Categories
19th century 20th century 21st century Belt Line Railway business civic infrastructure culture economics history History of Nebraska industry Lost history Missouri River society transportation

A History of Railroads in North Omaha

Its an understatement to say that railroads helped build North Omaha; they were absolutely vital. Here’s a summary of their history.

There have been several railroads in North Omaha throughout the years. With their tracks, trestles, bridges, roundhouses, switching yards, maintenance shops and more, the railroad industry left an indelible history throughout North Omaha. Some of the companies in the community included the Missouri Pacific, the Omaha Road, the Union Pacific and several others. Today, aside from a few tracks and empty rail beds, hollowed out industrial areas and a couple decaying bridges and trestles, there is barely anything left of their impact, except for stories. This article is a lowdown of the history of railroads in North Omaha. Share your stories in the comments section that follows.


Missouri Pacific Railroad in North Omaha

Originally started by the Missouri Pacific, or MoPac, Railroad, the Belt Line railway was once a passenger service, then an industrial line for 75+ years. Today, there’s nothing left of it besides an empty rail bed.

Omaha Belt Line Railway
This NorthOmahaHistory.com graphic shows approximately where the Omaha Belt Line Railway ran through the community.

Of all the railroad-related history in Omaha, there are two things that excite me most. The first are the labor struggles in the industry, and the second is the Belt Line Railway owned by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. After starting at a station downtown at N. 15th and Webster, it went north along the bottom of the bluffs east of N. 14th to Locust Street, then crossing N. 16th on a trestle at Commercial Ave. Then it crossed Commercial before Ames Avenue, going between Taylor Ave and Ames (along a street called Boyd that doesn’t exist there anymore). There was originally a depot at 4351 N 22nd St along this section. Then, the Belt Line shot west and across 30th to a depot at 32nd and John Creighton Blvd, then to a depot at 40th and Lake, then a depot at 43rd and Nicholas, then a depot at Military and Hamilton, then south over Dodge and beyond.

Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in North Omaha

Debolt, North Omaha, Nebraska
A 1917 railroad map showing the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad through Debolt, as well as the northern connector to the Omaha Road through Briggs.

The railroad heading up the modern-day Sorensen Parkway was the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad, which was bought by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Starting downtown, the railroad travelled through the North Omaha Yards to Locust Street, eventually going west through the ravine now used by the Storz Expressway to North 30th, which it cross with a trestle. It then went to a station by Fort Omaha and onward to Debolt, Bennington, Irvington, Fremont and beyond.

The Omaha Road in North Omaha

Another railroad headed north from the Webster Street Station north to Florence and points beyond. It was the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway, aka the Omaha Road.

Florence Depot Museum, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the former Florence Depot, once located along the Omaha Road. Today, its a museum for Florence’s heritage.

After coming north along the bluffs, it went to a roundhouse north of Locust and west of Carter Lake Drive. It then went north to a trestle over Minne Lusa Boulevard and past the Minne Lusa Water Works, then to the Florence Depot at North 28th and Tucker. After that, it went to Briggs, Nashville, Blair and beyond.

Illinois Central Railroad in North Omaha

This is the old Illinois Central Railroad double-span swing bridge over the Missouri River in East Omaha. Locked open and poorly maintained today, it was once the widest double-span swing bridge in the world.

The Illinois Central Railroad crossed the Missouri River at East Omaha. Its more than 500 feet long, and was the longest swing bridge in the world from when it was completed in 1915. The IC then came east to a roundhouse at in old Sulphur Springs by North 13th and Wirt Streets. That roundhouse was demolished, and the railroad from East Omaha to North 13th was removed.

With the impact of the IC and other companies following its lead, by the 1920s, East Omaha was packed full of railroads. In addition to the bridge and the roundhouse, the IC had a terminus in East Omaha and maintenance yards at North 13th Street north of Locust.

Railroads in East Omaha, Nebraska circa 1900
This is a map of East Omaha in 1900 with the railroads highlighted. The UPRR, IC, CSPM&O, and the OBSTRR were all present at the same time! What isn’t show here are places like yards and roundhouses, of which there were several in the area.

The Omaha Road had a roundhouse and small railyards there, too, along with the UPRR line that ran to factories on the north side of Carter Lake. The IC spurs to the East Omaha Factory District was busy, and railcars constantly hauled ice from massive icehouses on the lake as late as the 1930s. While almost all of that infrastructure is gone today, its easy to imagine how busy the area was.

Today, the Canadian National Railway owns the East Omaha bridge, it is closed and locked open, and is poorly maintained.

