A History of the Girls and Boys Building in North Omaha

Girls and Boys Building, Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, North Omaha, Nebraska

Of all the buildings made for the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, the Girls and Boys Building had one of the most joyful, loyal and enthusiastic receptions. Here is a short history of the building.

Fundraising for Construction

Drawing of the Girls and Boys Building in North Omaha
This is a artist’s rendering of the Girls and Boys Building.

“It was not one of the main exhibit buildings, but was given a place in the Grand Court as a worthy tribute to the sacrificing and enthusiastic loyalty of the children…”

From History of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898 by James B. Haynes in 1910 for the Woordward & Tiernam Printing Company.

Almost $300,000. In 1898, students across the Midwest raised almost $300,000 in 2019 dollars to build their own building at Omaha’s world fair.

Under command of the Bureau of Education of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, the Girls and Boys Building was built on the backs of children. Students throughout the Trans-Mississippi region (Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, etc.) were made responsible for collecting all of the money needed to construct the building, and they did it. In response, they apparently became enthusiastic promoters and loyal attendees of events and exhibits in the building.

The Bureau sent out desperate and demanding letters to every school in the region suggesting that every student buy a share of the building for .05¢, as well as gather donations to send into the fund. School children in Omaha were responsible for raising almost $2,000.

The Bureau of Education of the Trans-Mississippi Expo was also called the Lady Board of Managers and the Women’s Board since it was all female. All of the members were white. According to one researcher, “The only African Americans who participated in the activities of the Girls and Boys Building were the child performers from the Old Plantation on ‘Childrens’ Day’.”

A newsletter called The Hatchet was published for a year to raise and maintain the building, too. Named after the myth of George Washington, The Hatchet featured poetry, songs, art and craft instructions, and was sold as a children’s magazine. Fundraising to maintain the building was very successful, too, and everyone seemed pleased with the outcomes of this particular building at the Expo.

Starting in September 1897, the estimated cost of the building was $5,000, but by 1898 the total cost of the building was $10,000, which is worth almost $300,000 in 2019 dollars. Not only did students raise that amount, but almost $1,000 over. They were wildly successful!

Construction and Design

Girls and Boys Building, Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, North Omaha, Nebraska
Built in 1897, the Girls and Boys Building at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition lasted until late 1899 when it was disassembled and moved.

Walker & Kimball were the architects of the building. Made of C. Howard Walker of Boston and Omaha architect Thomas R. Kimball, the firm reportedly enjoyed designing this simple space with grand ambitions.

Grading for the Girls and Boys Building began in November 1897, and construction of the building started in December. Located on the southwest corner of North 16th and Pratt Streets, the building was visible from the Grand Lagoon. Made in a “T” shape complete with large rooms called the boys’ parlor and a girls’ parlor, there were also smaller exhibition rooms and a second story restaurant in the building.

“It will be a pretty little affair with a restaurant sand piles and a shallow pond where the little tots may play. A model nursery and crèche will furnish mothers with a place where they may have their little ones taken care of while they inspect the grounds.”

From “Construction of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition 1897-1898” (2006)

The building was designed in a non-elaborate Neo-Classical Revival style. A large central hallway that was 2,500 square feet large gave plenty of room in the interior on the first floor, and plenty of space on the flat roof for a rooftop garden and restaurant. There was a broad, wide porch with tall columns. The entrance to the hall had a stage for entertainment and speaking, with room to seat hundreds in front of it. There were also two flights of stairs leading to a balcony overlooking the room with additional room for seating.

It was formally opened on June 15, 1898.

Features

East end of the Grand Court, North Omaha, Nebraska
This colorized postcard includes a peek-a-boo view of the Girls and Boys Building between the Machinery and Electrical Building and the red Streets of Cairo onion-shaped rooftop.

The Girls and Boys Building had a lot of features, including a creche, a nursery and the Home Restaurant. There were smaller rooms on the sides, one of which featured baby cribs with babies in them for public viewing, as well as a confectionary, and rooms with toys, dolls and kids clothes on display and for sale, too. A book display and book giveaways happened regularly, too. There was also a female glassblower and several types of musicians in the building throughout the Expo.

Elizabeth Horton of Boston exhibited her doll collection in the building. Comprised of more than 300 dolls, they represented many cultures, traditions and values. There were a lot of different costumes on the dolls, too.

The entire building was meant to be entertaining to young people, and educational for parents and teachers.

After the Expos

Girls and Boys Building, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is The Home Restaurant sign, and the entrance to the Girls Parlor in the Girls and Boys Building. A Columnade is to the right, with a tower entrance to the Midway in the middle.

During the 1899 Greater America Expo, the building was for lease for a variety of different displays. When that expo was over in November 1899, there were 200+ chairs, 15 tables and a heating stove for sale from the building. In December, Charles Anderson was responsible for selling all the reusable pieces of the building, including lumber, lath, doors and windows.

Today, there is no historical marker at the site of the Girls and Boys Building. There are historical markers for the Trans-Mississippi Expo at Kountze Park though, and an original U.S. 45-star flag that flew at the Girls and Boys Building belongs to the Omaha Public Library.

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Published by Adam

I am a speaker, writer and consultant focused on youth engagement. I also share the history of North Omaha, Nebraska.

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