A History of North Omaha’s Adams Park

Adams Park, North Omaha, Nebraska

Scanning a swath of North Omaha that was yet to fill in with houses in the early 1900s, the City of Omaha decided they wanted to use a boulevard to attract housing developers build in the area. In 1910, they developed a boulevard leading from its old Bemis Park neighborhood towards the newly emerging neighborhood around Fontenelle Park.

The north-south section was named for John A. Creighton, a wealthy pioneer Omahan, while the east-west section connecting to Fontenelle Blvd. was named for Bill Paxton, a pioneer businessman who developed the Paxton Hotel in downtown Omaha.

A War Builds a Neighborhood

Bedford Park, North Omaha, Nebraska
This June 15, 1947 featurette in the Sunday World-Herald is a pic of 50-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 neighborhood 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, about midway up Creighton Boulevard the City of Omaha built a new park in 1948 and named it 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 site wasn’t carefully selected. Instead, it was mostly under-developable for the housing built around it from the 1910s through the 1950s. On the western edge of the park was the old Belt Line Railroad, long-since abandoned by then. The rest of the park was sloped and hilly, without easy space to build houses on.

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 could show that there were buildings on the park grounds before it was made.
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.

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.

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.

Today, the park has 68 acres. It has picnic areas, playgrounds, restrooms, softball fields and tennis and basketball courts. As home to a community center, it also has meeting rooms, an indoor gym and a fitness center. There are extensive plans to redevelop the park and make it more usable.

Big Plans for the Future

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.

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!

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