Union Pacific Railroad in North Omaha

In this picture from the newspaper, Lee Wesley Gibson shakes hands with 66-year-old Willie James, a retired Union Pacific chef on Feb. 29, 2012. 101-yr.-old former Union Pacific porter, Lee Wesley Gibson, visits Union Pacific headquarters in downtown Omaha, Nebraska.
In this picture from the newspaper, Lee Wesley Gibson shakes hands with 66-year-old Willie James, a retired Union Pacific chef on Feb. 29, 2012. 101-yr.-old former Union Pacific porter, Lee Wesley Gibson, visits Union Pacific headquarters in downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

I’d be remiss to neglect the Union Pacific Railroad’s role in the history of North Omaha. They had no trunk line or bridge that spanned any part of North Omaha. They didn’t build a shiny station to benefit the community, or pour tons of money directly into the area.

Instead, north of Dodge Street they had a single line that wrapped around the north side of Carter Lake. And a massive rail yard north of Cuming Street beside North 11th Street, and their massive shops near at North 9th and Cuming Streets.

The Union Pacific Railroad also employed many North Omahans. From the early years of the railroad through the 1960s, African Americans were hired almost exclusively to work as cooks, waiters, and porters for the railroad. Other Blacks were hired by the Union Pacific as strikebreakers, and many migrated to Omaha from The South for these jobs in the late 1870s. Despite being paid menial wages and struggling to stay employed, by the 20th century a growing number of African American employees of the Union Pacific managed to maintain a middle class lifestyle in the Near North Side.

As the veil of white supremacy and workplace racism began lifting in the 1960s, African Americans achieved higher roles in the company. Eventually, some became stewards, inspectors and engineers for U.P. Today, there are Black managers throughout the company in Omaha and beyond.

However, when the working class Union Pacific jobs left Omaha en masse in the 1960s, North Omaha was adversely affected too. With remarkably fewer employment opportunities, youth found themselves without visions for the future and the immediate prospect of relieving tension and forcing attention to their situation led to rioting and protests in the community. Along with industries like the packinghouses and stockyards, and poor city leadership, the Union Pacific, along with the smaller rail lines in the city, was responsible for this.

Today, the heritage of African Americans working for the Union Pacific is celebrated at their museum in Council Bluffs, and by the Union Pacific Railroad’s Black Employee Network, or BEN. BEN began in Omaha in 1979 with five employees, with more than 700 today. There are BEN chapters in St. Louis, North Little Rock, Kansas City, Memphis, Los Angeles, Fort Worth, Houston, Omaha, Chicago and Addis, Louisiana. The mission of BEN is to increase the recruitment, retention and advancement of African-American employees within Union Pacific, by promoting and facilitating personal and professional growth, and working with UP senior leadership on diversity issues. BEN also provides scholarships, encourages post-secondary education for high school graduates, and supports local African-American communities.

Depots and Stations in North Omaha

I’ve found at least nine stations in North O affiliated with various railroads. The Belt Line Railway began as a passenger transport, and required depots for pickup and drop off. They included the Webster Street station, the Oak Chatham depot, the Druid Hill depot, the Lake Street depot, the Nicholas Street depot and the Walnut Hill depot.

Missouri Pacific Lines Yard Office, North 15th and Grace Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the Missouri Pacific Lines Yard Office at North 15th and Grace Streets.

There were several other railroad depots in North Omaha, too. The Omaha Road had two stations in North Omaha, including the Florence Depot and the Briggs Station. After leaving north from downtown, the CNW used the Omaha View depot and the DeBolt station.

By 1876, there was also a separate stop for the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad (later the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad) to serve Fort Omaha called the Briggs Depot. Located at 3190 Grand Avenue, it served the area for almost forty years until a grand crash demolished the building.  

Other Railroad Infrastructure in North Omaha

MoPac Roundhouse, North Omaha, Nebraska
In this 1926 pic, you can see the Holmquist Elevator on North 16th at Commercial Ave; the MoPac Roundhouse to the right; and the Ames Avenue bridge over Carter Lake. I’m not sure what that elevator is to the right; it would’ve been along the Omaha Road, maybe nearby the ice house?

Its challenging to account for all the railroad infrastructure in North Omaha, if only because there was so much of it. By far the largest place was called the North Yards. It was a massive area of rails, shops and other industry-related places that was located north of the Union Pacific shops, extending roughly from Cuming to Locust Street, from North 9th to North 14th Street.

There were trestles over Cuming around North 40th; over North 30th at Hartman; over Minne Lusa Boulevard near JJ Pershing Drive; and over North 16th Street at Commercial Avenue. There was also a large a viaduct on Locust from North 11th to North 16th, and another over Nicholas from North 13th to North 16th Street.

