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US-6 The Longest Highway - Day 27

Another Day on the Prairie

Don Milne once again, a long way from the beginning of our US-6 journey. Twenty-seven days out, as Roadtrip-'62 ™ continues west. Yesterday, we traveled 60 miles from Omaha to Lincoln, Nebraska, stopping to see some museums, a state capitol, a great planetarium, and we bought our western clothing for the trip through the west. If you see anything you like on our virtual roadtrip, get yourself out on the road and enjoy it in person. There's nothing like the real thing! And of course, click on an underlined word below at any time to learn more about the places on the trip. Let’s get back on the road again!

Map of the Great Plains
Map of the Great Plains (from unknown website)

You may have noticed that I like donuts for breakfast, instead of a full sit-down breakfast. Today is no exception. It’s always tricky looking for a place that has been around since 1962, and today is no exception. There is a LaMar’s Donuts in town, but that company was founded in Kansas City, Missouri and did not begin franchising until 1993. So even though LaMar’s Donuts goes back to 1960, the local Lincoln, Nebraska store does not. Randy's Donuts might be a better bet, as it sits in an older shopping plaza, but I couldn’t find a date. I’ll try Conroy's Bakery Shoppe though. Judging from the faded sign out front that shows the name as Conroy's College View Bakery, this looks like the real deal. Conroy’s is located on the south side of the city, near the small Union College, so we had to wander off US-6 to get there. Full of donuts and driving back to US-6, as we leave Lincoln we find a mix of vacant properties, older businesses, and new buildings, indicating that this part of town is not currently and never has been a major commercial area. At the edge of town we meet the I-80 and US-77 freeways, but we continue west on the old road through the prairie.

We entered the Great Plains yesterday, and another major dividing line is just ahead near Sutton, Nebraska. The line of 98 degrees west longitude divides areas of more than 20 inches of rain a year and the tall grasses to the east, from areas of less than 20 inches of rain a year and short grasslands to the west. Modern agriculture has followed this natural pattern, as the line also divides areas of crop farming (wheat, corn, and oats) to the east, from areas of mostly livestock farming (cattle and sheep) with scattered irrigated agriculture to the west. We will cross the dividing area as we drive west on US-6 today and tomorrow, somewhere between Hastings and Arapahoe, Nebraska. Not surprisingly, population also follows this division, with density of more than 20 persons per square mile to the east, and under 20 persons per square mile to the west. The road and rail network to serve the population is also much less dense to the west, an example being that there are no north-south interstate freeways between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River. And finally, just by chance, the dividing line between Central and Mountain time zones is just west of this longitude, near McCook, Nebraska! We will cross that tomorrow.

1962 Homestead Act Stamp, showing sod house
1962 Homestead Act Stamp, showing sod house

A crop we will see a lot of is "winter wheat". This is a type of wheat that is planted in the fall and grows like a grass, just enough to survive as green over the winter. In spring it finishes growing and is ready to harvest in the summer. This allows it to receive plenty of moisture from spring rains before the parching summer winds arrive. This type of wheat was brought by Russian Mennonite immigrants from the Ukraine, which is a similar plains area to the Great Plains. Wheat is the major crop grown in the Great Plains, with 62 percent of the total wheat production in the United States planted in the six state region of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. It is also planted in other northern states, and for me, living in mid-Michigan, the plantings of wheat look very familiar.

Before the wheat fields, most of the plains were home to Native American tribes and enormous herds of bison, also known as buffalo. It is estimated there were as many as 30 million buffalo here in the 1500s, before horses were introduced to the Native Americans by the Spanish. Over-hunting in the mid-to-late 1800s nearly wiped out the animal, reducing it to only about 1,000 individuals before the practice stopped and the remaining animals were moved to federally-owned lands and private farms. In addition to the over-hunting, farming destroyed the habitat of the buffalo. The lands we have been driving through are the lands settled during the days of the Homestead Act. Congress passed the act in 1862 to encourage development of the frontier. The act did so by granting 160 acres of land to any head of a household over the age of 21 who would live and work on the land for five years. As an alternate, the land could be bought after six months at $1.25 an acre. Later, the act was modified to allow the acquisition of more manageable 40-acre parcels. The final piece of the settlement puzzle was laid when John Deere introduced the steel plow in 1882, making it much easier to break up the dense sod soils. Combined with other advances in mechanizing agriculture, this allowed a single farmer to work much larger farms, which compensated for the low productivity of this land per acre. The Homestead Act was still in effect in the lower 48 states until it was repealed in 1976, and in Alaska until 1986. We could have homesteaded in 1962!

