The Frank Family

 Phoebe McNair Frank      George Washington Frank

Phoebe McNair Frank         George Washington Frank

Born in 1831, George Washington Frank came to Kearney in 1871 on a business trip. He instantly saw Kearney’s potential, and immediately made plans to invest and build the area, purchasing 1,042 square acres of land from the Union Pacific Railroad. He then returned to his home in Corning, Iowa for a time, but returned to Kearney in 1885 with his wife Phoebe Frank (née McNair). Together, they decided to lay down some physical roots and contracted their son George William Frank, Jr. (a Harvard-trained architect) to build a grand, showpiece home which would reflect not only their success, but their overall permanence. The house included all of the most modern amenities available at the time (electricity, hot and cold running water, plumbing, and pocket doors to name a few), as well as intricate hand-carved woodwork, imported fireplace tiles, and a genuine, comprehensive opulence that captured the spirit of Gilded Age American wealth.

During these years, George established the George Frank Improvement Company with the help of his son Augustus Frank. The company did exactly what the name suggested: improved Kearney over the next 10 years. Some of these developments included financing the construction of the Kearney Canal, starting an ice delivery company, building Kearney’s first hydro-electric power plant, and owning and operating an electric trolley car railway throughout Kearney– two years before San Francisco installed their famous streetcar lines. George Frank also owned a horse ranch, and tried to start a cotton growing and processing business, going so far as building an operational cotton mill in 1890. A fire destroyed the mill in March 1922. Today, the land the mill occupied is home to the locally popular Cottonmill Park located just west of Kearney.

During the early 1890s, it seemed like nothing could slow the Frank family down. However, a historic and countrywide financial disaster changed their course forever. The Panic of 1893 hit the Frank family especially hard. The banks in the United States - including those in Kearney - started failing, people started moving away looking for jobs, and George Frank’s businesses were unable to recover their investments. Facing mounting debts, the Franks started selling off sections of their land. One parcel, now the site of UNK’s Warner Hall, was sold to the state of Nebraska and, in 1903, became the site of the State Normal School, the organization that eventually became the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

After trying and failing to pay down their debts through selling land, George sold their family mansion to his wife Phoebe for one dollar because she had very little debt to her name. Unfortunately this quick fix would not save the Franks because Phoebe passed away just a few months later in 1900. The house transferred back to George. With no options left, he reluctantly sold his home to a local bank who auctioned off the furnishings and light fixtures. George Frank moved to Lincoln, Nebraska to be with his daughter Jeanie and her family. Several years later, they all moved back to New York where George passed away in March 1906.