Had one been in the habit of making squealing sounds of delight, this would have been an occasion for doing so. It all began when I opened an email from Sherri Moore, Director of Events for Joslyn Castle, asking for a bit of assistance with the historical research of their slated fall tour. Along with the squeals of delight (yes, a few sounds might have escaped my lips), I also felt a hesitation with the professional aspects of the query. Amateur architectural gumshoeing for hire? After all, I could not forecast, with any accuracy that I would be able to sufficiently dig up enough clues or the right kind of clues by another’s standards. Whatever it was, whatever hidden treasures, I would sniff it out, I told myself. And find clues I did–so many clues that I was able to weave them into a My Omaha Obsession article.
Indeed by the time these words are being read by you, my fellow edifice friends, I will probably be shadowing the leaf covered trail of my newest obsession. Perhaps a strange boarded up manor house, on a street no one has gone down for decades, all overgrown with browning ivy, little micey friends running to and fro as they please, not a cue, save for a perplexing single lit candle in the leaded glass third floor window. I am indulging here. One can dream, right? After all there is probably not a street in our Omaha with a looming, ornate, wrought iron fence that shrouds an unseen, glorious mansion. There are, however, numerous residences right out in front of us, and some wee, curious, tucked away structures, that hold undivulged secrets. As usual, we have digressed.
One of my assignments was the famed Offutt-Yost Mansion or sometimes called the Charles Offutt House at 140 North 39th Street. This is exactly One of Those Right Out in Front of Us Type Mysteries. The fact that it is more commonly known these days as the Cornerstone Mansion Inn only adds to the puzzlement. The Cornerstone Mansion has functioned as a bed and breakfast since the 1980s. To describe a stately house as a ‘mansion’ is one of Omaha’s customary exaggerations, one of which I wholly subscribe to. Let’s be honest, a side note confidence which will hardly need to be pointed out to you, my understated middle westerners. We certainly aren’t the East Coast with their airs, colorful history of robber barons, castles, country estates and the like. We claim our short list of mansions with the same simple satisfaction as we affirm our billionaires.
I am not entirely sure at what point a large home becomes a mansion in our collective eyes. The Offutt-Yost Mansion, like most of our Old Money Omaha mansions is actually quite subdued in its glory, leading one to believe that the wealthiest in our past also adhered to the understated aplomb of today’s comfortable set. (Of course I cannot begin to explain the architectural hybrids seen in McMansions out in West Omaha– with their strange mixture of windows and hyper-blending of stone facades. I have been assured those people are rolling in it.) What I thought would be a clear-cut story about the Offutt-Yost Mansion, developed into an intoxicating obsession focused on Bertha Yost Offutt and her family. In the spirit of Beverley Nichols, as he so beautifully wrote about his garden, when I begin to dream and write about gorgeous houses and their people, I lose all sense of restraint.
You cannot say you have not been warned.
Photo by Lynn Meyer. 1984.
I lived in the Gold Coast-West Cathedral Neighborhood in the very early 1990s (and a few more times after that) and I often liked to stroll the bricked portion of Davenport along Lynhurst, the Joslyn Castle. I learned that the Cornerstone Mansion, situated on the northwest corner of 39th and Davenport, was a bed and breakfast, although I never saw anyone come or go, not even cars in front. It was such a hauntingly, quiet corner and so beautiful. I easily felt a heaviness there, on that whole street. A heaviness that I would return for again and again. It always felt a tad sad to me, which I much embraced. For I would rather feel a something than a nothing. I sensed, queerly, that I had been there before and could even imagine the interior rooms. It seemed lonely. Is that possible? I would trudge by in the snow of that winter, in all likelihood sporting weird boots and smoking a cigarette with fingerless gloves, like some young skip tracer waiting to be offered formal training. No one ever noticed. It was in those early observations that I might have mentally signed a mortgage on the mansion with a mind to return it to a proper home. My home, of course. What girl wouldn’t want to luxuriate in a lonely 6,000 sq ft mansion? And all of my good friends could move in. Oh, the gilded gatherings we would have! The sordid details of uncertain upkeep costs and the size of the house itself escaped me as I stood there taking it all in like a stalker. No matter the financial details, the home was clearly on my radar from that point on.
TraveLodge postcard from the 1960s. 39th and Dodge. Now razed. (Postcard origin unknown.)
It seemed like an odd fit, right in the middle of the breathtaking Gold Coast but there was the screeching TraveLodge. When I was a wee child, I was enamored with the logo of the little Travelodge bear, sleep walking in his sleeping cap and night shirt. I thought it might be a very fine place to be. I never would have known that a good deal of my 1990s life would be spent avoiding the Scary Larry Inhabitants of the Travel Inn (its later name) at 39th and Dodge. They never had a problem yelling over the balconies to unsuspecting passersby which could really dampen a nice winter’s walk. It was not particularly easy to elude them so I found myself walking only on Davenport. Then the incredible Saigon Vietnamese restaurant would later move into the small, time capsule diner there, previously the Toddle House. You never knew what you’d get as you entered the Saigon parking lot. An odd mix of people and always just shy of perilous. But then, it felt like high adventure at the same time. The Travel Inn was demolished in 2007.
Early Family History and the Lay of the Land
So I started in by heading to the downtown library, ready to find those secrets of 140 North 39th Street. An Omaha World Herald article of October 20, 1887 revealed that Joslyn Castle or the Offutt-Yost Mansion, for that matter, might never have been. Originally there were plans to open an elementary school somewhere on that fine corner. The brief article outlined all of the new schools being constructed. “New school being built at 39th and Davenport streets, will be ready soon” was all it said. This new school never appeared.
According to the “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for the Gold Coast Historic District, Blackstone Neighborhood and West Central Cathedral Neighborhood” from 1997, the Charles Offutt house at 140 N. 39th Street, built in 1894, was one of the earliest high style mansions in Omaha. From the clipping file of Cathedral area at the Douglas County Historical Society, “The four decades from 1880 to 1920 were Omaha’s golden era, an era when a frontier city came of age and the rough exterior of the eighties gave way to the more mature city of the 1920.” Wealthy families expanded west, north and south during this period where previously the moneyed class lived downtown and just south of downtown. According to Born Rich: A Historical Book of Omaha, which I often quote in these articles, mansions had originally been “constructed on what was rapidly becoming the fringe of the downtown and commercial areas. The hills along 8th and 10th Streets from Mason Street to what is now Riverview Park and Henry Doorly Zoo became the first concentrated Gold Coast of Omaha in the 1880s.”
