Early Omaha: Gateway to the West
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Greenspace was virtually nonexistent in early Omaha. The only public park originally platted was Jefferson Square in 1854. The park was bounded by 15th, 16th, Farnam and Douglas streets. Jefferson Square Park was formally dedicated on November 25, 1865 (Omaha History Clipping File). The park was razed on March 18, 1969 as part of Interstate construction.
Prior to 1889, Omaha had no legal means to purchase land or maintain a park system. Due to increased lobbying by concerned citizens, the Nebraska State Legislature passed a statute allowing cities to raise funds through taxation or issuance of bonds.
One of the oldest parks is Hanscom Park. The 50 acre tract was donated in October 1872 by Andrew J. Hanscom and James Megeath. According to historians Savage & Bell, “No charge was made for the property, but the gift was upon condition that the city expend in improving it the sum of three thousand dollars in 1873, four thousand dollars each year for the three years following, five thousand in 1877, and the same amount in 1878; to forever keep the property in good order, and to grade and keep in good repair the streets by which the tract was bounded. The donation was accepted on these conditions, the property christened “Hanscom Park” (Savage, p. 437). The park is in what was the extreme southwestern part of Omaha. It is currently bordered by Woolworth Avenue on the north, Park Avenue on the east, Ed Creighton Avenue on the south and 32nd Avenue on the West.
1889 brought considerable changes to the park. Noted landscape architect, H.W.S. Cleveland was hired to create a more natural look for Hanscom Park. He was paid $913.30 in 1889 and 1890. By 1898, a Park Commissioners’ report stated that “Two Lakes, a cascade, extensive flower beds, two and one-half miles of macadamized roadway, fountains and a magnificent growth of forest trees make this the only finished park in the city” (City of Omaha Planning Dept., p. 26).
Hanscom Park also had more improvements in 1891-92. Omaha spent $17,381.28 on the creation of a lake and the construction of a bandstand and pavilion (Lethem, p. 43).
Recreational equipment began to appear in Hanscom Park in the early 20th century as the community’s needs changed.
Text written by Lynn Sullivan, September 2003
City of Omaha Planning Dept. Omaha’s Historic Park and Boulevard System. March 1992. Page 26.
Lethem, Jonathan. Historical and Descriptive Review of Omaha. 1892. Page 43.
Savage, James Woodruff & John Bell. History of the City of Omaha. Chicago: Munsell & Co., 1894. Page 437.