Hastings, Nebraska

Towns and cities located in the Great Plains are a unique group of communities.  These pockets of civilization are surrounded by fields of cultivated and controlled land.  The distance between neighboring towns can take less than fifteen minutes.  Yet, even with this proximity,  a sense of isolation is formed.  Each pocket is formed from the same Great Plains traditions, yet each display an identity unique and different from the last.

Hastings, Nebraska

Located sixteen miles south of Interstate-80, the only United States Interstate Highway to run through Nebraska, the City of Hastings is a unique example of Midwest society and way of life.  To many living in more populous states, Hastings’ current population of only 25,000 can seem relatively small.  However, in a state where miles of cornfields and open fields separate out modestly sized cities, Hastings has been able to find its own identity among the surrounding emptiness.

Founded in 1872 at the intersection of two railroads, Hastings has a rich history with the prairie land that surrounded the fledgling town like an ocean.  The city was formed when the St. Joe and Denver City Railroad crossed the B&M line in Adams County.  The city was born on the traditional ideals that lured pioneers westbound.  Long stretches of arable land suited perfectly for farming and grazing.  It wasn’t long before the little town would grow into a city.              

Booms in the local population are a good indicator of the current events and health of any city.  Hastings is notable for witnessing a number of population booms and busts in its history due to both the environment and political events at the time.  Thanks to the close proximity to multiple railroads, Hastings enjoyed great prosperity and growth during the late 1880s.  Hastings saw an influx of architectural and ornamental inspiration as the overall nation entered a period known as the Gilded Age, an era of US expansion and excess (Spilinek 9).  During this period, the population boomed from 2,800 to 13,500.  However, Hastings experienced its first population bust at the temperamental hands of the environment.  “The golden age in Hastings came to an end with the drought-induced agricultural depression” (9).  Due to the extreme change in the condition of the fields,

from unusually wet to unyieldingly dry, the size of Hastings dipped severely by nearly eight thousand citizens

.  This sudden change so early into Hastings’ timeline came somewhat as a warning that cautioned visitors of the 

troubles awaiting them if they choose to settle down.  With that being said, it

took a good thirty years before the population was close to 

that number again (20).

.  After the 1940 census posted

another loss, though much smaller than before, it wasn’t long before Hastings experienced another growth spurt.  Similarly to the reasons that brought the pioneers in the late 19th-century, new and exciting employment opportunities, the opening of a major government facilit

y drew applicants to the little town.

Hastings is home to a former Naval Ammunition Depot


fig. 1 Naval Ammunition Depot in 1948

 (NAD, fig.1 )  Built in 1942, the NAD was the largest United States World War II naval munitions plant in operation.  Lasting for four years, from 1942 to 1946, the complex housed over 2000 structures including buildings, bunkers, and various other buildings.  The U.S. Navy chose to building the NAD near Hastings, NE due to a number of reasons:  close proximity to the area’s three railroads; the abundance of underground water; cheap natural gas and electricity; the stable work force; and the distance from either coast, as the Japanese and German bombers did not have the range to fly that inland.  This NAD cost the Navy over $71 million and produced over 40% of the Navy’s munitions during World War II.  After the end of the war, the NAD began to lessen its workload.  Work weeks were shortened and the number of employees dropped.  However, as the Korean War started, production and employment at the NAD rose dramatically.  It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that the closure of the site was imminent.  Today, the site is home to a number of entities, such as Central Community College, Hastings East Industrial Park, GreenLief Training facilities for National Guardsmen and Reservists, and


fig. 2 William Brach House

 the U.S. Meat animal Research Center.

We can see from the preservation of the NAD that the Hastings community is avid in the conservation o

f historically significant places.  A number of Hastings buildings, parks, and homes have been preserved and 

officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Homes include the William Brach house (fig.2) built in 1884 and the Nolan-Dietrich home (fig.3

built in 1886-87, both owners where prominent businessmen in Hastings.  The 


fig. 3 Nowlan-Dietrich House

Clarke Hotel (fig.4) built in 1914 and currently occupied by Kensington Assisted Living, houses a series of murals painted by Italian artist Giuseppe Aprea.  Even the Burlington Station (fig 5) where the railroads meet and Hastings was found

ed, is registered on the list.  In a city where it takes roughly fifteen minutes to


fig. 4 Clarke Hotel

drive from one end to the other, there are sixteen registered  sites inside city limits.  All of these listing, memories of the traditional golden age, show how the city of Hastings has attempted to preserved these times. 

