With long, windy roadways leading from N. 16th Street to their country estates, many of Omaha’s founding fathers believed they had the best locations in the city. Their exclusivity gave way to stout, proud and elaborate apartment buildings over the next half century. Eventually peeking, the strip died after the North Omaha riots of the 1960s and 70s. Today it holds little of the promise of its history, but some still shines through despite everything else. For the first time, here’s the history of North 16th Street.
Long before becoming a decrepit pipeline for the neglect of old North Omaha, North 16th Street had a history almost as long as the city itself. Beginning as a row of rural estates for the city’s leaders, it evolved into an important residential, commercial, and industrial byway that the city depended on.
Eventually it was annexed into Omaha, and now it blends in with the area around it. But when the Omaha Horse Railway inched passengers with a wagon and horses along the route to the old town, visitors would have seen Erastus Beadle’s house. Beadle was the town founder who moved on to a small town called Denver after his first attempt at profiteering off the west didn’t work out. The next time it did.Before anyone developed N. 16th, it was the country road that led to the old town of Saratoga. Founded in 1856, Saratoga depended on a bend in the Missouri River for its business. Although the town formally boomed and busted within two years of its founding, people kept living there.
They also would’ve seen a Presbyterian school called Talbot Hall, and an old Englishman named Richard Siemon’s brewery in Saratoga, too.
|The Andrew J. Poppleton House on Sherman Avenue circa 1895.|
From the 1860s, North 16th Street meandered along with a grand view of the Missouri and it’s broad river valley. Horse-drawn coaches would inch through the fields and forests along the way. It was along this perfect drive that the city’s original business barons built their plush country estates. They lobbied for the street to be renamed for one of their heroes from the Civil War, the decorated, ruthless Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. In 1879, the City of Omaha changed the name from N. 16th Street to Sherman Avenue.
In the 1880s, Andrew Poppleton built an elaborate Queen Anne residence on his estate called “Elizabeth P1ace”. It was located on North 16th Street and Grant Avenue, then with the address 2232 Sherman Avenue. Poppleton was a famous Nebraska territorial lawyer and Omaha founding father. Many of his colleagues in business, government, and industry did the same, and that is how N. 16th originally served as a broad country road for the broad country estates of Omaha’s wealthy class.
|In August 1888, North 16th was home to the Sebastopol Amphitheater between Binney and Wirt Streets. A large military display was launched there for the evening every weekend for a month.|
J.J. Brown built a magnificent brick mansion at 2225 Sherman Avenue. With dozens of rooms, it eventually became a hospital.
In the 1870s, there was a massive flood that changed the course of the Missouri River. In addition to creating the cutoff now known as Carter Lake, it also move the river in this area to the east. The grand old mansions no longer had views of the river, and that left the wealthy old people unhappy with their views. Soon after, they started moving away and selling their land to developers.
Times changed. As more industry moved onto Sherman Avenue and businesses stacked onto it’s corners, the wealthy estate owners moved on. Moving along N. 16th in the late 19th century, a traveler would’ve seen a transforming area. Early on, there was a horse-drawn streetcar line that ran along the street for a distance. After, you would’ve seen this become a busy roadway filled with commuters riding electric streetcars and darting across the street to their homes and local businesses.
|Kids are walking past The Sherman apartments in this 1935 picture. Located at N. 16th and Cady, notice the streetcar rails and cobblestones covering the streets.|
They would have seen the 1897 Sherman Apartments, one of the city’s first-ever apartment buildings, located at 2501 North 16th Street. Today, its credited as being one of the main starting points for moving North Omaha from being rural estates for rich people to becoming a packed residential area. Built reminiscent of a Greek temple with fat front columns and triangular rooftops, The Sherman stands today as a testimony to the influence of the Trans-Mississippi on the city during that period.
Another important residence was built just about 100 years ago, in 1916, at 2103 N. 16th St. Called The Margaret, these apartments were fancy, high-end rentals for the metropolitan suburbanites who lived along Sherman Avenue and commuted on the streetcar into downtown Omaha. Right across the street from The Margaret is an even more grand edifice to the area’s once luxurious lifestyles, the Strehlow Terrace. Built between 1905 and 1916, the complex included four buildings designed in the Prairie architecture style. Huddled around a courtyard and fountain, the complex was designed for professional class residents to enjoy their apartment lives. Luscious landscaping and suave marketing kept the complex fancy for some time.
|Looking north along Sherman Avenue from Nicholas Street in 1914, courtesy of the Durham Museum.
