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Kansas Collection Books

Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Douglas County
Produced by Liz Lee.

Part 1      Part 3

City of Omaha

Note: Please refer back to the Omaha first page, or to the Chapter Table of Contents for the complete listing.

SECTION 1:  The Early DaysSECTION 2:  More Early Days
SECTION 3:  Omaha in 1870SECTION 4:  Present Day (1882)
SECTION 5:  Crimes

Fire Department | Fires in Omaha | Conflagration of 1877
Smaller fires | Water Works | Gas Works

SECTION 7:  Health, Parks, MailSECTION 8:  The Press in Omaha
SECTION 9:  Press ContinuedSECTION 10:  Religious
SECTION 11:  Religious (cont.)SECTION 12:  Cemetery and Schools
SECTION 13:  Legal and MedicalSECTION 14:  Opera House-Hotels-Business
SECTION 15:  SocietiesSECTION 16:  Societies Continued
SECTION 17:  BusinessSECTION 18:  Manufacturing
SECTION 19:  Manufacturing (cont.)

20 - 46:

   ** Omaha Biographical Sketches **
| WOODARD~ZEHRUNG | West Omaha Precinct | Douglas Precinct |

List of Illustrations in Douglas County Chapter

City of Omaha 6


The Omaha Fire Department had its inception in the felt need of some organization by which fire might be the more readily suppressed and to prevent its spread. Accordingly the idea of forming a fire company, was talked up, by the leading business men of the place, for their mutual self protection. Several attempts were made in this direction but without avail, until, upon the instigation of Benjamin Stickles, James Van Ostran and W. J. Kennedy, the organization was finally effected, May 2, 1860, under the name of "Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company" and was chartered by an act of the Territorial Legislature, January 17, 1861, with the following charter members: Benjamin Stickles, J. S. McCormick, Henry Gray, W. J. Kennedy, Henry Z. Curtis, M. H. Clark, P. W. Hitchcock and Andrew J. Simpson. This was the first organization of the kind in the Territory and served faithfully and well its purpose, being composed of men of superior intelligence and bravery. The first test of the ability and efficiency of the company, was upon a fire occurring in a dwelling house belonging to Dr. Monell and occupied by Fred Krug. After a severe struggle, the fire was extinguished, contrary to the expectations of nearly all present. This same building was afterward repaired and re-modeled, and is the one now used as the City Hotel, No. 324 S. Tenth street. The organization still exists as part of the City Fire Department, but is inactive except on extraordinary occasions. The following are the names of its present membership: Charles Fisher, Foreman; George Smidt, First Assistant; D. S. Mitchell, Second Assistant; Phillip Dorr, President; and A. H. Sander, Secretary; J. F. Beard, Thomas Callan, Ed. Kuppig, W. H. H. Lewellyn, James O'Brien, Gus. Beneke, L. Stamm, J. Treitschke, I. Rotholtz, Ed. Mauer, Fred. Heckstein, John H. Erck, E. C. Lucas, F. H. Kosters, L. Kroitzsch, W. H. Schuyler, John Barsel, J. Williams, L. T. Litton, Jacob Schreiner, William Edmandson, E. B. Witt and J. D. Jones.

The steady and rapid growth of the town required more efficient appliances as a means of greater security against fire and as a result, on July 10, 1866, on organization was formed, as a sort of offshoot of the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company, called "Fire King No. 1," with John Hassett President, and C. S. Goodrich, Secretary. For the use of this company, the city authorities purchased a hand engine, from the city of Davenport, Iowa, at a cost, when laid down at Omaha, of $695; this was afterward sold to Golden City, Colo.

Soon afterward another company was formed called "Engine Company No., 2," but of the exact date of its formation and first membership, little is known to a certainty, since the records were lost by the destruction of the company's building, by fire, about two years ago. This company was equipped with the first steam engine in the city, known as "Fire King No. 2."

