Formally founded in 1854, the history of the Florence neighborhood in North Omaha includes businesses, schools, cityhood and a crazy story about being the state capital for a day. It also includes a lot of churches. The townsite was established on faith, with the Mormon Church keeping the Winter Quarters for their westward migration from 1846 to 1848.
This is a short history of churches in Florence. Its not complete, so please feel free to share any information, details, comments, pictures or suggestions below.
Winter Quarters Temple
- Address: Unknown, Winter Quarters, Indian Territory
- Years: presumably 1846-1848
Given the Winter Quarters settlers were religious people, its reasonable to assume they established a place of worship in their town. I don’t know whether it actually existed, where it was, or whether it actually existed. If you know, please leave a comment below!
St. James Episcopal Church
- Address: Unknown, Florence, Nebraska Territory
- Years: 1857
In 1857, the Iowa diocese established St. James Episcopal Church in Florence. This early missionary’s salary was paid in part by Davenport businessman Ebenezer Cook, who was part of the group that established the Bank of Florence. Rev. Adams only stayed for a few months though, and the congregation ended with him.
Florence Methodist Church
- Address: 31st Bluff Street, Florence, Nebraska Territory (today called 8424 North 31st Street, Omaha, Nebraska)
- Years: 1857
In 1857, Rev. Isaac F. Collins established the Florence Methodist Church after serving as a circuit rider in the surrounding area for a several months. In August 1857, a church was built on lot number one on Bluff Street in downtown Florence. Acting as the first school in Florence, 56 students attended there the first year. Apparently though, with the economic Panic of 1857 the Methodists could not maintain their building and were forced to give it to creditors that same year.
Florence Baptist Church
- Address: Unknown, Florence, Nebraska Territory
- Years: 1856
Referred to as the “Pioneer Preacher,” Rev. George W. Barnes picked Florence over Omaha to start the first Baptist church in the area. Even though it looked like a sure shot in 1856 when it was founded, Florence didn’t flourish as much as Omaha and the church folded within a few years.
Florence Christian Church
- Address: 8929 North 29th Street, Florence, Nebraska
- Years: 1896-1961 (still operating elsewhere)
Located at 8929 North 29th Street, the Florence Christian Church was also called the First Christian Church. The Florence Christian Church moved into a new building at 7300 Northridge Drive in 1961, and continues operating today.
Florence Presbyterian Church
- Address: 31st Bluff Street, Florence, Nebraska Territory (today called 8314 North 31st Street, Omaha, Nebraska)
- Years: 1856-present
Reverend Eben Blachly was the first Presbyterian missionary in Florence, arriving when the town was founded. Established in 1856, there were 50 members when it started with services and classes in local homes. With an early church built at 31st Bluff Street opposite of the Florence Methodist Church, the modern Florence Presbyterian Church is still located at the same location, 8314 North 31st Street. After having three ministers and moving around members’ houses over and over in its first three years, the church stabilized and grew. Hard times came and went, and for a long time the church worshipped in the second floor of the Florence City Hall. In 1897, they dedicated their first church, and they built their current church at 8314 North 31st Street in 1950.
St. Philip Neri Catholic Church
- Address: 8202 North 31st Street, Florence, Nebraska
- Years: 1904-present
Located at 8200 North 30th Street, St. Philip Neri has a long history in the Florence neighborhood of North Omaha. Established at N. 31st and Grebe in 1904, the parish opened a school in 1922. The original church was used as classrooms starting in 1953, when a new church was built at North 30th and Grebe Streets. The original church served as classrooms for the school until 1958, when both buildings were demolished and replaced. St. Philip Neri parish and school continue operating today.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
- Address: 8019 North 31st Street, Florence, Nebraska
- Years: 1881 to 1964
In September 1888, the Reverend William Pearson began Episcopal church services in a school house in Florence. In 1891, St. Mark’s was built with gifts from local Bishop Worthington and a friend on land given by the Florence Land Company for $2,000. By 1893 though, the church was reduced to only holding occasional services because of a lack of interest.
