothels were opened next to the grounds to serve a variety of patrons. This grand parade of importance significantly raised the profile of Kountze Place, and in the following years there was a boom and the neighborhood was filled in.
The buildings were made of a temporary material, and after a second, less-important exposition was held there in 1899, they were all demolished to make way for homes in the neighborhood.
A Wealthy Suburb
Herman Kountze envisioned his northern streetcar suburb as an escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Omaha for the business owners, lawyers and others who worked there. Planting vast acres of trees, laying out sidewalks and street lamps, and ensuring the finest amenities landed him wealthy Omahans and earned his neighborhood high status homes.
Several rich Omaha businessmen took it upon themselves to build their mansions in the neighborhood. The Bay House was built by a mogul who sold ice around the Midwest. The Storz House was built by the owner of the Storz Brewery, Omaha’s largest brewer for a long time. Not far away George Kelley built a house with many materials from his fine millworking plant in downtown Omaha. Similarly, George Shepard was the owner of a masonry plant who built his mansion of the finest works from his business. Today, each of these homes, along with many others, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and / or have been labelled as official Omaha Landmarks.
In addition to businessmen, all kinds of notable Omahans lived in Kountze Place. They included A. D. Jones, a vital early pioneer; John Reagan, a politician and state legislator; Anna Wilson, a notorious madame who left $1,000,000 to charity when she died; and Omaha’s first doctor, Elizabeth Reeves.
One of the most famous residences in Kountze Place at the time was the Redick Mansion. Originally built as a farmhouse in the 1870s, it was refurbished and expanded by real estate genius John Redick. In 1909 Redick’s son sold the mansion to the Omaha University, which eventually became the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In 1917 the University decided to sell the house, and it was sold to an entrepreneur in Minnesota who took it apart and moved it there to be a resort, only to be burnt down there within a decade.
Kountze Place Golf Course
The Kountze Place Golf Club was open for a few years at Florence Boulevard and Emmet Streets.
The Kountze Place Golf Club was located at Florence Boulevard and Emmet Street. It was a nine hole course that was organized in 1899 and lasted through 1901. The initiation fee was $1 and the annual dues were $2. In 1901, there were 35 members.
Today, there are dozens of notable homes throughout Kountze Place still there. Some are important because of who lived there, while others are important for how they look. There are several that are remarkable because of the pedigree of the architect. Among those is a home designed by a nationally important African American architect named Clarence Wigington. Wigington, who moved with his family as a young man to Omaha, became a student of Thomas Rogers Kimball. After learning the craft, Wigington practiced in the city for several years, designing the home at 1820 Lothrop Street in 1914. Wigington’ real vitality came out after he left Omaha for St. Paul; however, his standing work in the city is still an important testament to his ability.
|This is Jacobs Hall, one of four halls of the University of Omaha campus in Kountze Place in the 1920s.|
Because it was wealthy, Kountze Place had a lot of services and amenities for its residents. Four hospitals were located in the area. They included the Kountze Park Hospital at 2102 Wirt Street. I’m not sure when it opened or closed, but it was open in 1910. Presbyterian Hospital at 1626 Wirt Street opened in 1892, and moved its services elsewhere later. The Swedish Mission Hospital opened in Kountze Place at 3706 N 24th Street in 1905, and became the Evangelical Covenant Hospital in 1927. Opening a new building in 1931, the facility served a lot of Omahans before it closed permanently in 1938.
|The Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary was located in Kountze Place for almost 50 years.|
Other landmarks in Kountze Place that still exist include the Sacred Heart Church, Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church, and Lothrop Elementary School. 50 years the Presbyterian Church ran a seminary that graduated hundreds of pastors for congregations throughout the Midwest. The Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary opened in 1891 and was closed after the church decided it was redundant in 1943. Located on a block along North 21st Street, after the Seminary closed it was converted to apartments. The Corby Theater is located at North 16th and Corby on the eastern edge of Kountze Place, along with the 16th and Locust Historic District.
A nefarious plot twisted the fate of the neighborhood though, and still affects it today.
|The George Shepard Home on Wirt Street survived white flight.|
The neighborhood stopped being fashionable in the 1920s, when new neighborhoods along Omaha’s western fringes (which then were along 60th Street) started becoming popular. The neighborhood sustained its glory for the next 30 years. In the 1950s white flight spread throughout the area as African Americans moved northward from the Near North Omaha neighborhood. The Presbyterian Seminary was closed in the 1940s.
