Wednesday, October 29, 2014

History Along Nebraska’s Highways (Part IV)

Continuing with our exploration of west central Nebraska’s towns and byways… Our search for buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places was well rewarded in Kearney.  In addition to the Barnd and Bartlett homes which I pictured and wrote about last week, we struck ‘pay dirt’ three more times before we headed west along US 30 (Lincoln Highway).

This is the Walter Klehm House.  It was built in 1931 and it was designed in the English Cottage style.  The home was built by by Manual Arts professor Walter Klehm.  It’s located in a neighborhood adjacent to the University of Nebraska at Kearney.  When Klehm arrived in Kearney, he found that there was a tight housing market with very few vacant kcts.  Klehm bought an existing plot which consisted of two half lots to build his relatively modest yet well-crafted house. Once his design was complete, he hired students to help complete construction of the home.

Kearney is located about midway across the state on a transportation corridor that has included migrant trails, the Union Pacific Railroad, the Lincoln Highway and Interstate 80.  This location earned it the nickname, 'The Midway City of the Nation', as it is 1,733 miles west to San Francisco and 1,733 miles east to Boston.  One of the town’s most prominent citizens, Moses Sydenham, was so confident that this central location was truly significant that he proposed relocating the nation's capital to Kearney.

To learn more about Moses Sydenham, who definitely had an interesting life, just click on

This is the former home of Dr. A. O. Thomas.  The Thomas House was designed by Nebraska architect George A. Berlinghof in 1906 in the Neo-Classical Revival style. Dr. A. O. Thomas, a native of Illinois, was the first president of the Kearney State Normal School, now the University of Nebraska at Kearney. (7,100 plus students) The home is now owned by the University of Nebraska – Kearney’s Alumni Association.  It’s used for offices, meetings and receptions…

August O. Thomas, (1863-1935), was from Illinois.  After earning his Doctor of Philosophy degree, he migrated to Nebraska in 1891.  Initially he served as the Principal of Cambridge in Furnas County.  Thomas served 10 years with various public school systems in the State.  Then in 1901, he became Superintendent ofthe Kearney City Schools.  While serving in this position, Thomas was elected as the first President of the Kearney State Normal School.  Thomas served as president of the college until 1914, when he became Nebraska’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.  In 1923, he was one of the founders of the World Federation of Education.

The George W. Frank House was constructed in an exclusive suburb of Kearney developed by the George W. Frank Improvement Company.  Frank was involved in many of the town's industrial and commercial affairs. Built in 1889 of Colorado sandstone, the house represents the prosperity Kearney enjoyed during this period.  It is a product of Eclecticism, combining the Shingle style and Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.  Much to our surprise, this impressive home was built in 1889.  To our eye, it looks like it’s from a later period.  The Frank house was built from Colorado sandstone and the ‘shingles’ are actually tiles imported from the Netherlands.

Sadly, George W. Frank only owned this particular home for 4 years, losing it in the Panic of 1893.  Still, his name is synonymous with Kearney's boon period from 1885 – 1891.  During this period, Frank was President of Kearney Electric Company, Kearney Canal and Water Supply Company, the Nebraska Ice Company and the George W. Frank Improvement Company.  He built Kearney’s first electric plant and he owned much of the real estate in and around the city.  Excessive speculation coupled with a business slow down brought Frank’s empire down…

Moving west along the Lincoln Highway, we came to Lexington Nebraska, which has a population a little over 10,200.  This is the Dawson County Courthouse.  By 1871, the area’s population had reached the point that residents successfully petitioned to have Dawson County established.   The Union Pacific Railroad platted rail stops in the county, including Plum Creek (present-day Lexington). This town was the principal commercial center in the area and the first courthouse was built in 1874.  In 1912 voters passed a measure to finance a new courthouse.  Construction began in 1913 and by 1914 the Beaux Arts-style courthouse was open for business.

Lexington is the home of the Heartland Military Vehicle Museum, which is located just north of I-80 at the Lexington exit.  We didn’t have time to stop and peruse the collection but my on-line look revealed an extensive collection of vehicles and other military equipment.  There are even a couple of WWII German vehicles on display.  To learn more, just go to

This beautiful home was built for Ira Webster Olive.  The Ira W. Olive House, constructed in 1889-90, is an excellent example of Victorian Queen Anne architecture, which is characterized by asymmetrical forms, hipped and gabled roof lines. It also uses various elements such as decorative woodwork to break up the appearance of smooth walls.. Other Queen Anne features are wrap-around porches with spindle-work supports, second-story porches with balustrades, and decorative bargeboards, all of which are found in the design of the Olive House.

Ira Webster Olive relocated to Nebraska from Texas in 1877.  The Olives were a family of ranchers but Ira branched out to banking and other business ventures.  He was also instrumental in bringing about the town’s name change…from Plum Creek to Lexington.  Ira lived in this house until he died in 1928.  His brothers, Isom “Print” and Robert were both gunned down and killed after many adventures and misadventures.
“Print” Olive was pretty ruthless and had a reputation as a gunfighter.  I read a short 2-page biography about him on the Internet and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the ‘old west’.  He apparently was one tough character!  You can check his story at  A book was even written about Print Olive…it was entitled “The Ladder of Rivers”.  For more information about this book, go to

That’s about it for this segment of our historic tour of south central Nebraska.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

1 comment:

  1. Lovely homes. The English cottage is my favorite. Great shots each and every one.