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Peeling Back Block 34

The above postcard from around 1908 shows the Nebraska Commonwealth later Lincoln Journal building at its center. At the left is a horse-drawn mail delivery wagon and to the right is the first section of what most Lincolnites will recognize as the Old Post Office Building which had its loading dock on its west side. The four-globe, eagle-topped light fixture prominent is one of a number which once surrounded the building but all of which have now mysteriously disappeared. Block 34 or the Journal Block, sometimes referred to as Lincoln’s Founding Block is scheduled for a potential new multi-storied mixed-use residential and apartment/condominium building.

With the imminent sale and probable razing of the Lincoln Journal Star Building on the northeast corner of Ninth and P Streets it is interesting to turn back the clock to see what the first buildings on what the Nebraska State Historical Society’s plaque calls Lincoln’s Founding Block were.

On August 8, 1864, Jacob Dawson, whose double-walled log cabin near Seventh and O Streets was probably the first completed home in the village, platted as Lancaster. The 85-block tract in the southwest quarter of Section 23 contained eight lots per block with 66-foot-wide streets and set aside one block as Courthouse Square and another as Seminary Square. On Seminary Square, bounded by Lancaster’s Sixth, Seventh, College and High Streets, the Methodist colony’s stone seminary building was begun and by 1866 was sufficiently completed to host a small subscription school conducted by Mrs. Merrill whose husband intended to be a teacher at the seminary.

A fire in the still-uncompleted seminary gutted the interior. The walls were bought, and the four-story Cadman House built around and to the south of the original structure in the late summer of 1867. Within months it was acquired by Nathan Atwood and renamed the Atwood House. During the same year the Pioneer Hotel was built directly north of the Atwood House and called itself “the first hotel in Lincoln.”

The city of Lincoln was platted directly over Lancaster in late 1867 with its O Street directly over Lancaster’s Locust Street as the only street directly corresponding between the two cities. Because Lincoln's streets were a minimum of 100 feet wide, compared to Lancaster’s 66 feet, the seminary found itself no longer on an intersection until it was enlarged and then became the occupant of the northeast corner of today’s Ninth and P Streets.

The first buildings then on Lincoln’s Block 34, bounded by Ninth, Tenth, P and Q Streets, were “several buildings, large and small.” The tiny frame Methodist church stood facing east on the northeast corner of the block on lots donated by Gov. David Butler. The Atwood House sat on the southwest corner with L. A. Scoggin’s Pioneer House directly behind it to the north on Ninth Street. Directly east of the Atwood House was the law office of Stephen B. Pound and Seth Robinson on lots 14 and 15. To their east was Seth (sometimes Smith) B. Galey’s small store and office. Completing the list at 922 P Street was Robert and John Monteith’s shoe store. All of the property owners on Block 34 figured prominently in Lincoln’s early history.

John Cadman hosted the Capital Commission at his home in Yankee Hill while on their investigating travels in June of 1867. John Moneith was elected to Lincoln’s city council in 1867. The Methodist church was purchased for a public school and when the Atwood House burned in 1879 the site was purchased by the State Journal Company where the newspaper’s first building was constructed in 1881.

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Capt. Wm. T. Donovan (often Donavan) came from Pennsylvania, after reading the law there with Governor Price, to Plattsmouth in charge of the steamboat “Emma.” He arrived at the salt basin near today’s Lincoln in 1856 as a representative of the Crescent Salt Co. and was one of the three committeemen who organized Lancaster County in 1859 and was elected a county commissioner. In July of 1867 his home was used by the Capital Commission in deciding that Lancaster would become Nebraska's first state capital city and be renamed Lincoln. Donovan owned lots 5 and 6 in Block 34 and later donated the land on South 14th Street for the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

Seth B. Galey was born in Pittsburg in 1843, apprenticed as a printer at 13 then read law in Burlington, Iowa. Galey arrived in the village of Lancaster in April of 1866 with less than a dollar, “quarrying stone, cutting cord wood and carrying the hod.” The following year he was appointed county clerk to fill a vacancy then elected to the post in 1868. He went into the real estate business in 1869 and became the attorney for the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad. In 1870, then reportedly worth $16,000, he was elected to the 8th session of the lower house of the Nebraska Legislature and in 1879 became the mayor of Lincoln. Galey not only owned lots 14 and 15 in Block 34 but prophetically the first issue of the Nebraska Commonwealth, later the Lincoln Journal, with C. H. Gere editor, was printed in his office on P Street.

From the northeast corner of Ninth and P Streets the Journal bought lots to the east then built the current two-story building at 926 P Street, then razed the 1881 corner property and continued the stone-faced building to the west. In the 1950s the newspaper bought the quarter block to the north on P Street and in the late 1970s built the “management addition” and parking lot further east.

Today over half of Block 34 is owned by the Lincoln Journal Star (Lee Enterprises) with the northeast quarter of the block occupied by a multi-story parking garage and a part of the southeast corner of the block a small bank building remodeled from a bus depot. Exactly what lies ahead for Block 34 is not certain but it will most certainly continue to be thought of as Lincoln’s Founding Block.

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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