Plans for the Hastings riverfront are as fluid as the Mississippi
that flows by. But in a park near the American Legion, a
world-famous structure once defined the inventive genius of this
Dakota County river town.
Development plans are in the works. But before striking out in
any particular direction, let's consider what occupied that parcel
in the past. There's no better place to start than the drawing on
the city of Hastings stationery.
The unofficial Hastings emblem is a unique "spiral bridge" at the
root of the town's spirit — despite the fact that the bridge met its
end in 1951.
Try to envision this structural work of wonder. The north
approach was nothing special. But that bank is considerably higher
than the one on the south, at the heart of the town's business
This wasn't an issue with the rope ferry in 1895. Passengers to
Hastings could leave the ferry, walk a few steps and buy their
But when it was determined the rope ferry should be replaced,
Hastings faced a problem that confronted many another commercial
district positioned to take advantage of river traffic.
With a bridge, all that traffic would end up several blocks south
of the stores. Because the north bank was higher than the south, a
bridge directly from one shore to the other would slope at an
The solution: build a curlicue on the south end.
If you've ever played with road race sets, you'll remember
attaching four curved pieces of track so the cars would circle
around from a raised run to the floor. That's more or less how the
Spiral Bridge worked. Instead of bypassing the businesses, traffic
spiraled around and was deposited about a block from the
Having trouble imagining this? Go to Hastings. Walk the historic
main street — Second Street — and step into any shop. You're likely
to see a picture of the bridge. You'll probably see more than one.
Its image is on everything from plates to postcards to needlepoint
It's on a clock at the tourism bureau. In the old county
courthouse, the Pioneer Room has a scale model. Or look at a
city-owned vehicle. There's the Spiral Bridge again.
So what happened?
Like the rope ferry, the Spiral Bridge was a victim of
The need to replace or rebuild was apparent by the end of World
War II. Once capable of carrying nearly the same weight load as a
bridge built today, the load limit had dropped to a mere 4 tons.
Rust claimed 75 percent of some spots. Tires rolling across the worn
planks were damaged by protruding spikes.
There was a division of opinion, much as there is now regarding
use of the place where the bridge once stood.
Local women's clubs, the Dakota County Historical Society and the
Fraternal Order of Eagles lobbied to keep it. But a trust fund would
need a guaranteed $10,000. And that was only part of what would be
required to save the span. Yearly maintenance alone would be $1,000.
Liability insurance would add more. The cost of tearing it down was
just $5,000. And some of the expense could be deferred by selling it
And yet, the preservationists almost pulled it off. A bill to
save the bridge passed both houses and was awaiting Gov. Luther
Youngdahl's signature when he was buttonholed by Hastings businesses
determined to kill it. The bill suffered a pocket veto.
The April day in 1895, when the opening of the spiral bridge was
celebrated with the boom of a cannon and a feast for more than 5,000
people, was long past. The view was toward the future. And Hastings
lost its greatest landmark.
But something else was born: a spirit of salvation. When anyone
suggests destroying a Hastings landmark, the cry goes out: "Remember
the Spiral Bridge!"
The result is a beautiful downtown that thrives, despite the
bypass that is the south approach of the current Highway 61 bridge.
And down where new development is under consideration, in the little
park that graces the edge of a bend in the Mississippi, there is a
plaque on what's left of an old abutment.
It commemorates Hastings' famed, fantastic, never-to-be-forgotten
Writer Chuck Strinz's latest project is Back On The
a humorous travel documentary debuting on Twin Cities Public
Television and other PBS affiliates June 27 as part of the Grand
Excursion 2004 celebration.
Have a Mississippi Memory to share? Send your letters or
short essays to Mississippi Memories, St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion
Page, 345 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55101; fax them to 651-228-5564;
or e-mail them to email@example.com.