A Biography of James M. Parker

This is James Monroe Parker (1824-1896) of Florence, Nebraska.

James Monroe Parker (1824-1892) is one of the most important people in the history of Florence. His business and his farm are two of the most visible historical landmarks in Omaha today, even though only one is acknowledged for its importance. Following are details about the life of Parker.

Raised in the Woods

John and Naomi Parker were from Vermont. Moving to Meshoppen, Pennsylvania, in the early 1820s, their son Jim was born May 20, 1824. John Parker was a textile maker and shepherd until 1838. That year, the family moved to Coudersport, Pennsylvania to survey and manage an estate there. This entire time, young Jim went to public schools, graduating in the eighth grade. In 1842, when he was 18 years old, the family moved again. This time it was the to wilds of eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River, a major transportation route before the Civil War.

Moving to the New Frontier

Young Jim moved to the new frontier of Iowa in 1842. Making their home in Davenport, the family moved there in parts, with two older brothers coming in 1840; Jim, his sister and mother moving there in 1842, and; his father moving later that year.

A store called Davenport & Watts, hired Jim as a clerk in 1842, and he kept doing that job at different stores for a few years. Moving a few hours south to Camden, Illinois, young Parker spent a few years running a store with A. K. Philleo. Around 1847, he moved to Rock Island, Illinois and had a store with L. M. Webber in 1848. Then he took a job as cashier with Cook and Sargent, a banking firm in Davenport.

In 1853, James M. Parker married Julia Zerlina Wing (1836-1869) in Rock Island. Their first son, William Frederick Parker, was born in Rock Island on August 2, 1854.

When his bank opened a new branch in Rock Island, Parker moved there and became a partner. When that branch was sold early in 1856, Parker took his biggest leap yet.

Banking Across the Missouri River

Bank of Florence, 8502 North 30th Street, Omaha, Nebraska
Cook, Sargent and Parker of Davenport, Iowa, opened in 1856. A wildcat bank built by speculators, it failed in the panic of 1857-58. The building was occupied by various businesses until 1904, when the “New Bank of Florence” was organized there. This second bank of Florence closed about 1940.

Parker moved his family from Iowa to Florence, one of the oldest new towns along the Missouri River. The town was founded on the streets and in the buildings of Winter Quarters, a Mormon settlement started in 1846 that was officially abandoned, but still occupied by a variety of stores and business people. A speculator had bought the original town’s land and was selling it off slowly. At this point, westward expansion in the U.S. was seen as a chance to make fast money, and Parker’s business was just like others who wanted in on it.

In January 1856, the Nebraska Territory Legislature approved “An Act to Charter the Bank of Florence.” The original commissioners signed over their ownership to John Cook and George Sargent in April 1856, and Parker was brought in as a partner. Authorized for up to $500,000, the bank was also allowed to print bank notes, deal in exchange, and “of engaging in other legitimate banking business.”

The Bank of Florence opened with young Parker as the Cashier. However, with their other other offices in Iowa (Davenport, Iowa City, Rock Island and Fort Des Moines), the firm of Cook, Sargent and Parker seemed inevitably successful. Between the Bank of Florence and another business called the Exchange Bank of Florence, the new town had plenty of money floating around, too. The Bank of Florence printed $1, $2, $3 and $5 notes, and was supposedly the only bank in the United States to ever issue a $3 bill.

However, in 1857 there was a national economic panic that caused a run on the banks. The Bank of Florence floundered, and the Exchange Bank of Florence folded right away.

That same year, the Nebraska Territory Legislature approved the incorporation of the Florence Bridge Company, and Parker’s firm bought $24,000 in stock. Parker himself was sent to Washington, D.C. to lobby, but he failed and the bridge was abandoned. After his trip, Parker brought the Union Pacific leader James Durant to Florence to convince him of the value of the railroad crossing the river there. However, high water floods struck during his visit, and Florence lost out to Omaha.

In August 1858, a mob marched the streets of Davenport, Iowa, demanding the Cook and Sargent bank there redeem their money issued by the Bank of Florence. A mass meeting was held and a judge was made arbiter. The bank gave funds to the judge to redeem the notes, and in September 1858, the bank held a public bonfire to burn $200,000 in redeemed Bank of Florence currency.

Lasting for three more years, the Bank of Florence closed in 1860.

The Florence Land Company was the most important institution in the early town, and Parker had roles in that business as early as 1856. On November 10, 1856 the firm of Cook, Sargent & Parker bought eighty shares of stock from H. Downey, an early landholder in the Town of Florence. The Florence Land Company, which was started by town founder James C. Mitchell, appointed Parker a committee “to examine the map and select such lots as… they deemed proper to reserve and arrange the remainder for division.” Parker represented his firm regularly from that point on. The company was rife with problems throughout its existence though, including booting out its founder in 1858. In 1859, Parker was made treasurer of the Florence Land Company, and in 1860, he “received all of the votes cast for secretary, treasurer, and director.” That same year the company was deemed needless though, and it closed.

That very same year, Parker bought most of the remaining land of the Florence Land Company at an auction.

Because of his dealings in the Bank of Florence and real estate, James Parker was widely regarded as an enemy of Florence founder James Mitchell. However, because Mitchell was seen as a butthead, Parker was thought of more highly.

Breaking the Prairie

Parker Tract, North Omaha, Nebraska
This 1887 map shows a “proposed park site” that was part of the Parker Tract, which was bought by Dr. George L. Miller to become Miller Park. Notice the partially completed Florence Boulevard on the right side.

