Fort Crook village
was located in Sarpy County, Nebraska west across Highway 73-75 and the Missouri
Pacific and Burlington railroad tracks from the original main gate of Fort
Crook, later Offutt Air Force Base. Some
newspaper articles also refer to the town name as Crooktown or Crookton.
The town was incorporated on August 2, 1897.
main gate was on the west side of the military post just to the northwest of
the World War II era hospital building now being used as the 55th Wing
Command Group Headquarters. The
town’s early commercial buildings were directly across from this gate but the
town eventually extended all the way south to what is now
. The town was primarily in the area
between Highway 73-75 and the railroad tracks.
A branch of the Papillion Creek bordered the west side of the town.
The town was
established as the “serviceman’s town” for
with a full compliment of saloons, cafes and other stores catering to army
personnel. The town also served the
farmers of the area. Saloons
outnumbered other businesses. Families
of the soldiers sometimes lived in the houses in the town.
The town’s history was impacted by a major tornado on May 12,
1908, numerous floods of the Papillion Creek which inundated the site, fires and
a state law enacted in 1907 prohibiting saloons from being within two and
one-half miles of the fort.
My interest in
village comes from memories of seeing a railroad station along Highway 73-75
east of the village site and from a visit to the remains of the
with Harold Hansen about 1967.
The July 30, 1897 Nebraska
State Journal described the “thriving” village:
is the name of a village which has sprung up on the outskirts of
. According to a census taken
recently, this thriving little village contains over 200 persons and an attempt
will be made next week to incorporate. The
papers in the case are all prepared and will be presented to the county
at a meeting to be held next Tuesday at Papillion.
The village is steadily growing and already possesses two hotels besides
a hall and a number of boarding houses.”
village had grown to 646 people by 1900 according to that year’s census.
The early commercial
section of the town was in the rough form of a reverse “L”.
The long leg of the “L” was
on which the buildings faced east. Railroad
Street ran parallel to Highway 73-75. The
initial building in the village was the Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot, which
was constructed in 1894 as the army post itself was being built.
This depot was at the north end of
on the west side of the tracks. J.W.
Lowry’s Saloon, later Yancey “Dude” Oakley’s Saloon/Confectionary (the
“Oakley Building”), anchored the
south end of the
business block. The Fort Crook
Hotel, also owned by J.W. Lowry, anchored the north end of the
business block. A newspaper article
indicates this hotel was built in 1896. The
east-west leg to the reverse “L” was
at the south end of
business block faced north on
. The Ketchmark Saloon was at the
and faced north. The saloon had a
livery stable in the back (south) of the building.
business block was only four buildings, including the Ketchmark Saloon, shorter
than the six buildings which comprised the
business block. The first two
Sarpy Avenue west
of the Ketchmark Saloon were a barber shop and the Katsky Grocery.
The 1910 census lists Julius and George Lewis as store keepers of a
general store in the village which may have been along
There were two
commercial buildings slightly north and east of the Fort Crook Hotel and just
west of the Missouri Pacific Depot, one of which was the first post office.
There was an unnamed street between the hotel and these buildings.
The first post office was the first building north of the Fort Crook
Hotel across the unnamed street. All
of these early commercial buildings along
were constructed in approximately the 1894-96 time frame.
The most detailed map
of the village found to date is in the 1901 Omaha Sanborn Insurance Maps.
It is part of the final map of volume III of the
maps. This map indicates the
village was larger than previously known. A
number of buildings are shown in the area behind the Railroad Street business
block, including at least one business building facing south on Sarpy Avenue.
Those buildings may have been on the west side of the Papillion Creek.
There are also several buildings south of
. The distance from the Missouri
Pacific Railroad Depot south to the
business block was about 185 feet, according to the map.
The frontage of the six commercial buildings along
was only about 90 feet.
The top floor of the
was used for a community hall. The
town board, the Modern Woodmen of the World, the Royal Neighbors and other
organizations held meetings there. Dances
were also held in the hall. The
was the last survivor of the early commercial buildings.
The shell of the first story of this building was still standing in
mosquito-infested low land in the late 1960s near the branch of the Papillion
Creek. My uncle Ewing Croft
remembers that the west or back part of the building was in the ravine cut by
the creek. This is my recollection
also. The building appears to be
completely gone in a 1971 aerial photo. My
aunt Betty Croft remembers going to
with my Grandfather James Lilley to see the flooding and watching soldiers
diving for “pints” (whiskey) at the
The 1920 and 1930
censuses list Yancy Oakley as a merchant in “soft drinks,” in the village.
The June 25, 1931 Papillion Times identifies Y.R. Oakley as the
proprietor of a “confectionery and soft drink establishment”.
The 1910 census lists him as a saloon keeper in
. James W. Lowry is listed as a
saloon keeper in
village in 1910.
