A History of the Clifton Hill Neighborhood in North Omaha

A History of the Clifton Hill Neighborhood in North Omaha

The Creighton family was really wealthy. They got their money in many ways, including real estate. John A. Creighton invested in property west of Omaha, which he knew would become a suburb of the city eventually. Starting in 1885, that began happening. This is a history of the Clifton Hill neighborhood in North Omaha starting in 1887.


Old Days in Clifton Hill

This is an 1887 ad for the new Clifton Hill neighborhood in North Omaha.

It was 1887 when a real estate investment team led by Alonzo P. Turkey bought 70 acres of undeveloped farm land from J.A. Creighton for $100,000 and platted it. Called “the cream of the Creighton property,” the Clifton Hill neighborhood is located from North 40th to North 45th Streets, Blondo to Lake Streets. Intersected by the Belt Line Railway in 1886, the neighborhood was ripe for development because of the various ways people could travel to and from it. The Belt Line was originally for passengers, and one of the first streetcars to this area ran just blocks away along Cuming Street. I believe the Clifton Hills neighborhood was named by A.P. Turkey for another real estate agent. Clifton Mayne sold housing lots all over this area and while he was successful, he was important to a lot of people. The main street in Benson was originally named for him too, and was called Mayne Street. You might remember him for his association with the opulent Mayne Mansion, later called the Redick Mansion. In addition for early Benson, Mayne was responsible for the nearby Orchard Hill neighborhood. Other nearby historic neighborhoods include Walnut Hill, Bemis Park, Omaha View, Fairfax, Clairmont Heights, Waverly Heights, and the Country Club Historic District.

The original names of the streets in the neighborhood were Lake Street on the north, then Creighton Street, Grant Street, Logan Street and Clifton Street. Military Avenue disected the southwest corner of the neighborhood. North/south streets in the neighborhood included Boulevard Street, Hanover Street and 41st Street. Today, the streets in the neighborhood are named differently with a few exceptions. Lake Street still borders the north; then there is Erskine Street, Grant Street, Burdette Street and Patrick Avenue. North/south streets are North 45th, North 43rd, North 42nd and North 40th Street.

Turkey was a motivated seller and advertised the neighborhood extensively for several years. In 1887, Turkey advertised that he was still improving the neighborhood. “Persons who own lots in this promising addition will find, on visiting them, that the maple trees are all now planted, as per our promise.” In the same ad he appealed to investors saying, “Parties having money to invest for Eastern friends will find it to their liking to get our terms, etc.”

This is a circa 1890 map of the Clifton hill neighborhood in North Omaha. Note the street names are different than today.
This is a circa 1890 map of the Clifton hill neighborhood in North Omaha. Note the street names are different than today.

In 1888, there was a court trial among the real estate investment team led by Turkey. His partner Ezra F. Ringer was suing him and their silent partner, William F. Allen. According to Ringer, Turkey and Allen cut him out of all profits and proceedings in the development the previous two years. Suing for owed profits and a portion of the development, I haven’t found an end to the trial. However, searching local papers extensively I cannot find any mention of Ringer being involved in the development any longer, either.

Transportation Drives Growth

Turkey kept selling lots. In 1889, a “beautiful depot” was built for passengers to ride the Belt Line Railway at North 40th and Lake on the north side of the addition. Advertised as “quicker than horse cars” it took five cents to go 13 minutes from downtown Omaha to Clifton Hill. An ad said, “Suburban trains will add 50 percent more value to this beautiful and healthy addition.” This was a railroad line, not a streetcar, and traveled faster than people were used to.

In 1890, the owners of the development signed a contract with the streetcar company to extend the Walnut Hill line into their neighborhood along Military Avenue to Grant Street. One hundred houses were built in Clifton Hill in 1890, and the value of the neighborhood’s lots skyrocketed. As one ad crowed, “No better place for business than on the military road in beautiful Clifton Hill.”

In 1891, the Omaha Streetcar Company extended their line from Clifton Hill two miles into Benson. However, this relieved usage of the Belt Line Railway, and slowly, eventually that line stopped carrying passengers around 1905. The railroad switched usage to light industrial purposes and fostered new generations of warehousing and light industry along its entire route, including the Clifton Hill neighborhood. The Belt Line was removed entirely in the 1980s, and today there is a ravine with large buildings lining the east side of the neighborhood, but no sign of what its original purpose was.

From the 1890s through to 1980, there were various movements to extend Lake Street westward from North 45th Street in order to connect the North 24th and Lake district with the Benson neighborhood. However, that never happened and today Lake Street still ends at North 45th Street, breaking the community’s grid pattern. Apparently the original reason was that John A. Creighton didn’t want to sell his cow pasture to developers; then it was wanted for a park; then it was developed. In 1979 the City of Omaha considered it again, but it was dropped early the next year. The idea has never come up again.

