Omaha had a hard time getting its public school system going. Once they got going, it took more than a decade to build a second school. However, when it opened on the outskirts of the city at North 17th and Izard Streets, the new school was the grandest building of its time. This is a history of the North Omaha School, aka the Izard School.
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Izard Street was one of the farthest north neighborhoods in the city. In addition to their new school, the neighborhood was packed with schools and the Holy Family Catholic Church, which was formed in 1876.
When it opened in 1872, the North Omaha School was one of 8 public schools in Omaha. Only three were made of brick, including North Omaha School, which was the second brick building constructed by the district. The school cost $35,000 to build, making it the most expensive building in the district. For the next 25 years, the school was the most prominent building in the area. In addition to eight classrooms on two floors above ground, there was a playroom and cafeteria in the basement, and a four-story clocktower. In 1885, the building got its first annex, an old wood frame school moved to the schoolyard from 30th and Douglas Streets.
There were eight grades at North Omaha School, and when students got to 8th grade they were generally done with their educational journey. By 1885, the North Omaha School was renamed Izard School. Located on Izard Street, the building was renamed for Mark Izard (1799-1866). Izard was the Nebraska Territory governor from 1855 to 1857, and the school was renamed in memory of him.
The neighborhood around the North Omaha School was originally formed of Irish immigrants. These early settlers came to Omaha for opportunities, and by the 1870s many were employed by the railroad, especially at the grungy, hard-working Union Pacific shops located at the end of Cuming Street at 5th Avenue.
In the late 1880s, the principal of the school was Anna Foos. Her teachers included Sadie M. Bunker, Emma Wheatley, Ida Wilson, Minnie Dye, and eight others. During that decade, the building was under constant repair. It got a new roof, had brickwork repaired, and the school grounds were improved several times.
Between recent additions at Kellom School, which was originally built in 1892; the Cass School built in 1889; and the 1888 Webster School, the Omaha School District decided to demolish Izard School. In 1900, they did just that.
Today, there’s no sign that the neighborhood around the original site of the Izard School, originally known as the North Omaha School, was residential. Instead, its filled with light industrial, residential and social service buildings. The Holy Family church has closed and has been repurposed, and nothing reflects the longtime institution that once educated generations of young Omahans.