There’s a place in North Omaha where eight streets converge into the same intersection. Six of them enter and exit with the same names; two of them do not. This is a history of one of those two, the Saddle Creek Road in North Omaha.
A Saddle in the Old West
Longtime Omaha historian Orville Menard said that back in 1849 a California gold miner was driving his wagon along this road when a saddle fell from the back and into the creek next to the road. In 1906, an article in the newspaper referred to “Old Dick Linderman” who “discovered Saddle Creek.” In 1931, the Omaha World-Herald conducted an oral history interview with Mrs. S.E. Reeves Martin, an Omaha pioneer from 1854. Asked how Saddle Creek got its name she said, “The boulevard follows a course of a former creek… Sometimes the creek was deep and full. One day a resident in fording the creek dropped off the horse and lost his saddle. That’s how it came to be known as Saddle Creek.” A section of Saddle Creek Road was part of the original Military Road, originally laid out in 1850 by the U.S. Army.
For the next 40 years there were homes and farms and businesses scattered all along the road. As early as 1879, there were complaints in local newspapers about the bridge over Saddle Creek along Dodge Street. Located in a belt two miles outside of the city, Saddle Creek Road had several taverns, inns and roadhouses to serve people who weren’t getting what they wanted in city limits. Flowing to the Little Papio Creek, the creek was a blessing and a curse for the surrounding area. It was 1886 when the Belt Line Railway, owned by the Missouri Pacific Railroad, began constructing a circle around the entire city. It would eventually bridge and run parallel along the creek. The Missouri Pacific Railroad bridge would be 150 feet long, and stood into the 1980s.
Starting at North 50th and Seward Streets, today Saddle Creek Road meanders southeast for eight blocks until merging into NW Radial Highway. In a half-mile, it separates to become an independent street again at Cuming Street. From there it goes south another mile to Dodge Street, which is the entirety of my article’s focus. From there, it becomes South Saddle Creek Road and then meanders southwest at Farnam Street, stopping at South 51st near Center Street. Originally located far west of the Omaha City limits, the road was located in the Saddle Creek valley. In the middle of that valley was a waterway that was full enough year-around to be considered as Omaha’s primary water source in the 1870s.
In 1890, the Saddle Creek valley was considered as the location of a railroad that would run to western Nebraska. Seen as a key to developing the up-and-coming Dundee Place neighborhood to the west, the creek had bridges and culverts crossing it long before the city limits came to it. A brick sewer was run across the creek in 1891, and homes immediately began popping up east and west of the creek. However, the Saddle Creek Road wasn’t regarded that highly, and in 1894 the City Council rejected paving it again after several attempts. From the 1870s through the 1920s, there was a dump located on the northeast corner of Saddle Creek Drive and Hamilton Avenue.
The next year in 1895, there was a “sharp debate” in the council over the grading of the street. A report said, “…the street to be constructed along that historic stream, from Hamilton Street to Center Street, will be known as West Side Avenue.” Other names for the road included Saddle Creek Boulevard and Pulaski Boulevard, named in honor of a general in the American Revolutionary War.
A contract was awarded and the street was planned. Soon after, another report said, “The street along Saddle Creek from Hamilton Street to Center Street has been declared a public street and open to public travel.” There was an argument on whether to name it West Side Avenue or Saddle Creek Avenue. Late in 1895 though, the street’s construction was delayed because of costs. Apparently the landowners on either side of the street didn’t want to sell their land cheap, and the city didn’t want to pay. Former Nebraska Territorial Governor Alvin Saunders was one of the landowners, and he objected loudly “while admitting that the scheme was an excellent one he did not believe the present time to promulgate any measure that would tax property owners.” The article continued saying, “He had donated a great many lots to the city for streets and alleys, and thought it unjust as far as he was concerned that he should now have to pay taxes for the purchase of other property for the city’s use.” Other Omaha founding fathers including Dr. Samuel Mercer and A.J. Poppleton were involved in the dispute too. Located at the bottom of Mercer’s Walnut Hill property, he was in favor of the development, and eventually he got his way.
It was 1896 when Omaha founding father A.D. Jones recounted the story of how he named Saddle Creek in 1854. He was on a trip to Elkhorn when he lost his saddle in the creek and gave it his name. In his storytelling he said, “As the little stream had no other ‘white’ name I called it Saddle Creek and Saddle Creek it has been ever since.” By 1898, the City of Omaha was planning to put a boulevard along the Saddle Creek.
Massive flooding demolished street along Saddle Creek in 1899. Referring to the water, a newspaper article referred to “the classic banks of the roaring Saddle Creek,” making the “little stream” sound spectacular. A separate newspaper article reported on “the annual washing out of the street” in reporting on the plans for a sewer to go along Saddle Creek Road.
