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Historic Biglin House In O'Neill Now 100 Years Old

May 22, 2024 (0)

W.J. Biglin House (1940)
W.J. Biglin House (2021)
W.J. Biglin (1920)
M.I.(Walters) Biglin (1918)

Submitted By John Robert Smith

A familiar residence to several generations of individuals living in O'Neill, as well as in the greater region of North Central Nebraska is the W.J. Biglin House (erected 1925-1926), which still stands prominently at 615 East Douglas Street just east of the old Grattan Township Public Library where it was built nearly a hundred years ago.

But the story of this Georgian Colonial Revival house and how it came to be here in O'Neill lies not so much with William James Biglin (descended from a family that is well known in this community), as it does with his wife, Mary Imelda [Waters] Biglin, and her sister, Margaret [Waters] Boler. They were born and raised in Jackson, Dakota County, Nebraska. Both married the descendants of Irish immigrant families of the 19th Century, who were prominent in their communities. And, both engaged the architect, William LaBarthe Steele, to design their respective family homes in Jackson and O'Neill in the early-to-mid 1920s.

The architect was an 1896 graduate of the University of Illinois. He worked for Louis Henry Sullivan in Chicago as a draftsman for four years. Then, in 1904 he moved to Sioux City, Iowa and worked for Wilfred W. Beach for a short time before going into business for himself. In 1927, he and his friend and long-time colleague, Thomas Rogers Kimball, founded an architectural firm in Omaha known as Kimball, Sandham, and Steele. It should be noted that Mr. Steele was one of a short list of architects of choice of that era. Throughout his career, he designed over 250 realized structures, including churches, synagogues, schools, civic buildings, as well as private residences in the States of Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

The W.J. Biglin Family moved into this house shortly upon its completion in the Summer of 1926. Mr. Biglin died in 1950. Julia [Ryan] Waters, the sisters' mother from Jackson came to live in this house until her death in 1953. Then, in 1957, Margaret [Waters] Boler sold her house in Jackson and came to live with her sister in this house. Interestingly, in many ways, it must have seemed to her at that time and thereafter that she was still living in her former house in Jackson, as the two houses (designed by the same architect, but built five years apart) had an almost identical floorplan. Mary died in 1972. Margaret died in 1976.

John Robert and Joan Ann [Kubitschek] Smith purchased this house in 1976. In the Fall of 2021, their son, John Robert Smith of San Francisco, California, nominated it for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was approved by The United States Department of the Interior shortly thereafter and the house added to the list in the Spring of 2022. At that time, it was only the second private residence in Holt County, Nebraska to be accorded this type of national recognition.

So, for the mildly curious, as well as those interested in the architecture and local history of a community, now you know a little bit more.


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