But let us backtrack just a few years for formality’s sake. The 1892 Omaha World Herald Society Page (yes, there were Omaha Society Pages) announced the wedding of Mr. Charles Offutt and Miss Bertha Yost, who were married a day previous on December 22, 1892. The well-attended wedding at the First Presbyterian Church was the social event of the season. The bride and her attending maids were dressed in white satin and tulle. Some of the biggest family names of Omaha were in the wedding, to include Nash, Yates, Poppleton, Sherwood and Patrick. After a wedding supper was served to the bridal party and friends at “the family residence of 423 North Twenty-Third Street.” I would discover later that this was the Yost family address.
Bertha Yost’s wedding photo in 1892. I discovered that Bertha was born on January 8 of 1869, making her 23 years of age by her wedding date. Bertha by all accounts was an early Omaha It Girl. She was everywhere. I must point out the gentle beauty of Bertha’s face, not often seen in photographs from this time period. From my perspective people tended to look rather harsh back then. Not Bertha. Mother of Miss Cassette has explained that people would have to pose for long periods of time to have their photograph taken back then and that might account for the pinched faces. But I believe that seriousness and a dignified expression were also the goal. At any rate, there is a softness to Bertha, rarely seen in the 1800s. And I suppose you have already guessed that I collect photos of people I don’t know from this time period. Yes, yes I do. So believe me when I say, Bertha looked different from most. (Photo from a site called Offutt.org)
Charles Offutt, Bertha’s groom, was a very well known Omaha attorney. He would have been quite a catch and so was she, by the way. Let me rephrase and say they would have been quite The Match. His practice was at the new Omaha National Bank Building.
The Omaha National Bank Building was built between 1888–89 at 1650 Farnam Street. One of Omaha’s most impressive buildings, in my estimation. And to think, they were going to tear it down in the 70s. (Photographer unknown.)
Charles was born in Kentucky on October 6, 1856, making him roughly 36 years of age at the time of his wedding. Charles came from a wealthy, well connected Kentucky family. Previous to moving to Omaha, Charles was elected to the Kentucky Legislature as the representative for Bourbon County. He would go on to become Speaker of the House for the State Legislature. Savage and Bell mentioned Charles favorably in 1894’s History of the City of Omaha Nebraska and South Omaha. A rather dense book, but none the less a favorite of mine, Savage and Bell include Charles Offutt as a well received accession from Kentucky to the Nebraska bar among other things.
Charles Offutt in 1892. Charles also has an attraction of sorts. I can see how these two might have found one another in the early Omaha circles. (Photo taken from Offutt.org.)
From the Omaha City Directory, I learned that Charles and Bertha Yost Offutt began their marriage residing at 207 South 39th Street, just one block south of where the Offutt-Yost mansion was to be built. By October 30, 1893, their first child, Casper Yost Offutt was born, named respectfully after Bertha’s father. The family continued to live at South 39th when their second born, Jarvis Jennes Offutt arrived on Oct. 26, 1894. Incredible name. I would later learn that Jennes was Bertha’s mother’s maiden name. These were my first clues that Bertha was very close to her parents.
Google map detail of 207 South 39th Street. Charles and Bertha’s original home is no longer standing and this address does not carry forward either. It would have been right around the amazing Katelman Antique Restoration, no longer in business, unfortunately.
Meanwhile according to the Omaha City Directory, the Casper Enoch and Anna Marietta Jenness Yost residence, Bertha’s parents, was at 424 North 23rd Street. This clue helped me backtrack to the wedding party address of Charles and Bertha. Off by one number, however. I am not sure if the World Herald made a mistake or the city directory. Either way, this address no longer exists either. It is right in the heart of Creighton University.
Google map detail of 424 North 23rd Street. This residence was apparently quite remarkable and it is interesting to imagine that this area, at one time, was all neighborhood tree lined streets with glorious homes.
Dense with homes and tree. A view of what remained of North 23rd by July of 1964. (Photo courtesy of the Martin Weil Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).
I’ve just got to add this here. When I did an initial search for 424 North 23rd Street, the Yost’s family home, I found this photo. This is of an apartment building fire from 1948. The building aflame is actually 424 North 23rd Street, their very address. I would come to assume this apartment building had replaced their family home when they moved in the late 1890s.
It was around this time in the search for clues that I discovered 140 North 39th Street was “built by Casper and Anna Yost for their only daughter’s wedding gift.” I was stuck with the generosity of this immense wedding gift and the amount of money, love and dedication involved with an unfathomable gift of this scale. I knew I would need to delve deeper into Casper and Anna’s history, as these weren’t just secondary characters.
Casper Yost must have been a remarkable person. From the West Farnam Story by B. F. Sylvester, upon arrival in Omaha in 1864, Casper, a Michigan law graduate “became U. S. Marshal for the territory of Nebraska and Omaha Postmaster.” According to Savage and Bell’s History of the City of Omaha Nebraska and South Omaha, where Casper is mentioned often and in a positive light, he had a hand in numerous Omaha endeavors. By July of 1866 Casper was secretary to the Twelfth Session of the Douglas County Courthouse as well as Omaha Postmaster. In 1875, the Omaha Republican became the property of a stock company, with Casper Yost as business manager. Casper, along with Fred Nye, bought the paper in 1881. They later sold it off in the fall of 1886. Casper was brought in a year later after the untimely death of the new purchaser. This time his role was that of receiver, appointed by the court to protect the interests of various stockholders. The Republican ceased to exist by July 29, 1890.
Casper Yost in 1917. If I am not mistaken, it looks like he has a framed photo of Charles Offutt on his desk. This made more sense to me later. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).
