A history of North Omaha's Fontenelle Park by Adam Fletcher Sasse

A History of Fontenelle Park in North Omaha

Baseball bats almost determined the future of the Fontenelle neighborhood early in its history, and have kept their importance almost the entire life of the park. Following is a short history of North Omaha’s hidden baseball legacy.

This is Fontenelle Park in 1927. The baseball stands, the pavilion, and the pond are all obvious. That curvy road to the right of the pond was straightened out and eventually became Ames Avenue, while the Fontenelle Boulevard is obviously paved and smooth already.


The smack of the bat against a baseball rang out through the neighborhood, and with that, a crowd of 20,000 people cheered loud enough for almost all of North Omaha to hear.

The year was 1939, and the American Legion World Series was being held in Fontenelle Park along Ames Street. For more than 20 years, minor league ball was played in the park, with this world series a culminating event. Over the course of its entire life, North Omaha’s Fontenelle Park has hidden a great baseball legacy.


A crowd of 2,000 packs Fontenelle Park’s covered grandstands in 1947 during a tournament.

Horace’s Vision for Omaha


The park’s pavilion not long after completion in the 1920s. Notice the baseball field’s grandstands to the left of the building, and the absence of trees to the right.


Late in the 1880s, the City of Omaha hired a famous parks designer named Horace Cleveland to lay out a plan for the city’s parks. Cleveland provided that plan. It was capped with a 500 acre central park for the city (Elmwood Park) along with several major parks where the city was growing, and long, meandering boulevards that were nice to drive on because of their landscaping and views.


Some of the trees the city planted in the 1890s were growing tall in this 1905 photo looking south along the future Fontenelle Blvd. Notice the horse-driven buggy.


One of those boulevards led to Fontenelle Park, which was planned to be a major park in the city. It became that, and a lot more.

Right away after buying the land, the city planted trees all over the park. However, people were mad at how much it cost, and nothing happened for the next 20 years.


This is what is now Fontenelle Blvd looking north through the park in 1912. Notice the open fields all around…

Cleveland’s plan for the park was implemented in earnest in 1912. That year, things started to move along when the city built Fontenelle Boulevard through the park, along with a few other drifting driveways. The park was officially dedicated in 1914 with a gigantic fireworks display, and a few years later the lagoon was put in, fed by natural springs and ground water. It iced over in the winter and was perfect for skating.


A Suburban Dreamland


Looking smashing when it was finished, the pavilion (clubhouse) at Fontenelle Park was its jewel for a long time.


In 1920, the golf course was installed, and it was around then that the baseball field was installed, eventually with grandstands and concessions all around. By then, the nine-hole course was complimented with picnic areas, playground space, a sled-toboggan slide.

Throughout the 1920s, the park was crammed with people and special events. The biggest was a World War I commemorative fireworks display that was attended by 80,000 people. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) set off displays at the park for almost 50 years after that.


The lagoon at Fontenelle Park was well-respected for its beauty and splendor.


In 1927, the city built a beautiful two story pavilion out of brick and concrete. Inside, a hall and dance floor, a kitchen and showers waited for everyone to use. Around the pavilion wrapped a wide porch for collecting on hot summer nights, and shading during those same days. People could rent bikes, take long walks, picnic around the pond, and relax at this beautiful suburban dream.

By the late 1930s, the park was packed with the best times for North Omaha’s residents. A lover’s lane floated along the hillside south of the pavilion, and since Ames Avenue wasn’t a major street yet, there wasn’t a lot of distractions in this serene suburban park.


By the 1940s the park was perfected, with mature landscaping and beautiful features.


In 1939, the baseball field was rebuilt and new bleachers were put in to hold 2,000 people. The Omaha Cardinals were set to move in when neighbors said no – but not before the American Legion World Series held their events there that year. Crowds of 20,000 fans showed up, whooping and cheering late into long summer days on that North Omaha field.

Those noisy smashing bats were never as loud again.


Lost Opportunities?



The Fontenelle Park Lagoon in the 1940s.


The early 1940s saw Fontenelle’s grandstands expanded and the field enlarged to major league measurements.

