ASHLAND – For decades, the Linoma lighthouse marked the spot where Ashlanders learned to swim, met their sweetheart or danced the night away.
These days, the lighthouse remains a local landmark. And there are those who want the property to regain some of its glory.
Last month, a group of local investors purchased the lighthouse, beach, restaurant and camping area at public auction for $905,000. Chuck Niemeyer, David Lutton, Jerry and Gary Otto and T.J. Straight came together to invest in the local landmark.
“It’s the most recognizable icon in eastern Nebraska,” said Niemeyer.
Lutton said he was made aware that the property was in foreclosure and heard there were people looking for investors. He contacted Niemeyer and the partnership was soon in place.
There was only one other bidder at the auction at the Sarpy County courthouse, Lutton said. When the price came within their parameters, they won the bid.
“We were fortunate it came within our numbers,” Lutton said.
Since the purchase took place, the investors have dived in to begin the work of bringing the landmark back into shape.
“The real goal is to get the property cleaned up,” said Niemeyer.
The 59-acre property includes not only the lighthouse, but a restaurant, two bathhouses and two houses. Buildings were in disrepair and deteriorating, Niemeyer said. So far, painting and cleaning have been started.
“There’s so much cleaning to be done out there,” said Lutton.
The investors have set out a plan for the property. They will retain the camping operation. However, the beach and lake will likely not ever be used for swimming again, Niemeyer said, due to liability issues.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever operate as a swimming beach again,” he said.
Instead, they would like to use the beach as a venue for such events as outdoor concerts, Niemeyer said. And it will continue to be a non-wake fishing lake.
“It’s always been that,” he said.
The investors are also planning repairs to the restaurant, including shoring up a leaky roof. They would like to bring in someone to operate the restaurant on a lease basis, Niemeyer said.
The restaurant, beach and lighthouse were all once a favorite destination spot not only for residents of Ashland but from around the area.
Linoma Beach was opened in 1926 by co-founders Lawrence Simpson and Harry Shellberg. Simpson was in the lumber business and Schellberg owned Lyman-Richey Sand Company.
They created the “pleasure resort” as one of the main projects of their development company, Linoma Realty.
The lake began as a sand and gravel pit more than 100 years ago. Lyman Richey bought the land in 1907 and quarried there for eight years, creating small lakes fed by underground springs.
When Simpson and Schellberg bought the land in 1924, they came up with the name “Linoma” to indicate the proximity to the area’s major cities. They invested $10,000 each into the project, moving 30,000 cubic yards of sand to create a crescent-shaped beach 100 feet wide and 600 feet long around the lake. They soon added picnic and camping areas and recreational buildings.
In 1924, the Gazette described the bathhouse as follows: “A model sanitary bath house was constructed. Plate glass mirrors, electric lights and many conveniences furnish the bathhouse.
An existing farmhouse was converted into a restaurant. A veranda that surrounded the structure became the dance floor. Chicken dinners were offered for 25 cents.
The area was easily accessible by car or train. The Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highway (now Highway 6) brought visitors by the carload. Simpson felt train access was necessary and he convinced the railroad to stop at Linoma. A platform was built and as many as three trains stopped on Saturdays and Sundays.
The lighthouse was not built until 1939. Its original function was as a filling station and landmark for travelers.
In the May 24, 1939 Gazette, the lighthouse was described as a building “octagonal in shape” built of steel lattice and stucco and illuminated by flood lights.
“The building will boast a tower which will rise 100 feet above the parking area,” the article stated. “This tower will have a circular stairway and present plans are that it will be open to the public as an observation tower from which may be seen fine views of the Platte valley.”
In 2003, the property was named to the National Register of Historic Places, an honor reserved for properties deemed worthy of preservation in order to preserve our nation’s heritage.
Many remember the lighthouse less as a filling station and more as the entrance to Linoma Beach.
“We would enter the beach right there at the lighthouse,” said Jim Anderson of Ashland.
Anderson said he was one of the few who were allowed to climb to the peak.
“It was a rare treat to be able to go up inside the lighthouse,” he said.
Lutton said the investors would like to restore the lighthouse as well as legally separate the property from the beach and restaurant to protect it forever. They plan to set up a foundation that will own the lighthouse, taking it out of private ownership, he said.
“All partners want to make sure it is forever preserved,” he said.
The foundation will be able to receive grants and donations to restore and preserve the structure.
“It is in very poor condition,” Lutton said.
The new owners hope to change that, however.
“I’d really love to bring the lighthouse back to the way it was,” he said.
Lutton said there is a lot of interest in the Ashland and Gretna areas to have the lighthouse brought back to its glory.
Earlier this year, members of a Leadership Sarpy group adopted Linoma lighthouse as a legacy project, said Colleen Lawry, Gretna city administrator.
Lawry suggested the lighthouse to her team as a project, because she lives near the property. The group contacted the owners, Jody and Randy Beach, and proposed setting up a foundation and applying for grants.
Unfortunately, their finished presentation coincided with the sale of the property, so the foundation is no longer in existence. But Lawry contacted Lutton and shared their work with the new owners.
Lawry said the fact that the property is now under new management is a “blessing” and that her team is pleased that the new owners will move the project forward.
“Everyone I talked to seems to have the same vision our team had at Leadership Sarpy,” she said.
Lutton said they are working with Sarpy County officials to obtain permission to renovate, as the property is in a flood plain.
Lutton himself has ties to Linoma. His father, uncle and he all worked as lifeguards there. He attended swimming lessons offered for free by the Red Cross.
“That’s where we learned to swim,” he said.
And his parents, Dee and Peg Lutton, courted there.
“So many people have a lot of good memories,” said Peg Lutton.
Those memories help fuel the project. Niemeyer said the investors want to hear stories about Linoma’s glory days, as it is important to know the history of the property.
“We want to get all these memories archived before they disappear,” he said.