THE INCORPORATED CITY
When the Council Bluffs & Nebraska Ferry Company decided in 1853 to lay out a town on the west side of the
Missouri River, the site was "fresh from the hands of nature." There was not a civilized habitation nearer
than the trading post at Bellevue on the south, and the old Mormon settlement at Florence on the north. The progress
of the new town was even more rapid than its founders had anticipated, as may be seen from the following "facts
and figures," taken from the Omaha Times of June 7, 1857:
"The growth of Omaha astonishes - is a fact few can comprehend. Look at its chronology:
"1853, June - Town claim made by the company and kept by them by paying tribute to the Indians. whose title
had not been extinguished.
"1854, June - No settlement but a single house, the old St. Nicholas, of round logs, sixteen feet square,
built by the company as an improvement to hold the claim.
"1855, June - Number of inhabitants 250 to 300. Best lots sold at $100.
"1856, June - Number of inhabitants about 800. Best lots sold at $600.
"1856, October - Number of inhabitants 1,600. Best lots sold at $2,500."
The editor predicted that another year would see Omaha with a population of 5,000. Even allowing for the tendency
of local newspapers to boom the town, the growth of Omaha during these early years was all that its promoters could
reasonably expect or desire.
The Third Territorial Legislature was convened on January 5, 1857, and early in the session a bill was introduced
"to incorporate the Town of Omaha City." After some discussion and amendment the bill passed and was
approved by Governor Izard on February 22 1857. The bill fixed the "middle of the main channel of the Missouri
River" as the eastern boundary, and the corporate limits included the following described tracts of land:
"Sections 12 and 22; fractional sections 11, 14 and 23; the south half of fractional section to; the south
half of the north half of fractional section to; the southeast quarter of section 9; the east half of section 16;
the northeast quarter of section 21; the east half of the southeast quarter of section 21; the northeast quarter
of the northeast quarter of section 28; and the north half of the north half of fractional section 26 - all in
township 15 north of range 13, east of the Sixth Principal Meridian."
The name, "City of Omaha," was given in the bill as the official designation of the new town. Prior to
the passage of this measure the town had been known as "Omaha City," but the act of the Legislature in
changing the form to the City of Omaha caused the word "city" to be dropped entirely and in a short time
the municipality became generally known in common parlance as "Omaha." The public officials provided
for were a mayor, recorder; treasurer, assessor, marshal and nine aldermen. The Legislature of 1858 reduced the
number of aldermen to six.
THE FIRST ELECTION
Under the provisions of the act of incorporation an election was held on the first Monday in March (March 2),
1857, for city officials. At that election Jesse Lowe was chosen mayor; H. C. Anderson, recorder; Lyman Richardson,
assessor; J. A. Miller, marshal; George C. Bovey, William N. Byers, Thomas Davis, C. H. Downs, Taylor C. Goodwill,
A. D. Jones, Thomas O'Connor, H. H. Visscher and William W. Wyman, aldermen. A man named Allen (first name apparently
forgotten) was elected treasurer, but failed to qualify, and John H. Kellogg was elected to fill the vacancy.
EARLY COUNCIL PROCEEDING
Mayor Lowe was inaugurated as soon as the results of the election were known, and his first official act was
to issue a call for the board of aldermen to convene on March 5, 1857, "for the transaction of such business
as may legally come before it" Every member of the council was present at that meeting and the work of starting
the municipal machinery was commenced by the adoption of the rules of the upper house of the Territorial Legislature
for the guidance of the council. Notices were given by several of the members that at an early day ordinances would
be introduced relating to the following subjects: I. To define the duties of the city recorder in the matter of
official bonds and oaths of office; 2. To protect the city marshal in the performance of his official duties; 3.
To divide the city into wards and establish the boundaries thereof; 4. To prevent hogs from running at large; 5.
To establish a city pound for stray animals; 6. To create the office of city engineer and define his duties; 7.