Both the Missouri
Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Railroad went through
village. The Missouri Pacific was
the west of the two sets of tracks. As
indicated, the initial building in the village was the Missouri Pacific Railroad
Depot at the north end of
on the west side of the tracks. This
depot was there in 1952 but gone by the late 1960s.
The first Burlington Depot was built by May, 1908 as it shows in tornado
The June 11, 1931 Papillion
Times described the location of the village’s post offices from the first
post office to that date. As
indicated above, the first post office was located just west of the Missouri
Pacific station north across the unnamed street from the Fort Crook Hotel.
The building was owned by N. Spellman.
The building was severely damaged in the May 12, 1908 tornado and the
post office was moved to Rushart’s Grocery Store.
According to an early
resident, Rushart’s store was next door to the north from the first post
office in 1908. The store was
also severely damaged in the 1908 tornado. According
to the June 11, 1931 story, the grocery store building burned on February 12,
1926 and the post office moved to the Lowry Restaurant north of
Rushart’s store. But the original
Rushart’s store was north of the Lowry Restaurant.
Perhaps the story should have said south of Rushart’s store or because
of the damage in 1908 the store was moved to another location south of the J.R.
Lowry Restaurant. Mary E. Rushart
was listed as the postmaster in the 1920 Nebraska Blue Book.
According to the June 11, 1931 story, the post office was moved back to
its original location on September 30, 1930 to a building also owned by N.
Spellman. This is not consistent
with the location identified in the August 13, 1932 photo since the first post
office location was north of this location.
In 1930, the original location of the post office was occupied by a
The July 29,
1897 Springfield Monitor reported that the first death had occurred at
village, the infant son of Samuel Pittson of the army’s Quartermasters
Department. Permission was received
to establish a cemetery on the
reservation. This was the first
burial in the small military post cemetery that still exists on Offutt Air Force
, a four classroom school, was the District 40 public school for the children of
the soldiers as well as of farmers and others in the area.
The school opened in September, 1904, on the west side of Highway 73-75
just south of the original town site. It
was used as a school until about 1963 and was demolished in the early 1970s.
A major event was the
October 15, 1911 train wreck on the Missouri Pacific tracks “about one
and one-half miles south of Gilmore Junction” which was just north of
town. It was a head on collision
between two Missouri Pacific trains which killed at least 8 persons.
The official accident report indicates the cause was human error.
There are a number of real photo postcards of the train wreck which
identify the location as
. The postcards do not show any of
the buildings in the town.
The major disasters
that lead to the demise of the village were the May 12, 1908 tornado and
major floods in 1903, 1932, 1938, 1950 and 1959.
The inundated buildings, particularly the
, were popular photo shots for the Omaha World Herald and Papillion
Times newspapers. The flood
photos and real photo postcards showing the destruction caused by the tornado
are a major source of images of the town.
The buildings along
were the first to disappear. They
were damaged in the 1908 tornado and, according to the newspaper accounts, the
Katsky Grocery was demolished. Photos
show that the Ketchmark Saloon lost its front in the tornado.
The two commercial buildings (post office and Rushart’s Grocery) north
and east of the Fort Crook Hotel were severely damaged in the tornado and do not
appear to have been repaired as later photos show other buildings on their
sites. An August 30, 1927 aerial
photo (“1927 Aerial Photo”)
commercial buildings were gone.
The Fort Crook Hotel
at the north end of
burned on Sunday, March 10, 1918, according to the Historical Edition of the Papillion
Times, June 11, 1931. The 1908
tornado had torn off its front but it had been repaired with a new front
different from the original one. The
March 14, 1918 Papillion Times provides more detail:
The Fort Crook Hotel burned to the ground Sunday afternoon leaving the
families of officers and men at the fort homeless.
. . . The hotel, a two-story
farm structure, owned by J.W. Lowry, was built in 1896 at a cost of $2,400.
Since last summer it has been used exclusively by families of men
and by relatives who came to visit them. .
. . The fire is believed to have
started from a defective flue . . .”
The February 13, 1926
Lincoln Star reported that the village “was visited by its second
disastrous fire in two years and half of the business buildings were razed.…
The post office, two stores and some smaller structures were destroyed.… In
the previous fire, five residences were destroyed.…”
According to the February 18, 1926 Papillion Times:
The frame structures in
in which a store, cafe and post office were located were completely destroyed
by fire last Friday afternoon. The
origin of the fire is unknown but probably started from a defective chimney.
. . . Several frame
structures nearby were threatened for a time but were saved.
Most of the records, stamps, etc. of the post office were saved by Miss
Glaesel, asst. post mistress who was in charge.
Two of the buildings were owned by George Rushart and the loss is partly
covered by insurance.”
