There are only a handful of states where the capital city is also home to the state university. Typically way back when a deal was brokered to split the two prizes among competing towns. Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina are members of the capital-university club but Lincoln may be the unlikeliest member of that exclusive fraternity.
When it was selected as the capital by a three-man commission in 1867 the village was called Lancaster (for evoking memories of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania among early settlers) and counted a total of 30 inhabitants. Nebraskans did not flock to the newly renamed Lincoln because many doubted it would stay the capital for long. State documents and office furnishings were spirited out of the territorial capital of Omaha in covered wagons in the dead of night to prevent feisty Omahans from stopping the transfer of the government to an unknown outpost in the salt flats and marshes away from the Missouri River.
In that climate of uncertainty the Legislature got down to work. One of the first bills passed established the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and the cornerstone for the first building, University Hall, was laid in the fall of 1869. In a matter of months the town had evolved from a place where settlers struggled to pull a living from the saline wetlands to a city on the come with its course set as a government and education center.
Along the way the economy of Lincoln tilted from an agrarian town to that of a diverse metropolitan city - the population was 50,000 by 1900, 100,000 by 1950 and 225,000 by the year 2000. The streetscape of Lincoln has shifted with the times with new buildings replacing old ones at a regular pace but there remain souvenirs from bygone eras to discover. Before we descend into downtown, however, our walking tour will begin in the shadow of a building that caused the American Institute of Architects to gush that it was the “Fourth Architectural Wonder of the World”...
Nebraska State Capitol
bounded by K, H, 14th and 16th streets
This is the fifth place for Nebraska legislators to convene - two in Omaha during territorial days and two prior capitol buildings in Lincoln. Completed in four phases over ten years, the Capitol designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue is an Art Deco tour-de force that stands as the nation’s second tallest statehouse. When finished in 1932 it was the tallest building in Nebraska, a distinction it maintained for nearly four decades; city code restrictions insure it will be the tallest in Lincoln. Goodhue crafted the limestone structure with four wings radiating from a central rotunda that is crowned by a gold-tiled dome. He infused his composition with classical and Gothic influences and topped off the 362-foot tower with a 19-foot sculpture of The Sower by Lee Oscar Lawrie which faces northwest in the direction where most of the state lis from Lincoln. Goodhue died at the age of 54 in 1924 and never got to see the completion of his masterwork.
WALK OVER TO THE SOUTHEAST CORNER OF THE CAPITOL GROUNDS AT THE CORNER OF H STREET AND 16TH STREET.
700 South 16th Street at southeast corner of H Street
William Henry Ferguson came to farm in central Nebraska from Illinois in a covered wagon in 1879. He was one of the leading cheerleaders for alfalfa as a money crop and he amassed great swaths of land which he leased to other farmers. Ferguson became one of the state’s leading grain merchants before selling his army of grain elevators in 1902 and coming to Lincoln where he soon had interests in the Beatrice Creamery, the Yankee Hill Brick Company, the Capitol Beach Amusement Park, the Tri-State Land Company and more. In 1909 he recruited the architectural firm of Paul C. Searles, Willard Hirsh, and Donald P. Gavin from Cleveland, Ohio to build a grand mansion and they delivered one of Nebraska’s best Renaissance Revival homes. The price tag was $38,000 - about ten times the cost of the average Lincoln house. William Ferguson died in 1937 and the State of Nebraska purchased the property in 1961 while his widow Myrtle continued to live here until her death in 1972 at the age of 103. Today the Ferguson Center contains state offices and rents out space for meetings and special events.
TURN LEFT AND WALK EAST ON H STREET, AWAY FROM THE CAPITOL.
Thomas P. Kennard House/Nebraska Statehood Memorial
1627 H Street
This Italianate villa is the oldest house in Lincoln, erected in 1869 for Thomas P. Kennard. In 1867 the new State of Nebraska went hunting for a state capital location and the Legislature tabbed three men for the job: the governor, David Butler; the state auditor, John Gillespie; and the secretary of state, the 39-year old Kennard. Of the trio, Kennard was said to be the most vocal in his advocacy for the fledgling settlement of Lincoln. When the town got the nod three substantial homes designed by John Keys Winchell of Chicago were constructed for the commissioners to impart a sense of permanency to Lincoln. Kennard sold his house in 1887. When Nebraska’s centennial was approaching in 1965 it was the only one of the original three showcases still standing. The Kennard House was thus designated the “Nebraska Statehood Memorial” by the Legislature which restored the brick house with a frame cupola to its 1870s pioneer appearance.