At a meeting of Engine Company No. 1, on July 10, 1866, owning to some difficulty among the members, the organization disbanded and on the same date a new company was formed, named "Nebraska Engine Company No. 3," by the following charter members: August Windeim, C. S. Goodrich, Martin Ramge, C. A. Engersoll, J. G. Leopold, Fred Koenig and O. P. Ingalls.

The enlargement and rapid development of the city soon found the existing fire companies ineffectual for the task imposed upon them. The wide extension of the city northward, the high rates of insurance on account of the absence of ample means of prevention against fire, and other considerations, forced the citizens in that part of the city, to the necessity of establishing a fire company in their midst.

The people in the south part of the city were anxious that the new company be located with them and a strife ensured as to which section should be the possessor. The question was submitted to a committee of arrangement, formed by the department and was decided in favor of the northern section. At once, the effort was made to organize and was partially effected in the spring of 1869, and perfected in the winter of 1870, with W. R. Bently as its first President, Delos Bears, Secretary, and Monroe Brown, First Foreman. Prominent among its membership were: M. Dunham, Judge Hawes, C. L. Bristol, W. H. Lawton, Nathan Elliott and Charles G. Hunt.

For the better regulation of the departments now formed and also, to unite and harmonize their efforts, a consolidation of all of them was made, into what is called the "Omaha Fire Department," comprising the present system. The consolidation was made April 23, 1875; the department is voluntary except the offices of chief engineer, who receives a salary of $1,500 per annum, engineers, drivers and stokers. The office of chief engineer was created in 1866, and A. J. Simpson was elected to fill the office, and has since been filled by the following persons, with date of office: J. F. Sheeley, 1868-69; J. Markel, 1870-71; Charles Simpson, 1871-72-73; J. J. Galligan, 1873-74-75-76; Frank Kleffner, 1877; J. J. Galligan, 1878-79-80-81. The present officials of the department are: M. Goldsmith, President; Frank Hanlon, Vice-President; Charles Hunt, Chief Engineer; Jerome C. Pentzel, Secretary; Ignace Scherb, Treasurer; and Solomon Prince, William Ryan and Edwin Mauer, Assistants. The department at present numbers a membership of 213 able-bodied and efficient firemen, and the management and valuable services of the department, call forth general popular appreciation and satisfaction.

Our history of this subject would be altogether incomplete without reference to the "Durant Engine and Hose Company No. 1," which warrants a distinct treatment, being in no way a part of the City Fire Department, but subject to its call upon special notice from the chief. This organization was made in January, 1868, by the employes of the Union Pacific Railroad, for the protection of their employer's property, and elected as officers, Robert McConnell, President; C. A. Leary, Vice-President; William Anderson, Secretary; John E. Wigman, Treasurer; Thomas M. Lacy, Foreman; Lewis Leeder, First Assistant; John D. Murphy, Second Assistant; Frank Barrell, Engineer; Thomas Levy, Fireman. The organization is purely voluntary, but no one, unless in the employ of the Union Pacific Railroad is eligible to membership. It was named in honor of T. C. Durant, then President of the railroad, and bore this beautiful and expressive motto: "Where duty calls, there you will find us." Upon several occasions the company has been called upon by the city department and has distinguished itself by its valuable and unselfish assistance. Its present officers are: James Callahan, President; Thomas Cliff, Secretary; John Clair, Treasurer; John McDonald, Foreman; John Sheahan, First Assistant; James Fagan, Second Assistant; John Teed, Engineer; George Graham, Stoker.

Nothing worthy of special mention occurred in the proceedings, in either of the different companies, except, perhaps, a couple of instances which might be related, to show the interest and zeal characterizing the membership. Upon one occasion, in the proceedings of the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Co., the records, which the members were extremely anxious should be preserved intact, were lost through the carelessness of the Secretary, who had the custody of all the papers. This act of negligence by their Secretary, so aggrieved the members, that they expelled him by public resolution from the company.