To regulate billiard rooms and bowling alleys; 8. To regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors: 9. To suppress
gambling and gambling rooms_ The board also instructed the recorder to have the following printed and posted in
conspicuous places about the city:
"Notice is hereby given that the City Council of the City of Omaha has organized for the transaction of such
business as may be brought before it for the welfare of said city, and at the first session thereof it was resolved
that all petitions to their honorable body be addressed or presented to the city recorder, and by him presented
to the council for their consideration, and that the citizens of said city be and are hereby requested to make
known their wishes by petition at as early a day as possible."
At the second meeting of the council a few days later, the following standing committees were appointed: Judiciary,
Claims, Streets and Grades, Improvements, Printing. The firm of Hapbum & Chapman submitted a proposition to
supply the council with certain printed forms and blanks, but the figures were evidently not satisfactory, as T.
H. Robertson was elected city printer. The first ordinance was introduced at this meeting. Its author was A. D.
Jones and it provided for the division of the city into wards and the establishment of ward boundaries. T. G. Goodwill
introduced an ordinance to regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors.
For some time the council held meetings nearly every day. After a few months the necessity for such frequent meetings
no longer existed and it was ordered that the regular meetings be held on Tuesday evening of each week. At one
of these early sessions the recorder was directed to communicate with the city authorities of Chicago, "or
some other well regulated city," and procure ten copies of the city ordinances for the use of the council.
Recorder Anderson procured ten copies of the ordinances of Iowa City, Iowa, and it has been said that his reason
for not obtaining the Chicago ordinances was because "he did not regard Chicago as a proper model for Omaha."
A MUNICIPAL HOTEL
In laying out the town the seven blocks bounded by Eighth, Ninth, Jackson and Davenport streets were designated
as "The Park." One of the great needs of Omaha at the time of its incorporation was a hotel large enough
and conducted in such a manner as to accommodate the strangers visiting the city. At the meeting of the council
on March 13, 1857. Dr. George L. Miller presented a petition, signed by 13o citizens. asking that a part of the
park be appropriated to aid in the erection of such a hotel. The petition was referred to the committee on public
grounds, and, as if to influence the committee in reaching a decision, the following resolutions were adopted:
"Resolved, That a portion of the public grounds known as 'The Park' be donated for the purpose of securing
the erection of a hotel, worth not less than ........... thousand dollars, said hotel to be located between Fifth
and Twentieth and Howard and Webster streets, said location, with the above restrictions, to be determined by the
builder; and be it further
"Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed to receive proposals for the building of said hotel, and
that they be authorized to close a contract with a responsible party who will undertake to build said hotel for:
the least quantity of said grounds."
The special committee of three, to which the question was referred, made a report recommending that "a plan
and specifications of such hotel be made by a competent and experienced architect and submitted to the council
for approval; and after said plan and specifications shall have been approved by the council, the same shall be
published in the papers of Omaha and Council Bluffs for two weeks, and give notice that all bids shall contain
all the securities' names which may be offered, and the bids sealed and directed to the president of the city council,
which bids shall specify the number of lots on said park they will ask as a donation by the city as a bonus towards
the erection. Said proposals shall be handed in before the first day of April, and shall be opened and acted upon
in open council at the first regular session after that date."
The first meeting of the council after the bids were submitted was on Tuesday evening, April 7, 1857, when four
proposals were acted upon by the council_ After the bids had been considered Mr. Byers moved that Dr. George L.
Miller be declared the successful bidder for the hotel contract. The motion carried and the city attorney was directed
to draw up a contract, to be signed by Mayor Lowe and Doctor Miller. As a decision had previously been reached
by the council to have the hotel erected upon some part of the tract known as "The Park," the city engineer
was instructed to proceed at once to plat that tract into blocks and lots corresponding with those adjacent.
Charles Grant, who had been elected city attorney on March 12, 1857, drew up the contract according to the instructions
of the council, and A. S. Morgan, who had been elected city engineer at the same time, immediately divided "The
Park" into blocks and lots to correspond to those adjoining. Before the contract was signed, Doctor Miller
associated with him Lyman Richardson and George Bridge as partners in the undertaking, and a little later these
gentlemen were given permission to erect the hotel on lots No. 7 and 8, block 124 the northwest corner of Ninth
and Farnam streets. The hotel, the first of any size in Omaha, was four stories high, built of brick and cost $75,000.
