A History of North Omaha’s Adams Park

Adams Park, North Omaha, Nebraska

Along with its historic boulevard system, parks tie a lot of Omaha neighborhoods east of North 42nd Street together. These are beautiful places filled with entertainment, recreation, nature, and more. Some are swamped with buildings and paths, and others are meandering natural areas. One was planned in the 1930s next to the birthsite of Malcolm X, has an MUD pumphouse, hosts the only public swimming pool in the community, and is the site of a former dump! This is the history of Adams Park in North Omaha.

Roots of a Park

Scanning a swath of North Omaha that was yet to fill in with houses in the early 1880s, the City of Omaha decided they wanted to use a boulevard to attract housing developers build in the area. In 1894 they laid out a roadway for several miles from a fine neighborhood into undeveloped housing divisions. In 1910, they developed the boulevard further. It led north from its old Bemis Park neighborhood towards the newly emerging neighborhood around Fontenelle Park. Originally called Northwest Boulevard and Highland Boulevard, in 1912 the entire north-south section of this boulevard was renamed for John A. Creighton, a wealthy pioneer Omahan, while the east-west section connecting to Fontenelle Boulevard. was named for Bill Paxton, a pioneer businessman who developed the Paxton Hotel in downtown Omaha.

John A. Creighton Boulevard became the anchor for neighborhood development throughout much of this region. Starting in the Bemis Park neighborhood, it weaves through Orchard Hill, Prospect Hill, Omaha View, and the Bedford Place neighborhood.

The site for the park wasn’t carefully selected. In 1885, it was the site of a large farm belonging to Dr. James C. Whinnery, a South Omaha dentist. His estate extended from his home at North 30th and Miami to Bedford Avenue west to the Belt Line Railway. While he stayed there until the 1910s, Dr. Whinnery sold land to the Omaha Public Schools for the new Omaha View School in the 1890s; the rest of it remained in his estate for decades.

The area was mostly undeveloped through the 1940s. The City of Omaha cut a boulevard for horse-drawn buggies and wagons through the land in 1894, but didn’t improve it for decades. After the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado, part of the site was used for dumping debris, and that significant dump was located on the eastern edge of the park by Howard Kennedy School. On the western edge of the park was the old Belt Line Railroad, used for light industrial shipping through the neighborhood by the 1910s.

Bedford Avenue Pumping Station May 17, 1953
This is a May 17, 1953 pic of the Bedford Avenue Pumping Station in Adams Park. It was built by MUD. The Omaha World-Herald’s caption says, “A college chapel? No, this building, partly concealed by pines, is the MUD pumping station, Bedford Avenue and John A. Creighton Boulevard.”

The Metropolitan Utilities District built the Bedford Avenue Pumping Station at the northeast corner of the area in 1931, long before the land around it became a park. Around this era the boulevard route was changed to switchback through the park, and the old route was referred to as a “drainage road” on maps. The rest of the park’s area was sloped and hilly, without easy space to build houses on. With the undesirable nature of much of the land, it was easy to ignore it while the rest of the area in-filled with housing. When those houses were built throughout the surrounding neighborhoods to the west, the City scurried to open a suitable park for the neighborhood.

A War Builds a Neighborhood

Bedford Park, North Omaha, Nebraska
This June 15, 1947 featurette in the Sunday World-Herald is a pic of 60-acres chosen by the City of Omaha for “Bedford Park,” which was later named Adams Park.

Those new roadways slowly attracted development for the first 40 years of their lives. Immediately after World War II though, the whole area started growing fast as returning veterans needed homes for their new families. Suddenly, almost every empty space in North Omaha was in-filled with houses.

To meet the needs of these new residents, the City of Omaha wanted the land to be a park early. In 1945, they proposed purchasing the farm land, but didn’t proceed with it.

It was 1948 when they built the new park. Named Bedford Park for a city councilman who owned the land the park was on, in 1956 they renamed the park in honor of a businessman, calling it Adams Park.

The oldest part of the park is Creighton Blvd., which had swooping switchbacks leading up the hill. According to the City of Omaha, the rest of Adams Park had nothing old or notable on it. However, there are clues to an interesting past. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted soil quality tests in the 2000s to determine the health of the park. They discovered the southeast corner of the park near Howard Kennedy School was once filled with building debris, including gravel, brick, slag, and glass. This confirms the presence of the dump that was in the park.

However, the view from the park is unmatched in the entire city. It is huge. Almost accidentally, from a certain point in Adams Park a person can stand and look out over northeast Omaha. Few other parks in the city can claim a view like that.

Malcolm X Birthsite

This circa 1980 signage was place at the Malcolm X Birthsite before the Nebraska State Historic Society placed one there in 1984.
This circa 1980 signage was place at the Malcolm X Birthsite before the Nebraska State Historic Society placed one there in 1984.

Adams park sits next to the birthsite of Malcolm X. Historically, there was a small African American neighborhood north and west of Adams Park, stemming back to the 1880s. It was in this neighborhood where Earl Little tried raising a family in the 1920s. However, despite being a Baptist minister, in Omaha Little was more associated with his work as an apostle of Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association. As his son wrote in his autobiography,

“The Klansmen shouted threats and warnings at her that we better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand for my father’s ‘spreading trouble’ among the ‘good’ Negroes of Omaha.”

Little’s son came to be called Malcolm X, and the residents in the Adams Park neighborhood were ‘the good Christian white people’ he wrote about. These same people repeatedly terrorized Little and his family in their house at 3448 Pinkney Street until they moved from Omaha in 1926. Their house was demolished in the 1980s.

