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Florence is important in history since it is home to "Winter Quarters," where the Mormons camped in "Indian country" for a couple of years.  Downtown Florence has been absorbed into Omaha but you can still tell it is a community all to itself.  It would be hard to find a community with more historical pride.  There are several tourist attractions and more century old historical locations within one mile than anywhere else in the entire Omaha area, or the state for that matter.  Florence has an 1888 train depot building, 1880 Fire Station building, and the first bank in Nebraska, just to name the top three.

The name origin.  Click to go to the top of this page.

Florence became a city in 1855 after Nebraska became a U.S. Territory in 1854.  It was annexed by the city of Omaha in 1917.

It was known early on that the Missouri River in the area had a rock bottom that was visible, especially when the water was low. From the period of time when the Mormons stayed there up until the name Florence was adopted, the area was often called "Rock Bottom."  The term so clearly fit the area that it was suggested and seriously considered as the official name for the town.

In 1854, Mr. James Comly Mitchell, a 45 year old sea captain that settled in the area planned the original layout of the community.  The name Florence was influenced by Mr. Mitchell's wife.  Florence was the name of her granddaughter (the child of Mrs. Mitchell's daughter from her previous marriage).  Click on Mr. Mitchell's link above to see the details.

 

 



Mormon Trail Center - Winter Quarters

 

 

Mormon Trail Center  (3215 State St.)  Click to go to the top of this page.

   at Historic Winter Quarters

In the year 1846, anything west of the Missouri River was known as "Indian country."  When the Mormons arrived at the Missouri River (on the Iowa side), the U.S. government made arrangements with the Indian nations to allow the Mormons to camp on the western side of the Missouri River for two years.  This area became know as "Winter Quarters."

Today, you can visit the Mormon Trail Center at 3215 State St, a monument to the trials and tribulations of the early pioneers.  In a free guided tour, you can see an example of a primitive log cabin, ox drawn covered wagon, hand-carts, and many other artifacts of the era.  A guided tour starts with a short film that helps tell the story in a way that you cannot forget.  The cemetery has a large bronze statue of a couple burying their infant child.  The latest addition is the Winter Quarter temple that opened in April of 2001.  Over 61,000 people visited the new temple from April 2nd to the 14th.  The visitor's center is open 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. and closed on Christmas.  You may contact the center at 402-453-9732.

More on Early Mormon Settlements in the area (in depth coverage).

 

 

Mormon Cemetery
Mormon Cemetery
"Winter Quarters"

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Florence Historical

   James C. Mitchell
   James C. Williams
   Col. Pleyall
   Mrs. Compton
   Phillip Chapman
   J. B. Stootsman
   B. R. Pegram
   L. F. Wagner
   Samuel Forgy
   Mr. Driver
   J. M. Parker
   Florence Bracken
   Adam Bigler
   Alexander Piper
   Mr. Shoebridge
   Baugh
   Cook
   Deitweilder
   Fenner Ferguson
   Graeter
   Dr. Hardcastle
   Dr. Heath
   Alexander Hunter
   Maud Keirle
   James C Mitchell
   Captain Reynolds
   Sargent
   Jacob Weber


 

Florence Mill.  (9102 N. 30th St.)  Click to go to the top of this page.

During the time of the Mormon settlement in the area, they needed a mill to grind corn, wheat, and rye to create cornmeal and flour products.  The original mill was constructed next to a creek that flowed into the Missouri River.  It was deserted when the Mormons moved on.  Eventually, the mill was torn down and some of the good timbers were used to build a new mill in the area.  Surprisingly, that mill still stands, though it is no longer operational as a mill.  The mill operated until the 1960s.  The building is next to the 30th street exit from Interstate-680 and the Mormon bridge that spans the Missouri River.  Travelers along I-680 crossing the Mormon Bridge saw it as the "pink building" in the 1970s.  The mill has now been turned into an art gallery by a local artist.  Tours are available by appointment (402-551-1233) however during Florence Days and during River City Roundup, the mill is a beehive of activity for tours, art exhibits, and story telling.  If you have children, bring them to the special Chataquas (story telling) sessions during Florence Days.  The children get to be involved in most cases, and this alone makes them remember these significant historic events

Read more about the Florence Mill during the Mormon era.


