Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Anonymous [?Sandy Griswold]. June 1, 1890. Omaha Sunday Bee 19(342): 9.

Rise and Fall of Cut-Off.

Omaha's Only Lake in a State of Innocuous Desuetude.

Robbed of Its Attractiveness.

The Source of Supply Has Been Cut Off and the Lake is Rapidly Degenerating Into a Marsh.

Without apology to the bard of Avon, there is something in a name. A rose by any other name might swell as sweet, but Cut-Off is the only combination of English that could so faithfully describe the lake that was, a few years ago, the pride of the oarsmen and nimrods of the city and a source of pleasure to outing parties. Today it is almost as effectually cut off from the city as though it were located in Siberia.

Four or five years ago Cut-Off was at its glory. At that time the lake filled the entire bed of the old river channel of 1858, extending from a short distance north of Grace street and what would have been Twelfth street, in a horseshoe form for a distance of seven miles, almost touching the river again. It was from one-quarter to one-half mile wide and had an average depth of ten feet. The Omaha boat club, in which E.M. Garfield, Dr. Connor, Arthur Shiverick, A.J. Webb, and Victor White were the moving spirits, had a boathouse at the foot of Locust street, hotels and club houses were numerous and the lake was the scene of many a pleasant rowing and fishing party. All this has changed. The railroad companies encroached upon the territory cutting off the source of water supply; the weeds on the lake bottom flourished and the enterprise of the clubmen flagged in a corresponding ratio; the proprietors of the resorts sought more lucrative employment, and the banks that were were wont to give back the music and laughter of merry boating parties, now echo only the chorus of the bullfrogs and the staccato accompaniment of the helldiver. The boat houses are closed during most of the day, and guests at the lake hotels are few and far between.

The first setback that Cut-Off received was the construction of a high dam at the foot of Grace street, three years ago which, in furnishing a road to the island, shut off the communication between the lake and the river. The water in the lake at once began to recede, until the Locust street crossing, which was under ten feet of water two years ago, is now nearly dry, and is being filled with dirt to form a drive way to the East Omaha Island. The result has been disastrous, and the half mile at the southern extremity of the lake is covered by but a few feet of water and so filled with weeds and grass as to render it almost impassible for even the lighter shells and skiffs. Further north the water deepens and on the northeast curve, opposite Cortland beach, the lake is ten or twelve feet deep, and clear as crystal. As the southeast extremity the land corporation has graded and filled Locust street, again shutting the lake from the river, so that the only source of water supply now are the hidden springs that doubtless feed the lake along the north shore. But these do not furnish a supply equal to the demand and those interested in Cut-Off are compelled to entertain the opinion that the lake is rapidly drying up and will in a few years entirely disappear unless steps are taken to replenish it by artificial means. A scheme was considered last year by which the waterworks company was to extend a twenty-four-inch main from the pumping station at Florence and keep the lake to at least its present depth, but the plan was abandoned as the $600 required for the purpose was not forthcoming. All of the packing houses and most of the big ice dealers of the city have immense ice houses on the lake and the amount of water removed each year to supply the city with crystal coolness is simply enormous and will in a few years exhaust the supply. The only hope for a restoration of the lake other than by thye waterworks company, is that the Missouri may rise so as to overflow into Cut-Off by Florence lake and through Hardwood creek, so called, a ravine that has been dry since the high water period in 1881.

The people who live on the lake yet entertain the hope that nature and art will yet come to their relief and restore Cut-Off something of its whilom greatness. There are at present four resorts on the lake, two on the south shore and two on the north. The north shores places are small structures in which pleasure seekers are supplied with liquid refreshments of questionable age and boats that have seen better days. One of the south side resorts, that at Cortland beach, is more pretentious, having neat dining room and lunch rooms and a number of well kept boats. The beach here is sandy and clean and the bathing and fishing unexcelled.

Further south and on the island proper are a number of saloons and "joints" that have been the hanging out places of questionable characters and the scenes of many a Sunday dog fight and cocking main, to say nothing of the barroom settos that have frequently resulted seriously. Reports are current, and generally accepted as true, of wild midnight carousals at these saloons in which the representatives of the half-world have participated. One report deals with a midnight dance on a summer's night in which the dancers were clothed only in their innocence and protected from the gaze of non-participants only by the friendly though not very effective shelter furnished by the clinging vines that partly covered the windows of the dance hall. The proprietors of the lake resorts claim that their business has been greatly damaged by the reports of the carousals at the Island saloons, which are entirely removed from the lake resorts, although the people generally do not seem to understand the fact.

But it must not be inferred that there is no pleasure to the oarsman, the hunter, the follower of Izaak Walton, or the seeker of a pleasant outing at Cut-Off. While much has been lost by a failure to properly protect the lake, it is yet an attractive spot. There is ample room for splendid rowing, the bathing at Cortland Beach is first class and the fish are plentiful and always hungry.

An evening on the lake such as a Bee reporter spent recently with Commissioners' Clerk Webb, who is a veteran oarsman and spends his leisure hours on the water, is productive of a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment. The lake is not attractive to look upon from a distance and the tramp across dusty roads and over the railroad rights of way that separate the city from the water is not exhilarating, but once fairly out on the lake and all such annoyances are forgotten. Over to the north and on the Iowa shore is a beautiful shore. The bluffs rise up out of the evening mists, while broad shafts of sunshine from low rifted clouds blazon summit and slope and glen with bands of life and leave belts of sombre shade between. To the northwest is seen a mass of green farms and meadows, reaching almost to the water's edge, with glimpses here and there of white cottages surrounded by groves and trees. To the south and west is the city, enveloped in smoke and dust, the twinkle of the electric lights marking the principal buildings and locations, but the eye finds no pleasure in this view. The attraction is in the direction of those other avenues, the wide grass-carpeted thoroughfares that branch hither and thither in every direction and wander to seemingly interminable distances. The scenery is not striking or picturesque. There are no scarred and wrinkled precipices, nor grove-plumed promontories, nor orange groves, nor gondolas lying idle upon the water, nor rugged cone-shaped crags with ruinous castles perched way up toward the drifting clouds. It is simply a pleasing, inviting spot, leaving which one wonders that corporations and commissioners will go to such great expense to fashion unfavorable locations after nature and fail to improve the work that nature has so well begun.