Merle's Food & Drink, Emerald, Nebraska
Merle's Food & Drink, Emerald, Nebraska, looking west on US-6. (Photo by Jared Winkler at Wikimedia Commons, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.)

I suppose I could have come out to Emerald, Nebraska last night for dinner at Merle’s Steakhouse. Though it is well out of Lincoln, it is still in the Lincoln zip code. Merle’s has been a restaurant since the early 1900s and was renamed Merle’s in 1959. But I could not have had breakfast here this morning, as it opens later, for lunch and dinner. As we continue west, we see the first hint that the plains include areas of mostly livestock farming. The first of several large cattle feedlots we will pass today is between Emerald and Pleasant Dale, Nebraska. Some probably belong to the Ficke Cattle Company, which was founded here in 1888. Over the years, they raised commercial cattle, primarily Hereford and Red Angus but have transitioned to raising hybrids and supplying “seedstock” cattle. They are now the largest source of Aubrac semen in the United States.

Milford, Nebraska is the site of a natural limestone ford that crossed the Blue River. This spot was used by Indians and early settlers before bridges were established. The nearby Blue River State Recreation Area is a small, undeveloped site that has no other recreational opportunities than a short stroll along the river. The town has little to offer us either, despite being the site of Southeast Community College, established in 1941 as the Nebraska Trade School. I did see an actual operating telephone booth on a street corner downtown though, with a plastic “Phone” sign on top; something you don’t see too often any more. Maybe it’s a Nebraska thing, but we’ll find another later today at the Sutton Motel in Sutton, Nebraska. A few brick streets complete a vintage, small town look for the downtown, which we also will see many times today. And unlike small towns I am used to, most of these downtowns will be several blocks off of the main highway US-6.

Police station, Friend, Nebraska
Police station, Friend, Nebraska. (Public domain photo by Ammodramus at Wikimedia Commons.)

Friend, Nebraska is about the same size, but it has many empty or repurposed downtown buildings and several empty gas stations. It also has some brick streets and a nice brick depot at the end of Maple Street, which is opposite downtown. Though there is little evidence remaining today, The National Greyhound Association was founded here in 1906. It was originally known as the National Coursing Association, and dog racing was held at the local fairgrounds on a half-mile track. The association is the primary registry body in the United States for racing purebred dog Greyhound pedigrees, and has moved on to headquarters in Abilene, Kansas. There is no dog track remaining in Friend, and the only one I have found on one of my roadtrips is in Jacksonville, Florida. Another unusual claim to fame for Friend is the building once listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not as “the world's smallest police station.” This is a small building has been here since before 1962 and was originally a tool shed. It’s located right on US-6 next to the railroad depot. It is still used by the local police, in part because the location allows clear views for about a mile in both directions down US-6, and down the main street into downtown.

If it weren’t so soon after breakfast, the Daisy Queen ice cream shop at east edge of town would be a big attraction for me. I have seen an old postcard that mentions Friend as the "midway point of the nation on Highway 6", but my calculations place the midway point about another days drive from here. So, let’s keep driving. The next little town on the prairie is Exeter, Nebraska. Once again, the downtown is off of US-6, but Exeter wanted to make sure you did not miss it. They have a great neon sign reading “Exeter” at the corner of US-6 and Exeter Avenue. The sign has been here since 1931, though it was originally on the other side of the road, where the Casey’s gas station is now. Back in 1931, the village and the local Commercial Club combined to pay for the sign. It was refurbished in 2010 and shines just as brightly as when it was new.