   

 

 

 

Bank of Florence Museum.  (8502 N. 30th St.) Handicap Accessible Click to go to the top of this page.

Florence's oldest bank has successfully been turned into the Bank of Florence Museum.  It is also the oldest bank in Nebraska.  It has an interesting history.

In 1853 word was out that the area west of the Missouri River was going to become a territory and therefore would be opened for settlement.  This would offer untold of opportunities and enterprising men of the era would be the ones to take advantage of it.  Iowa was already settled on its edges that had easy access from the great Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers.  Davenport, Iowa was a community already well established with everything the community needed.  Opening another bank there seemed pointless . . . but opening a bank west of the Missouri surely meant success.  That is exactly what Cooke, Sargent, and Parker of Davenport had in mind when they came to the community that had everything going for it, Florence.  It would likely be the capitol of the new territory, and the western terminal of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad.  There was even talk of a bridge being built across the Missouri River.  If a bank could make it anywhere, it could make it in Florence.  A plot of land was secured, plans made, and the most important asset of a bank, a vault was ordered.

 


Bank of Florence - 1856

 

Bank of Florence - Vault overflowing with Wildcat  Currency.

 

 

 

The bank construction started in 1855 when the vault arrived from Pennsylvania.  The walk-in vault was truly the start of the entire bank.  It was set on a 3 foot thick slab made of mortared brick.  The same amount of protection was built around the vault, 3 foot on each side and the top.  Once the vault was secured, the construction of the bank was started.  Also being constructed of brick manufactured in Florence, the two-story building stood out as the strongest building in the territory.  Construction was complete before the year was out.  The bank became official on January 18, 1856 when it received its charter.

The upstairs portion of the bank was used as the home of the bank's manager, James Monroe Parker.

Nebraska was not to become a state for another decade so the bank issued its own money called "wildcat currency" in denominations of $1, $2, $3, and $5.  The bank funds were secured by loans, which worked fine until the Financial Panic of 1857.  The bank made it for a while longer but finally had to close its doors somewhere between 1858 and 1860 at which time its owners returned to Iowa.  Mr. Parker also ran a 600 acre farm just south of town in the area of Miller Park.  When he returned to Iowa, his son stayed in Florence to manage the farm.

The term "wildcat currency" was coined because the banks that issued money in this fashion were often way off the beaten path, so much that one person frustrated in how difficult it was to redeem the printed bill for silver or gold, quoted that it was easier for a wildcat to get access to the banks than it was for humans.  At least that is how the legend goes.

The bank building remained vacant for the next 30 years until it was started again in 1890 as a bank. The bank succeeded until the great depression of 1929 and even survived until 1936 when it folded once more.  The building was used as office space, a grocery store, an antique shop, a laundry and dry cleaners, and even an apartment building.

Somewhere around 1904, the upstairs was turned into the offices of the Florence Telephone Company.  Here, the switchboard operator connected lines together so the citizens privileged enough to afford their own "personal talking telegraph" could communicate with other Florence folks and eventually, even outside Florence.  Two-digit numbers and three to a party-line covered the entire community.

The bank building was passed down through family members of an early owner and bank planner, and eventually donated to the Florence Historical Foundation.  After nine months, a lot of volunteer work, and funds worth less than "wildcat currency" during a depression, the bank was restored.  The upstairs was restored as the home of the original bank manager.  One portion was even restored as the Florence Telephone Company switchboard.

