Early Omaha: Gateway to the West
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Once the Herndon House became the Union Pacific Headquarters, Omaha was without a first class hotel. The Grand Central Hotel was built in response to this situation. The Grand Central, which opened on October 1, 1873, was erected at the southwest corner of 14th and Farnam Streets. Newspaper advertisements claimed the Grand Central to be “the largest and best hotel between Chicago and San Francisco” (Becker). In the midst of remodeling efforts, the hotel was completely destroyed by fire on September 4-5, 1878. Five firefighters died as a result of the blaze. Had it not been for the arrival of firefighters from Council Bluffs, Omaha’s downtown may have burned (Larsen and Cottrell, p.111). The Grand Central Hotel catastrophe proved to be the impetus that moved Omaha’s fire department from volunteer to professional status (Larsen and Cottrell, p. 109).
Text written by John Mitchell, Summer 2003
Becker, H. W. “History in Photos – Candlelit Fire Fatal to Five.” Omaha Sun Newspapers, 10 August 1978.
Larsen, Lawrence H., and Cottrell, Barbara J. The Gate City: A History of Omaha. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. Pages 109 and 111.
Omaha City Directory: 1874-1875.
Sorenson, Alfred. The Story of Omaha from the Pioneer Days to the Present Time. Omaha: National Printing Company, 1923. Pages 234 and 236.