Durham takes Omahans on historic tour

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October 14th, 2010

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By Angel Martin

Traveling through historic parts of north, south, and downtown Omaha, the Durham Museum takes locals and out-of-towners back in time every summer, for history lessons about the city. The Museum is wrapping up its annual River City History Tour this month.  Earlier this week, reporter Angel Martin caught a ride on Ollie the Trolley for a tour of several mansions once owned by Omaha millionaires.

“I’m going to tell you all about these millionaires and their mansions and their glorious lives…” Janie Dunn, the tour guide for the Millionaires and Mansions history tour, addressed a group of about forty people on a recent fall evening, as the tour passed over a dozen historic mansions located in midtown Omaha’s Gold Coast and Cathedral neighborhoods. The homes were once occupied by influential Omahans like Sam Mercer, George Joslyn, and the Brandeis family.  Dunn has been a volunteer with the Museum for the past eleven years. And for each mansion passed, she shared a story about the home and how the families acquired their wealth.

“I started by reading, and getting addresses and driving around,” she said. “Then I just started asking neighbors for names. People who live in these mansions are very proud of them. They’re living in mansions not because they are a good economic investment, but because they have a passion for the history of their home. So they are more than likely to share it.”

Shirley, who only gave her first name, said this is her second time on this tour. “I just think it’s fun to know the history and to see the old buildings,” she said. “Those old buildings just have such great personality.”

Today, many of the homes on the tour are owned by well-known Nebraska organizations such as the Kiewit Foundation, Creighton

The Renaissance Mansion is the historic home of Minnie Storz Higgins (Photo courtesy Gold Coast Historic Preservation Assn)

University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Private families also own some of the homes, and others are now occupied by former prisoners on work release.  The Durham’s River City History Tours run annually during the summer. Along with Millionaires and Mansions, the tours include The Gritty City, a tour of downtown Omaha, The Magic City, which runs through the stockyards of south Omaha, and From Expositions to Jazz Musicians, a tour of North Omaha’s historic jazz halls.

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