From the Archives: Florence, Neb.

Omaha includes several small towns and communities that have been absorbed through the years. I thought it would be fun to explore the history of a few of them.

I spent a happy childhood in the Minne Lusa/Florence area.

The location of what is now Florence, in the far north of the city, was settled in 1846 when Mormons established Cutler’s Park and nearby Winter Quarters on their journey west. The Mormons were traveling from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake City when they stopped to wait for better traveling conditions.  They survived the terrible winter, but lost more than 300 people to the harsh conditions and disease. Those members are buried in what is now known as the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery at 3301 State St. The pioneers continued their trek  in 1848.

The Florence Land Company was organized in 1854 and retired sea captain James Comly Mitchell platted the village of Florence. The town was nicknamed Rock Bottom, but Mitchell officially named the town Florence after his adopted granddaughter Florence Kilborn.

Mrs. James C. Mitchell with her granddaughter Florence Kilborn are seen in this undated photo. Florence was adopted and did not show up on the town’s census as a birth, which has caused much confusion on how the town actually got its name.  THE WORLD-HERALD

 

In 1855, Mitchell built the most elegant home in Florence. It was the largest house, the first in the Nebraska Territory to have a bathtub, and it was unusual as it looked similar to a steamship. The house was the oldest inhabited house in Nebraska until it was razed in 1964.

The front of the James C. Mitchell house at 8314 N. 31st. St. When the “Widow’s Walk” was added, the tree was not taken into consideration, so a hole was cut into the porch rather than cut down the pine tree. Undated photo. THE WORLD-HERALD

 

The house has been identified as the Brigham Young house throughout the years. We ran a page in 1916 titled “Brigham Young’s Home Still Stands in Florence.” The headlines, captions and borders were all hand-drawn.

Corner view of the house. Undated photo. THE WORLD-HERALD

 

This photo also ran on that page, identified as one the houses in rear where the plural wives lived.

This house was one of the servant’s quarters behind the Mitchell house. It is visible in the above photo with the family.  Undated photo. THE WORLD-HERALD

 

Florence was annexed by Omaha in 1917, and modern-day Florence is rich in history. The Mormon Pioneer Cemetery is famous throughout the country. Today, a visitor center and the Latter Day Saints Temple are also on the property.

The Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a permanent monument at the Pioneer Mormon Cemetery on Sept. 8, 1931. The cemetery, originated in 1846-47, had a temporary marker placed in 1924. After the dedication, the delegation resumed sessions, one of which included a proposal to deport bootleggers, at the Paxton Hotel. From left : Bugler Baggette Harry B. Fleharty, state regent; Mrs. Lowell Fletcher Hobart, Washington, D.C., president general; Mrs. Joseph A. Van Orsdel, Washington, D.C., registrar general; Mrs. Kenneth Finlayson; and Mrs. Joseph C. Lawrence, regent of the Major Isaac Sadler chapter, D.A.R. THE WORLD-HERALD

Dr. W.W. Henderson of Salt Lake City places a wreath on the Fairbanks Memorial on Oct. 5, 1939. The statue, “A Tragedy of Winter Quarters,” was made by Avard Fairbanks in 1936 and  depicts a parents who have just buried the body of their infant. EARLE “BUDDY” BUNKER/THE WORLD-HERALD

Members of the Mormon church recreated the journey their ancestors made a hundred years before. Dressed in pioneer clothing and their cars dressed to look like covered wagons, they started their trek in Nauvoo, Ill., and ended in Salt Lake City. The caravan assembled at the gates of the hallowed ground of the Mormon Cemetery. More than a thousand people met them at Miller Park, where the travelers set up camp while in Omaha. This photograph was taken on July 17, 1947. JOHN SAVAGE/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

The wooden Main Street (now 30th Street).

Businesses shown include the Bank of Florence, the telephone company, an ice cream shop, a drug store, a bakery and a dry goods and shoes store – possibly part of Thomas Dugher Meat Market – in this undated photo. THE WORLD-HERALD

 

This thriving community had a newspaper, The Florence Tribune. I think it was a weekly because the editions I found were distributed on Fridays.

The front page of the June 11, 1909, edition. THE NEBRASKA STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

There are some interesting stories in this edition. See the entire eight pages.

 

The Florence Waterworks and Minne Lusa Pumping Station drew many workers to the town. The eight-mile daily commute from Omaha was too far in those days, so many workers lived in district-owned houses on the grounds.

Undated photo of the Minne Lusa Pumping Station at the Florence Waterworks. It opened on Aug. 1, 1889, and became a popular spot for Sunday drives and picnics. THE WORLD-HERALD

The fountain in front of Florence’s Minne Lusa Pumping Station in 1935. The fountain was dismantled in the 1960s and was donated to Heartland Park in 1990 by Metropolitan Utilities District. M.U.D.-BOSTWICK/FROHARDT COLLECTION

 

The old Florence Mill is still standing, only now it is the Winter Quarters Mill Museum and ArtLoft Gallery.

