Moments in History
Upon this Rock, Father Flanagan Built Boys Town
With nothing more than a $90 loan from a trusted friend, Father Flanagan began his mission to save Omaha’s homeless boys. All that remains of Boys Town’s original location is a small piece of limestone rubble, but its size disguises its monumental significance.
It's the only known remnant of one the most famous buildings in downtown Omaha. But this small piece of limestone represents more than just the foundation of a building, it symbolizes a dream that began 100 years ago, and lives on today in the mission of Boys Town.
The story of the foundation stone begins in 1917. On the streets of Omaha, many delinquent and homeless boys roamed the city. Some were orphaned, some were runaways, and others just had the misfortune of being born into poor families that could not care for them. Desperate and hungry, many of these youngsters resorted to stealing just to survive. A loaf of bread, an apple, or cash from an area merchant. Sometimes they got caught and ended up in jail. But the courts couldn't properly care for the countless boys who were shuffled through the system. And most ended up back on the street, bitter, and bound to repeat their offenses.
In early December, the Omaha archbishop relieved Father Edward Flanagan of his parish duties, so the local priest could move forward with his plan to open a home for these wayward boys. Soon after Father Flanagan borrowed $90 from a trusted friend and put down the first month's rent on the Byron Reed home, an old boarding house near 25th and Dodge Streets.
On December 12, 1917, Father Flanagan welcomed his first group of boys to their new home on Dodge Street. Things were bleak in the beginning. The boys had a roof over their heads but not much else. Between sacrifices created by World War I and an overall lack of funding, the priest was hard-pressed to provide enough food and clothing for his family of boys. As more boys continued to seek refuge in the months that followed, the original home was quickly outgrown. As for the house on Dodge Street, it was torn down in the early 1960s. At some point an unknown person collected a small chunk of limestone from the rubble. The details of that artifact's journey over the years are not clear, but sometime in the 1990s, it was given to The Boys Town Hall of History. Today it serves as a tangible reminder that helping kids build a solid foundation for life remains the cornerstone of Boys Town's work.