Adam’s Note: In my continuing series of guest authors, local resident Patrick Wyman shares the history of a far North Omaha neighborhood that he shares a name with called Wyman Heights. To contact Patrick, please leave a comment in the section at the bottom.
Omaha’s Black Forest
The hills north of Florence were once referred to as Omaha’s “Black Forest”. Once a hunters’ and trappers’ paradise, the hills are now the home of a neighborhood with picturesque views of the Missouri River. The neighborhood, among the most unique in the city, was founded in 1926 by prominent Omaha realtor, Henry Wyman, who aptly named it Wyman Heights.
Wyman Heights sits on the southern edge of the hills which previously served as a home to Native Americans as well as Nebraska’s first white settler, Manuel Lisa. Lisa created a fur trading post called Fort Lisa in this area in 1812. Three to four miles north was a busy steamboat landing that became the town of Rockport in 1855. In addition to a steamboat landing, the town boasted a hotel, brick and lime kilns, grist mill, and stone quarries. The town faded away as the railroad made the steamboat landing obsolete.
Before Wyman Heights came to fruition, there were notable homes on the first hill north of Florence. Among these were “Rosemere” which was said to be the “the first pretentious suburban home erected” on this hill. The home was built upon 10 acres of land and was owned by Tom Crane. By 1911, there were several other homes built in this area. They included:
- “Walden Wood”, the home of Myron Learned
- “Holcroft”, the home of Theodore Ringwalt
- “Oak Ridge”, the home of John Ringwalt, and
- “Woodney”, the home of Wyman.
“Walden Wood” was said to have the most beautiful view in all of Douglas County while “Woodney” was perched upon the summit of the hill and could be clearly seen from the town of Florence below.
The location of these homes offered not only a view of Florence to the south but the Missouri River to the east. To the north, the hills sunk slowly into a valley before rising again to the west. At that time, the area consisted of densely wooded hills which were broken by patches of cleared land with fields of grain and cattle.
Wyman Heights Emerges
Prior to the establishment of these homes, Wyman was busy acquiring land in this area and in 1905, he purchased the southeast portion of what was then Florence Heights. Over the next 20 years, he purchased more than 80 acres of land.
After re-platting the land in 1926 with the intent of selling the plots for a premium, Wyman was contacted by the University of Omaha. The university sought the land in order to build a new campus. Representatives of the university suggested this site because it was located just outside the city limits but still within easy reach of downtown. It was also suggested that the beauty of the wooded hills and its views offered the potential for a campus with large appeal. The attempt failed as the university considered the land to be too expensive.
Several months later Wyman was ready to fulfill his dream of making Wyman Heights one of the best neighborhoods in all of Omaha. To that end, he put 76 lots on the market. The expectation was that each home would cost between 10 and 15 thousand dollars each. The neighborhood took the shape of a horseshoe with Ferry street on the southern edge of the neighborhood serving as the open end. The neighborhood stretches north up the hill where Main street (present day 30th street) ended and intersected Fifth street (present day 29th street).
As Wyman expected, the lots were highly desired due to their sweeping views, mature trees, and proximity to the Florence street car line which offered easy access to downtown Omaha. Below is an ad in which the Tukey & Sons Realtors claim to have never put such a wonderful tract of land on the market.
The ad drew significant interest with over 5,000 people visiting Wyman Heights when it was opened on October 10, 1926. Sixteen of the visitors purchased lots including notable Omaha residents W.H. Metcalfe, sales manager of Klopp Printing company, Elizabeth Shukert, the widow of fur trader Gustave Shukert, R. H. Christensen of the Christensen Rug company, and Harry S. Disbrow, secretary of Pantorium.
Additional land that Wyman acquired was donated to the city of Omaha in 1920 with the stipulation that it be used as a bird and game refuge. The land was located between Wyman Heights and the Missouri River. In 1938, the federal government sought this land in order to build a boat basin and maintenance yard. It was expected to employ 150 to 300 people and bring several hundred thousand dollars to the city pay rolls on an annual basis. Wyman agreed to deed the land to the federal government which, in turn, agreed that the basin would be out of sight of the neighborhood. Both the boat basin and maintenance yard continue to exist along John J. Pershing drive.
In 1927 Wyman built a new 10 room, 4 ½ bath home also called “Woodney” on the site of his old home. When it was finished, the Omaha World-Herald referred to the residence as “one of Omaha’s newest and loveliest suburban places”.
The Great Depression Strikes
The founder’s dream of making Wyman Heights among the best neighborhoods in Omaha was well on its way to being realized when the Great Depression struck in 1929. At that point, development slowed considerably and the saddened founder opted to sell his beloved home in 1931 to Dr. William Sealock for $18,000. Despite moving to the Blackstone neighborhood in Omaha, Wyman frequently returned to Wyman Heights.
