Jefferson Square (Omaha)
|Area||61 acres (250,000 m2)|
|Status||Razed in 1969|
Jefferson Square was the last of three original public parks extant in Omaha, Nebraska. Bounded by North 15th, 16th, Chicago and Cass Streets, the park was dedicated November 25, 1865. It was razed by the city March 18, 1969 to make way for the construction of Interstate 480 in Downtown Omaha. Before that time it was the site of Omaha's first school, and considered for the location of the first Omaha Public Library and the Omaha Market House.
The original dimensions of the park, as surveyed by Alfred D. Jones, were 264 by 280 feet (85 m). After being platted in 1856, the park was formally opened in 1865. It was one of three parks originally platted for the downtown area. Early settlers reported finding black bears at the park, and later complained when there were no bison there to hunt.
The first public school in Omaha was built on the southwest corner of Jefferson Square in September 1863. It was a small, one-room wooden structure, and was moved in 1865. In 1875 the park hosted the launching of the Omaha Bee hot air balloon, an advertising stunt by businessman Edward Rosewater. The balloon was the first in the city, and caused a stir when it was launched across the city.
In 1893 the Government of Omaha drew a lawsuit from a local citizen when they began constructing the Omaha Market House at the park. The case quickly veered public sentiment and legal favor, with a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling effectively preventing the city from building on the land "in perpetuity." The park hosted some events for the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, as well. It the 1910s the park was said to host "thousands of people daily."
By the 1930s the park had become a congregation place for homeless people. The city erected public baths which became very popular. By the end of that decade the park was regarded as "less than desirable" and "disreputable" and was the target of city planners for redevelopment.
By the late 1950s the park was targeted for demolition to accommodate the new Interstate Highway System. When the park was demolished in 1969 to make room for Interstate 480 it was the focus of intense preservation efforts led by Omaha citizens. However, their efforts failed, and the park was lost.
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