Transportation has continued affecting the neighborhood since its construction. In 1974, the neighborhood was cited as a benefactor of a pedestrian overpass to be constructed along Fontenelle Boulevard at Maple Street. The next year and the year after (1975 and 1976), the neighborhood was cited as a benificiary of the construction of the North Freeway.

An Association for the “Clifton Hillites”

Empty lots continued selling in the Clifton Hill neighborhood for the next 15 years. In 1905, the neighborhood established the “Clifton Hill Improvement Association,” which was a neighborhood advocacy organization. They did quite a bit of advocacy, including paving the sidewalks in their neighborhood with bricks, calling on the city to install a sewer along North 45th Street, and more. In 1890, the Bishop Grocery was on Burdette at Military. Meeting there frequently, the improvement association was filled with “Clifton Hillites” who also called for grading and paving of Military Avenue, gas lamps throughout the neighborhood, a postal substation for the neighborhood, and more. In 1904, the newspaper credited the association with successfully advocating for “40,000 square feet of artificial stone sidewalk; 20,000 square feet of brick sidewalk; four and one-third miles of district and main sewers, and thirty-eight street lights.” In 1905, the association declared a “war against scorching on the Military Avenue” because new autos were driving faster than the 12 mile per hour speed limit. The association stayed active, and in the 1920s demanded better streetcar service for the neighborhood.

A Park for Clifton Hill?

The Clifton Hillites wanted a park for a long time. As early as 1894, they called on the land between Fontenelle Boulevard, North 45th and Military Avenue to become the Clifton Hill Triangle Park. Owned by John A. Creighton still, it was a cow pasture that was undeveloped, filled with beautiful flowing grasses, and speckled with trees. One article said, “Residents casting green eyes at John A. Creighton’s cow pasture,” while another reported “It is sightly, high and so located as to form a park of magnificent views for a public pleasure ground.” Despite a “strong petition” from residents and the support of Creighton, their advocacy failed and the park wasn’t built.

In 1904, the neighborhood advocates started lobbying the City of Omaha for a park to be built on Military Avenue between Grant and Burdette Streets. Clearing the lots and making it nice on their own, they awaited the City’s approval but never received it.

Today, the neighborhood has a few large parks nearby, including the Walnut Hill Reservoir, Adams Park and the Fontenelle Park. There is a small parks nearby too, called the Miami Playground. However, there is no park today in the Clifton Hill neighborhood.


Historic Places in Clifton Hill

Clifton Hill Presbyterian Church, North 45th and Grant Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
This was the historic Clifton Hill Presbyterian Church at North 45th and Grant Streets, built in 1887 and demolished by 1957. This is a circa 1950 picture from the author’s collection.

There are many historically notable locations in the Clifton Hill neighborhood today. They include the intersection of North 45th and Military Avenue, the former Clifton Hill Presbyterian Church, the former Belt Line Railway, and the former commercial district on the east side of Military Avenue. These assets are under-developed for their historical value, as is the potential of the neighborhood for its heritage.

Starting in 1894, the Clifton Hill Presbyterian Church was located at 2301 North 45th Street. The church was the stalwart congregation in the neighborhood for decades, growing and changing over time as the neighborhood developed, in-filled, then transformed. The original building was replaced with a new church in 1954, and the congregation stayed there into the

There were other Protestant churches in the area, but no others directly in the neighborhood. The Holy Name Catholic Parish serves the neighborhood, including a church and a school.

During a post-war renaissance the Omaha Fire Department built station 24 at the intersection of North 45th and Military in the 1940s. The Clifton Hill Presbyterian Church was rebuilt during this era, as were a few local stores.

Historic Houses

Of course, the houses are some of the most remarkable historic properties in Clifton Hill today. There have been a lot of ups and downs for the neighborhood’s homes, including the weather. Tornadoes have hit Clifton hill repeatedly. There have been at least two massive tornado attacks, including one in 1913 and on April 6, 1919, when a tornado demolished more than a dozen homes on Clifton Hill.

The neighborhood was filled in with homes primarily between 1890 and 1910. However, there was a nearly consistent pattern of in-fill between 1910 and 1960. After a 30-year lull in construction, in the 1990s that pattern was picked up again by nonprofit housing development organizations, and it continues today. Most of the lots in the neighborhood are 120 feet by 50 feet, and most of the homes are below 1,600 square feet in size. There are a few exceptions, but they are rare. Home designs range from American Foursquare style popular after 1900, include the Dutch Gramble style, feature the Queen Anne style, and include several examples of Saltbox style homes post-WWII.

