The Hotel Pathfinder stood at the corner of 6th and Broad for 59 years and served an important role hosting guests and community functions.
The first hotel built on the site was the three story Occidental Hotel at a cost of $20,000 in 1873. The Occidental was purchased by E. L. Enos in 1881 and renamed the Enos Hotel.
In 1915 the growing community required a larger hotel so in 1917 the six story Hotel Pathfinder was built with 115 rooms and a capacity of 360. A postcard from Hotel Pathfinder in the 1970s boasts: “Located in downtown Fremont. Coffee Shop, Dining Room, Cocktail Lounge, Top of the Stairway Ball Room, Colorful, re-decorated rooms. Live Entertainment. Apartments Available.” Other businesses occupying the hotel included Brown Bag Drug Store and a barbershop. Various meeting rooms also were available for functions such as organization meetings.
The morning of January 10, 1976, a hotel maintenance worker smelled gas and management attempted to contact the gas company. The gas company could not be reached so the police department was contacted. The police department referred the hotel back to the gas company. When gas employees were finally reached, they arrived on site to confirm the detection of gas. There was only time to evacuate the kitchen before the hotel exploded and erupted into flames at around 9:30 a.m.
The explosion forced its way up the elevator shafts immediately spreading to all six floors. The blast could be felt as far away as the Fremont Mall, located 20 blocks to the northeast, and even by a pilot flying a plane in the vicinity. Windows in the downtown area were blown out by the blast or shattered from the tremors. Large chunks of concrete were forced up due to the fact that the basement extended underneath the sidewalks. Debris came down on nearby buildings, cars and, in come cases, by standers.
Many who survived the blast were still trapped in their rooms requiring the use of limited ladders and bucket trucks. Some could not be saved. According to the Fremont Tribune, “Eighteen people died in the blast and two more died of injuries later.”
- “Pathfinder Hotel – Dodge County, Nebraska”. http://genealogytrails.com/neb/dodge/pathfinderhotel.htm. Retrieved 2011-01-10.
- Lincoln Evening Journal. “Fremont, NE Hotel Explosion Caused By Gas, Jan 1976”. http://www3.gendisasters.com/nebraska/6883/fremont-ne-hotel-explosion-caused-gas-jan-1976. Retrieved 2011-01-10.
- Bowen, Don (January 10, 2009), “The Explosion that changed Fremont”, Fremont Tribune (Fremont, Nebraska), http://fremonttribune.com/news/local/article_5854f024-c3c1-5528-8762-c16e8805191e.html
- Real-McKeighan, Tammy (January 10, 2002), “Hotel Pathfinder: Man believes survivors of 1976 explosion can inspire people today”, Fremont Tribune (Fremont, Nebraska), http://fremonttribune.com/article_991b058b-bd23-5d4d-936d-2116655517b0.html