Near 16th and Lake, at 2514 North 16th Street, the last notable, existent set of apartments still stands, although in worse repair than the others mentioned here. It was finished in 1929 as a small four-plex apartment building, and is being rehabilitated today. Upscale living when it was completed, each unit had murphy beds, fancy Craftsman fixtures and woodwork, and extravagant tiling throughout. It was indicative of the apartment corridor that North 16th was, and holds one of the keys to the area’s future.
By the beginning of the 21st century the corridor was changing. Gone by then would have been any evidence of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition. After eliminating the possibilities of hosting it at the junction of N. 16th and J.J. Pershing Drive in East Omaha, the Expo’s businessmen-leaders selected a site along N. 24th St. and bordered by N. 16th. Extravagant buildings and grand pond of the site were all gone, but memories lingered. They lingered in the form of the Douglas County Fairgrounds and the Sunset Driving Park, both of which were located between N. 16th and Florence Boulevard, south of Commercial Avenue.
|This is looking north up 16th, with Cady being the street on the right. I’m unsure about the large buildings in this photo.|
Just 100 years ago, driving up 16th Street from downtown Omaha into the north side was a treat for the eyes. A thriving center of the city’s most important industry of the period, which was beer, there were also important places to live and essential places to go. Its a far cry from the fear of North Omaha that many people have today, and it deserves a closer look on the history of North Omaha blog.
In 1926, N. 16th Street became home of the Corby Theater. Filled with 700 seats, there were exquisite details throughout the entire building, including marble and Italian-esque stylings in the lobby and around the entire building. After it closed in the 1950s, it was a storage warehouse for 40 years, opening up again in the 1990s as a nightclub. A major fire boarded up the building in 1999, and its been closed since then.
|The Storz Brewery, located at 16th and Charles.|
More than 125 years ago, Joseph S. Bauman, a German brewmaster, started the Columbia Brewery in North Omaha in 1863. Just before his death in 1876, Bauman brought Gottlieb Storz to Omaha from Germany as the brewmaster. After Bauman died, Storz bought it and expanded it vastly, eventually building the grand Storz Brewery along Sherman Avenue. Along with other companies in the city’s Big 4 brewers, Storz went on to make Omaha into a premier Midwestern beer manufacturing center in the Midwest for the next century. The brewery closed in 1972, but a portion of the original building stands today.
As cars became popular, new-fangled gas stations popped up along North 16th Street. There are a few notable gas station buildings left, including the one at North 16th and Commercial. After being built in 1914, it was abandoned as a gas station in the 1950s. According to his stepdaughter Marina Drake, in the early 1960s, George “Andy” Anderson bought the building. He ran Andy’s Transmission Service from this location and later rented it to a variety of car repair shops. Andy retired in 2010 at the age of 85. Marina writes that the building was partially damaged in a fire at about that that time.
Redlining African Americans
|A former fire station at 1017 N. 16th St.|
During this time, the 16th Street/Sherman Avenue corridor evolved into a more urban feeling. Nearby, the North 24th Street corridor became redlined, a segregation practice by the city’s real estate businesses designed to keep the city’s African American community separate from Whites. It was a nasty racist trick that didn’t involve laws, but everyone agreed to do it. 16th was a boundary in the redlining.
After that though, African Americans filled the area with cultural, commercial, and religious institutions. They burst with the energy and excitement of a thriving community. North 16th was bustling, too, even if devoid of a singular cultural identity. It had all the commercial vigor anyway, with department stores, specialty boutiques, and groceries lining the blocks. There were constant streetcars and private cars trolling the way, with cops and buskers on every corner.
|The Ernie Chambers Court was built along North 16th at the height of the street’s popularity.|
Around the beginning of the early 20th century, at the very northern end of Sherman Avenue was a little farming community called East Omaha. It was home to a grocery, churches, and a cluster of small homes in a rural setting. Further north was the Missouri River as it bent a contour towards Saratoga. Just before the river was the little Florence Lake and a one-room country school called Beechwood School, which was brought into the Omaha School District in the 1940s. Also in this community was Sherman School, which went through various iterations before exclusively becoming an elementary school.