There were two roundhouses north of Locust Street and east of North 14th. One was operated by the Missouri Pacific, and the other was for the Omaha Road. There were also at two train bridges across the west arm of Carter Lake operated by the Illinois Central Railroad.

Railroads in North Omaha
This is a map of railroad routes, roundhouses, bridges, depots and stations in North Omaha.

North Omaha Railroad Tour

Much the same as railroad infrastructure across the United States, North Omaha’s depots, stations, trestles, bridges, roundhouses and rails themselves have largely faded from the community’s landscape. However, their places don’t have to be lost! Here’s a list of railroad places in North Omaha.

Omaha Missouri Pacific Railroad Passenger and Freight Depots
This Sanborn Insurance map shows the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad Passenger Depot and Freight Depot at
  • North Yard, N. 11th and Nicholas St (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Freight Depot, N. 14th and Webster St (demolished)
  • Webster Street Station, 1490 Mike Fahey St (demolished)
  • Oak Chatham Depot, 4351 N. 22nd St (demolished)
  • Druid Hill Depot, 4230 N. 30th St (demolished)
  • Lake Street Depot, 2480 N. 40th St (demolished)
  • Nicholas Street Depot, 4360 Nicholas St (demolished)
  • Walnut Hill Depot, 4242 Hamilton St (demolished)
  • Florence Depot, 2800 Tucker St (standing)
  • Briggs Depot, 3190 Grand Ave (demolished)
  • Briggs Station, 5300 Sargent St (demolished)
  • Omaha View Depot, 3200 Grand Ave (demolished)
  • DeBolt Station, 7000 N. 60th St (demolished)
  • Omaha Road Roundhouse, 35 Carter Lake Shore Dr (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Roundhouse, 35 Carter Lake Shore Dr (demolished)
  • Illinois Central Bridge, 41°16’44.4″N 95°53’31.8″W (standing)
  • Missouri Pacific Trestle, 4448 Cuming St (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Railroad Yard Office, N. 15th and Grace Street (demolished)
  • Chicago and Northwestern Trestle, 4900 N. 30th (demolished)
  • OPPD Trestle, 41°19’39.1″N 95°56’25.6″W Minne Lusa
  • Omaha Road Trestle, 41°19’37.2″N 95°56’58.4″W Minne Lusa (standing)
  • Missouri Pacific Trestle, 4140 N. 16th (demolished)
  • Union Pacific Bridge, 4405 Carter Lake Shore Dr. W (demolished)
  • Locust Street Bridge, 1415 Locust St (demolished)
  • Locust Street Viaduct, 1415 Locust St (demolished)
  • Nicholas Street Viaduct, 1450 Nicholas St (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Carter Lake Bridge, 35 Carter Lake Shore Dr (demolished)

Other railroad-related places included the Railroad Men’s Benevolent and Social Club at North 24th and Miami Streets in the 1950s; and the Waiters and Porters Headquarters was located in today’s Blue Lion Center at 2421 North 24th Street from the 1930s into the 1950s. The Sleeping Car Porters Headquarters was located at North 27th and Lake in the 1920s and 1930s, but I haven’t figured out where at that intersection yet.

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online

BONUS PICS!

Omaha Road Roundhouse, North Omaha, Nebraska
The Omaha Road roundhouse was located in the former Sulpher Springs, north of Locust Street and west of Carter Lake Drive West. It lasted from approximately 1890 through the 1950s. In 1913 it was demolished by the Easter Sunday tornado, and rebuilt later.
Nicholas Street Viaduct, North Omaha, Nebraska
Looking south towards downtown from the top of the Nebraska Consolidated Mills on North 16th, you can see the Nicholas Street Viaduct in the center of the pic. The Missouri Pacific Railroad freight house is on right (west) and the CMO ice house is to the left left (east).
Omaha Road Roundhouse, N. 13th and Locust Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a 1901 diagram of the Omaha Road Roundhouse at N. 13th and Locust Streets.
North Railroad Yards, N. 13th and Yates Streets, Omaha, Nebraska
This is Omaha’s North Yard in 1951. Located between Cuming and Locust between North 8th and North 14th, it was packed with railroad-related shops, spots and more.
Missouri Pacific Freight Depot, Omaha, Nebraska
This is Omaha’s Missouri Pacific Freight Depot, located at N. 14th and Webster Streets.
This is a 2007 map of active railroads in Douglas County from the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Railroads in North Omaha, Episode 47 of North Omaha History Podcast by Adam Fletcher Sasse with Steve Sleeper
Railroads in North Omaha, Episode 47 of North Omaha History Podcast by Adam Fletcher Sasse with Steve Sleeper
Omaha Road Roundhouse, North Omaha, Nebraska
To the south of the Ames Avenue Bridge was Omaha Road roundhouse, built c. 1890 and demolished c. 1960. Located north of Locust Street and east of Carter Lake Drive, it was demolished by the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado and rebuilt afterwards.
Missouri Pacific Roundhouse, North Omaha, Nebraska
This was the Missouri Pacific Roundhouse in North Omaha. Located south of Cornish Boulevard and east of Carter Lake Drive, it was built around 1890 and demolished around 1965.

