While some historic neighborhoods in Omaha swell in economic value with their homes being restored to their past dignity, others languish in neglect and denial. With a strong sense of community woven throughout North Omaha, the area is working hard to keep itself sustained despite the stories shared by banks, popular media and elected officials. There is a 150-year-old house in the community that stands tall despite the odds. This is a history of 2902 North 25th Street.
Built in 1870, this Victoria-era house on the northwest corner of North 25th and Maple Streets has some storied history. The past has been alive in this house for more than 150 years. Preceding Herman Kountze’s suburban Kountze Place development to the north by almost two decades, the house was originally located out in the sticks, located in an un-developed section of Omaha City before there were gas street lamps, sidewalks, and crushed gravel streets. When this particular house was built, it was surrounded with high-grass prairie and scrub oaks with a creek flowing behind it and nobody living nearby.
Clearly built as an early example of the Queen Anne style, the house that stands today probably has little exterior resemblance to the way it looked historically. An asymmetrical appearance, the house probably had a lot of contrast, decorated gables, and spandrel panels throughout the home. Originally covered in clapboard siding, there were probably different textures across the outside of the home that relied on the steeply pitched and complex roofs, with a foursquare roof intersection with a cross-gable bay and a towers. I speculate that this house once had a wraparound porch that’s long gone. The house also had a large carriage house that eventually held three cars. .
From 1870 through 1900, the blocks around this house stayed sparsely populated and built out a little bit at a time. In 1880, Algernon S. Patrick bought the area around the house to lay out an addition of six square blocks to the city from Corby to Binney Street, from North 24th to North 27th Street.
Algernon S. Patrick (1841-1916) was an Omaha pioneer who arrived in the city in 1856, invested heavily in land, was a captain in the US Army in the civil war, and was a widely regarded plainsman of his era. Moving to Omaha with his brother Matthewson Patrick (1834-1899), the brothers started a freight company on the northern Missouri River in 1878. Later Algernon got into mining and cattle. Algernon bought the land north of Lake Street as an investment and laid out the addition around this house in 1880, which was 10 years after the house was built.
For 36 years starting in 1884, it was home to the Chambers family. The patriarch of the family was John Maunsell Chambers (1839-1919), a lawyer who ran repeatedly for political office. In 1891, Mr. Chambers ran for mayor of Omaha on the Prohibition ticket. He failed to win against George Bemis, but made a significant showing. He was a candidate for the school board twice, and was elected a judge for a term. However, he also challenged his own son Oliver’s appointment as a clerk of the courts. Chambers seems like a determined contrarian who often fought against the system and its intransigence. From the 1880s to the 1910s, John Chambers contributed several times to the establishment and growth of Omaha’s YMCA.
Chambers and his wife Maria (1841-1925) were English, immigrating to the U.S. in 1885; Omaha was the first place they settled, and this house was their first American home. Mrs. Chambers was very active in Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, and was regularly noted for participating in Bible study, choir and special events. They had seven children: Cuthbert (1866-1942), Alice (1867-1950), Dr. Oliver (1875-1942), Rev. Willard (1877-1953), Bessie (1880-1910), Florence (1882-1965), and Everard (18??-19??).
After being witness to the Trans-Mississippi Expo in 1898, the house changed with the neighborhood. By 1910, nearly every lot within the surrounding blocks was covered with homes. Unlike the bordering Kountze Place neighborhood, these homes ranged in size from 900 square feet to 3,000 square feet and were for working class and middle class families.
In the 1900s, the Chambers’ daughter Bessie led the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Omaha, and hosted meetings at the family home. Their son Willard eventually attended the Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary and became pastor of a few churches in the city.
In March 1910, the Chambers’ 30-year-old daughter Bessie, a teacher at the Cass Street School, died a horrific death. Apparently she fell 50 feet down an elevator shaft at the Boyd Theater after the elevator operator accidentally left the door open. Bessie’s funeral was held at the home. The elevator operator was an African American man named Sam Madison. In a court trial two days after her death, a judge found him guilty of negligence. Apparently there was “a disagreement between members of the dead girl’s family and the father,” and another judge appointed an administrator of Bessie’s estate. In 1913, the estate administrator brought a trial against the owners of the Boyd Theater and collected a $6,000 penalty to be held by the estate.
The Chambers’ daughter Alice was a longtime teacher at Saratoga School, and was also a speaker to the Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Societies at several Methodist churches in Omaha, including Trinity and Deitz.
One of their sons, Rev. Willard Chambers was also involved in the Kiwanis, and traveled internationally as part of the organization’s outreach efforts.
A creek is shown next door to the house from the 1870s through the 1910s, and then it’s gone. It was probably submerged through a sewer line and runs underneath the area today.
The Chambers tried selling the house in 1919 after the lynching of Will Brown, the rioting against Black people, and the US Army’s martial law in their neighborhood. It didn’t work though, and the family stayed on. However, the federal government’s redline that reinforced racial segregation in North Omaha was placed along Sprague Street in 1934. That meant that homes south of that line could be bought and rented by Black people, and homes north of it could not.
The Chambers family left the home permanently in 1925 after the matriarch of the family died.
The Dudley family, who were African Americans, bought the home after Mrs. Chambers died in 1925. Charles C. Dudley (1889-1964) was a 41-year detective sergeant with the Omaha Police Department. His wife Magnolia (1902-1985) and he had two daughters, Cynthia (1927-1977) and Charlene (19??-19??). Charlene was a young pianist whose performances were highlighted in the Omaha Guide more than once. Mr. Dudley was a leader in Omaha’s Prince Hall Masons, and he was active at St. John’s AME Church.
In the late 1930s, the family rented out two rooms in the house.
In 2022, the Douglas County Assessor’s Office lists the house in fair condition. According to public record, in 1986, Charlene (nee Charlene Dudley) and her husband Donald Brownlow (1923-2022) sold the house to Ray G. Stine and Edmund J. Weis for $16,000. While Mr. Weis lived there for a few years, the house has been rented out for the last 30-plus years. In 2008, Roy Goraczkowski sold it to a company called MDR 80 LLC for $2,000. Today, the house is valued by the county assessor’s office at $61,000.
Today, the home is not recognized for its historical value as one of the oldest homes in Omaha. Like many of the historic houses in the historically redlined area of Omaha, the City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission hasn’t declared it an official Omaha Landmark, and it hasn’t been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.