Learn more from my article, A History of Redlining in North Omaha
|These are the offices of the Updike Milling Company at 1513 Sherman Avenue. There is still a large mill here today, including this building. It has been massively modified though.|
Today, North 16th is a meager shadow of it’s former self. Left to rot and decay by the City of Omaha and it’s investors, it is a sore sight in need of a lot of love. The grandeur of the Trans-Mississippi, the exclusivity of upper-class lifestyles, and the upbeatness of suburban sprawl have all left the heart of this place. In their places are community depression, cyclical neglect, and local government ineptitude in the face of change. Hopefully time will emerge the champion as targeted investment renews life to old apartments and reminds Omahans of their roots.
In the meantime, we can remember that North 16th Street, aka Sherman Avenue, was ALIVE just 50 years ago and discover that part of it’s history lives in each of us who cares to learn more.
Check out the accompanying map I made!
|Robinson Grocery was located at North 16th and Yates in this 1915 ad from the Omaha Bee.|
North 16th Business Directory
These are businesses along North 16th Street, also known as Sherman Avenue. They were located there anytime between 1880 and 1956.
- Stephens and Smith Clothing, 109 N. 16th St.
- Meinberg Company, 109 N. 16th St. – Pianos and organs, founded 1887.
- Kennard Glass and Paint Company, 116 N. 16th St.
- Omaha Book and Stationary Company, 117 N. 16th St.
- Stewarts Seed Store, 119 N. 16th St.
- Union Pacific Tea Company, 204 N. 16th St.
- Bowman, Hughes and Company Photographers, 205 N. 16th St.
- Bonoff Sample Store, 206 N. 16th St.
- Taggart and O’Shaugnessy Funeral Home, 207 N. 16th St. – 1889 to 1889
- Taggart and Taggart Funeral Home, 207 N. 16th St. – 1887 to 1899
- P. E. Flodman and Company, 208 N. 16th
- Sandberg Photography, 213 N. 16th St.
- Huster Millinery, 221 N. 16th St.
- Hotel Loyal Building, 221 N. 16th St.
- City and Loyal Furniture Shop, 223 N. 16th St.
- Rudd Jewelers, 305 N. 16th St.
- Burkland Tailors, 308 N. 16th St.
- Burt Blacksmith, 314 N. 16th St.
- Davis Clothing, 320 N. 16th St.
- Omaha Bicycle Company, 323 N. 16th St.
- Gross Pawn, 410 N. 16th St.
- Jefferson Square Stable, 420 N. 16th St.
- Gentlemen’s Grocery, 501 N. 16th St.
- Leslie & Leslie Funeral Home, 519 N. 16th St. – 1908 to 1919
- Osthoff Sign Painting, 519 N. 16th
- Family Wine and Liquor House, 616 N. 16th St.
- Black’s Annex, 702 N. 16th St.
- Gentleman & Larkin Funeral Home, 702 N. 16th St.
- Hoffman & Gentleman Funeral Home, 702 N. 16th St. – 1906 to 1907
- New England Furniture Company, 710 N. 16th St.
- J. A. Gentleman Mortuary, 813 N. 16th St. – 1909 to 1910
- P. H. Mahoney and Company, 813 N. 16th St.
- G. W. Obee Funeral Home, 906 N. 16th St. – 1909 to 1909
- Hollywood Spots-Lite Company at 912 N. 16th St.
- Holcomb Chemical Products Company at 918 N. 16th St.
- G. W. Obee Funeral Home, 1002 N. 16th St. to 1910 to 1910
- Gilman Wholesale Flour, 1013 N. 16th St.
- Old Fire Station, 1017 N. 16th St.
- Douglass and Company Lumber, 1310 N. 16th St.