Fairmont Dairy advertising clock, date unknown
Fairmont Dairy advertising clock, date unknown (from online auction sale)

In recognition of the wide open spaces and mostly flat landscape since Lincoln, I just noticed that the speed limit is higher on the prairie: I spied my first 60mph speed limit sign at the west edge of Exeter. That makes for a quick trip to Fairmont, Nebraska. We enter town and pass a couple of abandoned motels that may have been open in 1962. A much larger abandoned property is the former Fairmont Army Airfield, which was deactivated at the end of World War II and declared surplus in the spring of 1946. Part of the field is now operated as the Fairmont State Airfield and the remainder has been returned to farmland. The field was located about three miles south of Fairmont, on over 3 square miles of land. Fairmont Army Airfield was built in a hurry, in an emergency response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7th, 1941. In just a ny day period, the area was transformed from agricultural land to runways, hangers, barracks, the largest hospital in Nebraska, and other support buildings for training over 3,000 airmen. In all, eleven major airfields were constructed in Nebraska between 1941 and 1943. For the next three years, bomber and support crews trained before being deployed overseas to Europe or to the Pacific. Some members of the crews that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan to end the war trained here. At the end of the war, the buildings were dismantled, surplus materials were given to local schools and communities, and the land slowly converted back to pre-war status. In its current status as a state airfield, the former base is used by crop dusters, local civilian pilots, and the hangers are used for corn storage.

The Fillmore County Historical Society has a World War II and Fairmont Army Airfield display at the McClellan building, which would have been the McClellan Rexall Drug Store in 1962. The society was only formed in 1967, so neither that display nor their main museum in the former Fairmont Creamery Company building would have been open for us. If you live anywhere in the country that had Fairmont Foods or Fairmont Dairy products, you might be interested to know that the company began here in 1884. The original creamery's first product was butter and by 1891 the company manufactured 7,000 pounds of butter a day. They had grown to operate plants in nearby Crete, Tobias, Friend, DeWitt, Fairbury, Geneva, Milford, and Hebron and moved their corporate offices to Omaha in 1907. The company continued growing in the twentieth century, processing eggs, poultry, vegetables, and even snack foods. By 1959 Fairmont Foods was one of the country's 500 largest corporations. The company moved again in 1974, to Houston, Texas, when its U-Totem convenience store subsidiary became more profitable than processing food products. By 1980 they were so attractive that another company bought Fairmont and either sold or closed everything down by 1984. Most of the U-Totem stores became Circle K stores. Here at their original home, the old brick creamery building was purchased by Dr. Sherman F. Ashby when the dairy moved out. After using the building for their medical office into the 1960s, the Ashby family donated it to the Fillmore County Historical Society for a museum.

Typical Quonset hut building, Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii
Typical Quonset hut building, Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii (Public domain photo from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In Fairmont, we cross highway US-81. This highway currently extends 1,234 miles from the Canadian border at Pembina, North Dakota to Fort Worth, Texas. As with many US-numbered routes, US-81 was longer in 1962, extending 535 miles farther south to the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas. It was shortened between 1991 and 1993 and replaced by the I-35 freeway. The route mostly follows the old Meridian Highway, which was named because it roughly followed the Sixth Principal Meridian of the US Public Land Survey System. Unlike most of the old named auto trails, US-81 was as an international route. It was promoted by the International Meridian Road Association in 1911 with the intention to run from Winnipeg, Canada to Mexico City, Mexico. This became a reality in 1928 as part of the Pan-American Highway. Within Oklahoma, the US-81 closely corresponds to the old Chisholm Trail for cattle drives from Texas to Kansas. Nebraska submitted their portion of US-81 from the Kansas state line to I-80 for inclusion in the Interstate Highway System in 1968, but the request was turned down. Approximately half the distance through the state is now a divided highway anyway, though not built to interstate standards.

