Marker Monday: Alliance Army Air Field

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers

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Location

Perkins Rd, Rural, Alliance County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 42.091251, -102.8180

Marker Text

In the spring of 1942 the U.S. Army selected a site one mile south of here for an airfield. The dry climate and open landscape afforded ideal flying conditions. Ample water, cheap land, and Alliance’s new power plant, new hospital, and railroad division point were other attractions. Five thousand construction workers descended upon Alliance, population 6,669, creating a housing shortage. By July four 9,000-foot runways had been completed. The 31,489-acre field’s primary mission was to train aircrews of C-47 and C-53 transports and CG-4 gliders, along with the airborne troops they would carry into battle. The field contained some 775 buildings and housed 12,500 military personnel at its September 1943 peak. The 411th Base Headquarters Squadron, 403rd and 434th Troop Carrier Groups, 326th Glider Infantry, 507th Parachute Infantry, and 878th Airborne Engineers trained here before deployment to the European Theater. In June 1945 veteran troops arrived to train for the expected invasion of Japan. The field was declared surplus in December 1945, and most buildings were sold. Part of the field was transferred to Alliance for use as an airport.

Further Information

Read more about Alliance Army Air Field here

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: A Day in the Life of Downtown Omaha

Downtown Omaha, 1920s. Looking west on Douglas Street from the intersection of Sixteenth Street. The Brandeis Building, which still stands, is on the left. NSHS RG2341-58

By: David Bristow

For many years, Sixteenth Street was downtown Omaha’s main street. Tenth Street and the riverfront have become more prominent in recent years. (The riverfront used to be an industrial zone, as shown in this 1934 photo.)

In Janet R Daly Bednarek article “Creating an ‘Image Center’: Reimagining Omaha’s Downtown and Riverfront, 1986-2003,” (Nebraska History 90, No. 4, Winter 2009), she  explains what happened and why.

In July 2001 the city of Omaha officially dedicated a new city park. The twenty-three-acre riverfront site was formerly home to the Asarco lead refinery, an enterprise with roots in the 1870s and a symbol of Omaha’s early industrial development. Initially, the city council approved the name “Union Labor Plaza.” However, after an election in May 2001, which witnessed the ousting of the incumbent mayor and five city council members, the new mayor and council decided to review the earlier choice. After asking for public input, the council decided on “Lewis and Clark Landing.” In many ways the new name was perhaps more fitting given the decided transformation of Omaha’s downtown and riverfront involving not only the new park, but also a host of other developments from the ConAgra headquarters project in the late 1980s to a burst of large-scale corporate, civic, and residential projects in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Omaha’s leaders had first promoted “back to the river” ideas in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the early twenty-first century, those ideas witnessed a full flowering.

Omaha’s return to the river, though, involved not just massive physical transformation, but an extensive reconceptualization of the downtown and riverfront. Omaha’s historic downtown riverfront had been home to commerce, transportation and industry. Omaha’s new downtown riverfront was home to open space, recreation, leisure and cultural amenities. “Union Labor Plaza” evoked the historic, somewhat gritty downtown riverfront. “Lewis and Clark Landing,” on the other hand, hearkened back to a past that pre-dated Omaha itself by a half century and evoked more pristine images of frontier, wilderness and adventure. Though the plaza eventually held a statue dedicated to Omaha’s working people, the choice of name suggested the degree to which Omaha’s civic leadership had reconceptualized and transformed the downtown and riverfront to serve as a new “image center” for the city.

Though certainly no longer functioning as the center of America’s urban areas, downtowns still command a great deal of the attention, energy, and imagination of those concerned with the future of America’s cities. Downtown history has also proved of interest to urban historians. The last decade in particular has witnessed the publication of two major works on the history of this crucial urban area. Robert M. Fogelson’s work is essentially a political history of the downtown, focused, as he said, on power–who held it, how they exercised it, and how that shaped downtowns from the 1880s to the 1950s. Alison Isenberg, on the other hand, has produced a social and cultural history of the nation’s downtowns, taking the story into the 1960s.