Casper took six months off to consider his future. A chance meeting on the streets of New York City after a night at the theater introduced Casper to Edgar M. Morsman, then director of the Nebraska Telephone Company. The story holds that Morsman asked, “Why can’t you become general manager of the Telephone Company in Omaha?” Yes, fine readers, this was how business was done and probably is still done, when you’re in the right place at the right time with the right connections, the right talent and savior faire. So at the age of 47, Casper became President of the Nebraska Telephone Company and eased into the new field of telephony. He went on to become president of three telephone companies, which later merged to became Northwestern Bell. Casper was believed to be largely responsible for the company’s headquarters being in Omaha instead of Minneapolis. It was becoming apparent how the Yosts could afford such a lavish wedding gift for their beloved daughter, Bertha.
Nebraska Telephone Company. By 1916, Casper Yost had acquired the southeast corner of 19th and Douglas as the new headquarters for the Nebraska Telephone Company. This building was completed between 1917-18. (Postcard origin unknown.)
As was the pattern of recording history in those days, little is known about Mrs. Anna Marietta Jenness Yost. Anna was born in 1845, she married Casper on January 11, 1866 and gave birth to one child, Bertha, in 1869. Anna was often found in the Society Pages and her and Casper appeared to socialize quite a bit. Anna and Bertha also spent a great deal of time together, both socially and in their domestic lives.
Close up detail of Anna. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).
The puzzle pieces led me to the Douglas County Register of Deeds where I soon learned the corner lot property at Kilby Place addition was replatted three times. Although by all accounts 140 North 39th Street was built for Bertha, the original deed was put into Charles Offutt’s name as would have been customary at those times. 140 North 39th Street was officially erected on May 8, 1894 but is listed elsewhere as being built in 1895 and even 1896. For example, a bit of confusion: the Omaha City Directory lists the Offutts as residents of South 39th throughout 1894 (could be explained by time of year the surveyors were out). By 1895 the Directory has the Charles Offutt family residing at 136 N. 39th St (this address no longer exists or seeing as addresses change over time, this might have been 140 N. 39th originally or, let us not forget, the typo error option.) The Casper E. Yost family continued to be listed at 424 North 23rd St.
The Architect and Style
Henry Ives Cobb. Yes, I realize the above font is better. This photo is from the Art Institute of Chicago–Library of Ryerson &Burnham Archival Image Collection.
140 North 39th Street is credited to Chicago architect, Henry Ives Cobb. Cobb is well known in Illinois and is ascribed the Chicago Varnish Company Building, the Newberry Library; the Liberty Tower in Manhattan, the Olive Building in St. Louis and co-designed the King Edward Hotel in Toronto. The fact that the Yosts brought in Cobb, in spite of having many gifted Omaha architects within social reach, is very interesting. The mansion was build by contractor, John H. Harte, for a cost of $15,000, (relative value of $10 million according to the inflation calculator.) Interesting to this detective was the formal client’s name listing of Charles Offutt. The Omaha city Planning Department has the mansion listed under the Chateauesque style, also known as the French Chateauesque. Likewise A Comprehensive Program for Historic Preservation in Omaha by the Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission states, “Two homes built in 1894, those of banker Gurdon Wattles at 320 South 37th and the Offutt-Yost residence at 140 North 39th, are representative of the French Chateauesque style.”
Rainy day at 140 North 39th Street.
Continued from A Comprehensive Program for Historic Preservation the French Chateauesque style “is characterized by massive and irregular silhouettes, steeply pitched roofs, tall elaborately decorated chimneys and basket-handle arched windows.” The Chateauesque style rose up in the 1880s. And from Omaha City Architecture, they point out that this particular Chateauesque home is “unusual in that the façade is virtually symmetrical. Architectural details, such as the front entrance and copper roof edges” were of high quality and well executed. Largely considered Chateauesque, the Building for the Ages: Omaha’s Architectural Landmarks writer and researcher, Jeffrey S. Spencer, labeled 140 North 39th Street Late Gothic Revival. He goes one to described,” The profile is enhanced by an elaborate Tudor arched entryway and steeply pitched hip roof. The brick exterior is accented by an extensive use of limestone trim.”
Based on my examination of the now classic, Identifying American Architecture by Blumenson and the enchanting Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Carley, I can see where there was a clear argument for the Gothic Revival label. The Gothic Revival style became popular in the 1830s and 1840s. There were a number of characteristics in the Gothic style that I observed such as the hood moldings, the arches and window treatments. Both architectural styles share the steeply pitched roof, finials, stone window tracery and arches. But that entry way…. so Chateauesque. Then there is that rumor about the stained glass door, believed to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. After a digging around for more clues, I was delighted to find that the 1893’s World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, featured a renewed interest in European architectural revival styles (Classical and Renaissance) mixed with Colonial styles as well as Beaux Arts. This variety of period styles surely influenced Cobb, as he must have attended this spectacle in his own hometown, just one year before the Offutt-Yost construction.
The amazing front door. An inner door said to have been created by Frank LLoyd Wright.
Let us now indulge in some exterior shots.
North east exterior.
North side steps. Why do I love these stairs so much?
Magnificent geometric tracery that looks to be molded stone filling the window head with two trefoils. Classic diamond pane casements with a subtle Gothic arch, mimicked in the door.
Someone much wiser than I could tell us what the name of this dormer window roof style is but can we just call it the little red witch hat, for now? Very good tomato tiles.
It is interesting to consider, according to the Reconnaissance Survey of Selected Neighborhoods in Central Omaha Nebraska Historic Buildings Survey of 2003, there was a nationwide economic slowdown in the 1890s, which temporarily hindered building and architectural development in Omaha. This depression all but halted construction in the city. Apparently most of the extant buildings prior to 1900 were erected in the 1880s. The most prosperous of Omahans were not effected by this national economic struggle and that is why we see so many of the Gold Coast marvels dating to the 1890s. It gives one pause to comprehend 140 North 39th Street was built in the face of that financial lockdown for approximately ten million dollars (today’s money) using an architect brought in from the big city, let alone use of the finest materials available.