TURN AND WALK BACK TOWARDS THE CAPITOL ON H STREET, CONTINUING TO...
Nebraska Governors Mansion
1425 H Street at southeast corner of 14th Street
Until 1899 when the Legislature authorized the purchase of D.E. Thompson’s nine-year old Neoclassical house for $21,385 to be used as a governor’s mansion the Nebraska chief executive had to fend for himself to find living quarters, armed with a housing stipend. By the 1950s the Thompson House was tired and ill-suited for its responsibilities so the government began the process of tearing it down and constructing a suitable mansion. Selmer A. Solheim, a Minnesotan who learned his architecture at the University of Nebraska and based his practice in Lincoln, was chosen in 1956 to helm the project. When his plans were released it was all sitting Governor Victor Anderson could do to contain his enthusiasm. He described the “Modified Georgian Revival” home as “not lavish but nice.” It was immediately controversial as “too Eastern” and “not in keeping with the style of the Capitol.” With input from many quarters the final product took a Neoclassical appearance and was ready for the final three months of Governor Anderson’s term in 1958.
TURN RIGHT ON 14TH STREET.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church
northeast corner of 14th and K streets
The diocese of Lincoln was established in 1887 when there were approximately 25,000 Catholics scattered across Southern Nebraska. The original St. Mary’s parish church was constructed the following year. It burned to the ground in 1906 but was rebuilt in the Gothic Revival image of the original.
TURN LEFT ON M STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 13TH STREET.
206 South 13th Street at southeast corner of N Street
This Neo-Gothic tower, one of the pillars of the 13th Street “canyon,” came online in 1927. At 166 feet from the curb to the roof, it is the tallest commercial building in Lincoln, topped only by the Nebraska State Capitol. The money man behind the tower was Charles Stuart, whoseStuart Building anchors the canyon to the north. The use of Gothic ornamentation is more restrained than its smaller neighbor across N Street, the Federal Trust Building.
Federal Trust Building
134 South 13th Street at northeast corner of N Street
Lincoln architects Harry Meginnis and Edward G. Schaumberg used limestone and terra cotta to dress this reinforced concrete office tower, completed in 1927. They tapped the Gothic Revival style for their 12-story office structure, a popular choice for skyscrapers since it was historically the style of choice on soaring medieval cathedrals. Federal Trust was organized in the town’s go-go days of the 1910s but was ejected from the Lincoln financial landscape during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Woods Brothers Building
132 South 13th Street
The Woods brothers were Mark, George, and Frank. They formed their company in 1889, developing many of Lincoln’s earliest neighborhoods. At one point the brothers controlled over 20,000 acres of cropland across four midwestern states. Later they built bridges, dams and airports. Woods Brothers’ in-house engineers constructed this Neoclassical vault for the company headquarters in 1914. The temple-like structure is framed by fluted Ionic pilasters that support a triangular pediment; the large central window is accented by a balustraded balcony. The Woods Brothers Companies were housed here until 1939 when economic reversals during the Great Depression forced the building to be sold. Woods Brothers Realty emerged from limited bankruptcy and trundles on today.
Nebraska Telephone Company Building
128 South 13th Street
Lincoln had enjoyed telephone service since 1879 but did not have an exchange building until 1894 when Thomas R. Kimball, Nebraska’s most accomplished Victorian architect, came down from Omaha to create one. Kimball had an inside source for the commission - his father was one of the founders of the Nebraska Telephone Company in 1884. Nebraska Telephone quickly gobbled up all the services in the state. Kimball filld the narrow, mid-block footprint with a three-story building rendered in the Italian Renaissance style, executed in pressed brick. More than a century later you can still look up and see the words “Telephone Exchange” cast into the lintel above the entrance; this is the only Thomas Kimball building remaining in Lincoln.
TURN LEFT ON O STREET.
Miller & Paine Department Store
southwest corner of 13th and O streets
John E. Miller began his business career in Captain J. W. Winger’s country store in Pennsylvania. In 1880 the two were in Lincoln at 1010 P Street selling under the name Winger & Miller, offering grocery staples, dry goods, boots and shoes. Within a few years the expanding business was on its fourth store and Miller was the sole proprietor. Bartlett Paine joined the enterprise in 1889 and Miller & Paine moved to this location in 1898. This elegant eight-story store was added to the original two stories in 1914 on plans drawn by George A. Berlinghofand Ellery L. Davis. Miller & Paine would remain a shopping institution in downtown Lincoln for the better part of 75 years, its Tearoom the go-to place in town for special events and its Miller and Paine cinnamon rolls a local culinary legend.