Another case exhibiting the jealousy with which these companies guarded their name and interests, occurred in the proceedings of the Nebraska Engine Co., No. 1. The President, W. R. Bently, being accused of irregularity in his business as insurance agent, and also of purloining moneys and dues belonging to the organization, was expelled by resolution introduced by a member, while he, himself, was sitting in the chair.



In 1871, the Grand Central Hotel was commenced by a company organized for the purpose, and after some delay, completed in 1873. It was a magnificent five story brick structure, 132 feet square, and cost $300,000. After serving its purpose five years, it went up in flames, as follows:

At four minutes past seven o'clock, on the evening of September 4, 1878, men passing down Farnam street, heard an explosion in the neighborhood of the Grand Central Hotel building. Several stopped and ventured surmises as to the cause, some believing it to be a fire alarm. A moment later fire was seen issuing from various parts of the upper floor, and the cry of "fire" rang out, the bells joining in the chorus. The engines came promptly to the scratch, and sparks and cinders were by this time raining down from the roof. At this moment the scenes in and about the burning building baffled description. Firemen, hose, and streams of water were indescribably mingled; the first floor was crowded with a vast throng of men, many of them bareheaded and in their shirt sleeves, all talking, shouting and offering advice, above which the hoarse calls of firemen could be heard, creating pandemonium of discord, no pen can describe. At 8 o'clock the fire had penetrated the mansard roof on the east side, and notwithstanding every exertion was made to obtain control of the elements, the building was an hour later an utter wreck. At that hour the entire roof had fallen in, and masses of tin roofing, burning wood, debris of every conceivable nature, etc., fell to the pavement, making the work of saving the surrounding property dangerous in the extreme. The fire had worked west, threatening the destruction of the Herald Building, and Farnam street presented a picture of destruction and ruin no human hand can trace, with men and women running hither and yon in vain efforts to save portable property.

At this point the Council Bluffs department arrived by special train, and horses were pressed into the service to bring their apparatus from the Union Depot. Upon reaching the conflagration the "boys" fell in with a will, bringing to the aid of their muscle, intelligence and a thorough knowledge of the work to be done, which inspired them as also the home force, to renewed efforts and deeds of daring of the most thrilling character. The flames at this time were particularly fierce at the southeast corner of the hotel building, and here half a dozen men were suddenly seen through the blinding smoke at the windows of the third floor. It was thought they were cut off from escape and would certainly meet with a terrible death. But soon the fact became apparent that they were there for a purpose; a ladder was elevated immediately beneath them, a flood of water turned in upon the floor and a mastery of the flames at once obtained. It was feared in this connection that the water supply would run out, but stationary engines at different cisterns in the vicinity kept up the streams and prevented this additional calamity.

At daylight on Thursday morning the fire had been extinguished, but not before it had done its work. The hotel was totally destroyed, hardly a fragment of woodwork in the entire building remaining unburned. Those of the firemen who were not too much exhausted remained to work the engines. The Herald Building remained intact, but none the less uninhabitable, and the adjoining premises were similarly left.

In addition to the horrors of the night, accidents were numerous, and in many instances proved fatal in their effects. Mr. A. S. Hartray fell from the fourth floor to the first, and was picked up in a dying condition; Joseph Sheeley was struck by a beam and seriously injured. Shortly after midnight, several members of Engine Company No. 3, were caught in the lower part of the building by a falling wall. Charles Whithnell and Charles Raph escaped, but John A. Lee, Alonzo Randall, and Lewis Wilson remained under the debris. The next morning work was commenced for the recovery of their bodies. A constant stream had been playing upon the spot under which they were buried, and when cool enough a company with pick axes and shovels entered upon it. A blackened trunk of one of the unfortunates was first found, and in close proximity to it another, and the hip bones and pelvis of still another. A crowd witnessed the operation and looked on with horror as these dreadful relics were removed to Jacob's undertaking rooms. The work was continued, and later another body was unearthed, and identified by the stud and collar button in his shirt to be that of William McNamara, engineer of the Grand Central. The first body taken out was that of John A. Lee, whose watch was found in his vest pocket uninjured; the next was that of Lewis Wilson, and the third was what remained of Alonzo Randall. The other injured firemen included Henry Lockfeldt, who died subsequently; Henry Galligan, Charles Florey, Albert Hestry, Louis Faas, Charles Joannes, and one or two others, all of whom recovered.