21 replies on “A History of Railroads in North Omaha”

Thank you for your fabulous articles on the history of North Omaha. I write a family history blog and many of my ancestors settled in Omaha, including North Omaha. My North Omaha family were Swedes and railway people. I have learned a great deal from your blogs and will include links to them in my future posts about the Nichols family.

Liked by 1 person

Thanks – that’s awesome to hear! I hope you’ve seen my articles about the Scandinavians in North Omaha, Vennelyst Park and the other Swedish-ish things I’ve written about. Thanks again for your note!

Like

I agree, this is a wonderful article. My grandfather was yard master for the Chicago, St. Paul, Minn and Omaha in Omaha. I have very distant memories of him working in the Yards. I wish I could get more information about him and be able to identify the location of a picture I have of him at the Yards. Like treeklimber, my grandfather was Swedish. I will try to find your other articles. By the way our you familiar with the Golden Rail Bar?

Thanks

Like

Good information regarding Omaha’s RR history…… It gort me thinking…..

I lived at 1709 84th st in the early 1060s. I was just a toddler at the time. I recall seeing a train pass by one night behind the house across the street. Further research shows RR right of way for the CNW RR behind the house across the street (see 1960 arial photo at:http://memories.nebraska.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/opl/id/2005/rec/21 page 210 ) . This rail bed looks to be abandoned and is now part of the Keystone Trial.

My question is, was there ever a RR behind the house across the street from 1709 84th . If so, what is the history around this abandoned stretch of track ?

Thanks

Like

I was hoping someone could give me some information about the Nicholas street viaduct. Can anyone tell me when the bridge was demolished? Thank you for your time.

Like

Hi mr. Roberts. My name is Ray and I worked for mop from 1971 until (after) they merged with the u.p.r.r. ,(figure in a 3 year hiatus for the army). I really enjoyed my time working there. Well.except for the winter storms, 100 plus days & all of the crummy hours. Really though, it was with a great bunch of guys! A reunion would be great, but most of the characters have passed away and it seems like for one reason or another no one ever keeps on touch for long.
During my career with mopac, I was a switchman brakeman, & a yardmaster.. (or lovingly ? referred to as a yardmonster). So hopefully I can answer a few questions.
I don’t remember a “golden rail bar” but after work sometimes we’d go to the Broken wheel bar. Might have been the same place. It was just north of the nighthawk cafe and just south of Carter lake drive. Nothing like a shot % a beer at 7 a.m. That was our 5 p.m. Get off work drink, but in those days it sure brought on more than few funny lips at other bars.
Feel free to ask any other questions. I love the memories!
P. S. I didn’t do it on purpose but we built our last house right on top of where there used to be mops tracks leading to louisville. The b.n. tracks that ran parallel to mopac’s is literally a stone’s throw away.

N

N

Like

You mentioned that Briggs was near Fort Omaha, but from what I’ve seen , it was near 60th and McKinley. Where the line split with one going north to Blair and the other going south towards Debolt. Using Google maps you can still track the roadbed from Briggs to Debolt. It went through Omaha Country Club and is parallel to one of the fairways.

Liked by 1 person

I have some questions about the location of Briggs, but I will ask them on the “A history of lost towns in North Omaha” page.

Like

I just recently discovered your great work on North Omaha history and am reading your three volume history now, Concerning Carl’s question on when the DeBolt-Briggs connector was abandoned, your section above on the Chicago Northwestern has a map dated 1917 with the connection clearly marked. As Carl mentioned, you can see on Google Earth that the line went through what is now the Omaha Country Club. Also, having lived nearby and being familiar with the local topography, I can tell you that that would have been the only logical route to minimize the grade to about a 150 foot increase from Briggs to DeSoto over a bit more than 2 miles. The OCC bought their current property in 1925, with the golf course opening in 1927. So I guess we can narrow the year of the abandonment to sometime between 1917 and 1925.