It was opened in June. 1858, under the name of the "Herndon House," with M. W. Keith as the proprietor.
After being used as a hotel for many years it was sold to the Union Pacific Railroad Company for a general office
It may seem strange to the people of the present day, when private capital can be found to build hotels, that the
city fathers would lend their aid and appropriate lands belonging to the city for such a purpose. But in 1857 conditions
were different. The demand for a hotel was much greater than private capital could supply, and the first aldermen
deemed it the part of wisdom to give to Omaha a hostelry that would accommodate the traveling public_ For years
the Herndon House was the point where the Overland Stage Route landed its passengers in Omaha, before the railroads
came and put the stage driver out of business.
EARLY FINANCIAL. MATTERS
One of the most serious problems that confronted the new municipal government was to provide sufficient funds
to make needed improvements, pay the salaries of officials and maintain the city institutions. A considerable sum
of money had been donated toward the erection of the territorial capitol, as told in another chapter, which left
the funds of the new city at a low ebb. On June 23. 1857, the council authorized the mayor "to procure plates
and have $30,000 of city scrip issued, and to enter into a contract with the different banks for the circulation
and redemption of said scrip, on the best possible terms."
At a special meeting of the council held on August 29, 1857, the following communication was received:
"We, the undersigned, do hereby agree to receive from the mayor of the City of Omaha, of the scrip issued
by said city, the amount opposite our respective names, and to protect the same for nine months from the date of
issue, for 10 per cent interest for the nine months, to be promptly redeemed in currency, provided the amount issued
shall not exceed $30,000, unless protected by a responsible party who shall stamp the same and redeem it either
in Omaha City or the City of Council Bluffs, but in no event shall the issue exceed $50,000. It is understood that
this agreement shall not be binding on us until arrangements be entered into to protect the whole amount issued.
A. U. Wyman, Western Exchange
Fire and Marine Insurance Company
Samuel Moffatt, Cashier Bank of Nebraska
Bank of Tekamah, F. M. Akin, Cashier
F. Gridley & Co.
G. C. Monell
S. E. Rogers & Co., B. B. Barkalow, Cashier.....
William Young Brown
John McCormick & Co
The proposition of these bankers and financiers was accepted by the council and the mayor was given authority to
close the contract, though the amount of scrip, authorized at this meeting was $50,000. An additional $10,000 was
authorized at the council meeting on September 22, 1857, the additional issue to be loaned to the hotel company,
on condition that they would pay all expenses connected with the issue of the scrip and protect its circulation
The "Panic of 1857" is still remembered by old residents. Owing to the great industrial depression that
was felt by all parts of the country in that year, the City of Omaha was unable to redeem its scrip according to
the original plan, and on December 14, 1857. the council adopted a resolution favoring an issue of city bonds to
the amount of $50,000 to retire the scrip from circulation - except the $10,000 issued to the hotel company. Subsequently
this was included, when it was ascertained that the actual amount of scrip outstanding was $57,500, and the mayor
was directed to order an election to be held on Saturday, December 26, 1857. when the people might pass upon the
question of issuing the bonds of the city to that amount. Assuming that the majority of the voters would favor
the proposition, the council ordered the recorder to have 2,000 affirmative and 500 negative ballots printed. The
total number of votes cast at the election was 641, of which 598 were in favor of the bonds and 43 opposed. This
was the first issue of bonds ever authorized by the City of Omaha.
On November 22, 1858. the city assessor made a report showing that he had fixed the assessed valuation of the property
of the city as follows: Lots, $1,110,678; improvemeras, $202,074; personal property, $178,362, making a total of
$1,491,114. Upon this amount a tax of 5 mills on the dollar was levied, producing a revenue of $7,455.51 for the
fiscal year ending on March 10, 1859. At the close of that fiscal year the council appointed an auditing Committee,
which reported on March 23, 1859, that the total receipts for the year amounted to $7,842.85, and the total expenditures
to $12,592.98, leaving a deficit of $4,750.13. The committee was inclined to take an optimistic view of the situation,
closing its report with this statement:
"As a large portion of the expense was to defray the liabilities of the city on account of the capitol improvements,
which will not again occur, and as other items of expense can be dispensed with, without detriment to the general
prosperity of the city, it is hoped that, by a judicious and economical administration of the city finances, the
receipts will defray the expenses of the present fiscal year and perhaps cancel a portion of the city debt."