The losses at the hotel amounted to $100,000, fully insured; those outside of the Grand Central, were as follows: Frederick, the hatter, by water and theft, $1,000; The Herald, $1,000; Shirt factory, $100; Pomeroy, undertaker, $500; Goodrich, toy shop $3,000; D. T. Mount, $500; Brown & Bliss, and W. P. Long & Co., nominal. Most of these were insured.

The Grand Central was an object of veneration to citizens of Omaha. For many years the city had been in need of additional hotel arrangements, and in 1870, the project of building by means of stock subscriptions, which had been eloquently urged in the Herald, was carried into effect by leading capitalists, who took an active interest in the enterprise. In order that the hotel might be a public venture, it was decided that no subscription for more than $1,000 should be received from any individual. The total cost of the hotel to be $150,000. It was at first determined to secure this amount before commencing work, but when $130,000 had been raised, the leader in the scheme decided to begin work. The walls were erected and the roof on, when in 1871 the work was discontinued and so remained for two years. At the expiration of that period the sum of $50,000 was raised by five citizens, Edward Creighton, Thomas Wardell, Andrew J. Poppleton, Augustus Kountze, and Henry W. Yates, and the long delayed structure seemed likely to be completed at last, but estimates again proved too small, and an additional amount was found necessary. To this end, a syndicate composed of S. S. Caldwell, C. W. Hamilton, E. D. Pratt, Joseph Barker, Sylvester Wright, John I. Redick and Clinton Briggs, was organized, and a majority of the original stock was purchased at prices varying from ten to fifty cents on the dollar. After a controlling interest in the stock had been purchased, a new election of stockholders was had, the amount necessary to complete the building was put in, the edifice was finished at a cost of $300,000, and opened October 1, 1873, by George Thrall, who furnished it himself. He retained possession for a number of years, and immediately prior to its destruction the hotel was placed in order at a cost of $25,000, and would have been occupied within a fortnight had not the elements intervened and prevented the same.


At 11 o'clock on Sunday night, April 22, 1877, the most destructive fire which had ever visited Omaha up to that date, broke out in the rear of the old Farnam Block on Farnam street between Sixteenth and Seventeenth. The fire first appeared in the wooden building adjoining C. F. Goodman's drug store and spread rapidly. The alarm was sounded, to which the engines speedily reported, but the incapacity of one of the machines, together with a stiff breeze, permitted to fire to attain good headway, and for a period the destruction of the entire vicinity was threatened. A second alarm was sent in, and the rain meanwhile falling began to descend in torrents doing almost as good work toward quenching the flames as streams from the engines. Notwithstanding these aides the fire could not be checked, but continued to spread and appeared in the upper stories of Lehman's Block. The building of Goodman was at this time a red hot furnace and all the inflammable material it contained blazing in lurid flames, igniting wooden work in the upper floors of P. H. Sharp's hide and leather establishment. By midnight Goodman's and Lehman's buildings were doomed and fire was bursting through the walls of the Simpson and Sharp buildings. The flames roared fiercely until 2 o'clock before they were gotten under control and were not finally subdued until they had caused an aggregate loss of $110,000 with a total insurance of about $84,000.

With the destruction of this pioneer block, one of the oldest landmarks in Omaha was swallowed up. The buildings of Lehman and Goodman were erected in the summer of 1856 by Henry H. Visscher and Allan Root and Dr. Charles A. Henry; the Sharp store by Dr. Henry in 1857; the store occupied by Simpson by ex-Senator, afterward Gov. Thayer, of Wyoming, and in it the third session of the Territorial Legislature, commencing the third week in January, 1857, was convened. The Pioneer Block was the first brick block built in Omaha, and had grown green and grassy with years, when the fire fiend swooped down upon it and effected its destruction.


