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Nebraska...Our Towns

Ralston

Douglas County

Dr. George Miller's castle, built in 1887, on his Deerfield estate, which was then several miles west of Omaha. The home burned in 1898, when heat-lamps ignited the felt-wrapping on some frozen pipes.
One of the eight Rogers Motor Car produced in Ralston in the early 1900s.
The interurban car, linking Omaha, South Omaha, Ralston, and Papillion.
Main Street, looking north toward City Hall, 1900s.

Ralston is a town within a town, surrounded on three sides by the City of Omaha and on the south by La Vista. It has, however, managed to maintain its autonomy, complete with mayor, council, and its own city hall.

The picturesque landscape that is now Ralston was once a simple farm. Dr.George Miller, English born a physician and politician, established the "Omaha Herald" newspaper (forerunner to the "Omaha World-Herald") in 1865. He purchased some land west of Omaha belonging to Erastus Chandler in 1867, and had 40,000 walnut, catalpa, and oak trees "furrowed in," then stocked the area with deer. Miller named his luxurious estate "Deerfield," built a 17-room, story-book castle home in 1887, and platted a residential district which he called "Seymour Park."

An artesian well was drilled in 1892, which gushed thousands of gallons of water per hour, and quickly filled a 47-acre lake. The Cudahy Company established an icehouse, and a railroad spur was built to move ice from the lake to its meat packing plant at 36th and Q. Miller designed a recreation area with rides, boating, a dance hall, and water slides around Seymour Lake, and the Omaha & North Platte Railroad line was persuaded to move its station to Deerfield, sliding the "Belnap" station down the track (pulled by a team of horses) to that location.

The good doctor's dreams started to crumble when his castle burned in 1898. (The stones were moved to St.Martin's Episcopal Church at 24th and J, where the church stands today.) In 1907, after a series of unfortunate events, Miller sold about 270 acres of land to the Ralston Townsite Company. His request that the "natural beauty of the land be preserved as much as possible" was honored.

The town was named for Charles Ralston of Chicago, who promised to build a locomotive railway repair shop "to rival Havelock." The shop, however, never materialized. The Rogers Motor Car Plant, with plans to make Ralston the "new Detroit," brought great excitement and improved roads, but the company built only eight cars before it was sold to a firm for making butter tubs, and the Brown Truck Company made wooden wheels for small carts and baggage trucks.

In 1909 Ralston was made a rural post office. An interurban trolley was established in 1910 by the Nebraska Traction & Power Company, connecting it to other suburbs and Omaha. By June 1912, with inhabitants of 200 or more, incorporation papers were initiated.

The resulting surge in development was nearly all destroyed on March 23, 1913, when the devastating Easter Sunday tornado struck the town, killing seven people. With its main street leveled, citizens rallied together to rebuild..."bigger and more beautiful than ever." Liberty Laboratories was added to the list of businesses.

In the midst of this optimism, a charming con-man, Eugene Sigmund Schaefer, announced the creation of the Rialto Film Company, which "would soon outshine Hollywood." Soon after the cornerstone was laid in a shower of champagne, Schaefer and over $100,000 disappeared. The town declared bankruptcy. Even then, it did not die.

Poorer but wiser, Ralston worked to upgrade its fire department, improve streets, and provide a ball diamond "to curb difficulties experienced with some of the local youth." There was a fine town band. The Women's Club started a library, sponsored free outdoor movies, and established a local newspaper. Still several miles from Omaha, Pitzel's pasture became a golf course, and the Country Club saw tremendous growth.

During World War II, while everyone was doing their part for the war effort, Ralston continued to grow. After Seymour Lake was drained, a housing development was built. With the end of the war, life took on an even more futuristic outlook. Business was booming as new growth continued to swell Ralston's population.

By 1960 the population of Ralston was nearly 3,000. In 1967 the Ralston Post Office became a substation of Omaha, but attempts by Omaha to make the town part of that city has thus far failed.

In 1976, the year of the nation's bicentennial, the Ralston community commemorated its early history in word and song. As a First Class City with 5,800 residents and a valuation of nearly $120 million, Ralston has grown far beyond the dreams of those who established it as a quiet English estate.

From material found in EARLY HISTORY OF RALSTON, NEBRASKA , 1865-1950, written by Alice Shooter, 7913 Maywood Street, Ralston, NE 68127. Photos courtesy of Alice Shooter and Ralston Library.