We saw a lot of Quonset hut buildings in Fairmont and there are more all around Grafton, Nebraska. Perhaps the source for the many Quonset hut buildings we see in the area was the old Fairmont Army Airfield, but just what is a Quonset hut, you may ask? Well, they look like a giant corrugated steel pipe cut in half. One of the standard sizes was 20feet by 48feet, so they made a very good building for many purposes. They can be built with the half circle starting on the ground or raised onto normal building walls. The name comes from the location they were first manufactured at, Quonset Point at the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Davisville, Rhode Island. The design was based on the Nissen hut developed by the British during World War I. Hundreds of thousands were manufactured for the US Army during World War II because they were modular, easy to transport and set up, and could even be dismantled and reused. After the war, the Army sold its surplus Quonset huts to the public, so we see them everywhere today. We would likely have seen even more in 1962, before they had a chance to rust through. Sometimes multiple Quonset huts are joined together to make a building with several curves to the roofline. While the huts are usually easy to spot, some have been hidden behind flat fronts that are taller than the building, hiding the curving roofline. Similar steel buildings are still manufactured today by many companies, some in the original shape and some modified models.

Wolfe Schoolhouse, Sutton, Nebraska
Wolfe Schoolhouse, Sutton, Nebraska. (Photo from Sutton Historical Society, used by permission.)

Poor Grafton has had four major fires over the years, so it’s business district is very small today. The first burned the Warren elevator some time before 1900, a second fire burned five businesses in 1912, a third one in 1929 destroyed the bank, a restaurant, and the meat market, and the fourth fire burned the opera house and hardware store in 1991. As we leave Grafton, we notice one of several great places for birdwatching around town, and though they may not have been public lands in 1962, the area would have had plenty of birds. Over 250 bird species have been observed in this area, part of the Rainwater Basin. You can take your pick of the Bluebill Wildlife Management Area northeast of town, the Marsh Hawk Wildlife Management northwest of town, or Morphy Lagoon Wildlife Management, right on US-6.

In just a couple of minutes, we arrive at Sutton, Nebraska. The Sutton Historical Society has a small museum here, and also operates a rural school museum in the former Wolfe School. The rural school museum is in a typical prairie one-room schoolhouse, and was still being used as a school during the 1962-1963 school year. It is complete with piano, stove, books, teacher and student desks, and a classic elevated stage at the front of the room. The school came with an outhouse because rural schools did not have indoor plumbing, but the outhouse no longer survives. Before the school consolidations in many states in the 1960s, a typical rural school district might be from seven to nine square miles of land. This meant that most children were within two miles of a school and could walk or ride a horse-drawn buggy to class. This is a good opportunity to see a slice of life that still existed in 1962, but is now long gone. Another indication that this area was very rural then is that installing an electric water pumping system on your farm was a big enough story to land you in the local newspaper and a magazine! The May, 1962 issue of The Nebraska Electric Farmer featured a Sutton area family for just that reason.

1962 Kool-Aid Ad (from magazine)
1962 Kool-Aid Ad (from magazine)

We finally reach a larger town at Hastings, Nebraska. We haven’t stopped for much so far today, but we will here. Kool-Aid was invented here in 1927, and I used to drink a lot of it in 1962, so we will have to stop at the Original Kool-Aid Factory. Edwin Elijah Perkins worked in his father’s general store in Hendley, Nebraska and was familiar with products like Jell-O. He moved to Hastings at age thirty-one and began working with patent medicines and household products, producing a line of over 125 "Onor-Maid" branded items which were sold both door-to-door and by mail. One of the most popular was a fruit-flavored liquid concentrate. Building on this popularity, in 1927 he developed a fruit-flavored powdered soft drink mix. Within a few years, his Perkins Products Company was entirely focused on Kool-Ade, and business was so good that he moved the company to Chicago. The name was changed to the familiar Kool-Aid in 1934 and the company was sold to General Foods in 1953, who still made Kool-Aid in 1962. The Original Kool-Aid Factory here in Hastings is now a museum to the fun drink mix. And for a little more fun, Hastings holds an annual Kool-Aid Days festival in August, with the world's largest Kool-Aid stand!