For the purpose of identifying old houses, let’s just focus on homes that are more than 125 years old. That means some of the historic homes in the Clifton Hill neighborhood today include…

  1. 4129 Lake Street, built in 1890
  2. 4312 Erskine Street, built in 1895
  3. 4150 Erskine Street, built in 1890
  4. 4125 Erskine Street, built in 1890
  5. 4205 Erskine Street, built in 1892
  6. 4231 Erskine Street, built in 1890
  7. 4243 Erskine Street, built in 1890
  8. 2315 North 45th Street, built in 1890
  9. 4308 Grant Street, built in 1895
  10. 4129 Grant Street, built in 1895
  11. 4139 Grant Street, built in 1890
  12. 4149 Grant Street, built in 1895
  13. 4239 Grant Street, built in 1895
  14. 4243 Grant Street, built in 1895
  15. 4334 Burdette Street, built in 1895
  16. 4240 Burdette Street, built in 1895
  17. 4312 Patrick Street, built in 1890
  18. 4244 Patrick Street, built in 1890
  19. 4226 Patrick Street, built in 1895
  20. 4215 Patrick Street, built in 1895
  1. 4131 Lake Street, built in 1887
  2. 4237 Lake Street, built in 1887
  3. 4316 Erskine Street, built in 1895
  4. 4230 Erskine Street, built in 1890
  5. 4129 Erskine Street, built in 1895
  6. 4131 Erskine Street, built in 1895
  7. 4311 Erskine Street, built in 1895
  8. 4337 Erskine Street, built in 1890
  9. 4228 Grant Street, built in 1895
  10. 4208 Grant Street, built in 1885
  11. 4131 Grant Street, built in 1890
  12. 4135 Grant Street, built in 1890
  13. 4227 Grant Street, built in 1895
  14. 4303 Grant Street, built in 1895
  15. 4228 Burdette Street, built in 1895
  16. 4216 Burdette Street, built in 1895
  17. 4308 Patrick Street, built in 1890
  18. 4304 Patrick Street, built in 1890
  19. 4238 Patrick Street, built in 1890
  20. 4219 Patrick Street, built in 1895

In 2015, the City of Omaha subcontracted builders for a sub-development called Woodland Heights in the Clifton Hills neighborhood to build new homes on Lake Street between North 42nd and North 43rd Streets. Seven homes were built as part of the development.

Historic Businesses

Safeway Store, 2219 Military Avenue, Clifton Hill neighborhood, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a 1936 ad for the opening of the Safeway Store at 2219 Military Avenue in the Clifton Hill neighborhood.

In 1936, a Safeway store opened at 2219 Military Avenue on the southeast corner of Military Avenue and Grant Street. It stayed there until 1943, when it re-opened in a larger building a block south.

Monkey Mountain Bar was located on the 2217 Military Avenue from 1933 to 1988. Marvin Vodra owned it, and said his best business was after World War II when “We had at least seven employees…” In the 1930s, the bar co-occupied the space with the Clifton Hill Cafe.

The Kringel Grocery Store opened at 2215 Military in the 1890s. Pierce’s Clifton Hill Bakery, selling pies and breads and more, was located there in the 1920s, and in 1929 that site was home to an A&P Grocery Store, originally called the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. Opened as the farthest east store for the company, it was one of 16,000 stores in the chain. Stepanek Cleaners was there from 1964 to 1974, and soon after it became an industrial/commercial space. Today it still serves that purpose.

Monkey Mountain Bar and Grill, 2215 Military Avenue, Clifton Hill neighborhood, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is an ad for the Monkey Mountain Bar and Grill at 2215 Military Avenue in the Clifton Hill neighborhood of North Omaha.

The first building listed at 2213 Military was the Clifton Hill Pharmacy which opened there in 1899 and stayed until 1963. A fire there in September of that year closed the store permanently. The Military Beauty Salon was located there in the 1970s.

A Piggly Wiggly grocery store opened at 2211 Military in 1922. It was only located there until 1936 when a Safeway opened down the street. Safeway owned Piggly Wiggly by then and closed the older store down. The Assembly Bar opened there right afterwards, and stayed in business until 1962. Ponzzini’s Pizza Parlor was located there next from 1962 to 1966, when it went out of business.

In 1920, a brick store was built on the 2200 block of Military Avenue. A barber shop was located there soon after, and the Ford Electric Company was there in the late 1920s. In the 1930s, the Household Paper Products Company was located there, and then the address wasn’t used again after that.