The committee further showed the total indebtedness of the city, including the bonds voted to retire the scrip,
outstanding warrants and a floating debt of $273.43, to be $72,689.39, against which they found assets of $51,197.07,
the largest single item of which was the bond and mortgage of the hotel company, amounting to $15,000. Such was
the financial condition of Omaha two years after its incorporation.
Various suggestions were made to the council as to the best means of increasing the city's revenues, one of
which was to sell all the lands and lots belonging to the city, including the tracts set apart for public parks
and other public purposes, but the city attorney, George I. Gilbert, in 1858, reported against such a course and
cited instances where cities had made sales of such property, the deeds to which were afterward set aside by the
courts. As it was plainly seen that Mr. Gilbert's decision would cast a cloud on the title to lands thus sold,
and have a tendency to prevent bidders from paying as much for the lands as they would otherwise, the council declined
to undertake the sale. Subsequently a number of lots belonging to the city were disposed of, but no tracts that
had been set apart for public use.
Unable to augment the public funds by the sale of such lands, the council adopted the policy of rigid economy by
cutting down claims presented against the city, etc. M. H. Clark, who had succeeded T. H. Robertson as city printer,
presented a bill for $110, which the judiciary committee of the council recommended be reduced to $70, but the
council as a whole thought this amount too much and voted Mr. Clark "the sum of $50 as a payment in full."
M. W. Keith, proprietor of the Herndon House, asked $11.50 for a room for election purposes and was allowed $3.50.
Judges and clerks of election, when they presented bills for $5 and $3 respectively for their services, were compelled
to accept just one half of those amounts. Numerous instances of this character are to be found in the early records.
On the other hand, the council was sometimes inclined to be lavish in its expenditures, where the interest or prospective
welfare of the city was at stake. On December 21, 1858, a resolution was adopted appointing Dr. Enos Lowe a special
commissioner "to proceed to Washington and urge upon the general land office prompt action in considering
and canceling the private pre-emptions illegally made within the corporate limits of the city, and to do what else
he can in matters of interest to Omaha now pending in Congress."
Doctor Lowe went to Washington, where he spent some two months, and later made a report of what he had accomplished.
In that report he said: "I reached Washington about the 20th of January and remained there until the 4th of
March, 1859, devoting all my time to the objects of my mission, and succeeded in obtaining a hearing and favorable
decision of much the larger and more important portion of the cases; but, not being able to get all of them taken
up within that time, and being unable to remain longer, I employed M. Thompson, Esq., to attend to the remaining
cases. Having no money to pay him, I agreed to send him a deed for five of my own lots, within the limits of Council
Bluffs, where the titles were complete, for $250. This I have done, as you will more satisfactorily learn from
his own acknowledgment, herewith submitted, and I now respectfully asked to be reimbursed therefor. I disclaimed
at the outset any compensation for my time and services, but I cannot afford to give also the money actually paid
out for necessary personal expenses in going and returning, and for my board while there. Therefore I submit the
following charges and ask their allowance in cash or its equivalent, viz: Paid to Thompson for city, $250; actual
expenses going to and returning from Washington, $120; board forty two days at $1.50 per day, $63; total, 433."
The council voted to give the doctor five lots in Omaha, in the place of those he had deeded to Thompson, and in
addition was allowed $183 for his expenses, according to his report. Another instance of the council's liberality
is seen in the action of a few weeks later, when 300 lots, supposed to be worth $200 each, were donated by resolution
to the firm of Irving & Company, on condition that the "said Irving & Cempany will keep and maintain
during the continuance of their contract with the United States, at or within two miles of the City of Omaha, a
depot for the reception and delivery of goods to be transported by them for said Government."