We meet US-34 again in Hastings, as it comes in from the north after having split with us back in Lincoln, Nebraska. It will travel the next 142 miles west with US-6 to Culbertson, Nebraska. Hastings is large enough to have a business route, once known as US-6 CITY, and now signed as US-6 BUSINESS. I was not able to find which signing was used in 1962, or whether it was a single street or a pair of one-way streets then. It is currently a pair of one-way streets, with 2nd Street having more older commercial buildings. We also meet US-281 here. This is the longest three-digit US-numbered route, running 1,874 miles from the International Peace Garden near Dunseith, North Dakota to Brownsville, Texas, just short of the Mexican border. It has some anomolies, including being the only continuous three-digit US-numbered route to run from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, and being longer than its parent, US-81. Highway US-281 also passes near both the Geodetic Center of North America and the Geographic Center of the contiguous 48 United States. Both are located in different farm fields in Kansas and are marked with historical markers.

Zinns Jewelers, Hastings, Nebraska
Zinns Jewelers, Hastings, Nebraska (Photo by Pam Morris at Flickr, used by permission.)

Downtown, Bert’s Drug Store still has its old Rexall signs, but some nice-looking porcelain panels have now fallen off, unfortunately giving it the look of a failing business. Zinn’s Jewelers still looks like 1962 on the outside, with neon signing, aluminum trim, and porcelain panels, but the display windows are empty, so that building may be vacant. The Rivoli Theater is still showing movies and is little-changed on the outside. But most of the other buildings have been clearly remodeled and reused within the last 20 years. Allen’s Supermarket on the west edge of downtown may be from the 1960s. The local baseball field, Duncan Field, has seen its share of history. Hall of Fame player Yogi Berra played baseball here as a youngster. Duncan Field was built in 1940 as a public works project and thanks to a local sales tax passed in 2010, it is undergoing the major renovations needed after over 40 years of low maintenance. The city used to host the American Legion National "Little World Series” Championship from 1959-1961, but lost the game to Bismark, North Dakota for the 1962 series. The 1960 game featured a young Rusty Staub playing for New Orleans’ Jesuit High School. Today, Hastings College Bronco Baseball, American Legion Youth Baseball and St. Cecilia Football home games are held here. You can see the 405-foot power alleys and 408-foot center field right off US-6.

Hastings grew because of the railroads. In 1872, the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad crossed the existing Burlington line here, and Hastings became the commercial hub of central Nebraska. By 1887, five railroads served Hastings, but the boom ended that year. The next boom came in 1942 when the Navy arrived with what quickly became the biggest thing in Hastings. It was another military facility created during World War II and dismantled after the war was over. The Great Plains states held so many of these facilities because they were so far inland that it was felt they were the safest from any possible foreign attack, which was a real possibility at the time. Hastings had a US Naval Ammunition Depot which supplied 40% of the Navy’s bombs, shells, and rockets during the war. Though deactivated at the war’s conclusion, the depot was reactivated during the Korean War. It was finally decommissioned between 1958 and 1966, so there may have been some activity during 1962. Central Community College is now housed in some of the depot’s buildings. Other parts of the site are now used for a US Department of Agriculture research station, training facilities for the National Guard and Reserves, an industrial park, and a golf course. Some igloo-shaped, earth covered bunkers still stand empty along US-6 just east of town. Many roads are still in place, and you can take your own driving tour.