I grew up in Minne Lisa near 25th and Ida. Went to Blessed Sacrament grades 1 through 8 during the 1950s (Minne Lusa School for K). I remember so much from those years, including lots of trains on the “Omaha Road” (wholly owned by the CNW, but legally separate until 1982) from downtown through Florence and beyond. When I heard a train whistle at a grade crossing, I usually had enough time to hop on my bike and get over to the crossing at Reed Street near Florence Blvd to watch it pass. There was also traffic on the CNW line from downtown to Irvington, Bennington, Arlington and beyond. And the Omaha Beltway was active too.

Later, in 1966, my parents built a house north of McKinley on 62nd Street.. Our lot, like all those on this street, bordered the CNW right of way which was in a deep cut through the high ground between the Mill Creek and Ponca Creek watersheds. This was a steep grade from about 60th St, through the first cut behind our house, and finally up to an even deeper cut north of us where the grade finally leveled out. I remember that from time to time crews would split their train if it was too heavy to make the grade – there was a siding along part of this grade that was used for this purpose.

Again, I really enjoy your research!

Liked by 1 person

Hey Joe, thanks for the note–I appreciate your interest! I would love to walk that old route from where the roundhouse was up to the Florence Depot, out to the Briggs Depot and northward… then double back and walk down to where the DeBolt Depot was… I can only imagine what it would have been like!

I think that cut you mention had a specific name, but I don’t remember it. There is so much more detail than what I’ve documented so far, and there are several other people who know more than me about the railroads in North O. If only they’d write free content, I would love to share it and promote it!

Alas, I’ll keep piecing together what I can. Let me know if there’s anything specific you want to see more about, and I’ll see if I can go digging! Thanks again for your note.

Like

Hi again, Adam. I think I saw a reference to “south cut” somewhere. That would make sense because there was an even deeper cut on the north side of the Ponca Creek watershed which at the top of the grade was bridged by Northern Hills Drive. Sometime in the early 1970s I did walk the 0maha Road line from behind our house and the “south cut” northward up the grade through the “north cut” and on to Nashville. There was a lot of wildlife in that corridor and my dog Fox scared up a real fox on our hike. After a merry chase my Fox rejoined me on the track full of burrs I had to get out of his coat.

One more observation. When I lived in Minne Lisa, coal trains to supply the OPPD power plant were switched off the CNW/Omaha Road near the Pershing Drive bridge, not the current UP line which is used now and was extended from East Omaha. Not sure when that happened.

Liked by 1 person

Adam – I remember now where I saw a reference to “South Cut” on the Omaha Road. It appears on a 1940 timetable between Florence and Nashville stations. There is a poster sized version of this timetable displayed in the Florence Station Museum and a great photo on its website. Note that there were two trains a day each way between Omaha and Minneapolis in 1940. Do we know when regular passenger service ended?

Like

Hi Adam and Joe, I found a 1938 map of the Union township and it showed the Briggs to Debolt connector was the east border of Omaha Country Club .It showed another person owed the remainder going towards 60th st. The country club must have bought the rest of the property after 1938 if the map is correct. It looks like the 8th and 10th fairways were located so the roadbed and associated ballast would not have to be completely removed. This is only speculation. I’m going to try contacting the country club to see if anyone there can fill in some of the blanks. Thanks

Liked by 1 person

Joe and Carl–

The abandoned rail bed between DeBolt and Briggs is clearly visible just a few feet east of the intersection of N. 66th St and State St. Looking to the south, you can see it going into the golf course and to the north you can see it heading toward DeBolt. It’s particularly visible in the winter when the leaves are gone.

I live in the area and have regularly driven around looking for remnants of the connector and the two lines it connected. Still plenty of small remnants visible, and it’s really interesting to pick them out!

Liked by 1 person

That’s great, Jim! I know right where you talking about. Next time i’m back in the area to visit family, I’ll check those places out.

Like

Hi Jim and Joe, I was back in Omaha last week but had other things going on. I called Jordan Selbec at Omaha Country Club today to see if there is anyone still alive that knows if the connector through the golf course was still used in the early days of the golf course . She had no idea what I was talking about, but she said that there were some older people she could talk to. I’m doing this research kind of long distance since I live near Durango Colorado these days, but I will be back in late August to look around the course as Jim was saying. It’s funny that both Field Club and Omaha Country Club were both designed by the same person and both had a train line going through the property. I wish I had known more of this in the 1960’s, but you know, teenagers!!!! I’ll will let you know what I find out. Carl

Like

Good to hear you’re on the case, Carl! You have some great trains and railroad history in Durango too. I’ve ridden the steam train to Silverton and explored the old narrow gauge Rio Grande routes in Colorado and New Mexico. Thanks for keeping us in the loop on whatever you learn about the Briggs-DeBolt connector. – Joe

Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s