As summer drew to its end in 1856, seven land speculators finalized their plans to build a new town along the banks of the Platte River where pioneers had been making the difficult trek west across Nebraska. Land was claimed for the town they would call Fremont, naming it for the “pathfinder and famous explorer, General John C. Fremont,” who had explored the region.
For them, this location was special because of the fertile flat land between the shallow Platte River to the south and the meandering Elkhorn River to the north. They also had a hunch the transcontinental railroad would follow the “Great Platte River Road” west, and they were right. Their vision soon became a reality and by 1906 three major railroads had tracks though the city. With the railroads came people. And industry.
The population exploded from less than 1,200 people in 1870 to more than 3,000 in 1880, and then it more than doubled again to 6,747 in 1890. Things slowed a bit over the next three decades, but by 1930 Fremont’s population had swelled to more than 11,400.
Raw materials were shipped in and finished products shipped out in all directions to all parts of the country. In 1925, Fremont’s rail system was boasting 76 railroad trains out of Fremont every 24 hours— 39 passenger, 33 freight and four mail. Fremont became a manufacturing center filled with foundries, broom factories, carriage works, cigar factories, wagon makers, a sawmill and numerous other industries.
Manufacturing was not the only economic pillar supporting Fremont’s growth. It was also a regional agricultural center. In 1890, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce promoted Fremont as the “City where agriculture and industry meet.” Farmers formed a wide trade area and food processors not only bought local farm products but also provided jobs for area citizens. Today, Fremont has over 130 agricultural-related businesses and remains a vibrant and cutting-edge agri-business center.
As the city’s industrial sector continued to grow, Fremont needed services to meet the needs of its residents. Some of Fremont’s first businesses are still operating and serving the community today. Stage lines started in 1859, a telegraph was built in 1860 and Fremont became the county seat of Dodge County in 1860. First opened in 1866, Fremont National Bank is still operating today. The Fremont Tribune published their first issue on July 24, 1868, and it continues to be Fremont’s only local daily paper.
During the 1880s, a wave of prosperity in Fremont’s downtown area sprouted beautiful brick buildings used for stores and hotels. The historic area is still bustling with activity today and is home to restaurants, boutiques, retail and antique stores. After undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation, the downtown area is readying itself for another generation of shoppers.
Like today, the town’s early founders recognized the importance of preparing students for jobs and for future development. As a result, the first school opened in 1858, just two years after the town was platted.
In 1884, Fremont became a college town. The school originated as Fremont Normal School, then changed to Fremont College and later Midland Lutheran College. Today Midland University is a growing residential liberal arts college that prides itself on its personalized approach to preparing students.
Many travelers saw the promise in Fremont and made it their journey’s destination rather than a place they’d planned to travel through. Beginning in 1846, pioneers numbering in the tens of thousands passed through this area on westward treks that often had Utah, California or Oregon as their goal. The site of the Fremont’s Barnard Park was once a camp for Mormons seeking a place of rest along the Mormon Trail.
The Lincoln Highway, America’s Main Street, was the first paved coast-to-coast highway and passed through Fremont. Now known as US Highway 30, many of the historical markers are still in place and three blocks of the original brick are still traveled thru town.
Early Fremont settlers can best be described as dreamers and doers; in today’s residents we still see traces of those traits. We are dedicated to education, we are a college town, we have a strong manufacturing and transportation sector and agriculture remains at the center of a diversified food and fuel economy that is still growing and thriving.
Fremont is at the frontier of discovery and accepting new pathfinders with open arms. Join us.
This article contains information provided by Patty Emmanuel Vaughn and Terry Boeck.