SOME ODD LEGISLATION
For some years after Omaha was incorporated the steamers on the Missouri River constituted the principal means
of reaching the city or bringing goods to its merchants. If a boat landed late on Saturday, it was no unusual thing
for the crew to work all day Sunday in discharging or taking on cargoes. In 1863 Peter Hugs, county clerk, presented
to the city council a petition asking for the passage of an ordinance prohibiting this custom. The petition was
referred to a committee, of which John H. Kellom was chairman and at the next meeting of the council he brought
in report recommending the passage of such an ordinance. A minority report was presented by D. C. Sutphen, asking
that the petition be again referred to the committee. The minority report was adopted and nothing more was ever
heard of the matter.
It may seem strange to the people of Omaha today to learn that in 1864 the council made an appropriation of $100
to pay for "clearing away the brush on Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh streets, south of Jones Street," or
that as late as 1866 residents in the suthern part of the city were permitted to work out their poll tax by cutting
brush and clearing other obstructions from the streets in that section.
In March, 1866, a resolution was adopted by the council declaring that "the privilege heretofore granted to
E. B. Chandler to stack hay upon certain streets of the city shall expire on the first day of May, 1866."
Imagine some one asking and receiving permission to stack hay on any of the streets of Omaha in 1916! About the
time this resolution was adopted an ordinance was passed requiring the barbers to close their shops on Sunday.
Some people who were in the habit of getting shaved on Sunday morning expressed their dissatisfaction at what they
called "blue laws," and O. P. Ingalls, a member of the council, gave notice that he would offer a repealing
ordinance, but the record does not show that such an ordinance was ever introduced or passed.
*** FIRE DEPARTMENT, was at this point ***
For nine years after Omaha was incorporated the only police officer was the city marshal. On Match 22, 1866,
the council passed an ordinance establishing a police force of four men and appointed John Logan, John Morrissey,
Patrick Swift and Thomas Welch to the positions. The ordinance provided that the "captain of the city police
shall place his men on their beats from 8 o'clock until sunrise." Two additional patrolmen were appointed
a few weeks later. This was the beginning.
For about two years the policemen wore no uniforms, but in March, 1868, the council adopted the following preamble
"Whereas. The council believes that the wearing of some uniform dress by the members of the police would give
general satisfaction, therefore be it
"Resolved. That the policemen be and are hereby directed to provide themselves with dark blue, single breasted
coats, trimmed in dark buttons, with pants of the same material, and caps with brass plate in front marked with
the words city police,' said suits and caps to be worn when the policemen are on duty."
In 1869 the force was increased to eighteen men - three for each ward in the city - to be elected by the council.
Maurice Sullivan was chosen captain and Rodney Dutcher, lieutenant. Sullivan resigned after a short service and
Dutcher was promoted to the captaincy. A. P. Sanders was then elected lieutenant. In December, 1870, William G.
Hollins, the city marshal, who had served as captain of Company E, First Nebraska Infantry, in the Civil war, recommended
that the force be reduced to twelve men, which recommendation was adopted by the council in an ordinance passed
on the last day of January, 1871.
A communication from Smith S. Caldwell, then mayor of the city, dated October 9, 1871, called the attention of
the council "to the probability of the personal property of our citizens being without the protection of insurance,
in consequence of the unprecedented conflagration now raging in Chicago, involving the destruction of nearly the
entire city and bankrupting, as it doubtless will, all the insurance companies of the city, I would therefore recommend
that the city marshal be instructed to employ a special force of night watchmen, to serve until the insurance of
our people can be examined and readjusted, say ten days or two weeks." The mayor's recommendation was adopted
and a night force of twelve extra men was appointed to serve for two weeks.
The office of police captain was abolished in 1871 and the force placed under the control of the city marshal.
