Keystone remains one of Omaha's most unique areas

Check out a city map to visualize what turned into Omaha’s Keystone neighborhood.

See the route between Marian High School and Adams Elementary School, mostly along Keystone Drive and 79th Street?

It was the tree-lined, winding driveway to the Keystone Stock Farm, which the Paxton family turned into Keystone Park as one of Omaha’s first acreage subdivisions.


Adams School, 1954 photo

See the rough oval formed by 81st and 82nd Streets, Evans and Emmet Streets, west of Adams School? Those streets were laid out on what had been the training track for the Paxton stable of harness-racing horses.

What the map can’t show anymore, since the city annexed much of Keystone in 1964, are the avenue names that matched the trees that lined them — Elm (now 78th and 79th Streets), Sycamore (80th Street), Poplar (83rd Street turning into Keystone Drive), Linden (Keystone Drive) and Maple (Boyd Street).

Keystone has become the name applied to the five-sided area bounded by 72nd and 90th Streets, Maple Street, Military Avenue and Fort Street. Those boundaries have expanded since Keystone Park was platted in 1907.


Perhaps Omaha business tycoon William A. Paxton saw the land 50 years earlier as he was the foreman for the crew that built the bridges on the Military Road — using timber from the area that became Hanscom Park — across the North Omaha, Saddle, Cole and Papillion Creeks and the Elkhorn River in Douglas County.

Paxton assembled his land parcels southwest of the Military Road in 1883 and deeded them to his only son, Billy, in 1884. Soon, the younger Paxton was operating the Keystone Stock Farm to develop sulky horses. Harness racing hall of fame driver Henry Thomas grew up on the farm while his father was managing the stable.

A 1970-vintage history of Keystone, by Carol Peters, said Billy Paxton had a large two-story home on the south side of the 79th and Evans Streets intersection. The center of the track had a spring-fed lake that also retained water from the surrounding hills.

The Paxtons had their 553 acres, which were between 78th and 90th Streets north of Maple Street, platted in 1907 for Keystone Park. The 90 lots were between two and 20 acres.

A promotional advertisement touted that Keystone Park included “five miles of fine boulevards and two rows of trees along the roads that wind over the high ground. For automobiles, driving or speeding there is nothing in Douglas County equal to it.”

“Our aim is to make this the finest suburban residence tract ever laid out around Omaha, as it has the possibilities.”

Keystone Park wasn’t intended for mansions, like Fairacres that followed it in 1908. Among those owning homes in 1910, according to the U.S. census, were farmers, landscape gardeners, a repairman, a print shop compositor, a railroad machinist and a carpenter. The first buyer was Henry Thomas’ father. A.L. Thomas naturally went for the tract that included the 12-room Paxton house and the track to continue as a trotting horse trainer and breeder.                                                                   

Marie Boisseree, her daughter Betty Dascher and her grandchildren had one of the first homes, built-in 1908 at 78th Street and Keystone Drive. She celebrated her 100th birthday at her home in 1952.

The Paxton house lasted until the early 1950s when the Omaha Public Schools bought it for use by Adams School (it opened as a four-room country school in 1925) as kindergarten classrooms until a new wing was built. The land is now part of the school playground.

Why was Adams not named for the area? At the time, the Omaha school board policy was to name all new schools after a U.S. president.

One of the first non-agricultural businesses in the district was dubbed Keystone City. The World-Herald in 1930 wrote that on the northwest corner of 83rd and Maple Streets were “one residence, one filling station, one garage, one auto valet services, one barbershop, one dance hall and one soda foundation, confectionary and sandwich shop combined” with William Darland “the mayor.”

Another distinctive personality was James Espey Foster. His showplace home at 7841 Keystone Drive became the first park in Keystone.

Foster, president of the National American Fire Insurance Co., was a horseman and pigeon fancier. He had a stable and a quarter-mile track for his show horses. He died in 1951. His widow stayed in the home until her death in 1967 at age 90. The house fell into disrepair and the newly formed Keystone Community Task Force asked the city in 1969 to buy the property for a park. It was completed in 1974.

Keystone Park spawned Benson Acres to the northeast and Richland Acres and Hargleroads Military Addition to the northwest. Some of the acreages were subdivided, notably for Keystone Meadows in the early 1960s. Boyd School opened in 1961 to ease overcrowding at Adams.

While Keystone’s oldest areas have fewer trees than a couple of weeks ago, because of the July 10 2021 windstorm, its rustic nature is intact and it remains one of Omaha’s most unique neighborhoods.