Race restrictive covenants became popular in Kountze Place starting in the 1940s. In 1970, the Omaha City Council was asked by Omaha’s chapter of the National Negro Congress to prevent setting up of restrictive covenants by Kountze Park Improvement Association. The language behind them was gross and demeaning, including such disgusting phrasing such as,
“This property is conveyed upon the express covenant that it shall never be sold or leased or permitted [to] be occupied by a colored person…”
|The Sacred Heart Catholic Church has remained faithfully present in Kountze Place for more than a century.|
Kounzte Place Today
Today the neighborhood is sustaining; however, many of the grand old houses feel inaccessible to the city’s white community because of the racist, entrenched images of violence, drugs and poverty promoted in Omaha’s mainstream media. However, I predict that as the redevelopment of NoDo progresses Kountze Place will spring back.
The ghost of Kountze Place lingers over North Omaha as its once-powerful residents, including doctors and lawyers and politicians and preachers, have died and shuffled along. We will see what the future holds.
|Kountze Park circa 1910s, courtesy the Omaha Public Library.|
The Kountze Place Timeline
- 1860s – Omaha’s founding fathers – rich guys, all of them – build estates up N. 16th St and around North O, including the Kountze Place area.
- 1867 – John McCreary builds his country estate along Saunders Road, which eventually was called N. 24th, and Pratt Streets.
- 1870s – Herman Kountze, one of the two brothers who started First National Bank of Omaha in 1867, buys the land between N. 16th, N. 30th from Locust Street on the south to Pratt Street. He sits on it for a decade.
- 1880s – Kountze starts to sell lots. He lays some sidewalks and places some light posts, and promotes the area as a posh suburb. Eventually he convinces the horse-drawn streetcar to run a line out there, making it seem more exclusive. Some lots sell, but not too many. A few houses are built there, but not too many.
- 1885 – Clifford Mayne buys the Miller farm at N. 24th and Pratt and builds his grand mansion there.
- 1887 – John P. Bay House is built at 2024 Binney Street, and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1889 – John Redick buys the Mayne Mansion.
- 1890 – By the insistence of Kountze, Florence Boulevard cuts right through Kountze Place.
- 1890s – In 1897, 3 years after preparation began and everyone got their bids in, Kountze comes in at the last minute and offers his property with a sweet deal: Use mine for the Expo, and I’ll give YOU money, and a park! They take him up on it.
- 1898 – The Presbyterian Hospital opens near N. 16th and Wirt Streets.
- 1898 – The Trans-Mississippi Exposition is held in Kountze Place.
- 1899 – The Greater America Exposition was held in Kountze Place.
- 1899 – Kountze Park opens at 1920 Pinkney Street on the site of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition and the Greater America Exposition, and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1900s – The neighborhood fills in entirely by 1920. Big foursquare houses and fine mansions, lots of business and other stuff.
- 1901 – The Jewish community opens a hospital at N. 16th and Locust.
- 1902 – Sacred Heart Catholic Church opens a new building at 2206 Binney, and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1903 – The George F. Shepard House is built at 1802 Wirt Street, designated an Omaha Landmark in 1981, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1904 – The George H. Kelly House is built at 1924 Binney Street, and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1905 – The Swedish Mission Hospital opens at N. 24th and Pratt in the former McCreary Mansion.
- 1907 – John Redick sells his mansion to the new Omaha University, which opens at N. 24th and Pratt, across the street from the hospital.
- 1908 – John E. Reagan House was built at 2102 Pinkney Street, and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1909 – The Charles Storz House is built at 1901 Wirt Street, and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1910 – The Presbyterian Theological Seminary opens in Kountze Place along Florence Boulevard.
- 1928 – The Swedish Mission Hospital becomes Evangelical Covenant Hospital. They have a massive new building constructed that year.
- 1937 – The University of Omaha moves from North Omaha to West Dodge Road.
- 1938 – The Evangelical Covenant Hospital goes out of business and sells its building at N. 24th and Pratt to the Salvation Army to be used for the Booth Memorial Hospital.
