Vince Furlong, a retired teacher, has dedicated countless volunteer hours educating local students about the cultural history of Omaha through walking tours of North and South 24th Streets, as well as historic Vinton Street. What began as a self-initiated forum to discuss revitalizing the city of Omaha, many citizens, according to Furlong, said, “we should try to re-develop older parts of the city,” rather than continuing to grow north, south, and west. To expose the greater community to these areas, Furlong knew he would need to expose the community to the cultural significance of Omaha as it currently exists.
Starting out on South 24th Street, Vince scheduled a tour every Thursday and Saturday, regardless of an RSVP. Even if one person showed up, Vince would do a tour because of his dedication to preserving local history. Over time, however, word began to spread, allowing him to expand his tours to a wider variety of groups. Now that he has been doing the tours for ten years, Furlong and his small team of tour guides might see between 500 and 1,000 people over the course of one summer!
The historical significance of a particular area, Furlong explains, “is just part of each tour. We also look at the art vibe in each area, ethnic influences, architecture, revitalization efforts…” Serving a wide variety of tour groups, Furlong has seen students from first grade all the way through grad school. In fact, Furlong has partnered with Iowa State, UNO, Creighton, and most of the high schools in the city to organize large walking tours of North and South 24th Streets! He has even dedicated a session to teaching high school students how to research a historical building for themselves! “First, just look at the building,” he explains. “See what the building is made of, the style … you have to describe it to yourself.” After that, public records at the local library or city hall offer the chance to do hands-on research about the area of town and its history to potentially find out, “what they’ve been used for in the past.”
As two options for his walking tours, Furlong chose to focus on South 24th Street on La Veinticuatro Tour, which highlights aspects of the Omaha stockyards and the burgeoning meatpacking district during the late 19th century. This area would eventually become the heart of the Latino population in Omaha, and many historic buildings still line South 24th Street today. The Deuce Tour, on the other hand, emphasizes a rich jazz scene, civil rights efforts, and Black-owned businesses on North 24th Street.
On his tours, Furlong’s goal is, “trying to follow the Main Street ideas … usually, when people think about Main Street, they think about small towns.” For Omaha, Furlong’s dream is to refurbish these neighborhood centers to serve as hubs for community members to gather and interact.
Now, Furlong is passing the torch to the Nebraska Tour Company, in partnership with REO, so that the tours can continue running. During his tenure, Furlong was an integral part in designating the Vinton Street Commercial District on the National Register of Historic Places. He also served on the board of many non-profit organizations, and educated countless students about their own hometown.
Restoration Exchange Omaha is committed to increasing awareness about Omaha’s rich cultural and architectural history. Joshua Biggs, Program & Research Manager for Restoration Exchange Omaha, explained, “There are many different reasons to preserve an old building, whether it be for its beautiful design, interesting historical events, comfortable feel and scale, or the reuse of quality building materials.”
Interested in taking a closer look at local history? Click here to browse the options and book your own walking tour!