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Omaha, Nebraska – South 24th Street

Main Streets 2017: Nebraska

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This downtown district has long been home to a diverse group of immigrant families, most of whom were drawn here over a century ago to work in local stockyards. South 24th Street is now a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, distinctive for its remarkable public artwork — and for the vibrant restaurants and friendly festivals of its present-day Latino culture.

Originally known as Bellevue Avenue, the street was central to the village of South Omaha, which grew up in the late 1800s around the local facilities of Chicago’s Union Stockyards Company. The neighborhood was first settled by Scandinavian, German and Irish immigrants, and by the turn of the 20th century, it had also drawn thousands of Poles, Czechs, other Eastern Europeans, and Mexicans pulled north by the bustling stockyards. Renamed as South 24th Street, this was the cultural and commercial center of South Omaha, which became part of Omaha city in 1919.

By the late 20th century, the stockyards were fading away — but a community-powered streetscape redesign, led by the South Omaha Business Association, transformed the half-mile central stretch of South 24th. With slowed-down traffic, increased parking and inviting features for pedestrians, the district has seen a flourishing of new shops and restaurants.

But the first thing you’ll notice is the public artwork.

At the entrance to the business district near 24th and L streets, the 36-foot-tall Tree of Life sculpture is leafed with medallions honoring the nationalities and cultures that have made South Omaha such a distinctive American community. Extending the celebration of cultures and creativity, an amazing series of sidewalk mosaics runs from L to Q Street. One of its designs proclaims “All Are Welcome Here!”, the message that today’s business district embodies.

Part of South 24th Street has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the American Planning Association has named it one of the “Great Places in America.” History is preserved here in El Museo Latino and the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands. South 24th hosts a annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta, plus a two-day September celebration of Mexican independence. Any time of year, diners can choose among eight Mexican restaurants along South 24th.

You might also stop in at Stoysich House of Sausage. At this landmark deli and meat market, the recipes — many donated by customers — are drawn from Polish, German, Hungarian, Italian, English, Czech, Mexican, Greek, Danish, Swedish, Irish and American family traditions.

All photos provided by Visit Omaha
Omaha, NE is home to five 2016-17 LifeChangers – check them out.

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Lincoln, Nebraska – O Street

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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