The 1927 Aerial Photo
shows that only two of the original buildings along
were still standing, the Oakley Building and the J.R. Lowry Restaurant (the “Lowry Restaurant”). The
June 25, 1931 Papillion Times lists four merchants in Fort Crook:
the Walnut Grove grocery, rink and hall; barber John Houston; Fred
’s Garage and the Oakley “establishment”.
The Oakley “establishment” was likely the only business remaining in
the original town area.
An August 13,
1932 flood photo shows the inundated
and two buildings north of it, one of which is an original building, the Lowry
Restaurant. The Lowry Restaurant was
the building immediately south of the Fort Crook Hotel.
In this 1932 photo, there is a small building between the
and the Lowry Restaurant on
which was not an original building. The
photo caption indicates the Lowry Restaurant is the former post office and that
the newer building is the current post office.
This post office building is in the December 8, 1940 photo and is still
the post office in a November 16, 1948 photo.
There are several small houses north of the Lowry Restaurant in the
August 13, 1932 photo. These
residences are on the site of the original post office and Rushart’s Grocery
Store that were severely damaged in the 1908 tornado.
A December 6,
1932 photo of the area north of the
shows one forlorn original building, the Lowry Restaurant, and a row of at
least three houses just west of the Missouri Pacific Depot.
The photo also appears to show foundation remains for the Fort Crook
Hotel. The Lowry Restaurant is gone
in 1938 flood photos.
The 1900 census of
village was 646; there were 203 residents in 1910 and 402 in 1920.
It is difficult to determine the 1930 population from the census records.
The 1920 Nebraska Blue Book has
in its list of towns and villages as does the 1922, 1926 and 1928 editions but
it is not in the 1930 edition. The
1920’s era Blue Books use the 1920 census figure of 402 as the
population in each edition.
’s east gate exited in
and, by the start of World War II,
village in importance to the post.
A December 8,
1940 newspaper article about the potential “boom” to be created by the
Martin Bomber Plant has a photo of the
. The photo caption says:
… a tavern, a few dingy houses....” Other
surviving buildings in 1940 were the District 40 school and the post office.
Dude Oakley died in 1945. The
post office was closed in the early 1950s. Photos
of the 1950 flood show several small houses facing north just to the south of
. These are the same houses which
appear in the December 8, 1940 photo. The December
8, 1940 newspaper article predicted the revival of the village because of
construction plans for the Martin Bomber Plan but it never happened.
a Ghost Town
A September 21, 1952 Omaha
World Herald article indicates the post office was gone and that the “lone
place of business activity” was the Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot.
“What is left of the village – the depot, a dilapidated saloon. . .
and a few homes. . . . Earlier
this month the post office was moved to a building at a point a mile north of
here. . . . A
disastrous fire in the 1920’s that leveled nearly a block of businesses and
the 1932 flood of Papio Creek seemed the turning points that doomed the village
to its eventual role of a ghost town.”
The August 2, 1958 Lincoln
Evening Journal and Nebraska State Journal described the village as it
neared its end: “Of the old army
town of Fort Crook, Nebraska, there is left standing a railroad station, a few
homes, and the foundation of a saloon which burned recently.
The post office has been relocated about a mile north of the railroad
station and is now on the east side of the highway.”
The Site Today
The road down from
Highway 73-75 west into town came out on
are visible today. Aerial photos
confirm that this was the road layout from at least the 1920s forward.
The present road across the railroad tracks down into the site of the
town follows the same general route. The
would be in front of you and slightly to the right as you cross the railroad
tracks. The remaining small building
in front of you was probably one of the “dingy” houses referred to in a 1940
newspaper photo although it has likely been moved several times around the town
site. There was a group of small
houses that appear to have been moved several times within the site.
The old main entrance to Fort Crook/Offutt Air Force Base on the east
side of the highway has disappeared as has the entrance road inside the post.
The entrance road shows in a 1971 aerial photo but is gone in a 1997
There was still one
residence occupied in
village at the very south end of the original town site until at least some
time late in 2003. This house burned
either late in 2005 or early 2006. There
are some remains of buildings just south of where
was located, including the remains of an old house.
The house in ruins is just north of what was the last occupied house in
the village. These remains appear to
be of out buildings of the ruined house rather than of the early buildings that
. These two houses are in the 1932
and 1942 aerial photos and at least one of them is in the 1927 Aerial Photo.
The business block
site on the west side of
was graded, leveled and made into an outside storage area at some time after
the 1960s. Some of the area was
paved. Any foundations or other
remains of buildings were likely destroyed at this time although the numerous
floods probably swept away most remains much earlier.
Even with all the fill that has gone into the area, the land on the west
edge of the site of the
business block still drops off significantly which provides an easy
understanding of the village’s vulnerability to flooding.
While the flood and tornado disasters brought great misfortune to people
and property, they also have helped to provide a historical record of the rise
and demise of