Burr Block/Security Mutual Building
1206 O Street at northeast corner of 12th Street
This building began life as a six-story structure in 1887 that was among Lincoln’s most exuberant creations and hailed as “perhaps the handsomest building in Nebraska.” As envisioned by James Tyler, an Englishman in birth and architectural training, the Romanesque-styled structure boasted dynamic arched openings, oriel windows and onion domes and turrets along the roofline. The entire confection was fashioned from rough-cut gray limestone. The moneymen were brothers Carlos and Lionel Burr who were lawyers and, in the case of Carlos, a mayor of Lincoln. The Security Mutual Life Insurance Company purchased the building in 1906 and as the business grew the tower expanded with it. The decorative elements were removed but the distinctive rough-faced limestone was used for the additional floors. Security Mutual stayed until 1947 but its building has managed to dodge modernization and the wrecking ball to make it intact into the 21st century.
1201 O Street at southeast corner of 12th Street
Oliver Nathan Magee founded Magee’s Clothing Company in 1894. After his death in 1918 his wife Nellie Throop Magee took over the presidency in addition to her activities in most of Lincoln’s important civic organizations and women’s clubs. She lived until her 90th year in 1964. From this three-story building with some of the town’s finest terra cotta work, Magee’s sold women’s fashions and home accessories.
Lincoln Liberty Life Building
113 North 11th Street at northwest corner of O Street
This five-story commercial building was the handiwork of Ferdinand C. Fiske, one of Lincoln’smost prolific and versatile architects, in 1908. Fiske began practicing in town in 1887 in the Victorian age and continued until his death in 1930 in the era of Art Deco. After it was purchased by the Lincoln Liberty Life Company this building picked up an Art Deco makeover in 1936 from Harry Meginnis, a one-time partner of Fiske’s. The banded marquee was added above the storefronts at that time, as was the richly decorated limestone cornice. The middle portion was left virtually unchanged and reflects Fiske’s original Chicago Commercial Style for the building.
Gold & Company Department Store
1033 O Street at southwest corner of 11th Street
William Gold was born in New York City in 1864 and worked his way to Iowa and then Nebraska, settling in Lincoln in 1902 where the 38-year old merchant opened a small store with Martin Coen, offering for sale some home furnishings, a few yard goods and shoes. After a year Gold bought out his partner and re-christened the business “The Peoples’ Store,” a common name for downtown variety operations at the turn of the 20th century. The “Company” was his son Nathan Jules Gold who came on board in 1913. Billed as “Lincoln’s busy store,” Gold’s kept expanding and landed here in 1924. The building began life as a Gothic Revival structure but expansions and modernizations attempted to keep pace with the store’s brisk growth. In 1964 the store merged with J.L. Brandeis and Sons of Omaha which closed the store in 1980.
First National Bank
1001 O Street at southeast corner of 10th Street
The first bank in Lincoln was established in June, 1868, by James Sweet and N. C. Brock. As the name implies, First National Bank was the town’s first federally charted bank, tracing its roots back to a private enterprise started by Judge Amasa Cobb and J. F. Sudduth. The bank received its charter on February 21, 1871. In 1910 First National tore down its Victorian banking house located here and replaced it with this classically-inspired eight-story, steel-frame tower that was Lincoln’s tallest building. Paul V. Hyland and Herbert H. Green of Chicago drew up the plans following the convention of the day to create skyscrapers in the image of a classical three-part column with a defined base (the oversized arcaded ground floor), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the decorated top floor).
941 O Street at southwest corner of 10th Street
This office tower rose in 1916 as the tallest building in Lincoln, a title it held for a decade. The Commercial Style skyscraper was designed by Paul V. Hyland, like the First National Bank across the street. The client was the Lincoln Traction Company that ran the town’s electric streetcars from 1897 until the company was sold in 1943. All city rail service was discontinued in 1946 and replaced by buses. The building is dressed in white-glazed terra cotta all the way up to its decorative cornice.