Other businesses along the east side of Military Avenue included Warfield’s Grocery at 2209 Military for 40 years, and Schnauber Hardware, located there from 1950 through 1983. Maurers Restaurant was located at 2207 Military Avenue from the 1890s to 1909, and Simpson Hardware was there from 1920 to 1930. Dodge Engineering Company was located at 2205 Military in the 1960s and 1970s. There was another Safeway store located at 2115 Military in 1943, and stayed there into 1967 when it closed permanently. The 5,000 square foot storefront has been used for several businesses since then, including a longtime storage facility.

A gas station opened on the corner of North 45th and Lake in the 1940s that was designed in the Atomic Age style. The location was a gas station for a long time before that, in the 1930s it was C.A. Johnston’s Texaco, and by the 1950s it was Ernie’s Texaco. In the 1960s it opened as Harold’s DX Service Station, which was closed by 1980. The building has had many different purposes since then.

Dr. R.W. Fogleman Small Animal Hospital, 2205 Military Avenue, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a 1963 ad announcing the closure of Dr. R.W. Fogleman’s small animal hospital at 2205 Military Avenue in North Omaha.

In the 1930s, Leo Bills was arrested and fined for running a “wet” hamburger stand on the southeast corner of Military and Burdette. This was during Prohibition, and Bills closed the stand soon after.

1903 Military Avenue was home to Greer’s TV in the 1960s, and Dick and Ed’s Vacuum Sales and Service in the late 1960s and 1970s. During the 1970s a terminator was located there. Today H&S Contracting is located there.

In 1941, Jeanette Burkman began managing the new Reed’s Drive-In Self-Serv shop located at 1819 Military Avenue near Parker Street on the south side of the neighborhood. Reed’s had a longtime presence across North Omaha, and this was one of their premier new style of stores. This store closed when the chain did. In the 1970s this address was home to the Holy Name Credit Union, which operated there until 1983.

Other businesses in the neighborhood include Moen Steel Erection at 4115 Lake Street, along with Western Outdoor Advertising and Whitney Construction at 4000 Grant Street. The headquarters garage for a local nonprofit called Omaha Permaculture is located at 4101 Grant Street.

Rivett Lumber Company, 4115 Lake Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
For decades, the Rivett Lumber Company was located at 4115 Lake Street in the Clifton Hill neighborhood. In 1936, there was a massive fire that burned the entire company to the ground. This is a picture of the fire courtesy of the Durham Museum.

There are intriguing commercial and industrial structures throughout the neighborhood that I want to learn more about. There is a building at 1923 North 42nd Street that’s currently owned by a construction company. Its a two-story building made of masonry blocks that was built in 1927 by a veteran of the Spanish-American War and the First World War whose last name was Whipperman. After he died, the building was bought by a man named William V. Matthews to be a warehouse for his Standard Tent and Awning Company. However, since it was right after World War II and there was a nationwide housing shortage, he decided to convert the second floor into a five-room apartment. However, he was stopped dead in his track when the rent control authority in Omaha prohibited him from charging enough rent. Saying the building was on a gravel road right next to a railroad, there was no way to charge enough to make back the money he would need to invest to convert the building. Apparently, it was never used as housing and is today still a warehouse.

Clifton Hill School

Clifton Hill School addition, N. 45th and Maple Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a 1960s pic of an addition to the historic Clifton Hill School, once located at 2811 N. 45th Street.

The residents of Clifton Hill first secured a school from the Omaha School District in 1891. The next year, a four-room schoolhouse was built at North 42nd and Miami Streets in the middle of the neighborhood. In 1918, a huge new school was built at North 24th and Corby Streets. The 16-room building originally held kindergarten through eighth grade, with students either graduating and leaving school that year or going to Omaha High School downtown.

In 1936, students at Clifton Hill School built a rock garden with tufta rocks, a pool and goldfish. Students raised money from a “paper sale” in the neighborhood. There was a “garden house” that kept it all indoors.

The school became the center of United States v. Omaha School District, a 1973 Supreme Court case that became the impetus for Omaha’s school desegregation plan. Through a meticulous accounting of the district’s racial segregation activities, the federal government showed that Clifton Hill School was one of Omaha’s deeply segregated schools.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the school population burst as new families moved into the neighborhood. Originally stuffing students into houses converted into classrooms next to the school, eventually OPS added portables to the school. However, the school remained packed and the district did little to relief its growth.

In 1988, the Omaha Public Schools closed Clifton Hill School permanently. It was renovated and today is in use as the Girls, Inc. Katherine Fletcher Center. Today, the neighborhood is surrounded by schools including Franklin Elementary, Howard Kennedy Elementary, Walnut Hill Elementary, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary, Lewis and Clark Middle, Norris Middle, and the Parrish Alternative School.