According to the Omaha City Directory, by 1896 the Charles Offutt family was sufficiently nestled into 140 North 39th Street. It must have been a very quiet street for there was nothing much around. The home directly to the south, at 132 N 39th, was built in 1892 but other than that, the 39th Street homes, to include Joslyn Castle wouldn’t be built until the 1900s. I could see the children in the large home, with Bertha probably calling upon a good deal of domestic help. I could see Charles going back and forth between his office downtown and the way out west Gold Coast neighborhood. By October of that year, the newspaper announced the birth of their youngest child, a daughter whom they named Virginia. That same October of 1896, Casper E. Yost was recognized as the auspicious King of the Ak Sar Ben Coronation Ball, only in its second year. Can you imagine those early balls? I closed my eyes and thought of what must have been joyous times for Bertha.
August 22, 1897 This vivid photo from the fabulous book, The Joslyns of Lynhurst by Daniel Kiper, shows what the neighborhood was like at the time. “In the foreground are the ponds and Mr. Ebell’s Russian tearoom.” WHAT? Look at that outdoor tearoom. Mr. Cassette would be dying right now but he is out fiddling about in the garden. To the left shows the Sutphen farmhouse, “where the Joslyns lived until they completed their mansion in 1903.” This farmhouse was later torn down and one of my absolute Favorite Omaha Houses was erected in 1914 at 141 South 39th Street. Seen on the right is the object of our affection, 140 South 39th Street. (Photographer unknown. Image from Kiper’s book, The Joslyns of Lynhurst.)
I was shocked to learn, by way of the Omaha City Directory, that in 1899, Casper and Anna Yost moved in with their daughter to 140 North 39th Street. There was also mention that Charles Offutt had died, in parentheses, something that the City Directory normally does not explain in such detail. Assuming he had died of an illness, I continued to collect evidence as I moved on the trail. It wouldn’t be long until I found another clue, that Charles had died November 3 of 1898. I began to imagine young Bertha being left with Casper, Jarvis and Virginia. Somehow I was comforted to know that her parents moved in with her. It also explained why the house was called the Offutt-Yost Mansion as well as the Charles Offutt Mansion.
I was carrying on weeks later, obsessing over the physique of the north side of the mansion as opposed to the front side, trying to find more architectural articles, when I can across the most troubling of all accounts. The World Herald of November 4, 1898 reported in very descript terms Charles Offutt had been depressed and in a state of neurosis. I couldn’t believe it as I read, he” ended his life in a period of mental aberration.” All weapons had been removed from the home because of his state of mind. Had reportedly slipped out of the house, went downtown and bought a revolver. Charles Offutt shot himself in the right temple when Bertha stepped out of the room for a moment. Absolutely traumatic and how devastating for Bertha and their children. Charles ended his life on November 3, 1898. Why did I feel like someone had punched me in the stomach? And why had I never read or heard about this suicide in all of the weeks of research?
Charles Offutt is dead (Article scanned from the Omaha World Herald.)
From there I went into absolute obsessed detective mode. There was not another peep until some very different news came out of Chicago. From the Chicago Tribune, November 4, 1898, claiming that Charles Offutt was in poor health and it was known by family and friends that he would kill himself eventually.
Chicago Tribune article.
This news bothered me deeply. He had been trying to manage anxiety, depression and who knows what else. He had not practiced law for quite some time, according to one article. I reached out to two close girlfriends to share the shocking death I had found on the mystery trail. They were very kind about it, I will say, but I knew at that moment that I was deeply entrenched in the spirit of the house and the family because I was feeling emotional.
That same day, the World Herald ran their last story about Charles. A short, compassionate piece that I will include.
(Omaha World Herald article scanned.)
Charles Offutt headstone. (Photo from the Find a Grave Memorial Website.)
Charles Offutt was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Omaha. There was never another mention about how he died in any newspaper or book that I could find. Unless I missed some case history from the past, the story appeared to be well buried as would have been typical at that time. According to my findings at the Register of Deeds, 140 North 39th Street then went into Bertha Yost Offutt’s name.
Development on 39th and Davenport Streets
The Streets of Omaha: Their Origins and Changes, compiled by H. Ben Brick (I believe he should be made a saint any day now) in 1997, educated that Davenport Street (still a brick street running perpendicular to 39th on this corner of our focus) was named by a group of bankers from Davenport, Iowa. This banking group apparently opened a branch up in the beautiful Florence area. While in our midst, these bankers gave us this puzzling street name, which we, Omahans have all been explaining to our out of town guests for many decades now. Yes, like the sofa.
PHOTO: By 1900 130 North 39th Street was built. I love this house! (Date according to the Douglas County Assessor. Sometimes misleading.)
By October 9, 1901 there appeared an article that must have created quite a stir in these social environs. The affluent of Omaha and all who loved to read about them received news of the Joslyn’s new residence to be erected at Thirty-Ninth and Davenport. George and Sarah Joslyn had hired their close friend and favorite architect, the famed John McDonald to design Lynhurst. (Omaha World Herald article scan.)
Bertha in about 1900. It wasn’t long until I found Bertha again socializing, attending and hold teas, going to friends’ homes for dinners and parties and involved in charitable work. This gave me relief. She maintained countless life long friendships with the elite of Omaha; the same women she had known from childhood. Her parents, Casper and Anna were also very engaging, socially minded people. Bertha was often mentioned in articles attending and hosting events with her parents. They must have been extraordinarily close, which can often be the case with only children. Some might say Bertha had a very leisurely existence for this reason. (Photo scanned from the Omaha World Herald, run in August of 1932, a retrospective about women of the past. Bertha photo was dated 1900.)
Irish domestic servants from this time period. Not the Offutt-Yost servants. Only used to illustrate what servants of 1900 looked like. Can you imagine the photographer encouraging each woman to pick up a prop from their daily job? I will just peel these potato here.
Her job, like her mother’s, as women of substance, involved running the household and organizing their servants. Due to the times and their social standing, they most likely had a faithful legion of domestics. A lady maid or more for general housework, a governess or nanny for additional childcare and most surely a family cook. They might have kept additional kitchen girls on staff for all of their lavish parties and in-home events. Although the property is very small, Bertha might have had a gardener and later, was rumored to have a chauffeur. **Update: From my favorite book West Farnam Story, I just learned that Mrs. Charles Offutt’s long time servant was Hilda Carlson. Hilda worked for our Bertha for 38 years! Another long time maid of hers was Hanna Flicker, who also served the Joslyns and the Hardings. Check out Mysteries of Omaha: 5120 Mayberry Street for more on the Harding family. The book goes on to say that an Omaha woman from the upper class would commonly serve fifty to sixty guests for lunch and a socialite could count on attending three luncheons and four dinners a week. That explained why I found these same names repeatedly in the newspaper for their social gatherings.**
Castle Postcard. Lynhurst, at 3902 Davenport Street was completed in 1903. This surely brought a new level of prestige to the area. Just look at this image. (Photographer unknown. From the blog A Stroll Down Fortieth Street.)
