History of Hastings

As you drive around Hastings and stroll down the streets and avenues of our residential and commercial historic districts, you will see buildings, homes and sites that tell the stories of Hastings’s rich and colorful past.

At the Hastings Museum, you’ll find the outdoor train display with a portion of track taken from the point where two railroads intersected. Hastings was founded in 1872, on a treeless prairie, at the intersection of the Burlington and St. Joseph and Denver City railroads. It was named after the construction engineer for the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad, Thomas D. Hastings.

Go inside the museum and you’ll find an exhibit assembled from portions of an 1878 home that belonged to the “First Citizen of Hastings,” Samuel Alexander, a Civil War veteran who, with his wife Harriet, came to Hastings in 1872.

Farther south at 7th Street and Lincoln Avenue you’ll come to Alexander Square, which was created in 1936 commemorating the Alexanders and their contributions to Hastings. This is the site where their home sat, marking their 160-acre homestead that Alexander used in 1878 to create the first northern addition to Hastings during the Boom Town Period (1870-1880).

Today this park serves as the symbol and gateway of the Central Hastings Historic District (CHHD). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, due to its excellent ability to physically document the three periods of major growth in Hastings from (1880-1950): the Victorian Period (1880-1890), the Arts and Crafts Period (1900-1930) and the Modern Period (1940-1950). Hastings’s second National Register Historic District, Heartwell Park, also documents the three periods of growth within the 1886 park that includes a lake surrounded by residences. Around town you’ll see the buildings, sites and homes that physically document stories from these three periods.

While at Brickyard Park you’ll see the remains of Hastings’s brickmaking industry. This industry lasted for 60 years beginning in 1880 following the “Great Fire of 1879,” which brought the Boom Town Period to an end with 33 wooden commercial buildings lost. With four brickyards, Hastings at one time produced 70 percent of all brick made in Nebraska and 100 percent of the paving brick in the state.

Today you will see buildings designed by Hastings’s Victorian architect Charles Rittenhouse following the 1879 fire – the 1880s stone Farrell Block, which served as the Adams County Courthouse after Hastings won a five-year “County Seat War” with Juniata in 1878; the 1883 Nebraska Loan and Trust; the 1884 Frahm/Brooke Building; and McCormick Hall, the first building erected in 1882 for Hastings College.

Stroll down the avenues of the CHHD and you’ll see the Victorian houses that were the childhood homes of Rollin Kirby, who in 1922 became the first person ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for political cartoons, and Will Clarke, who became the cover illustrator for American Boy magazine, which later became Boys’ Life. Clarke also designed the 1911 logo for the Hastings College Broncos. Former UNL head football coach and U.S. Congressman Tom Osborne served as a star quarterback for the Broncos in the 1950s.

Throughout the historic districts and downtown, you’ll see buildings and homes from the Arts and Crafts Period when Hastings was known as the Queen City of the Plains, Cigar Capital of Nebraska, brewed Prairie Pride Beer and produced one of America’s most loved drinks, Kool-Aid, which was invented in 1927 by Hastings resident Edwin Perkins. Scattered throughout Hastings you’ll see buildings designed by the leading local Arts and Crafts architect C. W. Way – the 1919 Dutton-Lainson Victory Building and the 1914 Clarke Hotel, which operates today as The Kensington, an assisted living facility for seniors.

At the intersection of Denver Avenue and 12th Street, take in the breathtaking beauty of the 1932 Fisher Rainbow Fountain constructed during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Today, the city of Hastings is utilizing its historic downtown buildings to create a unique shopping and dining environment while developing the upper levels of these buildings for living spaces. The city has also undertaken successful adaptive reuse projects such as the police department, which is now headquartered in the historic Lincoln School.

The Adams County Historical Society serves to “Teach with our Treasures” through a comprehensive tour booklet, films for school and public use historic markers, publications, Power Point presentations and a website (www.adamshistory.org) that includes a virtual tour of historic sites in Hastings.