To read on click here.

Details from the photo provide below show vignettes of city life:

Across the nation, the role of downtowns changed dramatically in the twentieth century. The above photo shows one big difference: look at all the pedestrian traffic (not to mention the chaotic traffic control). In the 1920s downtown was still the city’s main retail center.

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Nebraska History Spring Issue: Part 3 1917-1966

In the latest edition of Nebraska History we are highlighting Nebraska’s history in 150 photos in four parts. In the blog we will be previewing each part, along with adding an interesting photo and caption from each section.

Part 3: 1917-1966

During the second half-century of statehood, Nebraskans endured the Great Depression and two world wars, emerging into a more prosperous postwar world. In the 1920s the state made a bold choice for the design of its new capitol, and a decade later voters made an even bolder choice for the unique form of government that would reside there. Developments in transportation and communication changed how Nebraskans did business and how they spent their free time. Across the state, rural populations peaked and began a slow decline, even as cities continued to grow. But agriculture remained crucial to “The Beef State’s” economy and sense of identity.

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This picture above shows the World War I enlistees on the 100 block of North 13th Street, Lincoln, July 22, 1918. Entering the ongoing war in April 1917, the government of the United States faced the challenges of building up its small army (now led by former Lincoln resident John J. Pershing) and unifying a divided public. The Nebraska Council of Defense became an extra-legal police force monitoring the loyalty and attitudes of Nebraska’s citizens, especially those of German heritage. Written threats, inquisition-like panels, violence, and imprisonment were aimed at people who failed to support the war or who spoke the language of the “Hun Baby-Killers.”

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Timeline Tuesday: Campaign Buttons of 1896

Although the hobby of collecting political memorabilia is probably as old as politics, the political campaign button first became important in the presidential election of 1896. This contest, in which Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan, spawned a wide variety of colorful buttons, made by placing a thin layer of celluloid over a paper image on a metal disk with a small metal pin attached on the reverse.

No Cross of Gold, No Crown of Thorns

The inscription on this campaign button refers to William Jennings Bryan’s famed 1896 speech. NSHS 11571-7

    In 1896 hundreds of different celluloid buttons were issued for that year’s political campaigns, some by politicians and some by private companies that advertised their products on buttons boosting one candidate or another. “‘No presidential possibility without a campaign button,’ is what the boomers of the eastern candidates are crying,” said the Omaha Daily Bee on March 22, 1896. “As if there were anything in the law or the constitution that made the distribution of a campaign button one of the prerequisite qualifications to the presidency.”

As campaign buttons flooded onto the market, enthusiasts soon began rounding up samples of the most colorful. By the time of the November elections in 1896 political buttons were being avidly collected. The Bee asked in November: “Have you the button habit? If not you are lucky. It is the latest craze and is raging with great virulence just now. Nearly every day sees its ravages increase, and until after the election it will prevail.”

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A photo portrait of Bryan appears on this campaign button. NSHS 4123-2-(4)

Some of the most memorable campaign buttons from 1896 in the collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society feature Democratic candidate Bryan. In addition to photo portraits of Bryan or of Bryan and his running mate, Arthur Sewall, there are buttons proclaiming “No Cross of Gold,” referring to Bryan’s famed 1896 speech which won him the Democratic presidential nomination.

Political buttons were soon augmented by buttons with slang expressions or humorous slogans upon them. The Bee said, “‘Rubber Neck’ is a favorite button, and among other inscriptions are: ‘Just Tell Them That You Saw Me,’ ‘I Am for Easy Money,’ ‘If You Love Me, Grin,’ and ‘What Will You Have?’ These buttons are the especial pride of callow young men and the newspapers last week recorded the breaking of a wedding engagement by a young woman who found on her inamorata’s coat two buttons reading: ‘Let’s Have Another Round’ and ‘Don’t Care If I Do.'”

