As North Omaha grew and changed into a leafy suburban community, residents needed places to play. This is a history of the YMCA Athletic Park in North Omaha.
Originally opened in the upstart suburban Kountze Place neighborhood on Florence Boulevard between Miami and Locust Streets in April 1894, the first YMCA Athletic Park was comprised of a 20-year-old baseball field with a few upgrades. According to one newspaper article, the early spot had “Every facility offered for out-of-doors sports,” including shower baths and locker rooms that compliment baseball, cricket and other fields.
By the 1890s, Saratoga was a leafy suburb centered around the intersection of North 24th and Ames. Starting as a dusty Wild West town in 1857, the area grew up slowly. Starting in 1865, for more than 25 years the Omaha Driving Park was located near the intersection. A hotel, restaurants, a school and more were there. In 1898, the corner was host to the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, a huge event like a world’s fair that hosted 2,000,000 visitors from across the Midwest. The next year, the Greater America Exposition was there. Sensing the need for more permanent and better facilities, the YMCA built out their park.
For reasons I can’t discern, the YMCA Athletic Park was moved and re-opened at North 25th and Ames Avenue in 1899. Located on the northeast corner of North 24th and Ames Avenue, it was an immediate success.
On June 10th of that year, more than 2,000 people gathered to celebrate the opening. The park included a quarter-mile bicycle and running track, a baseball diamond, trap shooting, handball, quoits and cricket, as well as tennis courts. There were showers, baths, rubbing tables and dressing rooms, too. Events on the opening day included pole-vaulting, running sprints and races, and a bicycle race. Later, all kinds of sports were played there, along with competitions, games, matches, tournaments, and more.
The Omaha School Cadets, an early predecessor to the high school ROTC program, held regular meets in the park for several years. Massive bicycle races with hundreds of racers ended at the park, too, with one of these events in 1900 going from Blair to the park.
The park wasn’t destined to last though. In 1909, focused on adding aquatic sports to their offerings, a new YMCA Athletic Park opened at Lake Nakoma, where the organization still has facilities today.
In 1914, the Druid Hall was built on the location of the former YMCA Athletic Park, along with some houses, and in 1926, the fourth Saratoga School.
After suffering the loss of their park, residents in the area still wanted places to play and games to watch. In 1912, they banded together to open the Prairie Park Club, an athletic and social facility that served the neighborhood for a decade. In the 1920s, the Omaha University field opened at the former Saratoga School at the corner and provided entertainment for a few seasons. This facility preceded the Near North YMCA by 50 years, and preceded the Butler-Gast YMCA by almost a century.
Today, there is no sign the facility ever existed.
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MY ARTICLES RELATED TO SPORTS IN NORTH OMAHA
People: Dorcas Thornton | Will Calhoun
Teams: Omaha Rockets
Organizations: Red Dot Athletic Club | Near North YMCA | Gene Eppley Boys Club | Midwest Athletic Club | Omaha Colored Baseball League
Places: Kountze Place Golf Club | YMCA Athletic Park
- YMCA Henry Ogram Carter Lake Unit and Camp Nakomis official website