A History of Original Omaha University in North Omaha

Along the tree-lined streets and fine middle and upper class homes of Kountze Place in North Omaha, the staff of Omaha’s Presbyterian Theological Seminary decided in the early 20th century to start a new university. For 30 years, the neighborhood was home to the eventual University of Nebraska at Omaha. This is a short history of that time, starting from the beginning.

 


Colleges in Omaha

The first higher education institution in Nebraska was proposed for the town of Saratoga in 1863. It never came together though. Omaha was just over 20 years old when its first higher education facility Omaha. Before 1900, the city’s religiously affiliated universities and colleges were increasingly popular and successful. Creighton University, Omaha’s most famous higher ed facility, was founded in 1878 by Catholics. Clarkson College began in 1888 and was started by the Episcopal church. The Nebraska Methodist College was started in 1891, and the Omaha Medical College was started as a private business in 1880. It was into that reality that the Presbyterians decided the city needed a non-religious higher education institution.

An original sign for North Omaha’s University of Omaha campus.

In 1908, a group of faculty from the Seminary founded the University of Omaha. It was private, nonreligious and coed. Seeking to start a higher ed institution that was “free from ecclesiastical control,” they also wanted to ensure “sound learning and practical education.” They succeeded.

The site of the University was on North Omaha’s 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition. The Redick Mansion, which was built as a farmhouse in the 1870s, predated the Expo. However, everything else on the site of the campus was built on the site.


Buildings

  • Redick Mansion: 24th and Pratt Street (Built in 1875; Redick Hall in 1907; deconstructed in 1917)
  • Jacobs Gymnasium: 3624 North 24th Street (Built in 1916; demolished in 1964)
  • Temporary Library: 24th and Pratt Street
  • Joslyn Hall: Renamed the “University Apartments” 3620 North 24th Street (Built in 1916; demolished in 1964)
  • Saratoga Science Hall: 24th and Ames Avenue (Built in 1892; Science Hall starting in 1927; demolished in 1938)
  • Saratoga Field: 24th and Meredith Avenue (1925 to 1928)
  • South Lab Building No. 11: Designed by John Latenser and Sons sometime between 1916 and 1920. I’m unsure of whether it was built and at what location.
  • North Wing Addition: Designed by John Latenser and Sons before 1930, I’m unsure of whether it was built and at what location.
  • North Lab: Designed before 1930, this was designed by John Latenser and Sons, also. I’m unsure of whether it was built and at what location.
  • North Lab: Designed in 1930 by John Latenser and Sons, I’m unsure of whether it was built and at what location.


Redick Mansion

The Redick Mansion, University of Omaha’s first building.

The first building was the Redick Mansion, located at North 24th and Pratt Streets. During the first year, 26 students came to the University of Omaha. In the Reddick Hall, students took basic courses, socialized, and otherwise partook of everything college students could. In 1917, Redick Hall was sold and moved to Minnesota, where it was used as a resort. It burnt down in the 1950s.

 


Jacobs Gymnasium

Jacobs Gymnasium was built for the University in 1916. Jacobs Hall was a gymnasium facing North 24th Street, built with $14,000 from the sale of land donated by Lillian Maul. The building was named in honor of her deceased son, John C. Jacobs. Jacobs Gym featured a large room, there was a sitting area on a balcony above the floor.
The interior of the Jacobs Gym.
The exterior of the Jacobs Gymnasium, built in 1910.
The Omaha University girls basketball team in 1922. They played at Jacobs Gymnasium.
After the University stopped using it, Jacobs Gymnasium was repurposed. It was demolished in 1964, and the Omaha Housing Authority built Evans Tower, a low-income senior home, in its place.

Joslyn Hall

Jacobs Hall with N. 24th Street’s trolley tracks, circa 1917.
Omaha University’s Joslyn Hall, opened in 1917 near North 24th and Pratt Streets.

George Joslyn, a wealthy printer in Omaha, contributed a lot of his money to charities around Omaha. You know him from the home built for his wife Sarah, which we call the Joslyn Castle. She contributed the money for the Joslyn Art Museum in memory of her husband after he died. However, when he was still young George donated $25,000 to Omaha University in 1915. The new building, called Joslyn Hall, was finished in January 1917 just south of Redick Hall. With three stories and a basement, the building had thirty classrooms, an auditorium and a small library. Science labs, the music department and several other areas were originally located there.


Saratoga Science Hall

Built in the first decade of the twentieth century, North Omaha’s Saratoga School went unused during World War I. Desperate for space, Omaha University started using the building as its science hall from 1917 to 1925.
Omaha University Science Hall, circa 1925.
A science club gatherings outside the Science Hall in the 1920s.

Saratoga Field

In 1927, businessmen formed the North Omaha Activities Association in order to redevelop Saratoga School’s playing field into a football field for the University’s football team. New bleachers were built for a thousand spectactors, and the Saratoga Field was home to OU’s football team until 1951.
Omaha University’s Saratoga Field, with the Saratoga Science Hall in the background, circa 1925.

Other Buildings

There were other buildings, too. The University of Omaha College of Commerce and Finance was located at 1307 Farnam Street, and the College of Law was at 1307 Farnam Street. They stayed in these places from from around 1918 until each of the colleges were consolidated at the present-day UNO campus in 1938. There were at least three other buildings on the North 24th and Evans campus (called the “U” Campus) as well, but I have not located them yet.
Staff offices, location unknown.

The “Magnificent Campus”

In the early 1920s a proposed “magnificent campus” was slated for development between Florence Boulevard and North 25th Avenue. With twenty three buildings, the campus had two clusters of buildings. However, this campus was never built.
The original general conceptual plan for the University of Omaha, est. 1908.


Closure

Instead of building the magnificent campus, by the Great Depression the city was talking about moving Omaha University. By 1938, the campus officially moved to 60th and Dodge Street. Some of the old campus buildings were supposedly redeveloped as apartments and offices, but I can’t find any evidence of them.
In June 1964, Jacobs and Joslyn Halls were the last two original OU buildings left. They were demolished that year, and there is apparently no evidence of the campus left today.
If you like the photos you see here, go like at this awesome photoset by UNO’s Criss Library on Flickr. Its a great collection and begins to hint at what life was like on the campus.

Finally, here’s a snapshot of what the neighborhood is laid out like today for you to compare with the Magnificent Campus plan above:

 

The approximate location of North Omaha’s historic Omaha University Magnificent Campus plan.


Related Articles

 


BONUS PICS!

 

 

 

1928 University of Omaha advertisement
This is a 1928 advertisement for the University of Omaha. It includes the departments of the University and the address of the campus.
1928 University of Omaha Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company advertisement
This is a 1928 advertisement for the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company service to and from the University of Omaha and its various facilities.

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