…[an] open and offensive stream.”—Omaha World-Herald, April 22, 1900
Residents in the surrounding area formed an improvement club in 1900. Their advocacy included calling for the boulevard along Saddle Creek, and the installation of a sewer to serve the neighborhood in stopping the “open and offensive stream.” That same year, the original Omaha Country Club was built overlooking the Saddle Creek Valley. Later moved and with the Country Club Historic District built on top of it, today there’s no sign of where it was.
In addition to the Country Club, other neighborhoods advocating for the Saddle Creek street and sewer included Orchard Hill, Clifton Hill, Walnut Hill, Benson and Dundee Place.
In 1902 the newspaper reported the original road was gone. Owners of the Belt Line Railway, which was located several blocks away, called on the City of Omaha “for opening a street along Saddle Creek from Hamilton to Leavenworth Street” and negotiated a cost-sharing plan. The next year construction on the sewer began to route the creek newly, and included a roadway on top of it all. That year, 1903, the street was named a public roadway again, and this was the beginning of today’s Saddle Creek Road. Speaking about the development, the City of Omaha chief engineer Andrew Rosewater said, “When all of this has been accomplished… Saddle Creek will become but a memory, and within the next twenty-five or thirty years the Orchard Hill district will become the finest residence portion of Omaha.” Referred to as “the Saddle Creek nuisance,” there was apparently no love for the old stream.
“When all of this has been accomplished… Saddle Creek will become but a memory…”—Andrew Rosewater, City of Omaha chief engineer
The sewer would cost the City of Omaha more than $100,000 to build. Now labelled “West Omaha,” this area of the city was becoming a more politically influential place than before. Construction of their sewer took a few years though, and wasn’t finished until 1905. For several years afterwards, the construction of any major feature in the area included reports on the connection to the Saddle Creek sewer, including Walnut Hill School, the Omar Bakery, and more.
A “genial hermit” named Jimmie Burke had a dugout along the road until 1912, when it was removed for extended sewers.
Two years later in 1914, the City of Omaha was worried about building the street again. In 1917, the City of Omaha proposed extending Saddle Creek Road north and west from Hamilton to Blondo Street. The plan was to be part of an “Inner Belt Traffic Way,” which was an early predecessor to the interstate highway system that eventually encircled Omaha.
A History of the Saddle Creek Underpass
The Civil Works Administration was responsible for funding and building the Saddle Creek Underpass on Dodge Street in 1934. Alternately called a bridge and even a subway, today it is officially called the Saddle Creek Underpass. Working from the CCC camp at Carter Lake, federal workers built the underpass as a civic works project designed to support Omaha’s growth and put more people to work nationwide during the Great Depression. During that project, workers repurposed old stone curbs from Dodge Street by cleaning them and installing them as facing on the archway in the underpass. They had to lower Saddle Creek Road significantly, and moved almost 1,200 cubic yards of dirt from below the 50-foot-long bridge. In plans for the underpass, the Nebraska Department of Roads referred to the project as including, “a complete, modern street light system, and interlocking traffic control signal system, two pedestrian subways, and a grade separation of Dodge Street and Saddle Creek Boulevard.” The Saddle Creek Underpass was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. The stone curbs are still visible today; the pedestrian underpasses were removed.
Despite this fancy new development though, flooding problems continued. A 1932 expose in the paper announced, “Saddle Creek Road Crumbles; City Pays,” and gladly expounded on each intersection where there were cracks, crumbles, holes and potholes awaiting drivers. It said, “After a rain, water stands in a multitude of puddles along Saddle Creek gutters, certain evidence to an engineer that the designer’s levels no longer obtain. A motor trip over some parts of the road is like a trip on a switchback railroad.”
The Omaha Chamber of Commerce planned a beautification campaign for Saddle Creek Road in 1935 though, and carried it through for several years. Tree planting, flower beds and more were installed along both sides of the street north to Cuming Street. The Chamber requested both businesses and residents participate, and was met with healthy support. The next year the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, allotted $100,000 for beautification projects in Omaha, including along Saddle Creek Road.
Radical High Speed Change
Keeping up with growth, flooding and the demands of changing traffic patterns has befuddled the City of Omaha since Saddle Creek Road was originally opened in the 1890s.