The park also abutted an neighborhood referred to as “Plum Nelly,” which was also African American and may or may not have been the same as the one mentioned above. Learn more here »

White Flight Hits

Segregated schools in Omaha in 1967.
A 1967 map of Omaha’s Black schools at that point, including Tech Junior and Senior High; Webster, Franklin, Kennedy, Fairfax, Druid Hill, Monmouth Park, Saratoga, Lothrop, Lake, Connestoga, and Kellom Grade Schools; and Mann Junior High.

Within a decade after the park was originally developed, the neighborhood around Adams Park started changing. Segregation had kept African Americans from moving to the park before the 1950s. When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, the City of Omaha prohibited redlining, which was the racist practice of making African Americans live in parts of the city white people wanted them to. That was stopped by the federal government, and the neighborhood around Adams Park began to integrate. However, instead of living among African Americans, many white people sold their homes and moved to west Omaha instead. This is called white flight.

It is estimated that currently, neighborhoods surrounding Adams Park have 50% fewer residents than they had in their heyday during the 1950s. The economic vitality of the neighborhood was destroyed as sustainable middle class jobs emptied out of the North Omaha community, and much of the potential cultural connection with the African American center of Omaha along North 24th Street was obliterated by the construction of the Kennedy Freeway starting in the 1960s.

Adams Park, North Omaha, Nebraska in 1930 and in 2020
These two aerial photos show the Adams Park in North Omaha in 1930 and in 2020.

Today, the park has 68 acres. It has picnic areas, playgrounds, restrooms, softball fields and tennis and basketball courts. There are extensive plans to redevelop the park and make it more usable. The historic Howard Kennedy School and the more modern King Elementary School are on opposite sides of the park, and the site of the former Stage II Lounge abuts it.

The Bedford Avenue Pumping Station is located on the north side of the park, along with the Adams Park Community Center. The pumping station is notable for its architecture in the second Spanish colonial style, and the community center has the only public swimming pool in this region of North Omaha. The community center also has meeting rooms, an indoor gym and a fitness center.

Big Plans for the Future

1945 Adams Park plans, North Omaha, Nebraska
This 1945 image shows plans for North Omaha’s Bedford Park, later called Adams Park, made by the City of Omaha. An undeveloped space, the 60 acres included here featured “children’s playfields, picnic areas, tennis courts, baseball, softball and other sports fields, parking areas, and service buildings.”

One of the hallmarks of North Omaha are big plans. Since the riots of the 1960s, the City of Omaha and area nonprofits have seemed to be in a constant planning cycle, starting with gathering input, devising plans, launching projects, and then fizzling out.

Adams Park and the surrounding neighborhood haven’t been immune to this phenomenon. For instance, in the late 1990s a planning process revealed that the park was the only large one in North Omaha that didn’t have a pond of its own. So the City of Omaha made one in 2000.

Since before 2007, there has been a large scale redevelopment process underway focused on using the park as leverage to develop a healthier neighborhood around it. The vision centers on turning Adams Park into a central park for the North Omaha community, packed with healthy activities and opportunities, including a new multi-use field, urban farming activities, two miles of new trails, attractive rehabilitation of Creighton Blvd, and more.

The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, which owns 11 acres next to Adams Park, has been a major force for the positive, powerful transformation of the neighborhood. In 2010, they opened their center at the North 34th and Evans Streets. They have visions of the area as an international tourist attraction in honor of Malcolm X, one of Omaha’s most unspoken native sons. This is the location of the Malcolm X Birthsite, where Earl Little and his family was targeted by Omaha’s Klu Klux Klan to push them out of the city.

The City of Omaha has finally committed real resources to making these plans move, and progress is underway right now.

There is also vision for the future beyond current times. A new streetcar line has been proposed to move along the old Belt Line Railway; developing the Malcolm X Memorial Birthplace and International Center; creating housing programs to support residential and commercial in-fill in the neighborhood surrounding the park;

So, positive things lie ahead for Adams Park. With the past behind it, and a bright, positive future ahead, tremendous things could be in the works!

Adams Park Historical Timeline

Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Visitor Center, 3448 Evans St., North Omaha, Nebraska. Pic courtesy of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.
This is the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Visitor Center, located at 3448 Evans St. Pic courtesy of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.
  • 1885: Dr. Whinnery acquired the land for his farm estate
  • 1886: Belt Line Railway was constructed west of the farm land
  • 1890s: The Plum Nelly area was established west of the farm land
  • 1894: The City of Omaha cut a boulevard through the farm land
  • 1908: Howard Kennedy School was built east of the farm land
  • 1913: The site was used as a dump for debris from the Easter Sunday Tornado
  • 1926: Malcolm X’s family terrorized into leaving their home east of the farm land
  • 1945: The City of Omaha creates plans to develop a park
  • 1948: The City of Omaha acquired the farm land to become Bedford Park
  • 1956: The City of Omaha renamed it Adams Park
  • 1971: The Malcolm X Memorial Shrine established by Rowena Moore at 3448 Pinkney Street
  • 1975: The City of Omaha completed construction of the Adams Park Community Center
  • 1987: The State of Nebraska recognized the Malcolm X Birthsite with a historical marker
  • 2000: The City of Omaha installed a pond at the park
  • 2010: Malcolm X Memorial Foundation opens its facility next to the park

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