NewsMission Service


Mission: Service — The history of Fort Omaha

Posted at 7:02 PM, Aug 08, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Before it was known as the Offutt Air Force Base it was called Fort Crook.

A name that comes from General George Crook, who was the lead in command at Fort Omaha, the same place where Metropolitan Community College is today.

The first brick building that went up at the Fort was Crook’s home in 1879. Crook hosted some of the most prominent names at the time such as former presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes.

It still stands today as a museum.

“None of it is original to the house but it’s all painstakingly researched,” explained Douglas County Historical Society Collection Coordinator Elise O’Neil.

The general was a Civil War veteran who fought in about 20 battles and was one of the top Army leaders during the Indian Wars.

“Standing Bear said of General Crook, ‘I can always trust his word, and he was a good and honest man,'” shared Douglas County Historical Society Executive Director Tom Emmett.

His presence was necessary in the fort’s founding and original purpose.

“In the 1860s Fort Omaha came about as a way to protect the settlers and also to engage in the complex relationships with indigenous people,” said Emmett. “Several tribes were in the area.”

However, Crook and his home are just part of the military history at Fort Omaha.

O’Neil showed us countless photos from the Douglas County Historical Society archives. One thing that is still recognizable today on the campus is the Parade Grounds.

“This is Fort Omaha in 1893,” she showed us. “You can see all the soldiers on the Parade Grounds.”

“The way that they’ve preserved the parade ground here on Fort Omaha, on campus, is amazing because you walk across it just like they walked across it.”

3 News Now Anchor Zach Williamson found the history of the Fort Omaha Balloon School most interesting.

16,000 men trained at the balloon school during World War One. The balloons were used during the war, before aircraft came around, to observe and report on the enemy.

“There were other balloon schools too, we weren’t the only one, but we were a very significant one,” said O'Neil.

“Being in the center of the country, by a major river, in a railroad center, it made sense for this to be a place of military research and development,” Emmett added.

O’Neil followed, "And I think we were uniquely placed to be one of the hubs of it because we had possession of the German-made balloon — the one German-made balloon that we had — here at the fort.”

The balloon era didn’t last long.

“It’s about a 10 – 15-year period where we were experimenting, figuring stuff out, and then they were just obsolete,” O'Neil told 3 News Now.

O’Neil believes the work and research done at Fort Omaha’s Balloon School may have helped open the door for Offutt Air Force Base, which put itself on the map during the nuclear age of WWII.

“One of the concerns when we had the balloon school here was that it wasn’t big enough and we couldn’t train as many men at once, so I’m sure that was part of the reason that things shifted,” she said.

It’s the history of both locations that has shaped the Omaha area.

“Civilians have been notoriously patriotic in this area and I’m sure a lot of that has to do with Fort Omaha, and then Offutt of course.”

The Crook House Museum is open seven days a week.

Right next door is the Douglas County Historical Society Archives Center, which contains records that can tell all of Omaha's history and is also available to the public. That history can even range from past family members to the history of your home.

To learn more about both, along with other opportunities through the Douglas County Historical Society, click here.

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