Right after World War II, Omaha’s mayor Rosenblatt floated the idea of building a “world class stadium” at Fontenelle Park. Originally called Olympic Stadium, it was supposed to house Omaha’s grand ambitions, which later took hold by making the city the home of the College World Series. However, neighbors around the park rejected the idea because of the traffic, lights, and noise.

At the same time, North Omaha was changing. With the expanding community of African Americans in Omaha starting to edge Fontenelle Park, and the current neighborhood’s rejection of a major stadium, the City of Omaha seemed to love the park a lot less.


Fontenelle Park, North Omaha, Nebraska
Fontenelle Park Fireworks, Thursday, July 4th 1940 at Fontenelle Park in North Omaha.



By 1949, a city-wide planning committee recommended the golf course be ripped out, and the park be filled with more baseball facilities. They also wanted to see a swimming pool built, along with tennis courts and more playground space for small children. None of that ever came to fruition, and the baseball facilities didn’t expand.

At the same time, white flight had gripped North Omaha, and in their panic, many white people began fleeing the north end of the city. The African American community grew after World War II, the Omaha school district began integrating in the 1950s, and the area was changing.

Late in the 1950s the city paved over lover’s lane and installed street lights to discourage its status as a great place to makeout. They installed a firing range in the basement of the pavilion, and added tennis courts and a new building for tennis players and golfers in 1963.

In 1975, the VFW stopped their annual fireworks displays. With a city government and upper class seemingly entrenched in racism, the media piped negativity about African Americans and the middle class white flight from North Omaha continued.


This plan proposed removing the golf course entirely, and was enacted.


Reclaiming the Park

The baseball fields today.


After decades of neglect, in the 1990s North High’s baseball team began reclaiming the baseball fields. A few years later, the team’s parents and supporters pitched in to rebuild the fields, with new dugouts, grass, bleachers, and more. Seating fewer than 100 fans, its not quite like the old days, but it’s still a great place to watch high school baseball.

The rest of the park has wavered in its usage and support. The Joe Edmondson YMCA outreach program has been run in the pavilion for more than 30 years.

Recently, the city has been renovating the park in a variety of ways. A water-blasting spraypark has been built, and this fall there was a cleanup at the lagoon. However, the biggest change in the park is now happening. In fall 2012 the mayor of Omaha announced the City was adding many new components by removing a major one: the golf course. It is now home to several new elements designed to bring more people to the park. They include new walking trails, more picnic areas, more trees, places to fish, a new cross country track for high school and middle school students, and a disc golf course. The park is also home to a new facility for kids programs.


Saratoga, Nebraska
An 1885 map of the town of Saratoga. Note the long wetlands along Ames Avenue by 42nd that became the Fontenelle Park pond.


As for baseball, North High continues to grow its sense of place in the park. This hidden legacy breathes life and potential into the area by placing the high school in a positive relationship with neighborhood around it. The park has rich potential as a place for service learning and place-based learning, as well as experiential education activities of all kinds.

The future of North Omaha is growing, and Fontenelle Park shows one way Omaha can embrace that growth.


Related Articles

Elsewhere Online

Bonus Pics!


Fontenelle Park, North Omaha, Nebraska
A view of the baseball field at North Omaha’s Fontenelle Park. Can you identify the building in the background?


  1. Just wanted to add that the current improvements to the park are related to the combined sewer project. The lagoon will be enlarged and stocked with fish, the island has been removed (slight tragedy in my opinion), over 100 new trees will be planted, and more paved paths will be added.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Too bad about the island. I have fond memories of the lagoon, although I was in my early 20’s by the time I first lived in the area.


  3. I grew up in this area, first on N.42 and Pratt in the mid 60’s, then later my family lived at the corner of 41st and Ames in the early 70’s up until about 2001. In the early 1970s this area was still a predominately white area with a few African-American families . There was also 3 restaurants surrounding the area of Ames Ave and the Park. Over the next 25 years I witness ed alot of population and neighborhood changes and Fontenelle Park was a part of our everyday lives. Many Caucasian s still returned to the area to play golf and gold golf tournaments. My favorite memory of the Park was the annual firework shows, outdoor concerts, picnics, and also the year my elder brother caught a 17 pound Catfish out of the Fontenelle pond which made the newspaper!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s