On August 7, 1907 Bertha’s home was struck by lightening at the end of long storm. The fire brigade was brought in after “an alarm was turned in from this place.” Damage was not too extensive.
Archer Gibson. (Photographer unknown. From the Bach Cantatas website.)
From the Joslyns of Lynhurst, I learned that in 1909“Casper Yost, the president of the Nebraska Telephone Company, installed a private telephone line running from a microphone on the balcony of the (Joslyn) music room to the bedside of Dr. Harry Lyman, four blocks away.” This allowed Dr. Lyman, son of the Joslyn’s good friends, to hear the live musical performance of S. Archer Gibson. Gibson, as well as other well-known musicians of the day, had been brought to Omaha by the Joslyns to perform for their friends and family. Archer Gibson was an American organist and arranger, considered one of the leading organists during this time. At a time when it was fashionable for millionaires to have organs in their homes, Archer Gibson became a touring favorite with the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Schwabs. Can you imagine the delight of Sarah Joslyn as this American great performed in her music room?
I adore this story. According to West Farnam Story by B. F. Sylvester, 140 North 39th Street “…would survive the Easter tornado of 1913, which leveled and severely damaged the other houses in the block. An open decanter of sherry was carried 35 feet from a sideboard in the dining room to the living room without spilling any.” Now whether that is true or if Casper was spinning a tall tale, this is a good tall tale. We have all seen the awe inspiring, peculiar damage of our Midwestern tornadoes and this story has a bit of class to it.
Later in 1913, 127 North 39th Street was built. (Build date according to the Douglas County Assessor. Sometimes their dates are a bit off.)
1914 brought my favorite home on the block, 141 North 39th. A marvel of man! Of course, I will be investigating this in the future. I could stare at it all day. (Build date according to the Douglas County Assessor.)
Portion of the old Travel Inn-Travelodge lot, as it looks today, where there were once three additional large Gold Coast homes.
In January of 1916, Casper and Anna Yost celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Anna is seen here wearing her original wedding dress from January 11, 1866. Bouquets of flowers from their large group of friends surround them. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).
The neighborhood was in full prosperous swing. Margaret Patricia Killian outlined the Who’s Who of 39th Street in its heyday in her book Born Rich: A Historical Book of Omaha. Just take in these names and imagine waving at these neighbors when you arrive home from work or taking out the garbage.
Margaret Patricia Killian’s graph. She did not date the time period that all of these families resided in the two block area.
The Carriage House
I found an additional clue from a favorite book of mine, An Inventory of Historic Omaha Buildings prepared by Landmarks Inc. in 1980. It revealed that Bertha’s carriage house, constructed of brick, was built in 1916. The architect for this carriage house was A. Shields. He is also credited with designing the Longfellow Apartments on 22nd and Howard. The builder was John Harte at a cost of $4,500.00. From another source I found “addition(s) made in 5/9/1916.” I was not able to resolve if other additions were made to 140 South 39th Street at that time, or if it was just the carriage house.
I found an additional clue from a favorite book of mine, An Inventory of Historic Omaha Buildings prepared by Landmarks Inc. in 1980. It revealed that Bertha’s carriage house, constructed of brick, was built in 1916. The architect for this carriage house was A. Shields. He is also credited with designing the Longfellow Apartments on 22nd and Howard. The builder was John Harte at a cost of $4,500.00. From another source I found “addition(s) made in 5/9/1916.” I was not able to resolve if other additions were made to 140 South 39th Street at that time, or if it was just the carriage house.
View of the carriage house from Davenport Street.
North west view of the carriage house with north south alley access. Miss Cassette loves an alley.
As one can see, every attempt was made to coordinate this carriage house design with the residence.
Probably one of my favorite features of this back alley, is the glorious, curving brick wall at the back of the property. I wonder if it was always just this short curved wall or if it extended or continued else where. So attractive and Secret Garden-ish.
A detail of that handsome wall. This one is for Mr. Cassette because he embraces nature reconfiguring of our human schemes.
Successes and Still More Tragedy for the Offutt-Yost Family
First Lieutenant Jarvis Offutt smoking. He looks so much like an Omaha fellow I know. (Great photo from Home of the Firebirds–see website below.)
During these years, sons Casper and Jarvis would graduate from Omaha Central High. Casper would attend Harvard Law School between 1915 and 1917. Jarvis would go to Lawrenceville Prep before graduating from Yale University where he was a member of Battery B of the Yale Batteries. He then entered the first Officers Training Camp at Fort Snelling, Minnesota after joining the U.S. Army Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. At age 23, Jarvis, then a pilot, was transferred to his combat outfit near the front lines. He was killed in the line of duty on August. 13, 1918, near Valheureuv, France. “He was the first Omaha airman to die during World War I, which led to the naming of Offutt Air Force Base in his honor.” Jarvis Jennes Offutt never married. See http://www.56sqnfirebirds.org.uk/TheFirebirds/jj_offutt.htm.
This must have been a heartbreaking time for Bertha and her family. I cannot imagine having a child killed in war. He looked so very similar to Bertha. (Photo from Find a Grave Memorial site.)
One piece of evidence that I couldn’t quite make sense of was found at the Register of Deeds. In December of 1919, Bertha Yost Offutt had a “restriction agreement with Robert Cowell and wife.” This most likely was some sort of rental agreement. It became confounding as went on because from all accounts Bertha, daughter Virginia and her parents continued to live at 140 North 39th Street.
Incredible, stark photo by Lynn Meyer of the Omaha City Planning Department. 1984.