The Florence Mill on March 9, 1970. Themill originated as the 1846 Winter Quarters Grist Mill. After the Mormons abandoned Winter Quarters in 1868, Jacob Weber and George Hugg rebuilt it. It has also been known as the Mormon Mill, the Grist Mill and the Old Pink Mill. JOHN SAVAGE/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

The Bank of Florence was built as a wildcat bank in 1856. It fell in the Panic of 1857. The bank was reopened in 1890 and remained in business until the Great Depression. The the building was used as a grocery store, a dry cleaner, an antique store and the Florence Telephone Company. The bank was eventually donated to the Florence Historical Foundation, which restored it to its original appearance and opened it for tours. It is the oldest bank in Nebraska.

The bank being used as “Fashion Cleaners” in 1957. THE WORLD-HERALD

Cowboy Dick Kinsler, 10, perches on the base of an old elm tree on July 2, 1946. The tree was in front of the Florence Bank and is believed to have been planted by the first cashier, J.D. Brisbin, when the bank opened in 1856. At the time of this photo, the tree ‘s base was six feet wide. It was ordered to be razed in 1946 because the city forester pronounced it dangerous. EARLE “BUDDY” BUNKER/THE WORLD-HERALD

A September 1921 architect rendering of an addition to the Florence Masonic Temple. The building, used as the Mason’s Florence Lodge N. 281 from the early 1900s to 2005, is now apartments. J. CONLEY, ARCHITECT

Florence Community Hall at 30th  and Clay Streets in 1947. The library became part of this building in 1923. This building was used until the new center was built in 1975. It now houses a school of massage therapy. THE WORLD-HERALD

The moving of the old Florence railroad depot was delayed when the path was blocked by low-hanging Western Union lines. The wires could not be adjusted until the Western Union strike ended. The depot was condemned in 1968, but the Pioneer Association said it wanted to renovate it and turn it into a tourist information site. It now sits at 2999 Dick Collins Road and is a museum. The building is shown here on June 27, 1971. ROBERT PASKACH/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

Not all the buildings are still standing. The Florence Stables no longer exist, but there several stables in the beautifully wooded areas near Florence.

The Florence Stables’ first location at 9202 N. 30th St. before they were moved to 31st and Calhoun Streets after being declared a nuisance. They are shown here on Sept. 19, 1945. THE WORLD-HERALD

 

The old Florence schoolhouse was razed in 1961 and a new building at 7902 N. 36th St. replaced it. The original steps to the building on 31st Street are still intact on the hill at 8516 N. 31st.

The original Florence School held classes in the land office building. This building was built in 1889. Kids used to come to school in a farm wagon with straw for the seat. THE WORLD-HERALD

A school bus for Florence School in about 1930. OMAHA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

 

Everyone who grew up in the Ponca/Florence/Minne Lusa area will tell you the best thing to happen all year was Florence Pioneer Days. It used to be a five-day celebration with a carnival, “mellerdrama,” greased pig chases, a parade and more. Now it’s just a couple days in May and is call Florence Days.

The carnival on 30th Street in 1971. TOM PLAMBECK/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

These days, you cross over the double bridge structure to Iowa without a thought to how it once looked. The Mormon Bridge used to be a single structure with a tollbooth.

Looking west toward the bridge in 1986. The bridge was constructed in 1952 and was paid for with tolls. Spencer Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, paid the last toll on April 21, 1979. The tollbooth, officially called the Florence Ferry Tollhouse Collection Building, was moved to 3010 Willit and is currently the barber shop  “Dick’s Place.” ED RATH/THE WORLD-HERALD

Historical mural painted on the north side of Florence Hardware, 7915 N. 30th St., in 1995. The handprints along the bottom belong to students of Florence Elementary. This building has been part of Florence since the beginning. RICH JANDA/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

A finally, a much-missed part of the Florence experience …

Bud Kurtz used to greet drivers traveling up and down 30th Street from his post on the northeast corner of intersection of Morman Street . The retired furniture refinisher did this for years, but only when the weather was above 50 degrees. Bud died in 2006. JEFF BEIERMANN/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

Hope you enjoyed this trip through Florence. I think Benson will be the next blog as I explore the history of some of the little towns that helped to make up Omaha.

See more photos of Florence, including Pioneer Days.

For more history, tour information and activity schedules, check out  Historic Florence.

Jolene McHugh

About Jolene McHugh

I was a graphic artist prior to coming to the Omaha World-Herald in 2007, and now I’m a photo imaging specialist, which means I prepare photos to print properly in the newspaper. I also have the incredibly fun task of restoring old photographs from our massive library. My favorite part of my job is getting lost in the history and stories behind the photographs. Many of the archive photos have little or no information attached, so I need to properly date and identify the people and places in them. Researching the stories is a bit like being on a historical scavenger hunt. The largest challenge I face is restoring photos we run in our books. Our newest book, “At War, At Home: The Cold War” is filled with hundreds of old photographs, and most of them small and in poor condition. I live in Omaha with my husband, one of my daughters and three very furry Maine Coon cats.
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