A History of North Omaha's Druid Hall

The historical preservation movement is growing in Omaha again! This time, it is finally expanding to North Omaha and is beginning to capture the imagination of the public. The following is a post written by Mrs. Karen Clopton, an Eastern Star member of the Prince Hall Lodge at 24th and Ames. 

Druid Hall is located at 2412 Ames Avenue in North Omaha. An important landmark in the Saratoga neighborhood, the building was finished in 1914, and on April 5 1915, it will celebrate its 100 year anniversary! After opening and being occupied by several other fraternities, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Nebraska has been located in Druid Hall since 1968.

The Druid Hall at 2412 Ames Avenue, home of Omaha's Prince Hall Masons.

Building a Community Hub

Druid Hall is significant not only to the ethnic history of Omaha but also to the fraternal history of Omaha. Three prestigious fraternities have either leased or owned Druid Hall over the last century. Woodmen of the World, D Louis Black Post #3421 Veterans of Foreign War and the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Nebraska.

The Architect
Omaha architect Joseph P. Guth was commissioned to design Druid Hall. Guth was born and trained in Germany and worked in the engineering department of the Union Pacific Railway in Omaha until 1887, when he decided to start an independent career. He built several prominent buildings in that era of Omaha's history, including the Prague Hotel in 1898, the Omaha Casket Company in 1905, and several other commercial and residential buildings. Guth was also fraternally connected with the Benevolent Order of the Elks.

The History
The building was constructed to meet the community’s needs for social, cultural and fraternal activities. In 1913, several members of Druid Camp #24 formed the Druid Real Estate Company with the goal of locating the new facility. The dream for the building came out of the need for a location where the men could mingle with the “fair sex”. Their former meeting hall had no conveniences and they wanted a nicer building where both men and women could meet. After forming their company, Michael L Endres, Edward I Foster, Harrison H Bowes, P.H. Steger and O.E Davis issued stock with a pledge of $27,000. Soon they had 300 people backing them and leased the property at 2416 Ames street. Endres, who had emigrated from Bavaria in 1875 was the Douglas County treasurer at the time.

The Druid Hall building announcement in the Omaha Bee from 1915. Scan by Micah Evans.


In 1915, the Woodman Druid Camp #24 had about 600 members. It was considered one of the most influential fraternal organizations on the north side, and it was the first of that fraternity in Omaha to have its own clubhouse. They held their Grand opening the week of April 5-10, 1915, with 100 new candidates inducted that week.

Social Life
Hosting continuous events for social clubs, including dances every weekend, Druid Hall became the center for this section of North Omaha's social and cultural activities. Many ethnicities in the community were represented, including German, Irish, Scandinavians and a few Italians who lived and worked in the area. Carnivals, bingo games, card parties and boxing matches were held in order to raise money to assist needy veterans and others throughout the life of the building. 

The upstairs rooms were used for fraternal lodge meeting and many dances, social group and club meetings were held there. Many activities centered around the churches of North Omaha, including the Junior Luther League, North Side Progressive Club, Catholic Women of Florence, and Women of St. Phillip of Neri. They all held meetings and social events at Druid Hall nation at the time.

The Music
From the 1920s through the 1950s, ballroom dancing was very popular in Omaha, and Druid Hall was touted as one of the finest floors in the city. The Friday Night Dancing Club started with the Woodmen. It had grown to such a large membership that when they moved to the new Druid Hall Ballroom, there were 80 dancing couples for their opening night in September 1916. Dance lessons were also given and the music was provided by the Maceo Pinkards Saxophone Orchestra. Pinkard was very popular for his compositions, especially "Sweet Georgia Brown", which hit big in the 1920s.

Businesses and Ownership
The main floor housed several commercial stores throughout the history of the building. The Downey Hat shop operated there from 1915 through 1928. Other businesses on the first floor included Simpson Hardware, Shever’s Furnishings and the Master Bakery Company.  

In 1922, Harold Harris opened a bowling alley in the basement of the building. One of the first leagues that formed was the Danish Brotherhood.

In April 1920, the Ames Realty Corp took over the lease of the building. Through the 1920s and 30s many social groups continued to hold events, dances, political rallies and various activities in the building. Thus making Druid Hall a focal point for the neighborhood.

The D. Louis Black Post 3421 Veterans of Foreign Wars was formed in August of 1935 with 30 members of the Omaha and Florence area. They began meeting at Druid Hall in November of 1935.They became the fifth VFW post in Omaha. The first commander was Edsel Hendershot. The posts name was chosen to honor D. Louis Black a member of the 41st Machine Gun Battalion Eighty-Ninth Division. Black was born in 1892 in Kansas and moved to Omaha probably after the war. He owned a restaurant in the Minne Lusa area where he served free meals during the holidays to veterans. 

The Post leased the building from Charles Gruenig and then subleased it to other organizations, thereby further supplementing their income. When Gruenig died in 1945, his estate sold the building. On March 1, 1947 D. Louis Black Post 3421 paid $7,000.00 down and signed a mortgage for $25,000.00. They also at some point purchased two lots on Meredith Avenue for parking. They paid the loan off in 10 years and held a mortgage burning ceremony on April 10 1957. 

In 1967, the post decided to sell the building as more of their members moved out of the area. The 3-5-7 Club is on the first floor today.

Omaha's Prince Hall Masons
In 1775, the white colonial Freemasons lodge in Boston rejected 14 new petitioners on the basis of them being of African descent. These men, led by a man named Prince Hall, were initiated in March of that year by British Freemasons to their own Mason chapter. Eventually becoming known as the Prince Hall Masons, the first lodge in Nebraska organized in Omaha in 1875. By 1919, there were four Omaha lodges, and nine across the state.*

The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Nebraska purchased the building for $35,000.00. The first activity was a Council of Deliberation by the United Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite. The cornerstone laying ceremony was held on June 9, 1968. Today, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Nebraska continues to meet there, holding a century-long legacy that is vital not only to the history of North Omaha, but to African American history in the state of Nebraska.

You can learn more about the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Nebraska at http://www.mwphglne.org/. Contact Mrs. Karen Clopton, the author of this article, here.

Sources
* "A socioeconomic portrait of Prince Hall Masonry in Nebraska, 1900-1920," by Dennis N. Mihelich.
* Omaha Bee Apr 25 1915
* 1920 us census,
* Omaha: the Gate city, and Douglas County, Nebraska; (Volume 2) Arthur Cooper Wakeley
Chicago, The S.J. Clarke publishing co. 643-43
* Omaha World Herald March 10 1915
* Omaha World Herald Jan 15 1915
* Omaha World Herald Mar 19 1915
* Omaha World Herald May 19 1928
* Omaha World Herald Mar 21 1915
* Patterns of landscape Heritage Conservation in North Omaha-Landmarks Heritage Preservation Committee 1984.
* Omaha World Herald Apr 18 1915
* Omaha World Herald Sep 17 1916
* Omaha World Herald Sep 30 1916
* Omaha World Herald Feb 16 1919
* Omaha World Herald May 1 1918
* Omaha World Herald Jan 31 1922
* Abstract Deed
* Omaha World Herald Nov 28 1935
* History of D. Louis Black Post 3421 Veterans of Foreign Wars of the USA from Post Commander Kerry Lindstrom
* Abstract Deed
* Omaha World Herald Nov 11 1967
* Omaha World Herald Jun 9 1968