As if having your son killed in war wasn’t enough by January 15, 1920 I found that Mrs. Anna Marietta Jenness Yost’s funeral was held at 140 North 39th Street. I am not 100% sure that she died in the home but that would be my suspicion as was customary at the time. By November 22, 1920 the World Herald announced that Casper Yost died the same year as his wife.
OWH December 2, 1920 article:
–Yost Wills Million to his only daughter—“ Casper E. Yost left a fortune estimated at $1,000,000 to his daughter and only child, Mrs. Bertha Yost Offutt.” Most of his estate was said to be in stocks, bonds and securities. Too long to list but property contained in the will include shares of stock in U.S. National bank, U. S. Guaranty Co., American Telephone and Telegraph, Kennedy Building Co, American Smelting and Refining Company, Central West Publishing, to name about one-fourth listed.
This photo of Bertha was included in the announcement. It mentioned that she was a supporter of many charities. It mentioned Miss Virginia and that Casper had recently been admitted to the Nebraska bar. (Omaha World Herald.)
Thanks to Trina Westman of the Omaha City Planning Department for allowing me to used this dramatic image. This is the backside or the west side of of the house. Photo taken in the 1980s.
Bertha Marches On
I believe shortly after the death of her parents, Bertha started renting out 140 North 39th Street. Understandable. Can you imagine the memories in that once filled mansion? She would collect rent on this property until the 1940s when she eventually sold the home. She would later move to 109 North 54th Street. I have reason to believe that this was her son, Casper’s home–a glorious Happy Hollow abode built in 1924. **Update: I have just heard from the current owner of this gorgeous house at 109 North 54th Street. She confirmed that Casper Yost Offutt built this home in 1924. She even has the original blue prints! She reported that he lived at the home until his death in the 1980s.***
(Photo credit: Douglas County Assessor website.)
Bertha’s next home was at 109 North 54th Street. A bit more about her first born, the exceptional Casper Yost Offutt. After graduating from Harvard Law, Casper returned to Omaha and became a well-respected attorney, like his father and grandfather before him. He would marry Mary E. Longmaid and together they had one son, John Longmaid Offutt. Casper became director of the former U.S. National Bank, moving into banking. Casper continued to aspire to greater heights still, later becoming a U.S. diplomat and a university professor. Casper Yost Offutt died December 20, 1987. He is buried with the Offutt-Yosts at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Casper Yost Offutt (1893 – 1987) headstone.(Photo from Find a Grave Memorial website.)
This sleuther was not able to find many clues about youngest born, Virginia Offutt. I do know that Virginia would marry, have children and live the majority of her adult life in California.
North side of 140 North 39th Street, from over the Joslyn fence. Thank you to the Trina Westman of the Omaha City Planning Department for allowing me to share this great photo.
String of Renters and Owners
I tiptoed across an announcement from December 6, 1937. Apparently Annie McGrath, 68, had her funeral held at 140 South 39th Street. She was apparently a widow of P.T. McGrath. I cannot be sure but she might have been renting from Bertha at the time of her death. By August of 1942, Bertha had put the 140 South 39th mansion up for sale. The ad read, “House and carriage. Four room apt above garage. For sale. $5,950.” Can you imagine? In April of 1948 the Register of Deeds office indicated, “Bertha Yost Offutt sold to Mary M. O’Neil.” Bertha was officially off of the deed. In September 16, 1951 the Omaha World Herald pointed to a rental of the carriage house. It read, “Lady to share three room apartment, private bath, kitchen privileges.” It was interesting to learn that the carriage house boasted three bedrooms.
Fantastic photo by Gregory Eden in 1977.
Death of Bertha Yost Offutt
An older Bertha. Still a refined beauty in my eyes. (Photo from the Offutt Family Genealogy site http://www.dwomyfam.byethost8.com/p16.htm).
I found the obituary for our Bertha Yost Offutt. She died on October 25, 1958 at the age of fine age of 89. (Photo from Find a Grave site.)
The family plot headstone in Forest Lawn. (Photo from Find a Grave Memorial site.)
Fascinating Sanborn Map detail from mid 1950s or 1960s. Thank you to the Trina Westman of the Omaha City Planning Department for allowing me to share this map.
The Sanborn map shows that two mansions were torn down to the build the TraveLodge. B. F. Sylvester dismally reported in her chapter called “Changing Times” from 1964’s West Farnam Story that the “Offutt home has officially become apartments.” I did not like to think of the 39th Street block changing from single family homes to multiple residence homes, although I know it was a financial reality. Sadly some of the homes in the Gold Coast that were not able to make the transition to business or apartments, were torn demolished. Thank you to the Trina Westman of the Omaha City Planning Department for allowing me to share this map.
From Omaha City Architecture put out by Landmarks, Inc. and the Junior League of Omaha in 1977, I learned, “Renovation of the house was completed in 1976 by Nebraska and Iowa interior designers in cooperation with the Omaha Symphony Guild as a “Symphony Showcase” house project. It all began to click. I had been inside that gorgeous mansion as a child. Mother of Miss Cassette and I loved the Symphony Showcase houses. Those are some of my favorite mansion memories.
Beautiful snowy photo from Lynn Meyer in 2003.
A Little about the Interior
The library of the mansion is known to feature Cuban Mahogany and a pink onyx fireplace. Apparently there are numerous full maids’ quarters. Nine bedrooms total. I found conflicting information about 5,952 square feet (Douglas County Assessor site) vs. 6,952 square feet (from an OWH article from the 2000s). There is a glorious quarter-sawn oak entry and grand staircase.
The home was built with gas/electric ornate fixtures and wall sconces that still grace this glorious mansion. Cunning, little, blue tile fireplace. Interior shots from the Art Institute of Chicago Ryerson &Burnham Archival Image Collection.
Stairwell. There is rumored to be a black walnut dining room. Interior shots from the Art Institute of Chicago Ryerson &Burnham Archival Image Collection.
Omaha World Herald photo.
