Hidden deep in the heart of North Omaha is a jewel of a street, filled with abundant American foursquare houses, long yards and hints of its glory 100 years ago. This section of Wirt Street, from North 16th to North 24th Streets, was once home to some of the predominant names in the beautiful Kountze Place development. It was also home to more than simple foursquares. In addition to the stout middle class houses, there were some exquisite examples of high style in Omaha history. This article highlights those beauties, which suggest a future for the Wirt Street Historic District.
William O. Wirt was a “wide awake and energetic” businessman in Council Bluffs starting in the 1870s. His store there, the Boston Tea Company, was said to be a full-service grocery store that was completely stocked with everything the early settler would need for their westward travels. Somewhere along the way, he did somebody a favor and likely ended up with a street in North Omaha named after him.
Somehow, Wirt Street became a hotbed for substantial architecture in North Omaha—and that’s saying a lot, given the area’s historically powerful architectural history. Imagine gas lamps and cobblestone streets lining the way starting in the 1880s, and let’s start on an excursion through Omaha history…
Starting at Sherman Street
Starting in the 1860s and 1870s, Sherman Street, aka North 16th Street, was a rural escape for wealthy businessmen suffering the daily grind in young Omaha City. They would toil at their factories, offices and warehouses in today’s downtown area, then ride fancy carriages to their country escapes overlooking the Missouri River. Those mansions sat along N. 16th.
In the 1880s, that strip evolved when the streetcar lines were laid along this stretch up to Lothrop. Suddenly, white collar workers were hopping off the streetcars and into fancy apartment buildings along the way. The old mansions were either torn down, converted into apartments, or held onto tightly by their old owners.
Starting on N. 14th St., Wirt is routinely stocked with large, 2 1/2 story American Foursquare homes. There are a lot of large, house-wide porches and dormers poking out from attics, as well as partially exposed basement foundations and old driveways. The curbs were cut sharp in the old days, and they generally haven’t been replaced or well kept since then. Grass covers a few spots. Some homeowners are keeping up their houses though, and we’re going to look at the most spectacular of them.
The Kountze Place neighborhood was originally platted by Augustus Kountze in the 1870s. After a delay of construction during a long recession, in the 1880s it began to fill in. After the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, this was highly sought-after land and many of the following homes were built in the following decade. Houses built after 1920 were mostly in-fill, and don’t reflect the overall stately manner of the homes on the Wirt Street Historic District.
Built in Omaha’s once-posh Kountze Place suburb, today Wirt Street sits in the heart of North Omaha. The houses featured here are ones I love, but its easy to see there are plenty more that could and should be added. If you know of others that belong here, please comment below.
Its hard to say what once existed, but here are a few houses between N. 16th and N. 24th Streets that still exist today that make this street so notable.
George Shepard House
1802 Wirt Street was finished in 1887. Called the George F. Shepard House, it was built by a stonemason who personalized much of the residence with marble and stone etchings. With 5 bedrooms at 4415 square feet, it is the largest existent house on the street today. This home is the template for the Queen Anne/Beaux-Arts architectural style used in this period, with an asymmetrical floor and roof plan, a rounded turret, a wraparound porch, and the shingles used on the third floor to offset the brickwork on the first two levels. There’s a generous lawn with historically accurate flora throughout it, all of which is well-kept.
1805 Wirt Street
1805 Wirt Street was completed in 1908. At just over 3,300 square feet, it is the second largest house along this section of Wirt today. This is a Classical Revival style home, with a dark brown brick exterior and white wood trim, and tall pillars on the front, which also features an asymmetrical, yet finely balanced appeal. Two stories and a full attic give this home its substantive appearance, along with a well-kept, broad lawn and greenery.
1812 Wirt Street was built by the namesake of the David Cole Creamery. His business was so lucrative that it enabled him to build this fine Eastlake style home, including more than 8 rooms and at least 2,000 square feet. The David Cole Creamery was located at 10th and Howard Street.
Van Cort House
2210 Wirt Street was finished in 1893. This 2,750 square foot Queen Anne style home was built with brick and mortar, and wood clapboard on the partial third floor. Featuring a wraparound porch with a corner turret, the home has several distinct Victorian features, including flourished windows and porch details.
2120 Wirt Street
2120 Wirt Street was finished in 1910. Built in the Period Dutch Colonial Revival style, this house has a unique cross-gable grambel roof covering the second floor. It also features a rounded porch and arched dormers, with an accent window above the second floor south-facing windows. The home is in good condition and has a large yard that is cared for.
