Paper towns are just a few pages in Omaha’s history books

Stu Pospisil Omaha World-Herald

Take a look at these South Omaha scenes over the years.

Dryden, Orient, Chicago, Iron Bluffs, Bridgeport and Santillo.

These were the paper towns of Douglas County. Most never made it past the veneer stage, and nearly all fell into the chipper known as the Financial Panic of 1857.

Petropaulowski was closest to the newly incorporated city of Omaha. Its center would have been at 42nd and Hamilton streets, where a public plaza was proposed. The 189 blocks of the flat, on a current map, would have included the area from approximately 30th to 52nd Streets, Cass to Lake Streets.

There would have been squares, or parks, named Manhattan, Jefferson, Webster and Seymour. Saddle Creek would have crossed the western end. The territory became the neighborhoods of Orchard Hill, Walnut Hill and Bemis Park, among others, and the eastern half of Dundee.

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No names are on the tray which is in the History Nebraska collections. But it is assumed that they were speculators connected to New York and of Russian origin, since the name derives from the Bering Sea port which made news during the Crimean War in the mid-1850s.

Orient, sometimes referred to as Oriental City, was planned for present-day 126th to 144th Streets, Fort to Ida, with an arm extending north to include a large bend in Big Papillion Creek for water supply.

“Orient is the name of a new town which has just begun on the Grand Papillion, at a distance of about 10 miles directly west of this town on the line of our military road, and at a point where there is now has a magnificent bridge under construction by the government, which is to be completed at the earliest this spring,” declared the Courrier de Florence in 1857. “The Orient is situated in the midst of an agricultural country as beautiful as stands on God’s footstool.There is an excellent stone quarry on the site of the town, and the Papillion affords ample water privileges to operate all manner of mills and machinery.

“It is unquestionably a point of the first order for an inland city of respectable size, and that it will go ahead and prosper, there is little doubt. We know the gentlemen engaged in this enterprise well and we know that they are men of energy, perseverance and liberality, such that they will ensure the growth and prosperity of their place, especially since Orient is one of the cities that happens to be in the right place.

These speculators would need a boat today. Much of their land is covered by Standing Bear Lake.

Father Flanagan might have needed a different farm to start Boys Town if Dryden had gained a foothold. Dryden would have been on the 320 acres on the north side of Pacific Street between 132nd and 144th Streets – the southern end of Boys Town. Flanagan’s first purchase, by the way, was the western half of Section 24.

From advertisements in the Omaha Nebraskian in late 1858 and 1859, it is known that Dryden had a governing body, a board of directors. WH Stark, who owned a shoe store in Omaha, was its president. His father-in-law, Alonso F. Salisbury, had obtained the deed to the Douglas County Commissioners in May 1857.

A 1932 World-Herald map reproduced the 1859 Douglas County Engineers map.


The site was attractive because it was at the junction of the Omaha and Bellevue emigration trails that led to Elkhorn City (Elk City).

Eighty years later, George Rohwer erected a Dryden City sign on the southeast corner of the section on the 160 Po of 320 acres that had been owned by his family since the 1870s. Rohwer told the World-Herald that A blacksmith’s shop had been erected at the crossroads so that emigrants could shoe their oxen. As a child, he found the tiny shoes used for oxen, several broken ox bows, and buffalo skulls.

Chicago would have been north of Pacific Street between 210th and 222nd streets. A Chicago post office was established in 1858 with James Ferry, one of Omaha’s first residents, appointed postmaster. The post office was interrupted several times, only to be reopened. It was in 1872 that the post office was renamed Douglas. It is said that the name change was due to mail being misdirected at the Chicago Post Office in Illinois. Douglas then merged with the Elkhorn Post Office in 1884.

Iron Bluffs was about 2 miles south-southwest of Chicago. It covered 400 acres, originally claimed by John B. Bennett and AJ Poppleton, between today’s 222nd and the Elkhorn River and north of F Street. The Nebraskian in July 1856 extolled the natural advantages of the region.

“The city is located on a beautiful table, almost surrounded by groves, near the edge of the cliffs, which gently slope down to the river. Owned by the town company, there are several hundred acres of forest land consisting of oak, walnut, cedar, mulberry, poplar, hickory, etc.

“Associated with the wood are heavy strata of building stone, which outcrop along the cliffs. Limestone is also abundant, but the chief characteristics of this neighborhood are its heavy deposits of iron ore, which, under the examination of experienced men, is pronounced to yield about 50%. If the company (is) not disappointed in its expectations of finding coal under the sandstone layer, Iron Bluffs will soon feature the activity and bustle of an iron town.

Iron Bluffs never kept their promise. It disappeared when the Union Pacific was built to the north.

Bridgeport was on the Elkhorn River below Elkhorn City in the northern part of the county. It was a long-established waypoint for Western Mormon migration. An old flatboat ferry, established by Peter Sarpy, was moored there and a trading post opened nearby.

The army bridged the Elkhorn in 1857. Bridgeport made this transition successful. According to a Colorado Gold Rush-era guidebook: “Those wishing to camp here overnight can find good lodgings for themselves, and excellent stables for their cattle, at the McNeal House , the last house before crossing the Elkhorn Bridge.”

Further west on the Mormon Road was the proposed site of Santillo in the northwest corner of the county. The site was later known as Mercer, which was a flag stop for stockyards on the Union Pacific.

Next week will be a look at Saratoga, which rivaled Omaha and Florence for prominence in the fledgling territory of Nebraska, and Grandview, which had its own big aspirations on Omaha’s south side.

About Debra D. Johnson

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