1968 ad for Bearcat Grinders from Western Land Roller Company
1968 ad for Bearcat Grinders from Western Land Roller Company, Hastings, Nebraska (from magazine)

The industrial park portion of the former depot site is home to T-L Irrigation Co., a manufacturer of aluminum irrigation pipe and related products. The company has been in Hastings since 1955, originally located in a Quonset hut building. Irrigation equipment is a big business on the plains, because the dry conditions require that water is pumped from rivers and underground to supplement rainfall. From here west we will see the large irrigation systems these companies make. Hastings is also home to the Hastings Irrigation Pipe Company, which began here in 1949. Other farming equipment is also manufactured here, with grain dryers made by the T-L Irrigation Co. Along US-6 BUSINESS in the middle of town we pass the buildings of the former Western Land Roller Company, which made a variety of farm machinery under the Bearcat brand through at least 1978. Another local company with long roots is the Dutton-Lainson Company, founded in 1886 to manufacture horse collars. They became one of the largest such companies in the country. The company benefited from the Navy’s presence in Hastings and won awards from the Navy for quality and service. Today they have expended into a manufacturer for marine, agricultural, industrial, and automotive markets.

Well, after our tour of the Kool-Aid Museum and the lands of the US Naval Ammunition Depot, I think it’s time for lunch. Several places worth a look, but so much is newer that 1962. The Goldenrod Café is a typical small town café out by the grain elevators, industry, and truck stops where we first entered Hastings. Looks like the kind of place the locals go. Or there’s Murphy's Wagon Wheel, which has been a tavern since way back in 1889. It’s since expanded to a full menu and was renamed in 1972. Finally, we could try Kitty’s Roadhouse, also on the east edge of town. It opened as Schmitty’s in 1960, has been Kitty’s since 1972, and sports a neat racing decor.

Hastings Museum, Hastings, Nebraska
Hastings Museum, Hastings, Nebraska (Photo from Adams County Convention & Visitors Bureau, used per their conditions to promote Hastings as a fun and exciting place to live, work and visit.)

As with all towns, there were some special buildings that existed in 1962 that are no longer here. The Strand Theatre opened in a beautiful white-enameled terra cotta building in 1916, that also included office space. The interior was appointed in marble walls, blue velvet stage curtains, and oak woodwork. The last movies were shown in 1984 but the building, now called the Strand Center, is still used as offices. You can still see movies in the similarly historic and beautiful nearby Rivoli Theatre. One historic building that has been demolished since 1962 is the old Hastings Post Office. This building, also known as the Federal Building, was constructed in 1905. The post office was on the first floor and a US district court courtroom and offices for a federal judge and related federal employees were on the second floor. The third floor housed an Internal Revenue Service office. But the court and IRS office had little activity in a small town like Hastings, and no resident federal judge was ever assigned to the city. The post office moved out in 1963 and the building was demolished in 1971. Just think though, we could have mailed a postcard from that post office with the Homestead Act Stamp in 1962!

Well, let’s get on to one of the highlights of the day, the Hastings Museum. Not your typical small town historical museum, the Hastings Museum is the largest municipal museum between Chicago and Denver. It was founded in 1927 to house the private collections of Albert Brooking, but has grown into much more. Albert Brookings spent much of his life collecting artifacts and specimens from all over the United States and dreamed of placing them in a museum for everyone to enjoy and learn from. He convinced the City of Hastings to donate land, provide salaries for two museum employees, and to heat the building, but the City could not afford to construct a museum. So his collection was housed between 1927 and 1939 in a local school building. In 1935, the city began applying for federal through the Work Projects Administration (WPA), which finally provided the funds in 1937. It may have helped that the museum had also acquired A.T. Hill’s nationally known American Indian collection by then. The new museum opened with a dedication speech by Dr. Charles Abbott, secretary at the Smithsonian Institute.

Adams County Fair Midway, Hastings, Nebraska
Adams County Fair Midway, Hastings, Nebraska (Photo from Adams County Convention & Visitors Bureau, used per their conditions to promote Hastings as a fun and exciting place to live, work and visit.)

Today, the museum has dioramas showcasing dozens of animal species in their natural habitats, including the largest private collection of mounted birds in the US. Other displays include the history of the early inhabitants of the Nebraska plains from paleo-Indians to the European settlers, a large firearms collection, fossils, gems and minerals, a planetarium, and more. And of course, an exhibit about Kool-Aid: you just can’t get away from it in Hastings. We’ll be here a few hours. For many years after it opened, the museum was advertised as the House of Yesterday, and we would have seen billboards along the highway back in 1962. But that campaign was dropped in 1978 and the formal name is now used. One unusual tidbit about the museum is that the founder, Albert Brookings, is interred beneath the basement floor. I don’t believe there is an exhibit about that.

