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Nebraska...Our Towns

Hastings

Adams County

Hasting's Fisher Rainbow Fountain, a delight for generations, dances in sprays of water and colored lights.
The stately Adams County Courthouse, 1887. Horse-drawn street cars were part of the scene until 1892. [Adams County Historical Society]
The first known view of Hastings, taken in 1873. [ACHS]
Miles of ammunition storage bunkers were built during WW II, and still part of the landscape. [Harris Photo]
The Hastings Naval Ammo Depot administration buildings were converted and now, along with additional facilities, serve as the location of the Central Community College. [H CofC]

Hastings, "Queen City of the Plains," is located in the heart of south central Nebraska. In 1871 several Englishmen, lured by immigration ads, organized a town on Walter Micklen's homestead.

Samuel Alexander arrived in 1872 and became a storekeeper, post master, and eventually First Citizen of Hastings. Simon Dow established a land office and the town was officially platted. Other early town leaders included Bennedict, Ingalls, Lawson, Pratt, Cramer, and Farrell.

About then the St.Joseph & Denver Railroad crossed the Burlington Railroad line at that little cluster of buildings seven miles east of Juniata, then the Adams County seat. The depot was named in honor of Thomas Hastings, a construction engineer with the railroad. It was this crossing of two railroads that resulted in the rapid growth of the town, and in 1873, when the "Hastings Journal" was established, it immediately advocated that the county seat be moved to "the new town." This precipitated a fight that continued until a vote was called in 1877. Hastings won, but did not secure the prize until citizens went by night to Juniata, loaded the records into lumber wagons, and raced back to Hastings.

In the 1870s, besides the usual stores, Hastings had three hotels; The Roaring Gimlet, The Howling Corkscrew, and the Inter-Ocean, the latter operated by Captain Wells, who spun yarns of varying degrees of credibility. The town was incorporated in 1874, listing trustees as Lewis, Buckworth, Smith, Cox, and Forcht.

By 1878 Hastings was a town of 3,000. During the first half of the year 150 small frame buildings had been crammed in the downtown area. In September 1879 "the great fire" broke out in the heart of the business district. When flames were finally extinguished, two entire city blocks had been destroyed. Rebuilding began immediately, this time of brick. Rapid growth continued in the 1880s, but it was more orderly, with institutions being established that included a brickyard, a new high school, and a telephone company.

In 1882 Cass Millett, a grocer, was killed by three masked men during a robbery attempt. A week later two men, accused of the crime, were lynched by "The 33's" at the railroad trestle northeast of town. Trains stopped so the passengers could see the bodies and Judge Gaslin said, "This is one decision the Supreme Court won't reverse." Outlaws stayed their distance.

Hastings College was established in 1882 by Alexander, Wigton, and Heartwell under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. It held classes on a campus east of the depot.

The town's rapid growth in 1884 caused a shortage of bricks. New buildings included the Kerr Opera House and an electric light plant with 45 subscribers.

Parkview and Mt.Sinai cemeteries were formed in 1886. By spring of 1887 the population was estimated at 12,000. Land values were shooting upward, lots went from $300 to $1,200 in six months, as speculators filled the town. In July the bubble burst and values fell dramatically.

In the 1880s two street railway companies were formed and an intense rivalry erupted. After years of fighting, both lines fizzled. The last horse drawn car rumbled on Hastings streets in 1892.

Bethany Home for women and children, Hastings Hospital, and the library all opened in 1888. A new Adams County Courthouse was built in 1889-90 at a cost of $75,000.

The "gay nineties" were NOT gay in Hastings. Hot winds and drought swept the prairie in the 1890s. A professional rainmaker, hired in 1894 for $700, failed to get a drop. Stores closed as not only crops, but also established fruit trees perished. Families were destitute, many moved away, but others stayed -- because they had no place to go. Recovery had begun by 1897, but the population had dropped by then from 13,580 to 7,180.

Hastings' Charles Dietrich was elected Governor in 1900. The new B & MR Railroad depot was dedicated in 1902, a Carnegie Library in 1903, a new high school and post office in 1904. Ezra Langevin also opened a canning factory. In 1906 the Arvanette, Madgett, and Stein buildings, the Klein Hotel, and the Chautauqua Pavilion were built with 8,000 people attending various events.

In 1907 the Seventh-Day Adventists built the Nebraska Sanitarium, a large three-story building on ninth street. This was also used as their state headquarters.

It was reported that by 1910 Hastings produced more bricks and more cigars than any other town in Nebraska. Haney's horse collar plant was the largest in the state. The second-largest brewery, plus an artificial ice plant, were also located in Hastings.

Hastings continued to grow. Sunnyside, home for the aged, opened in 1914, a new Union Pacific depot was dedicated, and when postal receipts passed $40,000, it was officially declared a first-class city.

Mary Lanning Hospital opened in 1915, the German Bank changed its name to the Nebraska National Bank when war was declared, and Dutton built the six-story factory-office building called the Victory Building, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Charley Jacobs brought the first auto to town in 1901, and by the '20s Hastings was the motor car center for the area. In 1921, when the license plate system was initiated, Adams County had the 14th highest number of autos in the state. The 1920s saw much construction and Hastings made world history when its radio station KFKX became an experimental re-broadcasting unit, with locally produced programs two evenings a week.

By 1930 the years-of-plenty were over. Only two of the nine Adams County banks survived the bad years. A tornado on May 8, 1930, killed one and caused millions of dollars in damage.

The Adams County fair of 1932 at Hastings showed off one of the largest municipal electric plants built in the USA by exhibiting an impressive electric fountain that played jets of water lighted by colored floodlights. Later moved to the park, the fountain's cooling waters became a symbol of hope during the dust bowl years. Public works projects include the archways, sewer lines, a railroad underpass and an overpass, and a museum -- the House of Yesterday. Virtually no crops were raised in 1933-34, and the dust storms of 1934-35 are legendary.

Many Hastings factories began producing defense items in the 1940s, and in '42 it was announced that a $45 million Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) was to be built east of town. Hastings was declared a critical housing area as 6,000 military men and 3,000 families arrived. Spencer Park housing project was hurriedly built, as homes, food, factory workers, and raw materials were all in short supply. The city strained with war-time pressures and three explosions at the NAD claimed several lives.

After the war, Hastings successfully converted to civilian industries and continued to build at the college, hospital, a municipal swimming pool, National Guard Armory, new churches and schools, and Lake Hastings. A television station was licensed in 1955 and Good Samaritan Village was added in 1958.

A new post office, a library, the country club, the mall, more industry, and another new courthouse kept things humming in the early 1960s. The downtown added trees and planters on Second Street. Several old buildings were demolished for parking lots, most notable being the old courthouse.

In 1988, Hastings has a population of about 23,000. There are two industrial parks and approximately 80 manufacturing plants. The medical center has over 60 doctors. In addition to Hastings College a new Central Community College is now located on the site of the former NAD.

by Catherine Renschler, Box 102, Hastings, NE 68901

FOR ADDITIONAL MATERIAL, contact the Adams County Historical Society, Genealogy Society, and House of Yesterday in Hastings.