This system continued for about twelve years, or until the State Legislature of 1887 passed an act creating a board
of fire and police commissioners of five members, one of which was the mayor of the city. Pursuant to the provisions
of the act, Governor John M. Thayer appointed as the other four members L. M. Bennett, Christian Hartman, George
I. Gilbert and Howard B. Smith. The commissioners took office on May to, 1887, held their first meeting the next
day, and at a second meeting on the 16th adopted and filed with the city clerk "rules and regulations governing
the appointment, promotion, removal, trial and discipline of the officers and men of the police department of Omaha."
When the board met on May 19, 1887, to appoint a chief of police, a conflict arose between the commissioners and
the city council. There were several applicants for the position, but the board selected Webb S. Seavey, who had
served as officer in the Fifth Iowa Cavalry during the Civil war. Two days later Mr. Seavey filed with the board
a bond in the sum of $ro,000, which bond was accepted and approved by the board and sent to the city council. City
Marshal Cummings vacated his office on May 25, r887, and Chief Seavey assumed control of the police force. In the
council, the chief's bond was referred to the judiciary committee, and on June 7, r887, that committee submitted
majority and minority reports on the matter. The minority report recommended that the appointment of Mr. Seavey
be recognized as legal and that his bond be accepted. The majority report was as follows:
"The judiciary committee, to whom was referred the pretended official bond of one Seavey, together with the
report from the police committee, have had the same under consideration and report thereon as follows:
"First. That the board of fire and police commissioners, without the necessary rules and regulations to be
prescribed by ordinance, have no authority to make any such appointment and, as the ordinance to prescribe rules
is under consideration by the council and has not passed. the pretended appointment is premature and uncalled for.
"Second. That no authority exists at the present time for the presentation of the pretended bond to the city
council, and the same is not in form prescribed by any law now in existence. For these reasons we recommend that
the pretended bond be rejected.
"L S. HASCHAL,
A week later the city attorney, John L. Webster, to whom the question had been referred, gave an opinion in which
he practically sustained the action of the commissioners. The council then passed an ordinance requiring the commissioners
each to give bond in the sum of $5,000. The bonds of Bennett and Hartman were approved by the council on August
9, 1887, but the bonds of Gilbert and Smith were rejected on the technicality that the names of the sureties signing
the bond did not appear in the body of the instrument. The two commissioners then prepared new bonds correcting
this defect and filed them with the council on the 30th of August, but that body neglected to approve or reject
the bonds. The commissioners continued, however, to perform their duties without objection_
All the members of the fire department were appointed by the board to the positions they had held before the passage
of the act creating the commission. This was done on June 28, 1887, and on July 26th the board met to examine applicants
for positions on the police force. Among those who appeared for examination were all the members of the old force
and a number of new applicants. Two days later the board announced the appointment of forty two men, several of
whom were new men, fourteen members of the old force being dropped. This action of the board increased the opposition
of the council. That body had refused from the first to recognize Mr. Seavey as the chief of police or to pay his
salary, and now refused to recognize or pay any of the new appointees of the board, except those who had previously
been members of the force.
On October 1, 1887, the board of fire and police commissioners adopted resolutions setting forth that the board
could not bring suit in the Supreme Court of the state to settle the relative powers of the board and the city
council, while the council could; requesting the council to take the necessary steps to bring such an action; and
also requesting that the salaries of the police officers appointed by the board be paid out of the funds available
for that purpose. The council ignored the resolutions and a public mass meeting was called to meet at the rooms
of the board of trade. At that meeting resolutions condemning the action and attitude of the council were passed
and a "Policemen's Relief Association" was formed for the purpose of raising money to pay the men until
the council should do so. This plan was continued for several months, when Edward W. Simeral, county attorney,
instituted a suit in the Nebraska Supreme Court, to test the title of Chief Seavey to his office. J. C. Cowin and
G. W. Ambrose were employed as attorneys to represent the city and filed an amendment to the petition in the Supreme
Court. They also instituted quo warranto proceedings against the commissioners to test their title to office. Chief
Seavey was represented in this suit by George B. Lake. The Supreme Court sustained the title of the chief and the
commissioners to their respective offices, whereupon suit was commenced in the District Court against the city
by the commissioners for their salaries and judgment was rendered in their favor. The money advanced by the Policemen's
Relief Association was also recovered in an action in the District Court. This ended the trouble.