The Parker Farm extended from Weber Street on the north to Kansas Avenue on the south, and from North 33rd Street on the west to the cliffs east of Florence Boulevard. There were approximately 260-acres of land, with a lot of it covered by corn fields. The farmhouse was on Vane Street.

Beginning as a humble farmhouse, its where their son Fred lived moved with them after leaving the apartment above the Bank of Florence. Their next son, James Monroe, Jr., was born at the farm on November 20, 1859; their daughter Josephine Talbot was born there on May 14, 1865.

The businesses James M. Parker was part of in Florence included:

  • Cook, Sargent and Parker (operating as the Bank of Florence), 1856 to 1860
  • Florence Land Company, 1856 to 1860
  • Florence Bridge Company, 1856-1857
  • Missouri Bridge Company, 1857

Four years after her last child was born, Mrs. Parker died at home on April 17, 1869. She was just 33 years old.

Back to the Old New Frontier

1888 Davenport, Iowa.
This is an 1888 map of Davenport, Iowa.

The year his wife died, Parker was appointed as the “cleaner upper” at the Davenport Savings Institution in Iowa, cleaning up its business as it closed down. Spending the next 18 months winding up its business, he married his second wife on December 6, 1871. Her named was Ella (Wing) Taylor, and she was born May 11, 1832.

Parker’s second wife, Ella (May 11, 1832-??), was a cousin of his first wife, Julia (July 16, 1836-April 17, 1869). The daughter of Abraham and Abigail Barnard Wing, Ella was first married to a cashier named Tracy Taylor in Troy, New York, in 1851. They had two kids, Frederick and Frank, and then Mr. Taylor died in 1867. (For details, see “Elsewhere online” below.)

After Ella married Parker in 1871, over the next several years, they kept the farm in Florence and took up international travel, going to Europe four times in the following decade.

Finishing Life

James Monroe Parker (1824-1902), North Omaha, Nebraska
James Monroe Parker (1824-1892) homesteaded the land where the Minne Lusa neighborhood stands. His estate sold the land to Charles Martin’s company for development.

In 1876, Parker and his wife moved to the original city they shared history in, Davenport Iowa. However, Parker still held major land between Florence and North Omaha, which were both growing. His sons were managing the farm, but everyone was excited to make money. In 1880, Parker made one of his first major land sales in Omaha when he sold 80-acres to George W. Forbes. Located between North 24th and North 14th Streets, it was bounded by Kansas and Ogden Avenues. Although the sale ended up in the Nebraska Supreme Court a few years later, it still made him wealthy.

In 1881, they built a lavish 38-room Second Empire style mansion there which stands today. James Monroe Parker died there on February 15, 1892. After he died, his mansion there was sold to a German financier.

The Parker Tract, an 80-acre slice of the land comprising the southern end of the Parker farm, was sold around 1906. A child of Fred Parker named Francis Tadmir Parker was named heir to his estate, and his mother sold the land for approximately $6,500. The rest of the farm was developed in the 1910s by Charles Martin, who used it as parts of the Minne Lusa neighborhood. Later, he bought more of the former farm to make the Florence Field development. In 1932, the City of Omaha comptroller found documentation showing that Miller Park was sold to the City by Parker’s heirs a year after he died, 1893, for approximately $900 per acre, for a total of $75,000. Originally called the Parker Tract, Miller Park was the starting point for Omaha’s boulevard system, with Florence Boulevard starting within the park.

James Parkers’ sons Fred (1854-1902) and Jim Junior (1860-1932) kept the farm going after their father moved away. Jim Junior ended up moving to Davenport though, and while Fred stayed in Omaha, he sold off the family’s holdings there over time. James Parkers’ daughter, Josephine Talbot Parker Brisbane (1865-1948), eventually moved to Davenport too.

The daughter of Josephine Brisbane, Zerlina Brisbane Lewis (18991995), lived in Omaha and owned the Bank of Florence building. In 1966, she donated it to the Florence Lions Club in 1966, making way for it to become a museum today

A Tour of James M. Parker’s North Omaha

Following are places associated with James M. Parker. I mention most of these above.

  1. Site of Parker Farmhouse / Parker Mansion, 3201 Vane Street
  2. Bank of Florence, 8502 North 30th Street
  3. Miller Park aka the Parker Tract, 2707 Redick Avenue
  4. Minne Lusa Historic District, 2700 Redick Avenue
  5. Florence Field, 6900 North 30th Street
  6. Norwood Addition, 5846 Florence Boulevard
  7. Parkwood Addition, 6500 Florence Boulevard
  8. Florence Bridge, 2900 Bridge Street

You Might Like…

Public Places: Florence Main Street | Florence Ferry | Florence High School | The Mormon Tree | Florence Water Works | Mormon Bridge | Florence Boulevard | River Drive | J.J. Pershing Drive and Monument | Potter’s Field | Florence Community Center
Businesses: Vennelyst Park | Bank of Florence | Florence Mill | Florence Depot
Houses: Parker Mansion | Brandeis Country Home | Lantry-Thompson Mansion | Mitchell House
People: James M. Parker | James Comey Mitchell | Florence Kilborn
Neighborhoods: Winter Quarters | Florence Field | Wyman Heights | High Point
Other: Directory of Florence Historic Places

Elsewhere Online

North Omaha History Podcast Episode #60 is about James M. Parker, a founding father of Florence, Nebraska.

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