A History of Edgewood Park, Omaha’s First Black-Owned Subdivision

This is a heading for "A History of Edgewood Park, Omaha's First Black-Owned Subdivision" by Adam Fletcher Sasse for NorthOmahaHistory.com.

There have been many different kinds of businesses run by African Americans in Omaha. However, for many years Black people were locked out of the city’s real estate industry. Omaha’s earliest Black-owned real estate development existed from 1910 to 1917. This is a history of Edgewood Park.

A Black-Owned Real Estate Company in Omaha

African Americans owned land in Omaha as early as the 1860s. However, my research of hundreds of ads in the white-owned and Black-owned newspapers from media during that era show that it was rare to see a Black real estate salesman until 1900.

Perhaps the first Black-owned real estate firm in Omaha was called the Fontenelle Investment Company. W.D. Sandiford was president, R.W. Towles was the treasurer, and J.R. Lemme was the manager of the business. The company’s motto was “Growing with a growing Omaha.” With offices in the predominately Black business block of downtown Omaha at 220 South 13th St., the Fontenelle Company was intended to be a competitor in Omaha’s real estate market.

The company regularly ran ads in the Omaha Monitor, the city’s Black newspaper at the time, for its “furnished rooms–homey, comfortable, and desirable.” They also said the company, “buys, sells and exchanges anything,” implying it was handling more than just real estate.

The Beautiful Edgewood Park Addition

The Edgewood Park Addition existed in East Omaha starting in 1888. At some point it was replatted as the Carter Lake View and Lakewood Gardens Addition, among others.
The Edgewood Park Addition existed in East Omaha starting in 1888. At some point it was replatted as the Carter Lake View and Lakewood Gardens Addition, among others.

The Edgewood Park Addition was launched outside of the Omaha city limits starting in 1888. Located between Carter Lake and Florence Lake, a variety of companies and sellers sold lots cheap, none of the original transactions were specifically designated being available for African American buyers, which they had to be at that point because of Omaha’s Jim Crow culture.

However, that changed in 1910. That year, a real estate agency called the Charles A. Williamson Company began offering lots there for sale in Omaha’s Black newspaper at the time called The Omaha Monitor. with custom-built homes in the addition. This housing development was located between North 9th Street East and North 16th Street East, from Ellison Avenue to Camden Avenue. Charles A. Williamson (1888-1936) had an office in the U.S. National Bank building downtown, and had been active in the city’s real estate industry since at least 1903. In 1936, he died in Council Bluffs.

As early as December 1915, the Fontenelle Company was advertising lots for sale for Black home buyers in the Edgewood Park addition. The addition, located deep in East Omaha, was sold on features including flat land with sandy soil, good for farming and raising farm animals.

In late May 1916, the Omaha Monitor announced that the Fontenelle Investment Company had bought rights to the addition for $67,000, which is equivalent to about $1,743,900 today. The newspaper wrote about Edgewood and said it, “offers a good opportunity for a large class of our wage earners to become homeowners and realize their ambition. There is no reason why our people should not take hold of this proposition and build up in the section proposed desirable and sightly homes.”

There was a clubhouse on the land, which was supposed to be transferred to the Fontenelle Company after a certain number of lots were sold. Offering some plans of $1 down and $1 a week, the lots ranged in price from $55 to $750. Other plans cost $5 down and $5 weekly.

There was no news about the sales of the lots or Edgewood Park after 1917. However, in 1939 there was a foreclosure sale on 19 lots in the addition when taxes weren’t paid on them for several years. It was called “underdeveloped agricultural land” with “a few low cost improvements.” The sale totaled almost $3,000. A land sale happened in 1940, and soon it was sold after the land was re-platted as the Carter Lake View subdivision.

Edgewood Park, Omaha, Nebraska 1916
This advertisement for the Edgewood Park housing addition in Omaha was advertised in the Omaha Monitor in June 1916.

Apparently little action ever happened in Edgewood, and all mentions of the Fontenelle Investment Company stop after just over a year, in 1917. Today, there is no indication the company ever existed anywhere in Omaha.

No sign of company president Sandiford appeared in Omaha before or after the company existed; he was probably an entrepreneur coming through Omaha looking for quick money. R.W. Towles was a man of the community though, and he shows up again in 1923 as a founding secretary of St. Paul Presbyterian Church, a segregated Black congregation. J.R. Lemme was also involved in the community after the company’s existence, in 1920 becoming a salesman at the Black-owned Co-operative Workers of America Department Store on North 24th Street. However, by 1922 he had moved away from Omaha.

Remembering Edgewood

In the early 1920s, the Byron Reed Company acquired the land and the Edgewood Park Addition was re-platted as the Carter Lake View and Lakewood Gardens Addition, among others. The City of Omaha annexed the area in 1923, and for a long time it was home to truck farms that served the region’s food needs. By 1921, an “exclusive” and “classy” subdivision in another part of the city was called Edgewood Park.

Today, the area where the Black-owned real estate addition was located is filled with small homes, light industry, a farming area, and some small gardens. My research has shown a few African American people have lived in that area historically, but details are sparse. As of 2022, there are few Black residents east of North 14th Street.

There is no indication anywhere in Omaha that the Edgewood Park Addition, Omaha’s earliest Black-owned real estate development, ever existed.

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BONUS

This is a 1916 ad for the Edgewood Park Addition in East Omaha, Nebraska, sold by a Black-owned real estate firm.
This is a 1916 ad for the Edgewood Park Addition in East Omaha, sold by a Black-owned real estate firm.

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