Fancy homes used to line certain streets throughout North Omaha, and one of those was Wirt Street. Business leaders, influential socialites, and high-minded politicians lived up and down the block, building the neighborhood along the way. This is a history of the George F. Shepard House in North Omaha.
The Shepard House
The George F. Shepard House at 1802 Wirt Street was finished in 1903. Influenced by the neighboring Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898, the house was designed and built by a stonemason who personalized much of the residence with marble and stone etchings. With 5 bedrooms at approximately 4,400 square feet, it is the largest house on the street today. One source says the home cost $10,000 to build.
Architecturally, this home shows transitional touches for the late Victorian era. Mixing the Queen Anne and Beaux-Arts architectural style, it has an asymmetrical floor and roof plan, a rounded turret, a rounded wraparound porch. Shingles are used on the third floor to offset the brickwork on the first two levels. Located on Wirt Street in the Kountze Place neighborhood of North Omaha, it is surrounded by several large Victorian-era homes, and the block is kept in good condition.
After the Shepard family moved out of the home in the early 1960s, Mrs. Shepard rented out rooms in the house for several decades while maintaining its original elegance. When she died in 1962, the house became an apartment house. Next, Charles Mercer (1910-2000) and his family owned the home for more than 20 years.
In the early 1980s, the home became part of a historical preservation battle in the Omaha City Council. Several council members took it up to establish a fund to restore historic homes in the city, and along with the nearby Charles Storz house, the Shepard House was targeted for restoration money. Two members fought the initiative by maintaining that tearing down the home and building new ones, or renovating up to ten smaller houses, would be a better use of City dollars. However, Marty Shukert led the City’s efforts to support the historic homes, and eventually the amount was granted. Owners Charles and Sally Mercer received a $64,000 loan to repair the home.
For several months, the house was under a lot of scrutiny by the City and the media. However, after a successful renovation it was named an official Omaha Landmark by the City.
A Biography of George F. Shepard
George Franklin Shepard (1850-1930) was a renowned fine stoneworker and monument maker in Omaha. Arriving in the city in 1880, he quickly established a reputation as a high quality craftsman. The George F. Shepard Monument Company, located in the City of Florence, Nebraska, incorporated in 1914 with a stock of $20,000.
Married to Georgia Shepard (1865-1962), their original home in the neighborhood was built at 1804 Binney Street, where they lived during the 1890s. Their children were all born there, and included Irene (1892–1966), Mercedes (1898–1978), and Lenoir (1899–1993). Lenoir’s 1921 marriage was in their home with a minister from the nearby Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Shepard was classically trained and owned several oil paintings that “revealed his tastes for European art and the Classical tradition.” Shepard was busy in the city’s art circles too, and was a close friend to J. Laurie Wallace, president of the Omaha Art Guild. The two took several road trips together through the western United States to paint and study.
He was civically involved throughout the city. Despite never winning, he ran for the Nebraska State Legislature several times, hoping to serve as a Representative in the bicameral body before it became a unicameral. He also served as a delegate to Republican primaries several times when the Republicans were liberal.
In 1907, Shepard sat on a committee of the City of Omaha Parks Department to deal with creating a new boulevard. Originally intended to connect Florence Boulevard and Kountze Park to Carter Lake, the boulevard would have run along Pinkney Street from the boulevard to Carter Lake Drive. The proposal was turned away from landowners along Pinkney who didn’t want a wider roadway there. These were among the original plans from the Trans-Mississippi Expo that were never enacted, with others including a large, well-designed park on the Bluff View Tract and a permanent arch over Florence Boulevard.
A few years later, he sat on another City committee, this time to explore moving the old county courthouse to Jefferson Square to convert it into a public museum. Their ultimate decision was not to do this.
Shepard was invested throughout the neighborhood and owned several empty lots in Kountze Place, and was involved in the buying and selling of property in other parts of Omaha, too. He built the home on the southwest corner of North 16th and Spencer Street at 3124 North 16th Street in 1909 for $2,500. Renting the house out in 1911, it was advertised as a “brand new 8-room house, strictly modern, with elegance and beauty beyond comparison, a class of house seldom offered for rent. Will rent cheap to desirable tenant without small children or with four or five hundred cash, a fair rent will buy an pay for this…” That year the house sold for almost $6,000, which was a 125% profit. The home still stands today, and it is architecturally distinct from everything else in the city of Omaha.
He was a co-founder of a secret society in Omaha called the Argonauts. The Argonauts, which were started in Omaha, was led by Shepard, David Cole, and other business men in the city. Shepard’s title was “Supreme Admiral.” Apparently, the organization never grew and wasn’t mentioned in the news again after 1906.
Although he formally retired in 1910 at the age of 60, he didn’t sell his shop in Florence until 1927. That year, Shepard put his monument-making shop up for rent and closed his business of 46 years. He devoted his remaining years to painting. Apparently the Shepard Monument Company closed at some point afterward.
George F. Shepard died in 1930 and was buried in Forest Lawn.
Today, the George F. Shepard House is not listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Despite attempts to have it listed, the neighborhood around it is not a registered historic district, either.
The home is a private single-family residence now, and is still owned by the Mercer family.
However, the George F. Shepard House was named an official Omaha Landmark in 1981. The house is renowned for its historical integrity. There’s a generous lawn with historically accurate flora throughout it, all of which is well-kept.
You Might Like…
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF KOUNTZE PLACE
General: Kountze Place | Kountze Park | Omaha University | North 16th Street | North 24th Street | Florence Boulevard | Wirt Street | Binney Street | 16th and Locust Historic District
Houses: Charles Storz House | Anna Wilson’s Mansion | McCreary Mansion | McLain Mansion | Redick Mansion | John E. Reagan House | George F. Shepard House
Churches: First UPC/Faith Temple COGIC | St. Paul Lutheran Church | Hartford Memorial UBC/Rising Star Baptist Church | Immanuel Baptist Church | Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Hospitals: Salvation Army Hospital | Swedish Hospital | Kountze Place Hospital
Events: Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition | Greater America Exposition | Riots
Businesses: Hash House | 3006 Building | Grand Theater | 2936 North 24th Street | Corby Theater
Listen to the North Omaha History Podcast show #4 about the history of the Kountze Place neighborhood »
- “George F. Shepard House” from the City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission
- “George F. Shepard” on Findagrave.com