The early 1960s saw radical change sweep across a section of Saddle Creek Road. Due to the in-filling of surrounding neighborhoods after World War II, the area became highly developed with retail, light industrial and other businesses. Seeking to capitalize on this growth by promoting high speed traffic, the City redeveloped a section of the nearby Cuming Street, part of Saddle Creek Drive, and a lot of the remaining Military Road into a new higher-speed arterial called the Northwest Radial Highway, abbreviated as NW Radial Hwy. Eliminating a lot of left turns, increasing the speed limit and promoting faster travel to and from downtown Omaha, for a time this roadway made the surrounding neighborhoods appealing to new residents. At the same time, from 1961 through 1963, the City of Omaha built a massive new sewer along the length of the road in order to handle the increased residential impact on the area. This development helped the growth of the road too, with medians, streetlights and other construction really bringing together the high-speed aspects of NW Radial Hwy.
In 1989, the City allocated almost $100,000 for improvements to the intersection at Saddle Creek and Cuming Street.
Problems with flooding along Saddle Creek have continued into the 2000s. In 2004, a massive flood damaged several businesses north and south of Dodge Street. The City has struggled to solve these problems for the entirety of the road and earlier. The City of Omaha considered demolishing and realigning part of the street in 2007, and spent a million dollars on a research study and plan. According to one report, “It explored the possible realignment of Saddle Creek Road and considered the benefits and impact of the realignment on transportation, flood control, adjacent neighborhoods and area businesses.” The study detailed two options to move the road and buy private land, “costing between $35 million and $43 million.” A third option was presented focused on doing nothing, which the City apparently selected. Massive flooding struck the road again in August 2021, and the City is still wrestling with how to best respond.
In June 2022, KETV announced “Big redevelopment plans for North Saddle Creek Road.” Featuring businesses along the strip, the report detailed a large new apartment building constructed by a private developer, along with “sidewalks, bike paths, also landscaping and things of that nature” funded by the City.
Saddle Creek Road Businesses
Saddle Creek Road has been an important location for business in this area of Omaha since before the 1860s.
One of the earliest big businesses located along Saddle Creek Road was the Updike Lumber and Coal Company. John Updike, an Omaha business mogul who was tied up in agricultural and construction commodities including grain and lumber, built a massive yard at Saddle Creek and Dodge Road for his residential and commercial operations in 1906. Located along the Belt Line Railroad, the location had wholesale and retail sales of lumber and coal. Updike spent $10,000 on new structures for the location, and supplied its 23 store across Nebraska from the site. In 1918, the Updike Lumber Company built elevated tracks for the Belt Line after paving their entire property from Dodge to Davenport, the tracks and Saddle Creek. By the late 1960s, the property was engulfed by completed neighborhoods and the Updike Lumber and Coal Company was closing. The entire yard was demolished in 1967 and replaced with retail businesses.
As early as the 1920s there were gas stations springing up along the street. An entrepreneur named D. Abdouch had a fruit store at 1410-16 Saddle Creek Boulevard in the 1930s, and there was a Bell Cigar Store located 1419 North Saddle Creek Boulevard during the same era.
More recently, businesses along the road include Indian Creek Nursery in the 1970s, Walmart, Sonic Drive-In in the 2000s, and more. The first large store along Saddle Creek Road might have been Arlan’s, which opened at 308 Saddle Creek in the late 1960s, with Target taking the space from 1990 to 2006. Walmart is there today. Shada’s Drive In was on Saddle Creek from 1955 to 1960. There was a Reed’s Super Shop at 841 North Saddle Creek Road for almost a decade. An Omaha National Bank branch was located at 350 Saddle Creek Road from the 1970s through the 1990s. Saddle Creek Florist, a Rambler Dealer, United Electrical Supplies and other stores lined the street in the 1950s, too.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the intersection of North 48th and Saddle Creek was home to a Standard gas station, the Grand Central Super Market, and an A&W Restaurant.
Target was at 360 Saddle Creek Road from 1990 to 2006. Shada’s was on Saddle Creek from 1955 to 1960. Near “The Peanut,” which is the eight-way intersection where Saddle Creek starts, some of the businesses include Homy Inn, Sgt. Peffer’s Italian Cafe and Janousek Florist. New businesses in the area include Saddle Creek Breakfast Club and Hey Jay Coffee.
The Midtown Plaza at Saddle Creek Road and California Street is home to the No Frills Supermarket and several other stores. The Jindo Lounge was at 710 Saddle Creek in the 1960s and 1970s. Claiming to be 1410 Saddle Creek Road since the 1890s, the Saddle Creek Bar closed in 2000. Throughout its existence, the business was a general store, tavern, roadhouse, bar, drive-thru liquor store, and live music venue. In the 1990s, Canyon BBQ was located next door.
