Omaha was hit hard by the Great Depression, which started in 1929. The city was starving for new jobs to be made because many people were out of work.
In 1935, a great thing happened to Omaha. Working with the City of Omaha, the National Parks Service claimed jurisdiction over the Carter Lake Park. They established a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp to improve Omaha.
Over 200 Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers lived in 20 buildings at Carter Lake from 1935 to 1940. After extensive lobbying by the Village of Carter Lake Development Society and the City of Omaha, the federal government opened the camp to workers who came from across Nebraska and eastern Iowa.
The National Parks Service immediately began improving the park with a new roadway, lakeside improvements, and land consolidation. They built the currently standing bathhouses at the Omaha Municipal Beach, made retaining walls and pathways, and cleaned up remnants of old bridges. Working with the Carter Lake Development Society and the City of Omaha, several parcels held by a number of individuals were bought and consolidated into the park, and 1936, the park included more than 200 additional acres to add to the original land donation by the Cornish family.
CCC Projects in Omaha
During their time at Carter Lake, they workers did several projects. Some of them included:
- Improving Omaha municipal gas and water distribution systems
- Improving Missouri River docks for the Port of Omaha
- Building the South Omaha Veterans Memorial Bridge
- Rebuilding the 10th Street viaduct
- Widening South 13th Street
- Building the Saddle Creek Underpass (by the Civil Works Administration (CWA)
- Various work in Elmwood Park
- Various work at the Omaha National Guard armory
- Building the Logan Fontenelle public housing projects
- Building the University of Nebraska at Omaha administration building and the arts and sciences building
- Building the Dodge Street subway
- Various projects at Hummel Park
- Building the Benson Post Office
- Built the Benson Park Pavilion
- Rebuilt the Elmwood Park Pavilion
- Rebuilt the Elmwood Park road
- Rebuilt the Riverview Park bathhouse
- Built new tennis courts in Fontenelle Park
- Improved the Kountze Park lagoon
- Other unidentified projects
The camp was closed in 1940.
As side notes, Omaha was also home to a CCC Cooks and Bakers’ School where the camp mess stewards for Nebraska and Kansas completed courses for their work. The school was started in 1939 though, and lasted only until 1942. This school was located at the CCC’s Nebraska-Kansas District Headquarters, which were located in South Omaha at the former US Army Quartermaster Supply Depot.
Legacy of the CCC in Omaha
More than 75 years later, the effects of the CCC camp and its workers are still being felt throughout Omaha. The buildings at UNO, Levi Carter Park, and the Benson Post Office still stand. Hummel Park and Carter Lake are still heavily used, and the Dodge Street pedestrian subway has recently been renovated. Even though its under threat from developers, the Saddle Creek Underpass is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Several of the CCC’s greatest works in Omaha have been lost though. Despite their complicated history, the Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects were an accomplishment to construct, and they were demolished by 2000. The South Omaha Veterans Memorial Bridge was wholly demolished by 2010. The 10th Street viaduct was rebuilt entirely in the early 2000s, and there’s no sign of the CCC’s work left.
In 2010, many of the remaining projects were included in the “New Deal Work Relief Projects in Nebraska” application and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This ensures their longterm recognition as historical properties, and allows for some mandated preservation and period-appropriate restoration. They include the Saddle Creek Underpass; University of Nebraska at Omaha administration building and the arts and sciences building; the Dodge Street pedestrian subway. The Omaha Municipal Beach bathhouses at Carter Lake were also included.
Perhaps in the future the Omaha Parks and Recreation department will place an educational placard in Levi Carter Park to educate the public about this history.