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Nebraska...Our Towns

Fremont

Dodge County

The early shops and businesses in Fremont, now one of Nebraska's "big 12" cities, looked much like those in any small town. An early commercial success in Fremont was may Brothers " Staple & Fancy Groceries," wholesale grocers established in 1869. They also carried "wood, willow & stone ware, produce, and provisions. [Photo courtesy May Museum]
The John T. Dierks resident, 1873, one of Fremont's finest residents, was "the garden spot of the city.'' [May Museum]
"Train Time". Largely dependent upon rairoads for its remarkable growth, Fremont, located in the southeast corner of Dodge County, was well established by 1905, when this photo was taken. Carriages wait as passenger trains of the Chicago & North Western pause at Union station at First and Main streets. [Dodge County Historical Society]
A birdseye view of Fremont's commercial district in 1908 looking south from Military Avenue toward the Platte River.[May Museum]
A 1950s view of South Street looking west, at a bustling business district. [May Museum]

Seven land speculators from Illinois, calling themselves Pinney-Barnard & Co., claimed land for a town site on August 23, 1856. They named it for "the Pathfinder and famous explorer, Gen.John C.Fremont," who was also a candidate for U.S.President of the newly organized Republican party.

The decision to plat a town at this particular location was not just by chance. They established Fremont on the flat area in a "double river valley" -- the shallow Platte to the south and meandering Elkhorn to the north -- with a particular vision in mind. Rivers were lifelines for settlers. For railroads, they were just as vital. Fremont's town-builders came here on a hunch the transcontinental railroad would follow the "Great Platte River Road" west. Ten years after the city was founded when the Union Pacific tracks were laid through the town in 1866, this vision became reality. In the mean time, Fremont had been named county seat of Dodge County (1860) and was well on its way.

While the initial settlement had been slow, the growth continued on an upward spiral for decades once the railroad was in place. Fremont became the construction supply point for the railroad as it built westward, and it was a stop-over place for many-thousands of pioneers.

During the 1880s wave of prosperity, the city's downtown area sprouted "modern" brick buildings with ornate tin cornices and window frames. Hotels were in abundance. Residential areas grew near the rail yards and commercial area.

By 1906 three major railroads had tracks through the city and Fremont had become a manufacturing center. Foundries, broom factories, carriage works, cigar factories, wagon makers, saw mills, a brewery, and many more industries were located along the rail lines. Raw materials were shipped in from the east, and finished products shipped out in all directions.

Manufacturing was not the only economic base from which Fremont grew. It was also a regional agricultural center. Farmers formed a wide trade area. Food processors not only bought local ag products, but also provided jobs for local citizens. Today Fremont has more than 130 agri-businesses.

Many events that made up early U.S. history were mirrored here. Young men went off to The War, growth stalled in The Depression, and the population fluctuated as people looked elsewhere to find a better life.

Following World War II, however, GIs came back home to Fremont looking for jobs and homes for growing families. A group of local entrepreneurs pooled capital to start a packing house on Fremont's southeast side. A few years later, they sold it to the George A. Hormel & Co. of Minnesota.

The Hormel plant became Fremont's breadbasket, providing jobs for up to 1,000 people. New residential subdivisions sprang up, and Fremont saw steady growth until 1980.

Then, during the ag crisis and national recession of the early and mid 1980s, stagnation gripped the town. Community leaders responded to the setback by hiring an industrial development expert to help diversify the community's economic base.

Though vying for new companies is a fiercely competitive business, the effort is paying off. Two new food processing firms, Shade Pasta and Fremont Beef company, opened in recent years, providing jobs and using more locally produced ag products. Another major manufacturer that employs hundreds of local residents is Valmont, Inc., a major center-pivot irrigation and steel pipe producer, located several miles east of Fremont.

Fremont is also becoming a northeast Nebraska tourist center. Thousands of people visit the community to ride the Fremont & Elkhorn Valley Railroad and Pathfinder Dinner Train, attend events at Christensen Field, the May Museum, or to take part in the seven-county Fremont 4-H Club Fair in July, and the city's annual festival, "John C.Fremont Days," in August. The Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area draws another 800,000 visitors a year.

Fremont boasts a varied and acclaimed educational system, both in public and private elementary and secondary schools, and Midland Lutheran College, a four-year, liberal arts school. Fremont is also the site of a satellite campus of Metro Community College, and the home of Bahner's College of Hairstyling.

The city provides ample recreational opportunities through its parks and recreation department and its YMCA, which is among the finest in the country. There are more than 30 churches in Fremont, predominantly Lutheran and Catholic.

Because of its low crime rate and high standard of family life, Fremont again is growing and becoming home to many former Omahans who commute daily to the metro area. Fremont has become a regional retail center with a thriving downtown and area shopping centers. It is developing as a retirement center, spurred by the excellent medical facilities, the Nye Plaza Retirement Center, and Oakwood Townhomes Development. Fremont's hospital and its vast array of medical specialists, ranging from general practitioners to oral maxillafacial surgeons, attract patients from many surrounding counties.

Fremont started through the vision of a small group of land speculators. The vision of the "good life" has never waned for those who followed, and it continues to grow with each generation.

By Patti Emanuel Vaughan, Fremont, NE 68025

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of the State of Nebraska, 1882 , A.T.Andreas; History of the Elkhorn Valley, 1892 , C.H.Scoville; History of Dodge and Washington Counties, 1921 Vol I & II, Wm.H.Buss, ed; The Prairie Venture , centennial history of Fremont, 1956; Reflections: A Pictorial History of Fremont 1870-1920 , 1877, Fremont Opera House, Inc.; Bloom on the Land , a prairie pioneer experience, 1982, by Orleatha Gravel Kellogg. Consult centennial histories for individual communities in Dodge County.