As you drive by the intersection of 26th and O streets today at 35 miles an hour and glance at the northeast corner, you might, for an instant, think the above 1940 photo was a current view. If traffic should cause you to slow or stop, however, you would quickly realize the two art deco-topped buildings in the foreground are still there though in new uses, and the large building behind them to the north is, in fact, gone. A photo taken only a few years earlier would, in comparison, have shown an entirely different scene.

Miss Phoebe Elliott just missed being the first teacher in Lincoln and even Lancaster County, though she was easily in the first three. When she was elected to the Lincoln School Board in 1887 her position as an early area teacher was honored as the city began construction of an elementary school on the northeast corner of 26th and O streets by naming the building Elliott.

As was then common, when finished, the school building had a permanent resident in the form of its janitor, J.M. Bartscheier and his wife, Eva, who lived in the basement as caretakers. When the new, extant, Elliott Elementary School was completed in 1922 just two blocks southwest at 225 S. 25th St., the old building became a junior high school. For a time the junior high was called Old Elliott, causing no end of confusion, then renamed simply 26th and O Junior High School until it was razed in 1935.

In 1919, William Skelly incorporated the Skelly Oil company in Tulsa, Okla. About 1936, Lincoln developers built two new Skelly filling stations in conjunction with Safeway grocery stores, one at 26th and O, the site of the original Elliott Elementary School, the other on the northwest corner of 14th and Q streets, the site of the old McFarland mansion.

When Skelly merged with Getty Oil Company in 1977, all the old Skelly filling stations were rebranded or closed. The Q Street site became a drive-in restaurant, while the 26th and O building has had several tenants, including a dry cleaners, and is currently a check-cashing establishment.

Sam Seelig opened his first grocery store in 1911 in Los Angeles and by 1925 had grown it into a chain of more than 250 stores, changing the name to Safeway Stores. Merrill, Lynch & Company organized a consortium the following year, which purchased 80 percent of Safeway’s stock and 500 Skaggs Cash Groceries, but left both names in place.

The first Safeway store opened in Lincoln in 1926. Just a year later, there were six locations noted by Skaggs Safeway’s expansion manager and three Skaggs stores under a separate district manager. Two years later, Lincoln’s 13 Piggly-Wiggly stores were acquired by the group that then owned more than 2,250 stores in 20, primarily Western, states. As the Piggly-Wiggly stores were renamed Safeway or closed as larger stores consolidated the smaller ones, by 1932 Safeway had 96 stores in Nebraska. By 1959 Lincoln had only eight Safeway stores, but when the Omaha Division sold in 1982 closing 71 Midwest stores, many Nebraska outlets went out of business, with some reopened as Hy-Vee stores. Although there are still more than 1,500 Safeway stores still in operation, none are in Nebraska. The 26th and O Safeway, long a paint store, is now a Y.W.C.A.

In 1887, First Presbyterian Church surveyed the area of Lincoln not immediately in the area of its 14th and M facility. The survey pinpointed an area in east Lincoln that the church felt would profit from a new Presbyterian church, primarily because it simply was too far to travel easily. The following year the church rented a vacant store on the northeast corner of 27th and O streets, and services began. On April 5, 1899, a nucleus of First Presbyterian members joined with families in east Lincoln to form Second Presbyterian Church.

Lots on the southeast corner of 26th and P streets were given to the church by William Clark of the Clark & Leonard Company, and construction commenced while services continued in the storefront.

On Feb. 14, 1889, $1,500 had been spent to finish the new church’s basement to the point where services could move there while additional funds were solicited to complete the building. Although badly damaged by a fire in 1902-03, the completed masonry structure was used by Second Presbyterian until the congregation dissolved in the latter years of the 20th century.

The building itself served as a church for another denomination but has now been razed and replaced by a neighborhood clinic which occupies the north half of the block on P Street between 26th and 27th streets.

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Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at jim@leebooksellers.com.


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