Omaha Restoration Exchange presents the Bemis Park Neighborhood Tour

The Zabriskie Mansion. Photo by Jessica Wade/the Gateway

Jessica Wade

Driving through the Bemis Park Neighborhood is like a drive through history. On Oct. 13 and 14 the public had a chance to explore the neighborhood’s historic homes with the Restoration Exchange Omaha’s Bemis Park Neighborhood tour.

Even surrounded by other impressive homes featured in the tour, the Zabriskie Mansion stands out. The elaborate Queen Anne-style home was built in 1889. It’s adjourned with purple siding and historic details like gas light fixtures and a pneumatic speaking tube system.

Mark Jewell and his wife Vanessa are the current owners of the Zabriskie Mansion. The couple bought the house in 2016 after seeing a small “for sale” sign in the window.

“We eventually actually met [the owner] on the front porch and interviewed to buy the house,” Jewell said. “They weren’t going to sell it to just anybody who was going to come in and destroy the integrity of what’s here.”

Jewell said everyone in the neighborhood seems to have their own personal experience with the house.

“We’re only the third family to own it,” Jewell said. “Big things that we’ve done—all the hardwood floor that you see was covered by carpet with the exception of the foyer. Number one thing is we like old houses so were looking for that old house that we could kind of make our own.”

Jewell said there are rumors that the ghost of Edgar Zabriskie haunts the house and that four people have died on the property.

“We’ve had no terrifying or scary experiences,” Jewell said. “The front porch does go on and off at will, so whenever that happens, we say ‘Edgar’s home.’”

Another home featured in the tour actually served as a barn for the Zabriskie Mansion until the 1930’s when it moved to its current lot right next door.

Jess Benjamin and her spouse Amy Wendling’s home also features purple siding and although it’s not as well-known as the Zabriskie Mansion, the house is still impressive. However, restoring it does present some challenges.

“10 years ago, we couldn’t open a window,” Benjamin said. “All the windows were painted shut, were nailed shut, I’m basically dealing with 100 years of sinners.”

Benjamin said that to restore the house they have to do it the way it was built.

“My favorite feature of the house is the fact that I can still see the handiwork,” Benjamin said. This isn’t a new nail gun, staple gun, brand new material house, this is a blood sweat and tears house.”

The Restoration Exchange Omaha is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting, preserving, and restoring places of historic and cultural significance. The Restoration Exchange Omaha offers three public walking tours throughout the year along North 24th Street, South 24th Street and Vinton Street.