In an effort to sell the remaining lots in Wyman Heights, Amos Grant Company posted an ad in the Omaha World-Herald in 1931 that claimed that the neighborhood was the lowest priced high-class district currently on the market. The following year as lot sales remained stagnate, United States National Company conducted a liquidation sale by offering the remaining 40 lots at prices that were less than half the original sale price. The ad below appeared in the Omaha World-Herald on April 10, 1932.
Post-World War II Boom Period
After the depression ended development across the country began to pick up. This was no different in Wyman Heights which experienced a renaissance in the housing boom following the end of World War II in 1945. As a result, all but four of the remaining lots were sold by 1956.
During the 1950’s the area surrounding Wyman Heights began to change drastically. The Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge was built in 1952 as a toll bridge that would take passengers traveling on Nebraska Highway 36 over the Missouri River to Crescent, Iowa. The following year, the streetcar lines were removed in an effort to widen 30th street. After that, the neighborhood was orphaned from the rest of Florence when Interstate 680 sliced through 30th street. Wyman Heights, however, remained the neighborhood on the hill just north of Florence.
An Architectural Panorama
Today Wyman Heights is an “architectural panorama” that was built over a 35-year period. On the southern end of the neighborhood are white frame bungalows most of which were built in the 40’s and 50’s. Further up the hill you’ll find a sprinkling of Tudor-style houses which were popular when the neighborhood was founded in the 20’s. Add to that the sprawling ranch homes that were popular in the 50’s.
The diverse collection of homes includes “Woodney” at 9680 N 30th street. It also includes an architecturally designed mansion that once served as the home of Omaha Mayor Gene Leahy. The home, built in 1945 and located at 9630 N 30th street, once had a gymnasium with basketball court, shooting range, and soda fountain. During the height of the nuclear scare, the owner offered his concrete basement with its 20-foot-high reinforced steel ceiling as a bomb shelter. The former home of the Omaha Reed’s Ice Cream company founder Claude Reed was built in 1938 and sits at 9645 N 29th street. As seen in the picture below, Reed’ home has a swimming pool with a stunning view overlooking the river below. The head of one of the world’s largest construction companies, Peter Kiewit, lived at 9702 N 30th street in the former “Walden Wood” estate that was built in 1911. Sadly, the home burned to the ground in 1961.
The trees that once composed the “Black Forest” have thinned since Native American tribes lived here. Even with fewer trees, the view from these hills remains a thing of beauty. From this neighborhood, you can see both the gleaming river and the tree clad hills that “make a perfect rainbow of color in the autumn”. Combined with an array of lovely houses, Wyman Heights is one of the most unique and charming neighborhoods in Omaha.
Author’s Note: In the process of researching my family history over the last decade, I’ve learned a lot about those ancestors with whom I share my last name. This includes the founder of Wyman Heights who is my sixth cousin four times removed.
- A History of the Florence Neighborhood
- A History of the Florence Field Neighborhood
- A History of the Florence Water Works and Minne Lusa Station
- A History of Cabànne’s Trading Post
- The Lost Monument by Michele Wyman
- Omaha World Herald 6 Jul. 1905, LAST: 9. NewsBank. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 13 Aug. 1905: 32. NewsBank. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha Sunday Bee 11 Aug. 1911, HOME: 1. Nebraska Newspapers. Web. 6 Jul. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 20 Oct. 1912: 39. NewsBank. Web. 20 Feb 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 20 Dec. 1925, Three Star: 29. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 31 Mar. 1926, HOME: 1. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 2 Apr. 1926, HOME: 29. NewsBank. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 8 Oct. 1926, HOME: 32. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 17 Oct. 1926, Four Star: 66. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 9 Feb. 1927, HOME: 11. NewsBank. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 3 Jan. 1931, Four Star: 6. NewsBank. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 19 Apr. 1931, Four Star: 25. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 23 Apr. 1931, Four Star: 29. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 10 Apr. 1932: 21. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World-Herald 7 Oct. 1938: 12. NewsBank. Web. 23 Jul. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 20 Oct. 1938, Home: 1. NewsBank. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 25 Oct. 1938, Home: 1. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 1 Oct. 1939: 59. NewsBank. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 19 Aug. 1956: 23. NewsBank. Web. 8 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 13 Jan. 1959, Home: 5. NewsBank. Web. 8 Feb. 2017.
- Omaha World Herald 26 Oct. 1961, Home: 8. NewsBank. Web. 8 Feb. 2017.