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. It is not on any modern maps, either. This is a history of 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.
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.
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…”
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.
The following 1915 map shows exactly where Pries Lake was.
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.
Special thanks to Michele Wyman and Micah Evans for their assistance researching Pries Lake.
You Might Like…
- A Short History of Florence, Nebraska
- Ponca Hills History
- A History of the Florence Water Works and Minne Lusa Pumping Station
- A History of Florence Lake
- A History of Florence Boulevard
- A Short History of Florence’s Brandeis Country Home
- “A Dreamer and an Original” from the Danish Immigrant Museum.
- Burial information for Pries and his family members from the Springwell Danish Cemetery.