Buildings can connect present times well into our past, helping current generations better understand our heritage. A notable example in Omaha is the former Nebraska School for the Deaf campus near 45th and Spencer Streets. The 20-acre campus is among seven Nebraska sites just added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
With its new additions, the National Register also is recognizing six other Nebraska communities. Represented are Hartington, Grand Island, Oshkosh, Fairbury, Lexington and Indianola.
The Nebraska School for the Deaf was a longstanding institution in Omaha. It opened its doors in 1871, only four years after Nebraska achieved statehood, and remained in operation until 1998. The school, from its earliest years, stood out for the major investments it made in vocational education. The vocational staff included instructors who themselves were deaf, to maximize educational effectiveness.
“This campus and its story is an integral part of Nebraska’s history,” said David Calease from History Nebraska’s Historic Preservation Office. The school brought “deaf students from all across the state together in one place” and “helped unify and strengthen the deaf community.”
The campus buildings include the vocational building, a dormitory and a gymnasium, and several have architectural significance, featuring a style known as Collegiate Gothic. Abide, a nonprofit group, bought the campus in 2016.
Here are some highlights from the other Nebraska structures just added to the National Register of Historic Places:
» Hartington Downtown Historic District. The earliest building dates from 1900, and many of the structures “have retained their original look, feel and integrity,” History Nebraska notes.
» Grand Island’s Fourth Street Commercial Historic District. Forty-nine structures in the seven-block district illustrate Grand Island’s commercial development from the 1890s to the 1960s.
» Oshkosh Water Tower. The old-style “tin-man” construction of the tower, built in 1920, is a rarity in the 21st century. The tower, in excellent condition, was retired last year as a water delivery system, but Oshkosh residents banded together to save the tower, describing it as a community landmark.
» John C. Kesterson House, Fairbury. This stately house, was built in 1879 by a local horse breeder, freighter and businessman, who added a wing in 1885. The house retains its original design character with minimal alterations and includes features such as cast-iron gargoyles and a hitching post.
» Harry V. Temple House, Lexington. The foyer, office and dining areas of the house, finished in 1901, “are terrific examples of skilled craftsmen doing exceptional work that should be appreciated,” Calease said.
» Camp Indianola. Between 1943 and 1946, this site housed World War II prisoners captured in North Africa, Italy and mainland Europe. Of the four former prisoner of war camp locations in Nebraska, the ruins of Camp Indianola represent the best surviving example.
All of these structures provide a window back to notable parts of Nebraska’s past. It’s appropriate that they have been added to the National Register.