- Omaha Milling Company, 1313 N. 16th St. – Founded 1888
- Seaman Wagons, 1331 N. 16th St
- Omaha Brewing Association, 1421 Sherman Avenue
- New Market, aka White’s Market, 1425 N. 16th Street
- Harmon and Weeth Coal, 1503 N. 16th St
- Omaha Updike Milling Company at 1513-23 N. 16th Ave
- Poppleton Mansion site, 1560 N. 16th Street
- Storz Brewery, 1807 N. 16th Street
- Plotkin Brothers Grocery, 2109 N. 16th
- G. W. Obee Funeral Home, 2114 N. 24th St. – 1911 to 1913
- Ye Old Junke Shop, 2025 North 16th St. – 1960 (est) to 1979
- Robinson Grocery, 2052 Sherman Ave – 1915
- Wise Hospital, 2225 Sherman Ave. – 1902 to 1907
- J. J. Brown Mansion, 2225 Sherman Ave.
- Ken’s Cafe, 2304 N. 16th St.
- Omaha Funeral Home, 2412 N. 16th St. – 1924 to 1925
- Simones Funeral Home, 2506 N. 16th St. – 1928 to 1929
- Ohio Fish Market, 2604 N. 16th St. – 19
- Corby Theatre, 2805 N. 16th St.
- Reed’s Ice Cream, N. 16th and Wirt Streets
- Thorson’s Grocery, 2814 Sherman Ave
- Lakeside Billards and Restaurant, 2821 N. 16th St.
- B&R Food Center, 2821 N. 16th St.
- King Kash Groceries, 2821 N. 16th St.
- Wise Hospital, 3208 Sherman Ave. – 1901 to 1902
- Omaha Driving Park site, intersection of N. 16th St. and Commercial Ave.
- Trans-Mississippi Expo sites, N. 16th St.
- Brown Quick Lunch Restaurant, N. 16th St.
- Governor Saunders House, 2008 N. 16th St.
- Carter Lake Pharmacy, 3932 N. 16th St.
National Register of Historic Places
Following are locations along N. 16th Street that have been placed on the National Parks Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
- Apartment Building at 2514 N. 16th Street, completed in 1929.
- The Sherman at 2501 North 16th Street, completed in 1897.
- The Margaret at 2103 N. 16th Street, completed in 1916.
- Strehlow Terrace aka Ernie Chambers Court, 2024 and 2107 N. 16th Street, completed between 1905 and 1916
- A Short History of the Intersection of N. 16th and Locust Streets in North Omaha
- A History of the Omaha Driving Park
- A History of North Omaha’s Omaha University Campus
- A History of North Omaha’s Hospitals and Healthcare
- A History of 20 Movie Theaters in North Omaha
- North Omaha Mansions #2: Poppleton Estate, aka Elizabeth Place
- North Omaha Mansions #3: The J. J. Brown Mansion
- A History of North Omaha’s Tidy House Products Company
- North Omaha History Podcast Episode 6: North 16th Street, pt I – Adam Fletcher Sasse drives us down North 16th Street, starting in the 1850s when it was a country road leading to the old town of Saratoga. We get a bird’s eye view of the mansions that once lined this grand way – also known as Sherman Avenue. (March 27, 2017; mins) Listen online or Download on iTunes
- North Omaha History Podcast Episode 7: North 16th Street, pt II – Adam continues his tour of N16th St as it transitions from luxury mansions to plush apartments that still stand to this day. He also gives us a tour of the Storz brewery and the center of commerce that was at 16th & Locust. (April 3, 2017) Listen Online or download on iTunes.
|Here’s a comparison of The Margaret apartments on North 16th in 1916 and 2016.|
|This is an ad for Omaha’s California Hotel from 1920. It was located at North 16th and California Streets.|
|This historic gas station is located at North 16th and Commercial. Built in the 1920s as a White Rose Gasoline Station, it has been a garage for at least 50 years.|
|This is a comparison of the intersection of North 16th and Locust in the 1950s and in 2015.|
|These buildings located near North 16th and California were built in the 1890s and are currently owned by Creighton University.|
|This historic Phillips 66 gas station is located at North 16th and Yates Streets.|
|The Fairfax Apartments were located on the east side of North 16th at Willis Street when this picture was taken in 1928.|
|The Sherman Apartments at 2501 N. 16th Street.|
|Former Nebraska Territory Governor Alvin Saunders last home was at 2008 N. 16th St.|