Now I am going to say this but not say this with absolute certainly because, dear readers, this which I am about to lay forward is not first hand experience. In fact, close friends have spent the night at the Offutt-Yost Mansion and enjoyed themselves immensely. I will tell you, if you haven’t already heard, there are rumors that the Offutt-Yost Mansion is haunted. In the research of this article I found that it was listed on a handful of haunted house sites. I will let you investigate those matters and those sites if it behooves you. They say that there was a woman beaten to death by her chauffeur husband after an argument in the carriage house apartment. I could find nothing in the Omaha papers to back this up. Her name is rumored to have been “Emily.” There are rumors that a ghost(s) sits in a chair at night, plays tricks at various events and walks the halls. There are rumors of bad energy in the carriage house. There are rumors of a basement door that leads to a tunnel under the street. There is also a rumor of a bullet hole in the wall of a third floor room where Charles Offutt met his demise. I do hope we can hear from some readers who might have first hand experience with the mansion. It has sheltered so many people over the decades and been host to countless weddings and family events.
**Update: the Bertha Yost Offutt story continues at Bertha Yost Offutt and the Mysterious Gold Coast Mansion Part Two.
Here is the best part of all and something that I don’t anticipate being able to say very often on My Omaha Obsession. Joslyn Castle will be offering a chance to visit to the Cornerstone Mansion as part of their fall tour. I know I must go myself to once again walk the rooms that Bertha Yost Offutt once called home. After all of this time spent following Bertha’s intriguing life and series of heartbreaks, I can’t wait to get in that house. (I hope to find even more clues.) I want to encourage you to do the same or at least admire this remarkable craftsmanship. For what it’s worth, I move that we rename 140 North 39th Street the Bertha Yost Offutt Mansion. Let’s get to the real heart of the mansion. It was built for her, after all. And for the heartache she suffered in her lifetime, I think she earned it.
I am not receiving money for including this bit of advertisement. For your knowledge only: The Holiday Historic Home Tour will run from 10:00am until 4:00pm Friday, November 11th and Saturday, November 12th. The tour will feature four historic properties: The Joslyn Castle located at 3902 Davenport St., the Bakhit Home at 3818 Burt St., the Cornerstone Mansion at 140 N. 39th St., and the First Unitarian Church at 3114 Harney St. These tours bring together people who love historic properties, and help reinforce the value and beauty that they bring to the community. Tickets for the tour are $20.00 and may be purchased on-line at www.joslyncastle.com or by calling 402.595.2199. Tour tickets will also be available for purchase at each of the tour sites on November 11th and 12th.
Photo Credit to Lynn Meyer 1984.
A Bit on Historical Research
It is unfortunate that I have received minor back lash on this article, as I had such a good time tracking down this story. I was accused of stealing this information from someone’s website that I have never been to and for not including people in an interview about this property. I typically do not interview past homeowners as I would consider that cheating. Why am I sensitive about this? Because I care deeply. Most of you know that. I want the challenge when I start a story and I love the hunt for clues, so why would I steal when I don’t have to? (I think I’ve more than proven that I like this.) And then, take the weeks to print articles down at the library, scan everything, get quotes from books that took me forever to find and laboriously document everything I did on the path, as I always do. None of the accusations made a bit of sense to those who follow my work, have seen me toil away whole weekends at the library and know my character. All clue sources are sited and are as accurate at the original sources: The Omaha World Herald, Chicago Tribune, Douglas County Assessor, the Omaha City Planning Department, Omaha City Directory, and numerous books, which I have elaborated on. Another issue that this outburst brought, once again, to the forefront, is the need some people have to hide away their research and try to keep ownership of historical knowledge. I have bumped into this attitude on my travels. What I do is of public record. Our history should be public knowledge. I lay out all of my research methods in the hopes of showing any one who cares, how to start doing their own detecting. In the end, I’ve got to believe this anger wasn’t even really about me. I’m going to keep up the amateur sleuthing.
I welcome your feedback and comments on this home, its history, the lovely Yost and Offutt families and the Gold Coast area. I also welcome your kind corrections. To enable comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at email@example.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations without even leaving your inbox, by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new story. Thank you Omaha friends.
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So very interesting. Love your work.
Thank you, Brenda! I do appreciate it.
Amazing article! My father, Casper Yost Offutt Jr., was the grandson of Bertha Yost Offutt, whom I knew as a child as a great grandchild. She was blind in her later years, but a very loving person who always enjoyed seeing the kids. she lived with my grandparents, Casper Y. Offutt Sr., who lived on N. 54th Street, just off of Dodge. The Offutt house has changed hands recently, and is still operated as a B&B. We stayed there last summer for an evneing on the way to our summer home at Okoboji in northwest Iowa. My dad spent quite a bit of time at the house as a youngster, and still knows many of the stories related to the house (including the underground tunnel that connected to the Joslyn house). He is currently 89, but doing well and living in California. I’ll make sure to forward this article on to him, he’d be fascinated by it!
PS I also have a son by the name of Jarvis Offutt. named after my dad’s uncle (my grandfather’s brother) who was kille din WWI.
It appears the character of Wyatt Earp, in the film “Tombstone” engagingly portrayed by Kurt Russell was fashioned from the early 1892 photograph you’d found of Charles Offutt. That they were a handsome couple, he and Bertha Yost-Offutt, must have had beautiful children. They, wanting for nothing, were true Children of the Gilded Age-yet, still, one would go on to give his life in The Great War, as an early warrior aviator. This is what I found most interesting of your newest installment: the backstory to the naming of Offutt Air Force Base, and learning of Jarvis Jennes Offutt.
How terribly sad the news must have been for Bertha to bear. Her oldest son, and, after losing her husband so tragically, also.
Thank you for bringing this entertaining and most informative narrative to us.
Thank you! I never knew where Offutt AFB came from either. Or the name, I should say. I feel for them and I am glad you liked the story.
Love the story of the Offutt Mansion, we live in at 109 N 54th St house now and I always wanted to know more history about the Offutt family. Casper Yost Offutt did build 109 N 54th in 1924, we have the original blueprints :).
Oh my gosh!!! That is so great to know! I had a feeling about that. May I add that to the story? What a beautiful home you have. Thank you for writing in!
Thanks! Absolutely! Apparently Casper Jr lived here into the 1980’s until he passed away. We are the 5th owners. I have a couple of pictures of the house from 1927 ish. I love the history of these old houses and the Offutt family is so interesting. Thank you for writing these stories!
Thank you! Yes, I will include it tonight. I am going out on a limb here, but would you be willing to share a photo? If you can, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your genuine response and interest.