Excepting the fires of 1871 and 1877, detailed above, Omaha has had no serious conflagrations. Its fire department is admirably managed and very efficient, and it is hoped that the city's immunity from destructive fires will be greatly prolonged. In 1868 the Taylor House, one of Omaha's old landmarks, was burned. It had been built early in 1857. It was used for some years as an Episcopal college for young ladies, and was then purchased by Col. Taylor and fitted up by him as a hotel. Its value at the time of its destruction was estimated at $10,000. Other hotels to perish through the devouring element were the Caledonian Hotel, burned July 15, 1869, loss estimated at $41,000, and the Depot Hotel, burned May 22, 1871, loss on it and adjoining buildings, placed at $7,600. The Washington House was partially burned September 18, 1872; the Farmers' Hotel, December 26, 1878, and the City Hotel, January 19, 1879.

One of the largest and most destructive fires that ever visited Omaha took place on the evening of October 4, 1869. At a few minutes after 6 o'clock the car works of the Union Pacific R. R. Company, located at the head of Tenth street, were discovered in flames and an alarm was turned in at once summoning the department to the scene. For a long time it seemed as if the flames would consume the entire outfit in spite of all endeavors to the contrary, but as stream after stream was directed upon the burning mass, the engines of the railroad company were worked to the utmost of their power, it was observed that the fire began to diminish, and by 9 o'clock it was conceded that the fire was completely under control.

The loss was estimated at $100,000; 200 men were thrown out of employment, and $5,000 worth of tools were lost by them. In 1876 the union depot was partially destroyed by fire, on the morning of October 11. The damage was estimated at $5,000, which, however, was fully covered by insurance.

About 10 o'clock on the morning of November 11, 1869, large volumes of smoke were seen issuing from Trinity Episcopal Church located at the corner of Eighteenth street and Capitol Avenue, and it was quickly known in the city that the beautiful edifice mentioned was being rapidly reduced to ashes. The firemen responded to the alarm, but the attempt to suppress the flames was unsuccessful, and the work of destruction progressed steadily until the edifice was a mass of ruins, presenting a gloomy appearance.

The loss was estimated at $18,000, upon which there was an insurance of $10,000.

Other fires worth of note have been as follows: First National Bank, burned October 20, 1870, loss $5,000, fully insured; Pacific Mills, February 3, 1872, no insurance; Beindorf & Smith's bakery, April 7, 1872, loss $15,000, partially insured; the Bee office, June 11, 1872, loss $10,000, insurance partial; Victor Sewing Machine building and L. B. Williams' dry good store, loss $12,000, insurance $3,000; Omaha Flour and Feed Mill, October 24, 1874, loss $6,000, partially insured; residence of Col. Burnham, October 10, 1876, loss covered by insurance; hospital of the Good Samaritan, December 6, 1877; residence of A. J. Poppleton, January 3, 1879, loss $20,000, insurance $10,000; Omaha Smelting Works, December 18, 1879, loss $20,000, two-thirds insured; Boyd's Packing House, January 18, 1880, loss $178,000, insurance $121,000; Bell's drug store, May 1, 1880, loss $30,000, insurance $11,500; Omaha elevator, winter of 1880, loss $20,000, above insurance; Taft & Woodman's Linseed Oil Works, October 22, 1880, loss $25,000, fully insured; Central Block, December 7, 1880, fully insured.