White Flight in Clifton Hills

This September 11, 1967 heading from the Omaha World-Herald excitedly crowed "Negro influx causes crowding--Clifton Hill overflows to 7 houses."
This September 11, 1967 heading from the Omaha World-Herald excitedly crowed “Negro influx causes crowding–Clifton Hill overflows to 7 houses.”

A 1996 feature in the Omaha World-Herald said of this area, “In 1964 – the last year of the baby boom – neighborhood sidewalks teemed with running, bicycling, scooter – riding, ball – throwing children.” The article continued, “Military Avenue was a thriving business district. In those days, gasoline was pumped, televisions repaired, hair cut, insurance sold, teeth pulled, arms mended, meals served, groceries sacked, movies screened and nuts matched with bolts.”

This was a wild contrast to the article heading they ran in 1967, when they declared a “Negro influx” meant to scare the neighborhood’s white residents away.

The Clifton Hill neighborhood was targeted by the Omaha real estate industry for racist block-busting in the early 1960s. Located near a historic Black community, white supremacist sales tactics were used to scare the traditional white residents into moving to west Omaha and selling their houses in Clifton Hill cheaply. This rapidly drove the neighborhood’s values down, in turn scaring more white people into moving away.

The effects of white flight in the Clifton Hill neighborhood were drastic and severe. Happening gradually over the course of 15 years, between 1962 and 1977 the entire commercial center along the east side of Military Avenue in the Clifton Hill neighborhood flipped. Grocery stores, cafes, boutiques and other businesses moved away or closed permanently, as well as the very important Military Theater, which permanently closed in 1975. It was an anchor for the shopping district at North 45th and Military Avenue, and when it closed almost everything around it closed.

Starting in 1962, the Clifton Hill School had predominantly Black students for the first time. It was the site of controversy for many years as the Omaha Public Schools practiced segregation by isolating Black students at Clifton Hill, along with several historically segregated schools in the Near North Side neighborhood. When the Omaha school district was sued in the 1970s by the US Department of Education for its segregation practices, Clifton Hill was one of the schools addressed.

Obviously part of a white supremacy campaign meant to scare white people, in 1971 the Omaha World-Herald blared that a “Negro influx causes crowding” at Clifton Hill School. Serving to ensure that any remaining white residents sell their homes and move immediately, this race baiting tactic was used in neighborhoods throughout North Omaha, with Clifton Hills a clear target.

Today, the Clifton Hill neighborhood has become almost entirely African American. According to the 2020 US Census, is a buffer neighborhoods to the white and mixed population neighborhoods to the west along Fontenelle Boulevard. Home ownership in the neighborhood is mixed, with white homeowners collecting rents from Black residents in many scenarios.

Clifton Hill Today

Starting in the 1980s, the Holy Name Housing Corp. has renovated many houses in the area comprising Clifton Hill. The commercial edges of the neighborhood are seeing signs of revitalization, including the 40th and Hamilton Commercial Historic District.

However, there has been no recognition of the historic value of this neighborhood. The Nebraska State Historical Society and the Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission have both neglected the area, and there are no buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places or designated as Official Omaha Landmarks today.

Time will tell whether the City and the State will come to recognize their oversight. In the meantime, its up to Omaha residents whether they will come back to recognize the beauty of the Clifton Hill neighborhood’s history without political leaders or business people telling them they should…

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BONUS

Clifton Hill School Girls Inc Katherine Fletcher Center 2811 N 45th St North Omaha Nebraska
This is the Girls, Inc. Katherine Fletcher Center at 2811 N. 45th St. in North Omaha, Nebraska. The building originally served as Clifton Hill School.
This is a former Safeway store located at 2115 Military Avenue in the Clifton Hill neighborhood of North Omaha.
This is a 1951 ad for Reed’s Ice Cream, which once had a stand on Military Avenue near the Clifton Hill neighborhood.
Clifton Hill Presbyterian Church, 2301 North 45th Street
This is a 1929 picture of the Clifton Hill Presbyterian Church at 2301 North 45th Street. Built in 1891, it was demolished in 1957.
4208 Grant Avenue, North Omaha, Nebraska
This house at 4208 Grant Avenue might be the oldest in the Clifton Hill neighborhood. Built in 1885, it was 137 years old as of 2022. In 1940, it was advertised for sale as “5 rooms–modern. Not new and needs repairs, but a good buy for the price. South front lot, paving paid. Rents for $22.50.”

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