So pervasive had the button craze become in 1896 that “[l]ittle girls have started collecting clubs, and some of them wear the entire collection on their clothing, arranging the buttons in double rows around their hats and on their cloaks like trimming. Cigarette firms give away the buttons bearing their ‘ad’ in small type under the inscription, and dealers are besieged by the little ones for buttons. When the campaign of 1896 passes into history at least the buttons will long remain as reminders of its exciting days.”

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Marker Monday: The Neligh Mills

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers

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Location

E 2nd St, Neligh, Antelope County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 42.126537, -98.03115

Marker Text

The Neligh Mills, built from locally fired brick in 1873 by John D. Neligh, was the first business and industry in the then newly platted town. Later owners and operators of the mill included William C. Galloway, Stephen F. Gilman and J. W. Spirk. Milling operations began in 1874 with two runs of stone. Roller mills were added in 1878, and all new roller mills were installed in 1898. Flour from the Neligh Mills was widely sold throughout the Middle West. Better known brands produced here include Neligh Patent Flour, So-Lite Flour and Crescent brand feeds. A good mill was a major factor in the growth of Nebraska communities during the 1870’s and 1880’s. Mills turned locally grown grain into flour, cutting down on expensive long distance shipping. Mills with an ample water supply and situated on main rail lines were able to produce quantities in excess of local needs, and sometimes received lucrative government contracts with the Army and Indian Bureau or for overseas export. In 1969 the Legislature authorized the Nebraska State Historical Society to acquire and preserve this mill as a symbol of our agricultural history. Its importance was also recognized in 1969 by entry on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: Frederick Douglass’s Nebraska Sister

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Frederick Douglass. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

 By: David Bristow

Frederick Douglass is remembered for his escape from slavery and for his speeches and autobiographies through which he advocated passionately for freedom and civil rights. But he wasn’t associated with Nebraska history… until a few years ago. A series of letters uncovered in Lincoln reveal that Douglass came to Omaha in 1893 to look for his adopted sister, Ruth Cox Adams. The story is told in “Always on My Mind: Frederick Douglass’s Nebraska Sister” by Tekla Ali Johnson, John R. Wunder, and Abigail B. Anderson. The article appears in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Nebraska History (click the link and scroll down for an excerpt).

Douglass and Adams weren’t biological siblings, but for a while they thought they were.  The sale of slaves to different owners often split up families and obscured family relationships. Douglass, who was separated from his mother at an early age, always said this was one of slavery’s greatest cruelties.

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A sewing box that Frederick Douglass gave to Ruth Cox Adams, now in the collections of the Nebraska History Museum. NSHS 11940-1-(1)

Adams came to live in the Douglass home after her own escape from slavery. She and Douglass eventually figured out that they weren’t biological siblings, but she remained part of the family, a sister to Frederick and his wife Anna, and an aunt to the Douglass children.

Adams eventually married and lived in different parts of the country. She and Douglass corresponded but eventually lost touch with each other. Douglass visited Omaha in 1893 ostensibly to deliver an anti-lynching speech, but mostly he wanted to find Adams. He had heard she was living in Omaha.

Unfortunately, she had already moved away by then. The following year Douglass learned that she was living with her grown children on a farm near Norfolk, Nebraska. Douglass wrote to her on March 9, 1894:

I have this day, through a Norfolk paper learned of your whereabouts and am glad to find that you are still in the land of the living. I went to Omaha in November last largely in the hope of finding but my search was in vain & I feared you had slipped away to another world without my knowledge. I made diligent inquiry for you but nobody whom I asked could tell me anything. I am now very glad to know that you still live and have not forgotten what we were to each other in our younger days. I am now 77 years old—and am beginning to feel the touch. It would do my heart good to see you [words illegible] old times [words illegible] and Charley are living. . . .

Adams replied on March 15:

I thank you very much in deed on the kind offer you maid [sic] me to make my home under your roof So long as we both shall live this is like the one you offer me fifty years ago. It would give me so much pleasure to be with you all yes we could think & talk of many things but my dear Friend that is too much happiness for me to expect now in this life for I too am growing old I have had a great deal of sickness. my [word illegible] are feeble my eyes not so good. But my hair is almost as black as it was the last time I Sawe [sic] you & that was 16 years ago I think. we saw by the papers that you was in Omaha. that was very kind in you to try to find me. It tells me I am not forgotten….