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse/Old City Hall
north side of O Street between 9th and 10th streets
In the original plat of Lincoln’s street grid in 1867 there were blocks set aside for schools, the new capitol building, a library, and so on. This block was designated as “an open air market for produce and livestock, as well as a camping ground for immigrants and a general gathering place.” Within a few years, however, the space was donated to the federal government which announced its presence in Lincoln with this Victorian Gothic pile that was completed in 1879 for use as a post office and courthouse. Limestone for the three-and-a-half story federal building was quarried along the Platte River in Sarpy County, Nebraska. When the feds got busy on more spacious digs in the early 1900s the property came back to the City Of Lincoln which used it as City Hall from 1907 until 1969.
TURN RIGHT ON 9TH STREET.
Municipal Comfort Station
northeast corner of 10th and O streets
While the federal government was populating this block with impressive office buildings the City of Lincoln appropriated $22,000 for this “Public Comfort Station For Men.” Also constructed of high-quality limestone like its lofty neighbors, the plans drawn up by Lincoln architect Fritz Craig called for a single-story, flat-roofed structure crafted in a Neoclassical style. In addition to the toilet facilities the building included a small sales counter for cigars, a bootblack stand and a checkroom for parcels. In later years the building was retrofitted as a city carpentry shop and most recently outfitted with outdoor stairs and wrought iron fixtures to host outdoor rooftop parties as the Grand Manse Pavilion.
TURN RIGHT ON P STREET.
Lincoln Journal Star
926 P Street at northeast corner of 9th Street
New Yorker Charles Henry Gere learned his law in Baltimore before going off to the Civil War. With the end of hostilities Gere found his way to Pawnee City, Nebraska as partner in a law office with David Butler, who was on his way to becoming the state’s first governor in 1867. Gere worked in the administration and was a power player in Republican politics. In his spare time he founded Lincoln’s first newspaper, The Nebraska Commonwealth in 1867. Several years later when the paper, soon to be the Nebraska State Journal, became a daily Gere left politics to become a full-time newspaperman. The Journal, an evening paper, was joined on Lincoln newsstands in 1905 by the Star, a morning publication. In 1995 the two rivals merged operations to create Nebraska’s second largest newspaper.
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse/Old Federal Building
south side of P Street between 9th and 10th streets
The bulk of Government Square was occupied by this Beaux Arts government building that demonstrates the federal mandate in the early 1900s to create stately classical-style buildings to house its burgeoning operations. The federal building, dressed in gray limestone, arrived in its current form in 1941 after three phases of construction beginning in 1904. The post office settled into the first floor, processing some 90,000 pieces of mail each day, with offices on the second and a magnificent dark oak and green marble courtroom on the third floor. The top floor was up for grabs as needed. The property was re-imagined in 2004 as the Grand Manse, a blend of residential units, event space, eateries and offices.
139 North 11th Street at southwest corner of P Street
Eugene C. Eppley bought his first hotel in 1903 in Canton, Ohio when he was just 19 years old. In 1917 he formed the Eppley Hotel Company which would be the largest privately owned hotel chain in America when he sold it in the 1950s. In 1920 Eppley purchased the Hotel Fontenelle in Omaha (demolished in 1983) and made that Gothic Revival landmark his flagship headquarters. In Lincoln Eppley owned the Lincoln Hotel at 9th and P streets that had been built in 1894. When the pursuit of the new class of business traveler heated the city hotel game in the 1920s Eppley raised this 11-story, red brick hotel in 1926. H. L. Stevens & Company, an architectural firm out of Chicago that specialized in high-rise hotels, provided the Georgian Revival design trimmed in limestone. When the building was converted to residential living space in 1983 it adopted the name “Georgian Place” and stands as the town’s best souvenir of big-time early 1900s downtown hotels.
Farmer’s Mutual/Swanson Russell
1220 P Street
Farmers Mutual began selling insurance in 1891 and for more than 100 years wrote policies only in Nebraska. In 1998 they tiptoed over to South Dakota. By that time these ornate headquarters, highlighted by fluted Ionic pilasters on the second floor and a festive cornice, had been surrendered to Swanson Russell, a marketing communications company with over 50 years standing in the community.
