Historic Preservation Conference explores Hastings history
Last week Hastings hosted the Historic Preservation Conference, an annual conference held in a different Minnesota city each year. This year, Hastings was the location for being what Heritage Preservation Department member Michael Koop calls a historic Mississippi River town.
Paul Hicks, the mayor of Hastings, gave his opening remarks to 150 conference attendees inside the Hastings Arts Center. He spoke about why old places matter and mentioned that the Hastings Arts Center, where he was giving that very speech, used to be Guardian Angels Catholic Church. He said he had his first communion there and gave his first confessional there. His parents were even married in the church.
“This building means something to me,” he said, “and it’s a little bit of the work that you do, buildings like this help define us, they help define me.”
Another highlight of the conference was a presentation about what archaeologists found beneath the Hastings High Bridge before building the current Highway 61 bridge. Michelle Terrell, an anthropologist with a Ph.D. in archaeology, presented the findings to conference attendees.
There were two sites that were excavated before the bridge was constructed: the St. John’s Hotel and Saloon site and Block 13 site.
St. John’s Hotel and Saloon was the former location of two buildings that stood at 821 and 822 Vermillion Street. Archaeologists found various artifacts in the location, including evidence of the 1899 Christmas Day fire that spanned four city blocks.
The Block 13 site was unexpectedly discovered when crews began digging. The excavation found items related to commercial buildings that fronted Vermillion Street and a former saloon building at 1601 Third Street East.
Artifacts discovered dated from the 1860s to 1900s. Unique items from the excavations included a caribou medallion, pin fire cartridge, dominoes, glass shooting balls (which were used before clay pigeons), and .22 caliber casings. Shooting galleries were another form of saloon entertainment at that time. Some of the findings from the excavation are set up at Hastings City Hall in a display case.
On the last day of the conference, a tour group went to the Ramsey Mill, the downtown business district and toured the manufacturing, industrial and architectural locations in Hastings.
“We received countless positive comments about the conference and the community of Hastings from attendees and speakers who came from all over the state and nation that had never been here before,” said Justin Fortney, Hastings’ city planner and coordinator for the conference. “We could not have hosted the event without the support of the Hastings City Council, Heritage Preservation Commission, LeDuc Historic Estate and Dakota County Historical Society staff, Minnesota Historical Society, city staff, and many volunteers.”