The police force as constituted in 1916 consists of 181 persons, with H. W. Dunn as chief. There are four captains,
seven sergeants, four desk sergeants. one traffic sergeant, four patrol conductors, six chauffeurs. one Bertillon
man, fourteen detectives under the chieftainship of Stephen Maloney, seven motorcycle men, one matron, one police
woman, eleven tram men and ninety six patrolmen, the other twenty two men being assigned to various duties connected
with the department.
Savage & Bell, in their History of Omaha, say: "The public improvements carried on by the city were
insignificant in extent until about 1882, when the necessity therefor became so apparent that a general system
of grading, sewerage and paving was inaugurated. In January of that year a board of public works was appointed
by the mayor and council, consisting of James Creighton, chairman, Joseph Barker and John Wilson. Previous to the
appointment of this board, a very considerable sum had been expended by the city, under direction of the street
commissioner, for grading, and Farnam Street had been macadamized from Ninth to Fifteenth at a cost of $25,000;
but general improvements were conducted so loosely that the aggregate amount thus expended cannot now be ascertained."
The first asphalt pavement in the city was laid on Douglas Street, froni Fourteenth to Sixteenth, in the fall
of 1882. It was put down by the Barber Asphalt Company, under the superintendency of John Grant, at a cost of $2.98
per square yard. About the same time Farnham Street was paved with Sioux Falls granite, making a roadway that would
withstand the heavy traffic to which that street was subjected. In some of the early paving contracts wooden blocks
were used, but they were found to be unsatisfactory as a paving material and were abandoned about 1890, since which
time vitrified brick and asphalt have been chiefly used. On January 1, 1916, Omaha had 218 miles of paved streets
and alleys, and during the year 1915 the city expended $580,878.99 for new pavements.
GRADING THE STREETS
Visitors to Omaha sometimes speak of it as "a city of hills and hollows," but had they been here forty
or forty five years ago they would have had much better reason for applying that appellation. The conversion of
the Town of Omaha, as it was when incorporated in 1857, into its present condition has involved the removal of
a vast amount of earth in cutting down hills and filling up hollows. The first established grade in the city was
on St. Mary's Avenue in 1873. The avenue then was an important thoroughfare and the property holders along it remonstrated
against the radical change in the grade. The result of this opposition was a modified grade, necessitating the
removal of a less quantity of earth, and even then some of the property holders insisted that the change was too
On Farnam Street the grade has been changed three times, the last grade involving a cut of over forty feet at Seventeenth
Street and a fill quite as much between Twentieth and Twenty fourth streets. The City Hall, on the northeast corner
of Eighteenth and Farnam, stands on an elevation, but it may not be generally known that the elevation was much
higher, and that in cuffing it down to the present grade the handsome residence of Governor Alvin Saunders, which
then occupied that corner, was destroyed. Just across Farnam Street, the block bounded by Farnham, Harney, Seventeenth
and Eighteenth streets had been purchased by the county as a site for a new courthouse. The county commissioners,
knowing that the grade of the surrounding streets was to be changed, removed a large quantity of earth from the
premises before erecting the building. For this they were criticized by some of the citizens, but after the new
grade was established the board came in for equally as much criticism from visitors to the courthouse, because
of the long flights of steps they had to climb to get into the building.
Douglas Street, from about Seventeenth Street west, was cut down forty feet or more, the heaviest excavation being
in the neighborhood of Nineteenth Street. Just a block north of this point, on the southwest corner of Nineteenth
and Dodge streets, a little of the original hill remains, and the foundation of the house standing on that lot
is higher than the roofs of some of the surrounding buildings.
At the intersection of South Sixteenth and Jones streets about fifty feet of earth was removed; over sixty feet
were taken from the natural grade at the intersection of South Eleventh and Pierce streets; fully forty feet were
taken from the lot at the southwest corner of Sixteenth and Harney, where the Burgess-Nash stores are now located,
which lot was once the property of Gen. W. W. Lowe, a son of Dr. Enos Lowe. one of the founders of Omaha; the creek
that once flowed along Nicholas Street has been filled up, and in fact, in nearly even part of the city changes
in grade have been made to facilitate traffic and accommodate pedestrians.