I would love to send a picture! I feel like these old houses are almost people themselves. I would have loved to see the neighborhood when it was new!
I am with you! They have a spirit and personality. I’ll be looking for that photo.
Thank you for your wonderful articles! I didn’t know Offutt was named after anyone, Jarvice Jennes is so handsome in the photos! It really is a sad story at times, but I’m glad you are keeping the history alive! I just bought tickets for my daughter and I for the home tour, can’t wait!
Thank you for your kind words. I never knew about Offutt AFB either. I agree with you about the sadness of the story and was moved to tears several times in the research of it. I can’t imagine her life in that big house with all that loss. I hope she found peace with it all. Enjoy the tour!
I loved reading this article, this type of history is so interesting to me. I especially loved it because we lived at 401 south 41st street for years, which was another mansion in the area, and I have always wanted so badly to learn more about its history and bones. Unfortunately, it was torn down last year, with the renovation of the black stone district, taking a little bit of my heart with it.
Oh Laura….that is so sad to hear. I can only imagine how you feel. I think I might know the house–I would have to check my addresses. I believe I included it in the story of the Blackstone Union apartment? I will look back and see. We can still find out and discover its history before it gets too far buried. Thanks for writing.
I am fascinated by your investigative approach, and would absolutely love to invite you into our home and into our quest to uncover the facts about our house and its former occupants. The longer we live here, the more we learn that many “facts” are just rumors, wishful thinking, or outright falsehoods. We reside in the CJ Smyth House at 710 N 38th Street.
I am more than a little stirred by your message—I am about to post a story which mentions your home to include photos!! OMG….yes! I will be in touch. I mentioned in my newest article that I need to investigate your home further. We are on the same page. How bizarre and coincidental. Thank you for writing.
Excellent! I’m really looking forward to meeting you and working with you to unlock the stories the grand old gal we live in holds. I will email you my contact information. Although, I would welcome a knock at the door anytime.
I should also mention that Casper Yost Offutt (the son of Bertha) actually had three children. My father is Casper Y. Offutt Jr., who was born and raised in Omaha, but currently lives in Portola Valley, CA. He was the middle child, the oldest being Jan Offutt (I believe she is 93 years old and living in New York) and the youngest being John Offutt.
I have re-read the article several times, and you really did an amazing amount of background work in writing this. Outstanding!
Hello and how wonderful to hear from you! I really appreciate this details and family extras. When family members write in it adds so much richness. I noticed that there were two comments from you. I am not sure if you meant to add both. I can delete if you would like. Thank you and happy holidays!
Yes, it would be fine to delete the second post. I was simply trying to write that Casper Offutt Sr. actually had three children, one of whom is my father, along with a daughter and another son. But yes, please delete it.
I won’t delete it, David. I thought it was maybe an accident or a duplicate but you shared additional info. I thank you for that and for your kind words. I hope to hear from you again after you speak with your father. Maybe he can shed light on the tunnel. Take care.
Oh my gosh! My family and I live at 109 N 54th now and I love hearing the history! I had meant to send some current pictures in but we’ve been busy with renovations and it slipped my mind until I saw your post! We love the house and are fully restoring it. It’s been well taken care of though. We have an original picture of the house that was in the attic and their original landscaping blueprints look amazing! Thank you for sharing! W
When you have time and only when you have time, please email me. I’d love to do a follow up story w your details of the home. email@example.com. I can wait. It sounds like you are busy.
Wow, that’s amazing! We drove by the house this past August, and it looked as good as it’s ever looked. My grandparents didn’t have a separate garage, so it’s definitely a really nice addition. I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house, and still remember it very well. My great grandmother, Bertha Offutt, lived in the house (we called it the “Blue Bedroom”) while I was a child, pasisng away in 1958 when I was five. The maid, Marie, lived in the attic bedroom, and I still have great memories playing their as a child. My grandmother passed away in the early 1980’s, but my grandfather was there until his passing in 1987 — 60 years in the same house. I’m glad it’s been well-cared for, it was always a beautiful house!
I edit a newsletter for the Telecommunications history Group, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the history of the telecom industry. We have some of Casper Yost’s papers in our archives. I wonder if I may use the bit in your article about Casper for our newsletter? I know our members would enjoy reading it. We will, of course, make the proper attribution.
Absolutely! What a trailblazer he was. Go right ahead.
My husband and I stayed at the Cornerstone Mansion last night. It is a beautiful inn and we enjoyed the house and the owner very much. I would definitely recommend it! However, we slept in a beautiful dark paneled very large room on the third floor that is said to be the room of Charles Offutt. There was something disconcerting to me in that room. An uneasiness that gave me a restless sleep. When my husband had to get up early to leave I had planned to sleep in, but felt compelled to leave with him as I just didn’t want to be in that room alone. (We were the only guests last night). I was curious about the house and family and in googling just found this article. So Charles Offutt committed suicide in that room! That explains it! There was no haunting or anything of the sort, but I think I could just feel the sadness and darkness deep in my soul. I just knew there had to be something to it!
WOW…I have chills. Since the writing of that story I too have visited that room, however briefly. It is so dark and interesting. I did not stay the night but I have wondered what it might be like. I thank you for sharing this!
Yes! When we stayed there in October, the owner said she was going to “trade houses” with the current rectory, which is nearby!
Those interested in seeing the inside of the Offutt House, join us for Lessons and Carols on Thursday night at St. Barnabas, with a reception to follow in the Offutt House! A great chance to enjoy hospitality in the wonderful old home!
wonderful reading. I recently and randomly aquired a collection of antique photographs of people I dont know. LOVE ANTIQUE PHOTOS ! The photos led me to research the family which immediately led me to Omaha. During my (amature) investigation, I learned that a majority of the photos are of members of a Yost family from Omaha. I have not yet found reason to believe they are related to the Yost of your article. ALTHOUGH ! I can certainly say that I am glad they led me to your article. I love history. Big historical history, but not nearly as much as small town family history. I am native to fresno California but recently uprooted to a small town in pennsylvania. love the old old buildings and cant wait to delve in here ! thank you so much for sharing your research results and wonderful photos. will be following you from here forward.