Ruth Cox Adams tombstone

Ruth Cox Adams’s grave, Wyuka Cemetery, Lincoln.

  Adams eventually moved to Lincoln, where she died in 1900. Many of her descendants still live in Lincoln.

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Nebraska History Spring Issue: Part 2 1867-1916

In the latest edition of Nebraska History we are highlighting Nebraska’s history in 150 photos in four parts. In the blog we will be previewing each part, along with adding an interesting photo and caption from each section.

Part 2: 1867-1916

The period between statehood and World War I saw the building of a vast infrastructure across Nebraska: railroads, towns, farms, ranches, economic and social networks. Settlers poured in from eastern states and from multiple countries, speaking many languages and bringing a variety of cultural traditions. Native peoples struggled to protect their interests and to assert their rights even as they were confined to reservations. Everyone faced the challenges of making a living in an environment prone to extremes of weather. And while we don’t usually think of this as a high-tech period, major technological changes were altering the ways in which Nebraskans did business, entertained themselves, and traveled.

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The picture above shows the Office of the Pilger Herald, 1915. The press is a Prouty “grasshopper”—its roller was propelled back and forth by slotted bars that looked like grasshopper legs. Patented in 1878 by a Baptist minister in Wisconsin, the Prouty was small and inexpensive, and remained popular with small newspapers well into the twentieth century. Pilger had only 471 residents in 1910, but printing technology helped it and other small towns keep up on local and national events.

 

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Timeline Tuesday: Bedbugs

The current resurgence of bedbugs in the United States has brought the little pests once again into the limelight after decades of obscurity. Our pioneer ancestors, however, were well acquainted with bedbugs, as revealed by contemporary diaries, books, and newspapers. The Omaha Daily Bee on February 23, 1891, included an unsigned poem that must have expressed the feeling of thousands of sufferers.

THE BEDBUG

Twas on a sultry summer night,
The moon was shining calm and bright,
When from my couch I rose to fight
The bedbug.

I uttered many a sad lament,
As on my murderous search intent,
Into each hidden crack I went
For bedbugs.

My wretched limbs were smarting well,
And O, my anguish who can tell,
As oft I caught the sickening smell
Of bedbugs.

Their stinging bites, how well I know
When, with a sure, death-dealing blow,
I pounce upon my luckless foe,
The bedbug.

And ever, how my spirit grieves,
As ‘mong the Bible’s sacred leaves
I find those dirty, skulking thieves,
The bedbugs.

And oft I start, in dread affright,
When on the parson’s collar white
There scrambles out, in plainest sight,
The bedbug.

And through my head this query ran:
How in the name of mercy can
To church a decent, Christian man
Bring bedbugs?

And let them run and dodge about,
Play ‘hide and seek,’ and in and out
Upon the carcass of the lout,
Unheeded.

Should ‘auld Nick’s’ pitchfork need a prong,
Wherewith to probe the tortured throng,
He only needs to send along
Some bedbugs.

Bedbugs were a scourge on the frontier because of primitive living conditions. Solomon D. Butcher’s 1888 photograph of the Hoffaker family of east Custer County, Nebraska, included what appears to be the frame for a rope bed that is being used to dry food. NSHS RG2608-1745

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Marker Monday: Crystal Lake

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers

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Location

10283-10799 S Crystal Lake Ave, Ayr, Adams County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 40.456191, -98.4412

Marker Text

In 1893 the Crystal Ice Company dammed a portion of the Little Blue River 1 1/4 miles north of Ayr, creating “Crystal Lake” for harvesting and selling ice. A huge storage and loading facility was built on the nearby Republican Valley branch of the Burlington Railroad. Horse-drawn scoring knives and long, back breaking ice saws, later replaced by power saws, cut the 16″ thick ice into 9’2″ squares, which were floated down a channel to be cut into twenty-five, 22″ x 22″ cakes. Ten thousand tons per season was the capacity. A large ice house was filled for the Hastings trade, and hundreds of carloads were sold to the railroad. This winter ice harvest provided a thirty-day income for as many as fifty workers.

