Omaha, NE

Omaha received its fountain in 1907 and placed it at Seventeenth Street and Capitol Avenue.

It is now located in front of the Nebraska Humane Society at 90th and Fort - but how did it end up there?

Well, we've had the fountain listed for a while along with the picture at its current location, but didn't have any other information until Brittany Luna found an interesting post on the Omaha History Club Facebook page written by Jody Lovallo that included the 1907 picture at the top. If you have Facebook, you can read the full post here. But we'll try to summarize a bit below.

Jody recounted the early history including that it was just one of many given by the National Humane Alliance including nearby Council Bluffs and also recounted that "South Omaha" had lost out to a hesitant Lincoln, Nebraska.

Jody reported on the establishment of the Nebraska Humane Society and its role in advocating for humane treatment of animals.

She pointed out that the unique signage next to the fountain contains this interesting narrative:  

“Between 1906 and 1911, the National Humane Alliance donated fountains to 70 cities across the country and one in Mexico. They were designed to be used by people, horses and dogs and cats. According to an article in the Omaha World Herald, they served as a gathering place much as the office water cooler before the advent of bottled water. The fountain donated to Omaha was placed in the middle of Capitol Avenue, at the foot of Capitol Hill, near the corner of 17th Street. When Capitol Avenue was no longer a boulevard, the fountain was moved to the courtyard of the Nebraska Humane Society at 924 N. 21st St. In the spring of 1968, the Nebraska Humane Society moved to its current location at 90th and Fort St. The fountain was not an exclusion to the sale of the downtown property and it became the property of the new owner E.J. Grafentin, President of the Sterling Electric Company. He had promised the fountain to a friend, Bernhardt Stahmer, president of Industrial Electric Works. In 1971, Mr. Stahmer had the fountain restored and gave it to the City. While he had many offers to buy the fountain, he remembered seeing the animals drink from it as a boy and wanted it to stay in Omaha. It was placed close to its original location at 17th and Capitol Ave. In 1977, it was moved once again to the Old Market, at 11th and Jackson Streets. Until a few weeks ago, it graced the patio of the Upstream Brewing Company - a popular restaurant. Because of the willingness of Brian McGee, owner of the Upstream Brewing Company and Mayor Mike Fahey, the fountain was returned to the grounds of the Nebraska Humane Society at 90th and Fort during the summer of 2008. Still the property of the City of Omaha, it will be enjoyed by tens of thousands of dogs and cats and a few horses for a very long time. Many thanks go to Bob Drickey, the Upstream Brewing Company, Brian McGee, Douglas County Historical Society, the City of Omaha and the Durham Museum. (May 2, 2008)."
And then she added some interesting tidbits from her own research that include some items from Council Bluffs.
The fountains were made of Maine granite. The cities were responsible for assembling them. (They came in 5-6 pieces) and providing water and the plumbing. Do you think the boxes said "assembly required?"
1907: The fountain was given as a gift and sat without water for months before the plumbing was hooked up. People were complaining about the lack of functioning.

1907: General Dodge was noted as soliciting for Council Bluffs to get a fountain about 10 years before his death.

1909: Lincoln had accepted the gift, but a year later was keeping it in storage. The head of the National Alliance was furious. He took a trip out west to have a word with the Humane Society in Lincoln. He had told the city of "South Omaha"..."no" and gave the present to Lincoln, and now he was infuriated that it sat in storage.

1930 - By this year, Capitol Avenue was no longer a boulevard and the fountain trough was moved to the location of the Humane Society at 924 N. 21st. By 1930 it was the only public watering place in Omaha. Horses paraded by and sunk their muzzles into the flowing water.

1931: The Humane Society said that 500 horses remained on the streets of Omaha. Yet, only one watering trough remained. Prior to this watering basins of stone and metal were on many street corners.

1952: A World Herald story declared that Council Bluffs city officials finally succeeded that the horseless carriage had taken the place of the horse! Look at that date! It took 50 years for people in Omaha and Council Bluffs to digest the technological disruption that had just happened. From when the first horseless carriage rolled on display in Omaha in 1898 to this declaration in 1952, a modern midwestern culture was in transition. This granite watering trough is a remnant of over 90 years of a horse and wagon culture in Omaha and Council Bluffs and Lincoln. Saving and preserving the trough shows a great longing to hold onto a way of life that had vanished little by little over 50 years. The paper said there had been an uproar when the leaders of Council Bluffs tried to remove the trough in the 1940s. They just weren’t ready to do it until 1952.

1968: Flowers were planted in the trough on North 21st St. Vandals stole the bronze plaques and fittings on the trough. When it fell into the ownership of Berhardt Stahmer, he wanted to restore the stolen bronze features and donate it to the zoo where the most people could see it.

1970-1971 Two cars struck the trough at South Main and Pearl near 6th Ave in Council Bluffs. The granite pieces were spread all over the street and it had to be re-built.

1973: It was suggested the Council Bluffs fountain be preserved and moved in front of the historic jailhouse. 1975: The battered Council Bluffs trough had been in storage since 1971 was ready to be put back in the same spot.

In 1977, it was moved once again to the Old Market, at 11th and Jackson Streets.

The fountain was returned to the grounds of the Nebraska Humane Society at 90th and Fort during the summer of 2008.

And that's where things stand now, but take one last look at the very unique lions heads that now adorn the Omaha fountain.


For more on the National Humane Alliance Fountains click here.

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