The Most Prettiest Mile in Omaha once started at Ames Avenue and meandered north to Redick Avenue. The neighborhood at the beginning is called Saratoga, and it was once a fine township between Omaha and Florence. Along its eastern flank was a 100-foot-high cliff overlooking the Missouri River valley below, and along this cliff were fine homes.
What better place for an aspiring hotelier to build his home than two blocks from the site of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Expo? This is a history of North Omaha’s Rome Miller Mansion.
Meet Rome Miller
Miller was born in St. Louis in 1854. In 1881, he moved to Fremont and ran a railroad lunchroom there. By 1895, he owned a chain of lunchrooms from Iowa to South Dakota to Kansas, and owned one hotel in Missouri Valley. In 1898, he moved to Omaha, built his mansion and opened a Phillipino-themed restaurant at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition. In 1902, he bought the Brunswick Hotel aka the Iler Grand, and the next year leased the famous Millard Hotel where he installed the first telephones in Omaha. In 1907, he remodeled the Brunswick and renamed it Rome Hotel after himself. In 1910, he started the first taxi cab service in Omaha.
His Cosmopolitan Hotel Company, which was later called the Douglas Hotel Company, soon owned both the Millard Hotel and the Rome Hotel in downtown Omaha, along with several other properties. Miller began in the hospitality industry in the 1880s. In 1898, he choose a large parcel of land at the corner of Florence Boulevard and Grand Avenue to build his fine address. Neighbored by the Stroud Estate and other fine homes, Miller’s mansion is a stout, large property sitting on land once owned by pioneer Omaha lawyer John I. Redick.
The Millers were racists who advertised for white women for “second work,” including being a maid, cooking, laundry and childcare, consistently for more than 15 years. Miller was a lifelong Republican and close acquaintance of “Cowboy” Jim Dahlman, the longtime crooked mayor of Omaha. Dahlman was in cahoots with crime lord Tom Dennison, and its not a stretch of imagination to assume Miller received favors from the City of Omaha to help develop his hotel empire.
Miller retired from managing the Douglas Hotel Company in 1920. However, in 1922 he took controlling interest in the Hotel Fontenelle, which he leased to the Eppley Corporation in turn. In addition to his business, Miller was co-founder of Omaha’s Child Saving Institute with George Joslyn, as well as a member of the City of Omaha Parks Board and many other organizations.
After selling his home, Miller moved to Los Angeles where a lot of hoteliers lived. There, he served as president of the Taverners, a club of hotel owners who had been in business for at least 25 years and included several famous businessmen from that era. He died several days after his wife, and was buried on the highest hill in Forest Lawn Cemetery in L.A.
About the Mansion
The Rome Miller Mansion is located at 4823 Florence Boulevard, at the corner of Florence Boulevard and Grand Avenue in the Saratoga neighborhood of North Omaha.
The home was advertised with eight bedrooms, five bathrooms and two fireplaces in 1976. Recent reports have said there’s a high degree of architectural integrity inside, with original wood paneling, beamed ceilings, original fixtures and more throughout. “Built on a grand scale,” declared a 1947 advertisement for the mansion, a real estate agent bragged that its living room is 24×24 feet wide; dining room, 17×18, along with a “beautiful kitchen, oak floors, walnut finish throughout the downstairs,” and many other features including “four grand bedrooms” and a maid’s apartment on the third floor. It also had a “late model kitchen-breakfast room,” colored tiles in the bathrooms and a children’s playroom in the basement.
Some original decorations in the home stayed in the home through at least the early 1960s, and included fine European tapestries that Miller himself brought back to decorate the living room and dining room.
Originally sitting on several acres, after Charles Martin subdivided the estate around 1920, the Miller Mansion lot was then 150×265-feet big, comprising almost an acre.
Today, the Rome Miller Mansion surrounded by City of Omaha parkland called the Bluff View Park. It has more than 3,600 feet within on three stories, as well as a finished basement and two-car garage.
From Miller to Now
Miller retired from his businesses and moved to L.A. in 1920. Six years earlier, in 1914, he sold his fine mansion to Charles Martin. Martin was the successful developer of the Minne Lusa and Florence Field neighborhoods in North Omaha, as well as homes in other neighborhoods. Martin immediately sub-platted the land to the south of the home, creating room for several other notable houses that he built to sell. He and his wife lived in the Rome Miller house for several years before moving into one of the new houses.
Attorney Lysle Abbott bought the home from Martin for a record amount of $20,000 in 1924. Abbott stayed there until 1928, when the home changed hands. He was tied up in shady dealings throughout Omaha, including defending gambling interests that involved Nebraska’s governor.
From 1930 to 1936, the mansion was home to the Green Garden Tearoom. A small event space that hosted 20-40 guests, it was probably comprised of the living and dining rooms. During those years, there were dozens of events held there covered by the Omaha World-Herald social reporters, including high class meals, parties and other celebrations by individual families, fraternal and sorority organizations, and others.
For a few years after 1936, Rome Mansion housed the Wa-Ka-Na Sanatorium, an alternative healthcare facility providing doctoring and recuperation care for patients. Offering services to “all sufferers of chronic ailments,” it focused on “prostate gland troubles, treated without surgery.” Originally founded in Council Bluffs, the sanatarium closed by the late 1930s.
By the 1950s, the home was subdivided into several apartments. Located in the successful Saratoga neighborhood, it was close to Saratoga School, the commercial center at North 24th and Ames Avenue, and streetcar service to the rest of Omaha from the same intersection.
The home is in good condition today, and has been lovingly restored, repaired and maintained by its current owners.
The original door is still on the house, and the initials of its namesake Rome Miller are exquisitely chiseled into the glass. However, like so many homes in North Omaha, the Rome Miller Mansion has not been recognized for its historical significance. It is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has not been designated an official Omaha Landmark by the City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission. There’s no historical marker at the mansion, and was only featured in a 2014 tour by Restoration Exchange Omaha.
Maybe someday in the future the Rome Miller Mansion will be recognized better.
You Might Like…
- A History of Florence Boulevard
- A History of Mansions and Estates in North Omaha
- A History of the Saratoga Neighborhood
- “2014 Florence Boulevard Tour” by Kristine Gerber for Restoration Exchange Omaha in 2014.
- “Rome Miller” at findagrave.com