The water works of Omaha were established in 1881, and are owned by a company of resident capitalists, incorporated under the name of the City Water Works Company of Omaha. The officers are Samuel R. Johnson, president; Sidney E. Locke, vice-president; Nathan Shelton, secretary and treasurer. The works are what are known as the direct pressure and reservoir system. Two large engines are used in the pumping works, one, a Knowles compound pumping engine, has a daily capacity for raising 3,000,000 gallons of water to a height of 300 feet. The other is a single engine with a capacity for raising, 2,000,000 gallons daily. The engine and boiler houses are substantially built of brick, and rest upon a solid stone and concrete foundation, and are roofed with corrugated iron roofing resting upon wrought iron trusses. The stack is 100 feet high, built of brick upon a solid stone foundation with a pile base. The supply of water is taken from the Missouri River. The water is first drawn into a large well, incased with iron, forty-five feet deep, with an interior diameter of six feet. From this it is pumped into four large settling basins capable of holding 8,000,000 gallons of water, which are situated on the river bottom and are protected from the river by a solid wall of masonry. The water is then raised from these basins into reservoirs elevated about 300 feet above the river and situated back from it a distance of two and a half miles. These reservoirs have a united capacity of 9,000,000 gallons.

From these reservoirs the water is distributed to all parts of the city. The pipes through which it is carried measure to a length of thirty-one miles, and are capable of resisting a pressure of 300 pounds to the square inch. There are also 250 hydrants distributed at different points, from which the supply of water is taken, both for domestic wants and also for fire protection purposes. The total cost of the construction of the works is computed at $600,000. The owners are among the wealthiest and most enterprising men of the city, and have spared no pains to make the works complete in every particular. Due allowance was made in the construction to admit of all enlargement, as the pressing demands from time to time might render necessary.


Omaha passed like other cities through all those necessary stages of the "torch", "tallow candle," and "coal oil lamp," periods and at length issued into that culminating period of marvelous light, the gas light period. The enterprise of establishing gas works in the city had been talked of for a long time, but found an existence in "gas" merely. Gigantic schemes and great plans had been laid, but being airy as the subtle fluid which it was their design to produce, they soon vanished, leaving nothing to show they had ever been. The time had now come, in reality, when the plans that should be laid should likewise be put into execution. Several of the leading business men of the city, who said "Let there be light," took the matter in hand, and in 1868 the enterprise of organizing a gas light company was set on foot, for the establishment of gas works for the manufacturing of gas for the lighting of the city, "and there was light." Those who were the prime movers in this direction were James E. Boyd, Dr. Enos Lowe, J. H. Kellom, Frank Murphy, Alvin Saunders, Joseph Barker and John McCormick. Accordingly in the fall of 1868 a gas stock company was formed, and James E. Boyd was elected president. Since, therefore, the concern had been started and in the hands of good men, no delay was permitted to intervene between the formation of the plans and their execution. Work began upon the construction in the fall of 1868, and in the spring of 1869, the whole thing was completed and made ready for operation, at a cost, in round number, of $150,000. The contract for the construction of the works, laying mains and putting up fixtures, was given to an Eastern firm by the name of Baker, Purnell & Fry, and the engineering work, plans and specifications, were under the management of a Mr. Mooney, who was also an Eastern man. The works are what are known as the "six inch" works, and have a producing capacity of 40,000,000 cubic feet of gas per year. For the generating of gas there are four benches of retorts, each bench containing five retorts, or twenty retorts in all. The gas holder or tank measures ninety feet in diameter and 282 feet in circumference, having a capacity for holding 140,000 cubic feet of gas. The works are owned by a private corporation, which is a stock company. Immediately after the works had been completed, they were leased to the firm of Baker, Purnell & Fry, the same who had the contract for the construction, and whose term of lease expires in the spring of 1882. The rates for furnishing gas to consumers now is $3 per thousand cubic feet, but a liberal reduction is made to heavy consumers.

The works are located on the corner of Sixteenth and Leavenworth streets, and consist of a one story brick building about 100 feet long by thirty feet wide, with a wing measuring twenty-five feet wide by thirty feet in length. The building contains a retort house, a purifying house, and a lime house. Constant changes are taking place in the membership, new members being added and older members retiring, from time to time, and being a corporation, no one who can furnish enough capital can be prohibited from becoming a member or share-holder. The present official members are Frank Murphy, president and secretary; C. W. Hamilton, vice-president; George E. Barker, treasurer.

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