Main Streets 2016: Nebraska
Few states can claim to have their own Main Street — but Nebraska might be able to. The rutted wagon trail that eventually became O Street has been a main thoroughfare through downtown Lincoln since before the territory became a state. Around the time the Civil War was raging back East, the trail was crowded with the wagons and livestock that crept along with the pioneers who were beginning to populate the frontier. Over time, the trail transitioned to a street, took the name O Street, and became the commercial heart of Nebraska’s historic capital city.
At 59 miles long, O Street today lays claim to being the longest straight Main Street in the world. It’s a claim that may not entirely hold up, given that some of those miles are outside the city limits. Regardless, the designation conveys the pride that the people of both Lincoln and all of Nebraska have in their Main Street.
O Street has always been the heart of shopping in Lincoln, although when a mall opened in the 1960’s on the outskirts of town, much local retailing departed from downtown. That shift also prompted urban renewal, however. Over the years since then, service industries, restaurants and shopping have developed throughout the downtown. Several have re-occupied spaces that were abandoned by once-thriving department stores.
Lincoln has developed a reputation as a home for arts, culture and nightlife. Among the regular events in Lincoln – besides Memorial Stadium’s Cornhuskers football games, which are in a league by themselves – are the Haymarket Farmers’ Market from May through October; the Uncle Sam Jam, a major community event right before Independence Day; and Celebrate Lincoln, which draws local and national musicians, plus food and beverage vendors, to its two-day outdoor festival in early June.
Museums and parks are also popular attractions. They include Lincoln Children’s Museum on nearby P Street, where children are invited to “learn through the power of play,” and the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, a few blocks away on the university’s East Campus.
But any visit to Lincoln always seems to come back to O Street. When Nebraska Life magazine profiled the roadway in 2012, its account of O Street present and past concluded this way: “The impact of this relationship between people and place, between a community and the strip of road that pierces its heart, cannot be understated. It is powerful and enduring.”
All photos courtesy of Lincoln Chamber of Commerce
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