One building defined the early history of a boom-and-bust town located in present-day North Omaha. Despite only being open for a short time, the building left a long shadow on the area. This is a history of the Saratoga Springs Hotel in the town of Saratoga, Nebraska Territory.
Starting a Town
Erastus Beadle came to the Nebraska Territory from New York State in 1856 to found a town. Representing a group of real estate speculators from Upstate, he found a large swath of land available and established the Sulphur Springs Town Company to invest. The land sat in between Omaha City and Florence. However, it wasn’t enough to just call his land a town; Beadle needed buildings. After a post office was established another group of investors decided to build a hotel and called it the Saratoga Springs Hotel.
Saratoga Springs Hotel
Named after the town in Upstate New York, Saratoga Springs Hotel was open for three years. In 1857, a hotel company was organized and raised $100,000 to construct the building across an entire block at Saunders Street and Grand Avenue.
According to town founder Beadle’s diary, architectural plans were made in Philadelphia, and the building was designed in the Italianate Revival style that was popular in that era. When the original investors backed out, the Saratoga Springs Town Company put up the money and built the hotel. Built in less than a year, there was a stone foundation and with wooden walls and roof. Lumber was shipped via steamboat on the Missouri. For a while, the business was alternately called the Trinity House and the Central House.
It was probably at the Saratoga Springs Hotel that a group of town fathers decided to ask the Nebraska Territory Legislature for the original charter of the University of Nebraska, which was awarded to them in 1857. However, they never moved on it, and the university was later built in Lincoln. Other schemes were hatched in Saratoga though, including its popular race track, which eventually became the Omaha Driving Park. Paulsen’s Mill sat opposite of the hotel along a creek, and there were other businesses in the area. Despite there being no formal town in existence, for a short time there was still a need for a hotel.
After operating for three years, the hotel closed. After two months of sitting empty in 1860, the hotel was converted to a school.
On September 17, 1863 the first classes were held at Brownell Hall. The Nebraska Territory’s Episcopal bishop, Joseph Talbott, paid $3,500 for six acres of land and the former Saratoga Springs building. For three years Brownell Hall was a boarding school that hosted as many as 30 female students from Nebraska City, Florence, Fontanelle, Decatur and Omaha City. During their time at the school, girls weren’t allowed to go to the nearby springs at Horseshoe Bend alone. Apparently there were Native Americans living there, and because of rumored raids by nearby tribes the school wouldn’t let them go on their own.
Starting in 1864, the school hosted a strawberry festival that attracted Omahans to ride an omnibus to the school.
In fall 1866, a new building was constructed in downtown Omaha and the school moved out. Today, the Brownell-Talbot Academy continues from these pioneer roots.
After Brownell Hall moved out in 1866, the building once again offered boarding and was called the Grand Hotel. For more than 30 years, the same building served hundreds of customers. Starting in the late 1860s, reports from Omaha newspapers and beyond told quips and stories from the business, which was called the Saratoga Hotel in its later years.
Located near the Omaha Driving Park and a mile from Fort Omaha, the Grand Hotel was in a fine position to serve patrons. I’ve discerned from mentions in the local newspapers that the Saratoga Hotel operated at North 24th and Grand Avenue into 1890. Around 1891, a new building was constructed on the northwest corner of North 24th and Ames Avenue and the hotel moved there. It operated through the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, then was closed around 1900. That corner became the home of the iconic Lane Drugs afterwards.
Today, there is no sign of the Grand Hotel or its predecessors. Instead, its just another blip on the history radar that few people in North Omaha even know about.