After all these years, and all the other uses for the building, that vault never moved and is still where they build the bank around it.  It is understandably a favorite part of the tour for school children.  You can visit the bank museum at 8502 N. 30th Street.  From Florence Days in May through Labor Day, the bank is open for tours Tuesday through Sunday 1-5 P.M.  Tours are available during the rest of the year by appointment.  The tour is free but take note that there is a donation jar up front that holds anything from pennies on up, even "wildcat currency."  Drop in what you can afford, it all adds up.

 

 

 

Florence Depot

 

 

Florence Depot Museum.  (9000 N. 30th St.) Handicap Accessible Click to go to the top of this page.

The train depot building was built in 1887-1888 but not in its present location.  Originally the depot was located at 28th and Grebe* in downtown Florence.

The Omaha and Northwestern Railroad Company* traveled from Omaha to Blair starting in 1870 so it passed right through Florence except there was no deport at the time.  When the depot was built, the train traveling from Omaha to Blair had been in operation for 17 years so the depot was a great asset to Florence.  It was used as a commuter location to and from Omaha, mail pickup and drop off spot for the local post office, and as a shipping means for large cargo such as coal, ice, lumber, crushed stone, fruit and grains.  The depot was always a popular spot and a time of high emotions when folks either came or left.  The depot operated from 1888 to 1966 when it was closed for good.  The popular era of the train had come and gone.

The building was scheduled for demolition but the Florence Days Association intervened by purchasing the building in 1970 and moving it to its current location in 1971.  After being vacant since 1966, extensive exterior repair work was needed, including a new roof.

In 1976, renovation was started to restore the interior to its original working condition.  After a lot of hard work, and donations by many, the deport has turned into a great tour of the train era.

Donations from Union Pacific, Burlington Northern, and Rail Car Nebraska added substantially to the exhibits.  The museum has a caboose from 1890 and a flat car.  Inside the museum, there are several artifacts from the early days along with many stories telling of its history.  Recorded messages also tell of the history and tour attendants can answer questions.  The Florence Historical Foundation also operates the train depot museum.  You can learn much more by visiting the train depot at 29th and Dick Collins Road, originally known as 2915 Howell St. (30th and McKinley*).  From Florence Days in May through Labor Day, the depot is open for tours on Tuesday through Sunday 1-5 P.M.  Tours are available during the rest of the year by appointment.  The tour is free so you can hold on to your loose change, unless you like the good feeling of helping out.

 

 

Florence Depot

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Florence Firehouse.  Click to go to the top of this page.

The 1880 Firehouse building is located at 29th and State Street.  See how the firemen of yesteryear operated before automobiles.

 

 

Florence Firestation

 

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Keirle House.   (3017 Mormon St.)  Click to go to the top of this page.

Another historic home in Florence, the Charles Keirle house was constructed in 1905.

Designated as an Omaha Landmark on July 15, 1997.

The Keirle family were immigrants from England.  Mr. Keirle started out in a smaller residence on lower State Street when he was a partner with a Mr. Brown in the meat business.  Their store was at 30th and Tucker.  The back pasture held the cattle for future use.  When Mr. Brown bought him out, he started the Keirle Ice Company.  More ice was shipped from the Florence depot than anywhere else in the entire Midwest.  The ice was cut from the Missouri River in winter and stored in sawdust at the Ice Company.  Ice was also cut from the settling basins, which also provided the town's water supply.  Since the ice was clearer in the settling basins, ice was a penny more per pound.  The settling basins make up part of the American Water Works, now part of the Municipal Utilities District (M.U.D.).

In 1905, Mr. Keirle was a wealthy man when he constructed the new home for his family of four.  The large four bedroom square Queen Anne home featured a wrap around porch, with a porte cochère so carriage passengers could be discharged without regard for the weather.  The street in front had a mounting block and horse posts to tie up rider's horses.  The home had both gas and electricity, a very modern feature in 1905.  Next to the carriage house to the east was a pasture where the family horses and cows could roam.  This area also had a small chicken coop, and pen for the pigs.