1902 Wirt Street
1902 Wirt Street was built in 1900. With 3,000 square feet and a wraparound porch, this home represents a high point in neighborhood construction. Its square tower represents a high Victorian adaptation with a simplified plain wood exterior. The house is surrounded by an ample lawn which is well-kept.
Charles Storz House
1901 Wirt Street is also known as the Charles Storz House. Storz, the brother of Storz Brewery owner Gottlieb Storz, finished building the house in 1890, with almost 3,900 square feet throughout the 2 1/2 story house. With its wraparound porch and variety of exterior finishes, this is an Arts and Crafts style home. The mostly symmetrical home is complimented by the offset porch. A small, central bay window on the second floor is an interesting feature, as are the exposed eaves on the porch and roofline. The lawn is well-kept and the trees are in magnificent condition.
A. D. Jones / Anna Wilson Mansion
Built by Omaha pioneer Alfred D. Jones, the mansion at 2018 Wirt Street represented the height of his success. With ten rooms of the finest dark brick, the house sat on a ten-acre fruit orchard when he built it in 1891. In 1906, notorious Omaha madam Anna Wilson bought it and lived there until 1911 when she passed away. The house changed hands over and over after that, and was torn down by the 1980s.
1920 Wirt Street
1920 Wirt Street was built in 1888 in a contemporary Midwestern style, featuring stone and mortar exterior with some stucco and a multi-pitched roof. With just over 2,000 square feet, its not the largest house on this page. However, it has many interesting features, including three stories, two beautiful bay window sets on the front and east-facing side, and a tall, semi-exposed basement. It has a mature lawn with beautiful trees.
Wirt Street was thick with mansions. Starting in 1890, the Major Wilcox mansion at 2100 Wirt was next to the Weller mansion at 2102 Wirt, which was down the street from the Alfred Jones mansion at 2018 Wirt. None of these exist today, but their memories haunt the street and remind people what was great in Kountze Place.
2214 Wirt Street was built in the 1870s as a mansion for J.J. and Mary McLain, an enterprising couple from Ohio. After Mary became involved in a charity, she donated their house to become the Old Peoples Home in the 1890s. Designed in the Italianate Revival style popular in post-pioneer Omaha, the building was three stories with a full basement. It had at least 24 rooms, as well as a large front porch. After sitting empty, it was demolished after a fire in 1969.
2024 Wirt Street
2024 Wirt Street is a 2,900 square foot house built in 1900. Representing the high Queen Anne style, it has scalloped siding on three stories. Although its historical provenance was plainly obvious, this house was demolished in 2017.
1907 Wirt Street
There is no Wirt Street Historic District – yet. Its just a good idea I had after scanning these magnificent homes. Following are some other interesting imaginings you could ponder…
Coming home from your bustling job downtown, it would have been a lovely walk up or down Wirt Street from your N. 16th St. streetcar. On a weekend day, you might have grabbed a bite to eat at Brown’s Quick Lunch Restaurant on N. 16th, or taken a lovely walk to Kountze Park for a stroll around the lake. Maybe you walked around the Omaha University campus to watch the freshmen frolicking on the lawns. In 1890, the Presbyterian Hospital of Omaha was established at 1626 Wirt Street. Maybe you went there to see your sick grandmother.
Alfred D. Jones, the first postmaster of Omaha and a pioneer present in a lot of the city’s early history, once owned a house at 2018 Wirt Street. In 1894, he watched his mother-in-law die in his house, and probably didn’t even bother to take her to the neighboring hospital – born in 1799, she was practically ancient for her times, having lived to age 95. She didn’t quite make it long enough to stay at the Christian Women’s Association Old Folks’ Home, which was once right down the street from Jones’ house.
A century later, you may send your kids your kids to the King Science Center, or attended church at one of the twenty churches within the nearest blocks. Taking the bus up N. 24th, if it was the 1950s you might’ve stopped at 24th and Lake or across the street from the original school where King is. During that time period, one of your neighbors at 2727 Wirt Street would have been Omaha’s first African American school principal, Eugene Skinner. He later became the first African American to hold the positions of director and assistant superintendent for OPS, too. His house was eventually bulldozed to make the North Freeway.
Today, you may take a long drive to get groceries, but if you live in one of the beauties shown above, I understand why you’re willing to take it. Thank you for keeping your houses, Wirt Street. I salute you and all the people who live in your most hallowed halls!
- Kountze Place
- North 24th Street
- North 16th Street, aka Sherman Avenue
- Binney Street Historical District
|Then and now at 1802 Wirt Street in North Omaha!|