If we were here in late July, we could spend the rest of the day at the Adams County Fair. There has been a fair here since 1878, though it has moved around a bit, and it wasn’t held at all for a few years between 1890 and 1907, and again during World War II. The fair has been in its current location since 1951, and yes, the fairgrounds has some Quonset hut style buildings. By the mid-1950s, it had become exclusively a 4-H fair, with exhibits restricted to youngsters who participated in 4-H club activities. The highlight of the 1932 Adams County Fair was the Electric Fountain, an extravaganza of water and lights designed to show off the new electricity generating plant, one of the largest municipally-owned plants in the country. The fountain was so popular that when the fair closed, it was moved to Fisher Park. The fountain is operated and maintained by Hastings Utilities. Fisher Fountain was renovated in 1982 but dynamited by vandals in 1984. The community rallied and raised money to rebuild it, and the fountain was rededicated in 1985. It was also computerized at this time, which allowed the number of color-and-water patterns to be increased from the original 32 to over 2 million. Actually, I’ve decided to stay the night in Hastings, just to see the fountain after dark. And to make sure I have enough to do for the evening, I’m calling it July and seeing the fair first! I’ll be in the animal barns, on some rides, and of course, enjoying fair food.

Wayfair Motel, Hastings, Nebraska, circa 1960s postcard
Wayfair Motel, Hastings, Nebraska, on circa 1960s postcard. (from Cardboard America, used by permission).

Instead of fair food, we could have a pleasant picnic in Chautauqua Park. The Chautauqua Pavilion in Hastings is an octagonal building constructed in 1907 for summer Chautauqua meetings. The design is unique; in fact, the Historic American Engineering Record does not have name for certain design elements used in the pavilion! The building, which seats 3,500 people, was designed by local architect C. W. Way to resemble a large meeting tent. You may have noticed that several towns we have been through in Nebraska have had a Chautauqua Park, and you may wonder what Chautauqua means. It was the name of a movement that provided education and entertainment during the 1880-1930 period. The name comes from an Iroquois Indian name for a lake in southwest New York where a summer school for Sunday school teachers was begun in 1874. The training sessions were named the Chautauqua Institution and within a few years, the scope had broadened to include adult education of all kinds and education had been broadened to include the arts. The mission was to bring “a college outlook” to working and middle-class people. A movement to provide such educational opportunities to people in rural areas, where opportunities for secondary education were limited, was formed by members and graduates of the Chautauqua Institution. By about 1915, the height of the movement, some 12,000 communities had hosted a Chautauqua. The movement pretty much died out by the mid-1930s due to a variety of changes in American culture. These included the rise of the automobile use, radio, movies, a rise in fundamentalism and evangelical Christianity, increased career opportunities for women, and the Great Depression, which made the circuit of meetings economically difficult.

But before I run off to the fair, I should get a motel. There are several motels that look 1962 or older we might choose to stay at. The Grand Motel is just west of big curve at the south side of town. It’s been well kept and probably once had a pool out front. The Hastings Express Inn is only a few blocks from the Adams County Fairgrounds and still has its pool. And near the west edge of town is the Rainbow Motel. Another, the Wayfair Motel, used to be in the same area, but it’s gone now, along with the drive-in theater that used to be nearby. All of these are located in or near a half mile long stretch of commercial development where US-6, US-34 and US-281 are all on the same road. While I’m off to the fair, enjoy the Fisher Fountain in the video below. I’ll pick someplace to stay, and then see you tomorrow when Roadtrip-’62 ™ visits the amazing Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village!


Fisher Fountain, Hastings, Nebraska


All photos by the author and Copyright © 2015 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2015 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.

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Weather on July 20, 1962 for Hastings, NE, from the National Climatic Data Center:

  • Low = 61°F
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