As times changed, so did the family plot layout.  The barn was converted into a house and another house moved into the property on Grebe Street.  The pasture along 30th Street was made into a miniature golf course run by the family in the 1930s.  It was sold in the 1950s and St. Philip Neri Church was built on the property.

Charles' daughter Maude lived in the family home until her death in 1994.  Neither Maude nor her brother Cliff ever married.  Maude was the last resident of Florence born before 1900 and so had many wonderful stories.  The house was willed to the Florence Historical Foundation upon Maude's death.  It has been completely restored inside and out.  Presently, Uta Hallee occupies the property as office space, and it is not open to the public for viewing.

 

 

 

Keirle House

Florence Days

 

Florence Days Rides

Florence Days Bandshell

 

Florence Days.  Click to go to the top of this page.

Florence celebrates their heritage each year with a parade and lots of other activities on a weekend of May (recently, the second).  The celebration is organized by the Florence Historical Foundation.  The parade continues a tradition that started with a horse club parade years ago (1962).  It grew.

You can check out the tours and hear about some of Nebraska's earliest history during the event.  The community has several historic markers you will encounter on a walk around the town.  When Florence was annexed by Omaha (1917), several streets had the same names and had to be changed.  To help recall the area's history, the old street names are colored brown and placed next to the new names.

Florence days has several activities going on around town at different times so you want to pick up an event paper from one of the local merchants as soon as possible.  The historical locations are all open for tours of course, but if you just want to relax for a while, you can enjoy the food booths.

The Florentine Players put on a highly anticipated melodrama each year during the Florence Days Celebration. They cover serious and historical events in a non-serious way that maintains the attention span of every age group from toddlers to the elderly; no one feels left out.  The Florentine Players are made up of local residents, proud of their rich heritage.  Part of the celebration is just to see what wacky melodrama the Florentine Players have cooked up for the new year.  Speaking of cooking, they even have their own cookbook.

In October, the Florentine Players put on a great variety show.  Also as part of the Florentine Players, the Florenteenies are a group of teenagers that put on a show in July or August.  All of these events are to raise funds for the Florence Historical Foundation.

You can tell Florence folks love their town.  Without a doubt, "Florence Days" is the celebration to attend each year in the Omaha area.

 

 

Florentine Players - Little Shop of Hors d'overes (2002)

 

Florence Days Crowd

Florence Days Rides

 

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Florence Historical Foundation.  Click to go to the top of this page.

The Florence Historical Foundation not only restores old buildings and organizes "Florence Days", they also are very active around the Holiday Season.  They organize the lighting of the Christmas tree, caroling in Mormon Park, and sponsor a Santa Claus at the Bank of Florence Open house.

The Florence Historical Foundation has done a great job of promoting Florence's history and historical properties.  They can use your help.  They are actively seeking historical information and artifacts that can be contributed.  Look around for old pictures, antiques, letters, or any historical documents that you may be aware of.  You may wish to get on their mailing list to help keep you informed of the latest happenings.

The Foundation operates on a near zero dollar budget.  The "contribution jar" in the bank museum covers only a small fraction of the costs involved in preserving the area's history for everyone.  Most of the accomplishments are made with volunteer help.  If you are from the area, there is always room for more volunteers.  If you used to live in the area or have ancestors that did, you can still help.  Anything, including "wildcat currency" would be gladly accepted.  Your help is appreciated and your great grandchildren will thank you for it.  View or print a donation/volunteer form.

 

 

 

 

Florence Futures Foundation.  Click to go to the top of this page.

The Florence Futures Foundation is a Florence group interested in preserving Florence's past and also planning for its future.  The group has their own website, which covers Florence in more depth.  You can see all of the attractions, historic markers, and historic sites in photos, and in great detail.  All of Florence's commutity organizations are listed along with their next meeting dates and times, plus many other community resources.  Vist HistoricFlorence.org for complete details.

 
   

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