The first sewers in Omaha were constructed on what is known as the Waring system, but the almost marvelous growth
of the city was not taken into consideration and the sewers built by this method were soon found to be entirely
inadequate to the demand for sanitary sewage. Then the plan of building large trunk sewers, with lateral branches.
was adopted and has given much better satisfaction. All the trunk sewers of Omaha proper discharge their contents
into the Missouri River, but in the western part of Dundee, where the natural drainage is in the opposite direction,
a separate system has been installed. Here a septic tank was built in 1914. sufficiently large to receive and disinfect
all the sewage of that suburb. During the year 1915 the city expended $220,136.55 upon the sewers, bringing the
total mileage up to 297. Few cities of its size can boast a better sewer system than Omaha.
**** NAMING OF THE STREETS was at this point. ****
COMMISSION FORM OF GOVERNMENT
The Legislature of 1911 passed an act providing that any city in the State of Nebraska might adopt what is known
as the commission form of government, in the following manner:
"Within twenty days after the filing of a petition with the city clerk of any such city, signed by such a
number of electors qualified to vote at the last preceding general city or state election as equals 25 per centum
of the votes cast for all candidates for mayor at such preceding general city election, the mayor shall by appropriate
proclamation and notice call and proclaim a special election," etc., for the purpose of submitting the question
to the people.
A special election was held in Omaha, according to the provisions of the act, and the proposition to adopt the
commission government carried by a substantial majority. The first commissioners were elected on May 7, 1912, and
took office on the 13th. They were James C. Dahlman, Thomas McGovern, Daniel B. Butler, Joseph B. Hummel, A. C.
Kugel, John J. Ryder and Charles H. Withnell, the law requiring that in ally cities having a population of $100,000
or more seven councilmen should be chosen.
The law further provided that at the first meeting of the commissioners, or councilmen, one of their number should
be elected president and should be known as the mayor of the city. At the meeting on May 13, 1912, James C. Dahlman
was elected mayor and the business of the city was divided into departments, each of which was placed under the
control of a member of the council as superintendent, to-wit: James C. Dahlman, department of public affairs; Thomas
McGovern, public improvements; Daniel B. Butler, accounts and finance; Joseph 13. Hummel, parks and public property,
A. C. Kugel, street cleaning and maintenance; John J. Ryder, police and sanitation; Charles H. Withnell, fire protection
and water supply.
Messrs. Dahlman, Butler, Hummel and Withnell still held their positions in the spring of 1916, but Mr. Kugel was
then in charge of the department of police, sanitation and public safety; John C. Drexel had succeeded Mr. Kugel
as the head of the department of street cleaning and maintenance; and W. S. Jardine had succeeded Mr. McGovern
in charge of the department of public improvements. Although the commission form of government has been applied
only about four years at this writing, it has given abundant evidence of being superior to the old system and Omaha
is moving steadily forward in its metropolitan aspirations.
Early in the legislative session of 1915, E. E. Howell, a state senator from Douglas County, introduced a measure
providing for the consolidation of Omaha. South Omaha and the village of Dundee. The bill passed both houses and
was approved on March 3r, 1915. Pursuant to its provisions, Governor Morehead, on April 26, 1915, issued his proclamation
calling a special election in the three municipalities for June 1, 1915, at which the electors should vote on the
question of consolidation. The result of that election was 11,428 votes in favor of the proposition and 1,585 in
the negative. Returns were made to the governor who on June 10, 1915, issued a proclamation declaring "the
consolidation of the cities of Omaha, South Omaha and the village of Dundee, as one city, the said consolidation
to take effect and become operative ten days after this proclamation is filed in the office of the city clerk of
said City of Omaha." The proclamation was promptly filed with the city clerk and ten days later the consolidation
was announced. Through the uniting of these three separate corporations was formed the "Greater Omaha."