In the 1920s mechanical refrigeration ended the ice business and Crystal Lake became a private recreation area for picnics, dancing, swimming, boating, fishing, and skating. In 1937 the 63-acre site was purchased by the state and improved by the WPA. Silt eventually filled the lake, and in 1976 a $180,818 renovation of the lake and park was a project of the Ayr Bicentennial Committee. Crystal Lake State Recreation Area is part of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission system.

 

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: Miles, Mules, and Men: The Forgotten Front of the Civil War

By: David Bristow

Imagine your car. Now consider the amount of gas that it requires to keep it running. Picture that your car is in the middle of rural, untamed Nebraska: there are no gas stations for miles. Multiply your car into several hundred cars, and imagine you must organize a large group of men to drive them. You will be doing your best to chase down and capture men driving another group of cars. These other men know the landscape, and their cars run on grass instead of gasoline. What’s more, their drivers hate you, and attack any gas stations that you don’t guard. Oh, and your cars break down if you drive them too far or too fast. You get replacement cars occasionally, but sometimes, just for fun, your replacement cars come with wheels of different sizes.

Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But imagine with me just a little longer. Turn the cars into horses, the fuel into corn, and the wheels into horseshoes. Turn your car drivers into soldiers, and the other cars’ drivers into Indians. You now have a fairly accurate picture of the problems facing U.S. soldiers in the American west during the 1864 and 1865 on the forgotten front of the Civil War.

Yoking Up in Corral, by William H. Jackson, from his 1866 sketch. The ox-drawn freight wagons that carried grain and other supplies to the western military posts averaged about fifteen miles per day, fewer when the weather was bad. NSHS Museum Collections 481P-2

The soldiers stationed in the West were there primarily to make sure that the U.S. government could stay in close contact with the western states and territories, which provided much of the gold and silver that financed the war effort. The most reliable form of communication was the transcontinental telegraph, which stretched for hundreds of miles across the Great Plains, followed by the stagecoaches that carried the U.S. mail. However, the Native Americans of the region took every opportunity to attack these lines and surrounding settlements, attempting to undermine the white government that was steadily usurping their land. Protecting the telegraph lines and other assets was vital, not only for communication, but also to protect the territories from potential Confederate attacks. Among those sent to combat these difficulties were the First Nebraska Volunteer cavalry.

In the Winter 2011 edition of Nebraska History, James Potter explores the U.S. Army’s Plains campaigns during this time in his article Horses: The Army’s Achilles’ Heel in the Civil War Plains Campaigns of 1864-65. Specifically, Potter researches one crucial element of the Civil War on the Plains that is often overlooked: the horses that were provided to the troops. Because of the Civil War, horses were used up at an alarming rate. By 1864, good horses were difficult to find, and most of those went to the Union Armies fighting Confederates in the East. When the government did obtain horses for the cavalry, many were unfit for service. Some of the horses provided had never even been ridden, and were often unruly and skittish.

nBy 1864 Indians were a greater threat to the telegraph and stagecoach lines. It was the soldiers’ job to protect them, a job made more difficult by their poor horses. Procuring able-bodied horses was not the only difficulty. Unlike the Indian ponies that could survive only on prairie grass, the cavalry horses also required large amounts of corn and hay. Providing this corn necessitated long, clumsy wagon trains of supplies, which were also frequent targets for Indian raids. As a result, the cavalry regiments in the West rarely had the grain they needed to feed their horses.

Soldiers resorted to killing their exhausted mounts for food during Gen. George Crook’s 1876 campaign against the Lakota, a level of hardship reminiscent of the Plains campaigns of 1864-65. NSHS RG2278-19-1

Repeated entreaties to the government seemed to fall on ears deafened by the roar of war in the East. Forced to do their best with the resources they had, many of the cavalrymen often failed in their assignments. This failure was due, in large part, to their “Achilles Heel,” their horses.

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