The commercial center and core of Hastings recently was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Known as the Hastings Downtown Historic District, the downtown from Third Street to the railroad tracks and from Colorado Avenue to Burlington Avenue was given the distinction for its historic value to the community.
“It is a great district with a lot of properties — 103, I believe. It’s a really good, dense, high-concentration area,” said David Calease, the National Register coordinator for Nebraska. “I was happy we got this done.”
Typically, districts and individual buildings get added to the National Register through petition by the community or people within the area who have an interest in preserving that structure or area.
In this case, however, Calease said, it was members of the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office who spearheaded the designation for downtown Hastings.
“We had folks in Hastings on occasion for the tax project at the old Hastings brewery,” Calease said. “They said, ‘This is a great area. We should do a commercial district.’ ”
The Brewery Lofts project in the old brewery building at the east end of downtown was completed through the aid of historic tax credits as a historically protected building.
Now, much of the downtown also carries the historic designation that gives the buildings and their owners access to tax credits and other grants on both the state and federal level for preservation and restoration.
And that is exciting for Adams County Historical Society Executive Director Elizabeth Spilinek.
“We now have a wonderful tool for preservation and restoration of our downtown commercial buildings in addition to the honorific designation,” Spilinek said.
Downtown Hastings joins the Central Hastings Historic District, the Heartwell Park Historic District and Hastings College as historic districts within the community and the county.
This new district already is home to six individual buildings that hold similar designation on an individual level including the Farrell Block and the old Clarke Hotel, now home to The Kensington.
In total there are 103 buildings that were considered as part of the application and would qualify for financial assistance.
As this designation application was spearheaded by the state preservation office, an outside consultant Megan Girr Gengler did all of the research and prepared the application.
According to the application, the two time periods of significance for downtown Hastings were 1880-1930 and 1940-68.
The first time period comes on the heels of the major downtown fire that burned the wood buildings in the downtown. The year 1880 marked the beginning of brick-and-mortar construction with the Farrell Block building.
This time period included the Victorian Era and the construction from architects including C.C. Rittenhouse and C.W. Way, who designed both the Clarke Hotel and the Victory Building, which also is on the National Register.
During the 1910s and 1920s, the original route of the Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highway passed through downtown Hastings and greatly influenced its development until the highway was rerouted in the 1930s.
The end of this time of prosperity came of course with the stock market crash of 1929.
Then the downtown began to rise again with the start of World War II and the opening of the Naval Ammunition Depot.
“That’s when we had that immense population explosion because of the NAD being built in 1942 and buildings that were being adapted to accommodate the new population that was inhabiting and using our downtown,” Spilinek said.
This second time period ends in 1968 as the cutoff for the National Register must be 50 years prior to the current date.
Spilinek said the downtown was first recognized as a possible applicant for the National Register in 1999 when the state preservation office conducted a survey of counties and historic properties in the state of Nebraska. It was at that time that the state completed the application and added the Heartwell Park Historic District to the National Register.
Calease said it is very rare that the state preservation office funds the research and application for a building or district to be added to the National Register. In this case, he said the department had extra funds in the budget and was able to afford the cost to bring in the staff for the project.
“We generally don’t do full payment for the district,” he said. “Part of the reasoning behind that is we want the community to be involved in the generating and getting the district nominated.
“If there’s a local buy-in, we get more involvement, a greater sense of pride and the people become more aware of the programs like historical tax credits.”
Calease said he thought it was neat how this application came about through a property owner’s use of the tax credits. He hopes property owners in downtown Hastings will also take advantage of these tax credits and grants to preserve and restore more of the downtown.
“The historic register designation is a nice document but if you want to rehab buildings, using historic tax credits is the way to do it,” he said.
He said there are handful of vacant buildings in the downtown with that old building character that could certainly benefit from these tax credits.
“People will look at a building and think, ‘It can be a lot of work and it’s expensive,’ so that’s why there’s tax credits so hopefully we see more of those projects being completed,” Calease said.
The downtown district listing is the 19th listing in the National Register of Historic Places from Adams County.