Incorporated in 1857, Hastings is the second-oldest city in Minnesota. The 2020 population is approximately 23,000. Hastings is well known for its excellent school district, appreciation for the arts, extensive neighborhood parks, its location along the Mississippi River, trail system, and hometown feeling. Many residents commute to work in St. Paul and Minneapolis, which are both easily accessible by state highways. The college city of Northfield (home to St. Olaf College and Carleton College) is just 30 minutes to the south, and Rochester – home of the Mayo Clinic – is only an hour to the south.
According to Wikipedia, the area around Hastings was first settled by a military detachment sent from Fort Snelling to guard a blocked shipment of supplies in the winter of 1820. A Lieutenant William G. Oliver camped in an area that would come to be known as Oliver’s Grove, and in 1833 a trading post was opened there. After the Treaty of Mendota of 1851 opened the area for white settlement, Oliver’s Grove was surveyed and incorporated as a city in 1857, a year before Minnesota’s admission to the union. That same year Hastings was named the county seat of Dakota County. The name “Hastings” was drawn out of a hat from suggestions placed in it by several of the original founders. This drawing took place in what is now the kitchen of the popular downtown restaurant, Lock & Dam Eatery on Second Street.
In the mid-19th century Hastings, the nearby city of Prescott, Wisconsin, and the adjacent township of Nininger were areas of tremendous land speculation, billed by Ignatius L. Donnelly as a potential “New Chicago.” The Panic of 1857 put an end to this dream. The speculation and Panic caused the cities’ growth to be less than expected given their location at the confluence of two significant rivers; today, their combined population is approximately 25,000, and all that remains of Nininger is a few buildings.
Hastings is the site of the second-oldest surviving county courthouse in the state (after Stillwater), finished in 1871 at a cost of $63,000. The county administration began the process of moving to a new facility in 1974, and in 1989 the City of Hastings purchased the old building. It was rededicated in 1993 as City Hall.
In 1895 a spiral bridge was built over the Mississippi River, designed to slow down horse-drawn traffic as it entered downtown. The novel design became a tourist attraction, but the bridge was demolished in 1951 because it could not handle modern vehicles.
In 1930, the Army Corps of Engineers completed Lock and Dam No. 2 at Hastings, part of the canal lock systems on the Mississippi that stretch from Minneapolis to St. Louis. Lock and Dam No. 2 is the site of the nation’s first commercial, federally licensed hydrokinetic power facility, a partnership between the City of Hastings and Hydro Green Energy, LLC of Westmont, Illinois.