Stuart Theatre/Rococo Theatre
140 North 13th Street at southeast corner of P Street
Ellery L. Davis was Florida-born in 1887 but after his father came to teach at the University of Nebraskain 1893 he was raised and educated in Lincoln. He took his architecture degree at Columbia University in New York City and returned home to practice where he did more to shape the streetscape of Lincoln than any other architect during a 40-year career. For the 13-story Stuart Building in 1929 Davis blended the Art Deco and Gothic Revival styles. The first six floors were occupied by the exotic Moorish-influenced Stuart Theatre that featured movies and live vaudeville performances. Its 25-piece orchestra was said to be the largest west of Chicago. The theater operated until the 1970s when it was stripped of its ornamentation and converted into a movie house. The stage was restored to its former glory in 2001 as the Rococo Theatre.
TURN RIGHT ON 14TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON N STREET.
1432 N Street at northwest corner of Centennial Mall
The Young Women’s Christian Association of Lincoln organized in 1886 and was chartered by the YWCA National Board in 1897, providing Lincoln girls lunches, reading classes, medicines and a place to stay if needed. The YWCA got its first permanent building on this site in 1906 and it was replaced by this handsome brick Georgian Revival headquarters trimmed in limestone in 1932. The architects were Harry Meginnis and Edward G. Schaumberg. The YWCA sold the building in 2009 and moved in 2012.
TURN RIGHT ON CENTENNIAL MALL.
226 Centennial Mall South
The city-owned exhibition hall and performance space opened it doors in 1957 and through the years hosted local teams in indoor football, basketball and roller derby. The Grateful Dead recorded a chunk of their live album, Dick’s Picks Volume 28, here in 1973. Elvis Presley performed one of his final concerts at Pershing in 1977 - the King did not sell out the house that evening. One of the premier events at Pershing Center through the years has been the roller skating national championships. The United States Amateur Confederation of Roller Skating is based in Lincoln and the National Museum of Roller Skating is located in town.
Scottish Rite Temple
332 Centennial Mall South
This block-swallowing Neoclassical structure is another project from the fruitful partnership of George Berlinghof and Ellery L. Davis. Berlinghof had been designing buildings in Lincoln for thirty years when he took Davis, 25 years his junior, into the firm in 1910. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, which had organized in Lincoln in 1889, put up $100,000 for the construction of the temple in 1915. The composition is highlighted by a parade of full-height fluted Doric columns on the Centennial Mall facade. The Masons officially dedicated their new temple on George Washington’s 185th birthday in 1917.
TURN LEFT ON L STREET.
1635 L Street at southwest corner of 17th Street
In the shadow of the town’s Art Deco masterpiece, the Nebraska State Capitol, the Lincoln architectural firm of Meginnis and Schaumberg crafted a similar building of stripped-down classicism in 1935 for the three local Lincoln lodges of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and the York Rite Masons. Bands of rusticated Kansas limestone were laid on a granite base by master contractor Charles Olson to build the temple. Inside the meeting rooms are graced by nine sketch-like murals created by Lincoln painter Elizabeth Honor Dolan whose work is also on display in the Capitol Building, on the University of Nebraska campus, the YWCA and elsewhere.
TURN RIGHT ON 17TH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON K STREET.
1630 K Street
George Samuel Harris worked as a land commissioner for the Burlington and Missouri Railroad. It was his job to encourage settlement along the line by selling building lots in the frontier. In that capacity he moved his family gradually westward himself - to Missouri in 1863, to Iowa in 1870 and into Nebraska in 1872, where he built a fine Italianate house on the corner of 16th and K Streets, in one of the oldest residential neighborhoods in Lincoln. Harris died in 1874 at the age of 59 but was lionized for his efforts at bringing settlers to town during his short two years of residency. His widow, Sarah Fisk Harris lived another 38 years and built this imposing Neoclassical home at the turn of the century. The neighborhood was once filled with similar large frame residences but 110 years down the road the Harris House, restored to its original grandeur, is a rare survivor. What couldn’t be restored was its original location on the corner - it was moved here to make room for the church in 1926 when it was a frat house for Alpha Tau Omega. Two Harris sons followed their father into the railroad business; George B. Harris began as a clerk with the Burlington Railroad and worked his way to the president’s office and John F. Harris brokered railroad stocks. He donated 600 acres of land to the City in 1928 to create Pioneers Park in memory of his parents.
First Christian Church
430 South 16th Street at northeast corner of K Street
The congregation traces its roots back to January of 1869, occupying a corner of 10th and K streets. The church moved to this site in 1926. The church battle financial problems through the years and until 1954 only a small chapel stood on the site. At that time it was joined by this sanctuary featuring Akron style auditorium seating rather than pews.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE NEBRASKA STATE CAPITOL.