Several car dealers have been located along Saddle Creek too, including Graham Buick from the 1950s through the 1970s, Western Cars and Corral Cars in the 1970s, and Hardtop Motors in the 1980s. Wolfson’s Used Cars moved from Ames Avenue to Saddle Creek in the 1960s.
John Sutter’s Mill?
Longtime Omaha music figure Nils Anders Erikson owns the Rainbow Recording Studios, including two buildings at the intersection of Dodge Street and Saddle Creek Road. While the city tracks the building at 4426 Dodge as being built in 1875, Nils maintains it is much older. Now called John Sutter’s Mill, Nils has said the old “mill west of Omaha” facing Dodge was built by the Mormons around 1847. Feeding from Saddle Creek, the building served as a landmark starting with its construction and extending into the 1930s. For a longtime it was painted orange to keep the attention of travelers. Today, it is the oldest surviving structure still in use on the original Lincoln Highway, definitely in Omaha and perhaps nationwide.
According to the media, Nils has been trying to get his building listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the 2000s. In addition to being a historic mill that was once located on the route of the Lincoln Highway, the building was owned by Nelson Updike for several years. Updike was integral to several Omaha businesses, including the Omaha Bee and the Updike Lumber and Coal Company among others.
In the 2010s, there was some dispute about the provenance of the building. It was discovered that there was a John Sutter (1842-1909) in Omaha’s history, and that he kept a business at 4426 Dodge Street at some point. However, the nature of that business and its historicity is questioned widely at this point. My own examination of several historical sources has found no corroborating evidence to match the claims of this being a particularly relevant building in history though, either in reference to it’s location, business, or particular notability throughout time.
While there is some question as to the exact age and original owner of the building, there is not dispute that it is old, well-located, and has belonged to some significant people in Omaha history.
While some roadways around Omaha have been acknowledged for their historical value, Saddle Creek Road has not benefited as such. Although a lot of people have suspected it and a couple have conjectured it, few people actually know about the old purpose of the road or the long-time businesses that lined it, and even though a lot of people have heard about it, few know about the power of the Saddle Creek itself. The Saddle Creek Underpass, that long ago effigy of the New Deal’s relevance in Omaha, is on listed on the National Register of Historic Places but is regularly under threat of being demolished by history ignorant planners in the City of Omaha.
Maybe someday people will see the value of Saddle Creek Road’s history. In the meantime, go for a drive and imagine the old road that used to go along a “little stream” that Omaha still hasn’t tamed more than 130 years later.
SPECIAL THANKS TO THE OMAHA HISTORY CLUB FOR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS ARTICLE, especially Jody, Ryan, Michaela, Micah and Michele.
You Might Like…
- A History of Shada’s Drive-In
- A History of Streets in North Omaha
- A History of Streetcars in Benson
- A History of the Military Road in North Omaha
- FICTION: Murder on Saddle Creek Road: Lipstick, Lies and Alibis by Adam Fletcher Sasse
- “Saddle Creek Underpass National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form” from Archive.org
United Electric was at 803 Saddle Creek Road. I grew up right behind it at 811 No 46th Street.
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Back in my heyday (60’s-80’s) the Saddle Creek Bar was a happening place. Any band worth their salt played gigs there.
Does anyone recall an Irish folk band called Roguery that used to play at the Saddle Creek Bar in the 80s-90s? I have some early memories as a child going with my parents to see them perform and still have 2 of their cassettes to this day but have lost my favorite one called I Cant See Why Not over the years and would love to find a copy of that one again
Saddle creek bar and their chili dogs
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A mention of the Rose Bowl should also be included in the history of saddle creek
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I lived near 41st and California in the 50’s. When it rained heavily we’d run to Saddlecreek and float our toy boats and splash each other. Water was frequently 2 to 3 feet deep and stayed a while
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Is Updike Lumber and Coal related to Updike Oil? We lived in a house on 54th and Charles Street from 61-65 that had an oil furnace. I remember a green Updike Oil truck come and fill our tank back then.
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Yup, both were owned by the same guy. He was a magnate in Omaha, and owned companies in several commodities including oil, lumber, coal, grain, and more.
In the late 50s or early 60’s, my brother worked at the Saddle Creek Drive-In that was across the street (or in the vicinity) of the Saddle Creek Bar. The drive-in was owned by Lloyd Reynolds who sold it in the early 60’s. Reynolds went on to open a restaurant called Bonnie’s Kitchen I believe. I think my brother worked for him there. But a treat for our family was to buy footlongs at the Saddle Creek Bar. Delicious. My mom also loved the tamales.
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Great article! If anyone can get more info on 4426 Dodge St. that’d be wonderful. I’ve lived in Omaha all my life and that building has always been mysterious and fascinating.
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