A History of North Omaha’s Pries Lake

Here’s Pries Lake from a 1910s postcard. 

The hills around North Omaha’s Florence neighborhood have kept their share of wealthy country homes, fancy gentlemen’s farms and old settlements hidden since the 1840s. However, one of the most popular places that ever existed in the area was a picnic resort that’s completely forgotten today. Its not on any modern maps, either. This is Pries Lake.


Settling North of Florence

Frederik Christian Pries, aka Fritz, was born in Viby, Denmark in 1845. The son of a forester, he immigrated to the United States with his brother Adolphus around 1860. After serving in a New York regiment of the US Army in 1862-63, he claimed a soldier’s stake of land near Florence.

 

Here are canoeists on Pries Lake in 1907.

Fritz and Adolphus settled on 80 acres outside of Florence in the 1880s. Together, they dammed up an old river bed to make Pries Lake and built a seven story house on their land, along with a farm.


Pries Lake

Advertised as “Omaha’s Delightful Outing Resort,” Pries Lake regularly advertised music, boating and fishing, all for $.25 a day. The well-shaded and forested lake provided a great site for picnics and water sports, including canoeing, swimming and more. More than one old-timer said that “During the summer there were picnics at Pries’ Lake, overlooking the river, and when the heat was not too intense, more dances…”

 

A view of the Pries Lake with wind blowing on the water.

The Fantastic Fritz Pries

Fritz was notorious for several reasons. He reportedly built several flying machines throughout his life, and is credited for building the first plane in Nebraska, in 1881. His plans for the plane were displayed at Max Meyer’s store downtown for a year while and he and his brother tested it on their farm. Adolphus broke his arm, but they kept trying until the day Fritz almost died when the plane crashed in his lake. He was an early inventor of planes; the famous Wright Brothers not inventing their plane until 1903.

In 1890, Fritz patented a baseball game. There is also a house near where Pries Lake is located that the Douglas County Assessor’s office records as being built in 1890.

Then in 1899, Fritz made the national news. I found stories in newspapers from Los Angeles to Colorado to New York City. In the 1899, his brother Adolphus died suddenly. After burying him in a fine coffin on his own land, Fritz said nothing more about him until 1899, when his sister-in-law died. Fritz caused a stir when he dug up his brother’s grave, reburied him in a cloth with no casket, and buried his brother’s wife in his brother’s former coffin. When people got wind of that, the news went national and papers across the country covered the action. After that, there was a big stir and the woman was reburied in a new coffin. In 1900, Adolphus was reburied at the Springwell Danish Cemetery. In 1902, his wife was reburied there, too.
Fritz died in 1910 and was buried in Springwell Danish Cemetery.


Selling the Lake

An advertisement ran in the 1907 Omaha Bee that bragged about new management at the lake. The ad said, “We are able to offer special inducements to Societies, Lodges and large Family Parties, and any committee sent by you to investigate will be entirely welcome. Autos will meet every car at end of Florence line.” Of course, the year later the Omaha Bee also reported that the Douglas County sheriff was likely going to shut down the Pries Lake Saloon because of illegal poker and other gambling there.

In 1910, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a project to build a tuberculosis hospital at Pries Lake was abandoned. By 1915, the land was sold, and although people were still invited to visit, the picnic areas had grown over and few people still visited.


Locating the Lost Pries Lake

Pries Lake was located right along present-day John J. Pershing Drive near Dodge Park. The 1908 advertisement below says it was ten blocks from the end of the Florence streetcar line, which ended at N. 30th and McKinley Street.

 

This ad is from a 1908 newspaper.

The following 1915 map shows exactly where Pries Lake was. I want to especially thank Michele Wyman for finding this map and Micah Evans for his assistance.

This map is from a 1915 journal article about the geology of the area. It clearly marks the location of the lake.

Disappearing a Lake

In the 1910s, the City of Omaha became concerned about the amount of water that was being absorbed by Pries Lake. Contending that it was illegally restricting the flow of water to the city, they insisted that it be drained and the water allow to return to the water table.

The lake was drained and never came back again.

There’s some irony about the fate of the land where Pries Lake was though. Today, the Dodge Park soccer fields are across the road from where the lake sat. If old Fritz Pries really wanted people to recreate and have fun, he’d be happy at what the area has become.


Related Articles

 

Elsewhere Online


BONUS PICS!

Many interesting events were held at Pries Lake, including the Cowboy Mayor Jim Dahlman’s celebratory events.
This is an illustration of Pries’s baseball type game. Check out Pries’s patent!
This is the illustration of Pries’s flying machine from 1881. This illustration was in the window of Max Meyer’s store in downtown Omaha for a year.

4 thoughts on “A History of North Omaha’s Pries Lake

Add yours

  1. THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL STORIES ABOUT NORTH OMAHA, I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN OMAHA, BUT MOSTLY TO THE SOUTH. I LEARNED A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THE NORTH SIDE, WHEN I MET MY FUTURE HUSBAND IN 1952, HE WAS A AIRMAN STATIONED AT THE AC AND W RADAR ,BASE IN BENNINGTON. GOING TO AND FRO WITH HIM TO THE BASE WAS QUITE AN EXPERIENCE, AS THERE WAS NO BUS SERVICE UP FLORENCE BLVD; SO YOU REALLY HAD TO BE SMART ENOUGH TO GET A RIDE OR GET A CAR OR YOU WALKED. WE VISITED THERE IN 1996 WHILE IN OMAHA VISITING RELATIVES, AND IT WAS COMPLETELY GONE, JUST A FIELD. DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THE BASE BEING THERE >??

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