The congregation bought a new site near North 60th and Girard Streets in 1964, but never rebuilt there. Instead, they closed in the 1980s. Today, the original church building at 8019 North 31st Street has become home to the Saints of Salvation Ministries.
Ebenezer Lutheran Church
- Address: 4th and Washington, Florence, Nebraska
- Years: 1903 to 1915
Swedish immigrants started Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Florence in 1903. 12 people organized Florence’s Ebenezer Church with Rev. C.E. Elving. Located at 4th and Washington Streets, the church building was moved from Omaha and rebuilt on the site. After thriving for the next decade, the community was struck by an economic downtown and the church closed in 1915, after just 12 years of operation, and the congregation merged with Trinity Lutheran Church.
St. John’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church
- Address: 11120 Calhoun Road
- Years: 1900 to present
Pastor Otto Erbe founded St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ponca Hills in 1900. In 1902, the church was built and operated as a German language congregation until 1918. The church was formally incorporated in 1925. After an expansion in 1934, the church was rededicated. Today the church continues in the Missouri Synod.
Other Religious People and Institutions in Florence
Reverend Reuben Gaylord, widely recognized as the father of Congregationalism in Nebraska, preached in Florence in the late 1850s. However, there’s no sign that a Congregational church was ever founded in the community. The Ponca Presbyterian Church opened in the early 1900s, and was located in the Ponca Hills. Rev. George S. Sloan was the minister there for several decades, but I don’t have information on when it closed.
Some people claim Mt. Olive Lutheran Church at 7301 North 28th Street is in Florence, but in reality it is located in the Florence Field neighborhood, and I include its history there.
One of the most important 20th century religious institutions in Florence was the Notre Dame Convent and Academy at 3501 State Street. Built in the 1920s, its nuns were Czechs who were intended to serve Omaha’s large Czech community. After identifying their need to serve Omaha, the Sisters of Notre Dame bought Father Flanagan’s Seven Oaks Farm, and hired architects to design a large, E-shaped building to serve as a high school. The Notre Dame Academy closed in the 1970s, and today the building serves as housing for the elderly.
The presence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Florence can’t be stated highly enough. After establishing their Winter Quarters on the west bank of the Missouri River in 1846, they laid out the street grid that became Florence, and constructed many of the original buildings that were sold a decade later to speculators. The Mormon Pioneer Cemetery, home to the hundreds of people who died in the winter of 1846, is located today at 3301 State Street. Used until 1848, LDS Church records indicate 359 pioneers are buried there. In a different location, Omaha’s Potter’s Field Cemetery was started in at least the 1870s, although there’s speculation that the first burials there happened when it was next to Cutler’s Park. Today, its located at 7909 Mormon Bridge Road next to the Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
The History Meets the Present
By 1916, Florence claimed to have seven churches, and the next year the city was annexed into Omaha. Since then, churches have come and gone, merged and closed, and in a few cases they’ve survived and flourished. Today, their past fills in more of the important history of North Omaha.
Directory of Historic Florence Churches
- Briggs United Brethren Church, North 58th and McKinley
- Florence Christian Church, 8929 North 29th Street (1896-present)
- Florence Church of Christ
- Florence Methodist Church, 8424 North 31st Street (1857)
- Florence First Presbyterian Church, 8314 North 31st Street (1857-present)
- St. John’s German Lutheran Church, 11120 Calhoun Road (1900-present)
- Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, 7301 North 28th Street (1923-present)
- St. Marks Episcopal Church, 8019 North 31st Street (1881-1964)
- St. James Episcopal Church, location unknown (1857)
- St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church, 8202 North 31st Street (1905-present)
- Winter Quarters Mormon Temple, location unknown (1846-1848)
You Might Like…
- A History of Churches in North Omaha
- A History of the Florence Neighborhood in North Omaha
- A History of the James Comey Mitchell House in Florence
- “Churches,” Florence Futures Foundation
- “The founding of Florence, Nebraska, 1854-1860” by Marian G. Miles for University of Nebraska at Omaha (1970)
- “Redeeming The Time: Protestant Missionaries and the Social and Cultural Development of Territorial Nebraska” by Robert J. Voss for the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (2006)
- “History,” Notre Dame Sisters of Omaha