For such a relatively small city, Hastings has been able to make an identity for itself uncharacteristic of the Midwest.  In 1927, Edwin Perkins developed a fruity soft drink that has spread across the nation like wildfire.  Kool-Aid (fig. 6), the perfect cool drink for those classic hot, Nebraskan days, brought notoriety to Hastings that it had never experienced before.  The danger of the open Midwest is the isolation that these small towns experience.  For Hastings, all it took was a small packet of flavored dust to create a bridge between itself and the urban world.  Whether


fig.5 Burlington Station

consumers are aware of the origin of Kool-Aid or not, the product itself has helped to form the Hastings identity.   Each year, Hastings celebrates its one shining quality with the Kool-Aid Days Festival, held in the Fall.  This three-day festival explores the city’s identity through the sweet taste of Kool-Aid with trolley rides and community gatherings throughout the town, as well as “fun,” educational events held at the Hastings Museum.  Hastings’ celebration of a hometown feature signifies a community that is deeply connected through a collective cultural icon.

At times, Hastings has tried to further impress the image of the land and the city as a thriving, bloom

Kool aid

fig. 6 Kool-Aid Days advertisment

ing community.  And in 2007, with a turn of events that only heightened this mentality, Hastings was awared the title of Yahoo! Inc. “Be a Better Planet” Greenest City in America.  In 2007, Hastings was awarded said prize against 350 other cities in the U.S., as well as $250,000 to be dedicated toward city greening projects (Watson).  Hastings had come first against other cities, such as Topeka, Kansas; Dover, Delaware; and Fairfax, Virginia.  At the time, the prize seemed unexpected, especially for the kind of geography that is associated with Nebraska.  However, city officials graciously accepted the award and began planning their green initiatives, which included extensive networks of parks and hiking and biking trails, increased local production of Ethanol E85, and capitalizing on the underused Pollution Control Center.  However, six years after winning the award, such lofty expectations have yet to be realized.  Only time will tell if anything will come of it.

Hastings, Nebraska is just a sample of the many towns and cities directly affected by traditional ideals.  Throughout the Midwest, these pockets of Great Plains communities evolved into their own culture and identity.  Though the towns share the same cultural roots and traditions, the way that they choose to represent these traits varies greatly. While Hastings may never be considered a wonder of the world or a popular tourist destination, the cultures and traditions established in this small community have a poignant and powerful impact on Nebraska and the Great Plains as a whole.

Demographics Here are just a general overview of the last U.S. census in 2010.  I believe that having the numbers of any city and its people is important in understand the communities identity as a whole.  An understanding of a city’s demographics allows one to discover the socioeconomic status of its people.

1.       Population:  24,907

·         19 and under:  6872

·         20 – 39:  6450

·         40 – 59:  6354

·         60 and up:  5231

·         Median Age:  36.8

·         Male:  12,300

·         Female:  12,607

2.       Ethnicities

·         Caucasian:  22,511

·         Hispanic or Latino (of any race):  2,430

·         African-American:  237

·         American Indian and Alaska Native:  115

·         Asian:  412

                                                               i.      Vietnamese:  275

·         Pacific Islander:  15

·         Other race:  1,233

3.       Households by type

·         Total households:  10,110

·         Family households:  6,160

                                                               i.      Husband-Wife:  4,666

                                                             ii.      Male, no wife:  428

                                                            iii.      Female, no husband:  1,066

·         Nonfamily households:  3,950

4.       Ancestry

·         Like much of Nebraska, the majority of the population is descendent from Western European immigrants.  The largest ancestral nationality population is German with 11,831 of the population.  Irish and English ancestries are the next most common nationalities in Hastings with 3,040 and 2,241, respectively.  

5.       Economics

·         Hastings

                                                               i.      Population 16 years and over:  19,390

1.       In labor force:  13,305

a.       Employed:  12,559

b.      Unemployed:  746

2.       Not in labor force:  6,085


Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Spilinek, Elizabeth H.  Hastings.  Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2009. Print.

"State & County QuickFacts: Nebraska" United States Census Bureau, 2010. Web.

Watson, Frank.  “Yahoo! Names Hastings, Nebraska Greenest City.” Incisive Interactive Marketing, LLC, 2007. Web.