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Turner House, Fremont

The renovated Turner House in Fremont served as an insurance company office. This view is taken looking to the east.

Although the Turner brothers and their mother, Margaret, get little credit in the formation of Fremont, their history is closely tied to the city, and George Turner’s extant house is variously noted as being the oldest house or building still standing in Fremont or Dodge County.

George Turner was born in England in 1829 and after immigrating to Massachusetts, moved westward to Dubuque, Iowa, then to Omaha in 1856 or 1857. Fremont, which had been platted in 1856, attracted George and, in 1857, at the age of 27, he and his mother, Margaret, arrived in the embryonic village named in honor of Gen. John C. Fremont.

Initially George acted as an Indian trader and set up a freighting company out of Dubuque which expanded as a firm serving Fremont, Pikes Peak and Denver. In 1858, George filed a homestead claim and built a log cabin south of Fremont.

Margaret, meantime, bought lots on the northwest corner of Fifth and Main streets on the old Military Road from the Fremont Town Company for $3 in November 1859 and established a “road ranche” for freighters and immigrants on the site. The log structure expanded and became known as the Platte Valley Hotel & Stage Station, the second hotel in Fremont. Margaret began buying additional city lots ultimately owning the “west half of Main Street from Fifth to Sixth streets."

“Mother Turner” became a well-known and respected businesswoman “with qualities known far and wide.” When she died some years later, it was said that “there were few hearts which did not ache.”

George platted Turner’s Addition of nine square blocks between C and F streets south of the business district. When Fremont was incorporated and voted as Dodge County seat in 1860, he became one of the first county commissioners, a job he would hold for eight years.

When he learned the Union Pacific Railroad was debating a route through Ames, Iowa, or Fremont, he considered a land donation as a possible inducement for the railroad. George then wisely asked his wife, Nancy, if she preferred life in the city or county. When she chose the city, George offered land to the Union Pacific and Sioux City & Pacific Railroads on the condition that they make Fremont a division point.

John Blair accepted the offer for about 70 acres of land in Turner’s Addition on behalf of the Union Pacific in 1865 and the Sioux City & Pacific in 1868. George and his brothers then entered a contract to build portions of the Union Pacific toward Ogden, Utah. The Union Pacific reached Fremont in 1866. About the same time George established a wholesale grocery with W.R. Wilson.

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Knowing his wife’s preference for living in a city, George in 1867 replaced his log cabin -- which was described as being in Block 211 of Turner’s Addition, a block north of the railroad tracks and faced west at 78 South C Street -- with a two-story, brick, 26-by-34-foot, Italianate house. A year later, he built a carriage house, but George lived only a short time in the house, dying of appendicitis in 1870.

Turner’s widow added a 17-by-26-foot brick addition to the house in 1874 at a cost of $750 and lived there until her death. Still in the Turner family ownership, a 7-by-14-foot Queen Anne entrance was built in 1889.

But then the house sat, facing the old Chicago & Northwestern freight depot, slowly becoming overrun with dense weeds and trees. Ultimately, it was purchased in 1981 by John Ronan, who enlarged the basement, restored the old brick sidewalks and completely renovated the house at a cost of $140,000 as his insurance company’s office.

Mother Turner’s original hotel was razed in 1875 and the following July the New York Hotel was built in its place. The new hotel, which reportedly cost $15,000, was a three-story brick building with a wooden connecting wing and an elaborate mansard roof and cupola which could host 75 guests a night.

In 1881, a four-story, 36-by-72-foot addition was completed, but that building too is long gone while George Turner’s home lives on as the oldest dwelling and possibly building of any sort in Fremont. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at jim@leebooksellers.com.

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