- 1943 – The Presbyterian Theological Seminary closes permanently. Grace Bible College is located there for a short period, then moves to South Omaha.
- 1950 – The Salvation Army Booth Memorial Hospital is demolished and replaced with a new building, which is still located there today.
- 1970s – The Presbyterian Theological Seminary building is demolished. It is replaced with public housing projects, which were converted into privately owned condos in the 1980s.
Kountze Place History Tour
- Florence Boulevard, Lake Street to Ames Avenue
- Bay House, 2024 Binney Street
- George Kelley House, 1924 Binney Street
- George Shepard Mansion, 1802 Wirt Street
- Site of the Redick Mansion, 3612 North 24th Street
- University of Nebraska at Omaha, 3600 North 24th Street
- Site of the Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 3303 North 21st Street
- John E. Reagan House, 2102 Pinkney Street
- Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop, 3116 N 24th Street
- Allas / Atlas Apartments, 1609 Binney Street
- John E. Reagan, 2102 Pinkney Street
- Charles Storz House, 1901 Wirt Street
- House, 2438 Manderson Street
- House, 1618 Emmet Street
- House, 1614 Emmet Street
- House, 1805 Wirt Street
- House, 1902 Wirt Street
- House, 2210 Wirt Street
- House, 2004 Binney Street
- House, 2002 Emmet Street
- Clarence Wigington-designed House, 1820 Lothrop Street
- Jacob Williams House, 1905 Lothrop Street
- Rachman House, 1629 Lothrop Street
- Good Tidings Evangelistic Church, 2443 Evans Street (former St. Paul Lutheran)
- Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, 2108 Emmet Street (former First United Presbyterian)
- The Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth, 3105 N 24th Street (former North Presbyterian, Calvin Presbyterian)
- Sacred Heart Catholic, 2206 Binney Street
- Church of the Living God, 2029 Binney Street (former Trinity Methodist Episcopal)
- Rising Star Baptist, 1823 Lothrop Street (former First Universalist (1890), then Hartford Memorial United Brethren (1906))
- Paradise Baptist, 2124 Lothrop Street
- Second Baptist, 1802 Emmet Street (former Plymouth Congregational Church)
- Corby Theater, 2801 N. 16th Street
- St John Baptist, 3912 N. 16th Street
- Good Tidings Evangelistic Church, 2443 Evans Street (former St Paul Lutheran Church)
- Immanuel Baptist Church, 3499 North 24th Street (Demolished)
- North Side Christian, 2108 Binney Street (Demolished)
- Site of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, Florence Boulevard and Pratt Street
- Site of Anna Wilson’s Mansion, 2018 Wirt Street (Demolished)
- Kountze Place Golf Course, Florence Boulevard and Emmet Street.
- House, 2102 Spencer Street
- Safeway, 3603 North 24th Street (1936-1951)
- House, 3124 North 16th Street
You Might Like…
- A History of Wirt Street in North Omaha
- A History of Binney Street in North Omaha
- A History of Kountze Park
- A History of North Omaha’s Hash House
- A History of Anna Wilson’s Mansion in North Omaha
- A History of the Greater American Exposition of 1899 in North Omaha
- A History of North Omaha’s Intersection of 16th and Locust
- A History of the Omaha Driving Park in North Omaha
- A History of North Omaha’s Omaha University Campus
- A History of North Omaha’s Redick Mansion
- A History of the McCreary Mansion in North Omaha
- A History of 2936 North 24th Street
- “The Buffalo Bill House” by Teresa Gleason for Omaha Magazine on December 24, 2017.
- North Omaha History Podcast Episode 4: Kountze Place – Adam Fletcher Sasse tells us about the Omaha neighborhood laid out in 1882 by banker Herman Kountze. Omaha’s bankers, lawyers, doctors and business leaders lived in Kountze Place at the turn of the last century. It was a commuter suburb, reachable only by streetcars. Learn about the the mansion and attractions at Kounze Place. (March 14, 2017; 16 mins) Listen Online | Listen on iTunes
|“Kountze Place – The Home of Omaha’s Business Men” screamed this 1896 advertisement from the Omaha Bee.|
|Sacred Heart Catholic Church moved to the Kountze Place neighborhood when Herman Kountze donated land, and they’ve been here for more than a century since.|