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Kelly, Burr & Muir Block

The Kelly, Burr & Muir Block is shown on the northwest corner of Ninth and P streets looking north. 

As hard as it is to imagine today, all of Lincoln once existed as the village of Lancaster with a population of about 30 and sat between today’s streets of O on the south, Vine on the north, Fifth on the west and 14th on the east.

This area today encompasses part of the Historic Haymarket with the balance an edge of the University of Nebraska and Lincoln’s downtown. Block 33 in the original plat of the city, directly west of the current Lincoln Journal Star building was residential. What is today a service station was empty land.

Capt. W. T. Donovan was initially captain of the steamboat Emma which ran from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Plattsmouth, then became the representative of J. Sterling Morton’s Crescent Salt Co. at the salt flats northwest of downtown Lincoln. In 1859 he was appointed to the committee which chose the village of Lancaster as the county seat of the just-created Lancaster County.

On July 29, 1867 the Capital Commission met at Donovan’s small stone and cottonwood cabin near what is today the northwest corner of Ninth and P streets and then, outside its front door, announced their decision to locate the first Nebraska state capital at Lancaster, whose name would be changed to Lincoln.

As an inducement to move the capital from Omaha, all the unsold lots on their land including the ultimate Block 33, were quit-claimed to the state by John M. and Alice Young. Today’s Block 33, which sits between Eighth, Ninth, P and Q streets, was originally smaller in size and was intersected through its center by the east/west College Street and by the north/south running Fifth Street. Interestingly Block 33 was also originally only divided into six large lots while others facing the first Market Square had as many as 21, perhaps indicating its use would continue as residential sites.

H. S. Jennings was elected a trustee of Lincoln when it was declared a body corporate in 1868 and again in 1869. Jennings, who was later a ticket agent for a local railroad and admitted to the Lincoln Bar in 1872, also had a small stone house just north of Donovan’s, on the northeast corner of Block 33 at Ninth and Q streets, the only other building on the block.

In 1873 John Barsby and his stage manager M. W. Lynch operated the Winter Garden on the north side of P Street midway between Eighth and Ninth Street as the only “theatre” in Lincoln. The only other building on Block 33 at that time was Powers Hotel on the southeast corner of Eighth and Q streets, which was also Barsby’s residence.

About 1883 the two-story, masonry Kelly, Burr & Muir Block was built on the northwest corner of Ninth and P on Block 33 as shown in the above photo. The building housed a saloon on the corner followed to the north by a grocery, retail store, storage bay and saloon/billiards hall with access to the upper floor’s four apartments at 205 North Ninth St.

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In 1887-88 the extant three-story, stone Burr-Muir Block was completed north of the alley at 227 North 9th Street. Met Martin’s saloon and Schuller’s Grocery were the only constant tenants of the earlier Kelly, Burr& Muir Block until the turn of the century when the saloon was operated by Nick Heiser. In 1922 the extant four-story Lincoln Fixture Company Building was completed directly west at 826 P St.

With the onset of Prohibition in 1919, the saloon became Fred Wicks Soft Drinks until it was taken over by Peter Grenemeier, who repurposed it as a tavern and liquor store after Prohibition ended with his nephew Henry (Lefty) as manager. Henry closed the tavern a few years later but continued the package store operation.

In 1955 the corner became Burdette Johnsen’s Bar & Food Bowl, then in 1959 was taken over by Raymond and Laura Barry as Barry’s Bar.

The second story of the Kelly, Burr & Muir Building was removed in the late 1930s and was ultimately razed, along with two-story Ideal Hall to the north, for the current filling station in the early 1970s. Barry’s Bar then moved north in the same block to its current location on the southwest corner of Ninth and Q.

Today the oldest complete building on Block 33 is the 1884 Veith Grocery Store at 816 P St., which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nothing remains today to remind passersby that on that block in 1867, the decision was made to move the capital from Omaha. If that momentous determination had not been made we would still live in Lancaster, the county seat of Lancaster County, with an undoubtedly far smaller population.

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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