Heartwell Park Historic District

 

 

 

 

March 2000, the Heartwell Park Historic District in Hastings was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This marked the first time an entire area of Hastings was recognized as being historically significant. It also brought full circle a project begun by James B. Heartwell in 1886. The historic district is a residential area surrounding Heartwell Park in northeast Hastings. The district includes 55 residences that flank the park, most of them located on Lakeside Drive and Forest Boulevard, although two have addresses on north Elm Avenue.

Both Forest Boulevard and Lakeside Drive are curvilinear streets. Forest Boulevard has two narrow one-way lanes divided by a 25-foot-wide tree-lined median. Lakeside Drive is a two-lane street with no center median. Both streets feature 34 lots, measuring between 50 and 65 feet wide. Forest Boulevard, however, has 22 houses compared to 31 on Lakeside drive, some of which are on half lots.

The houses within the district range in age from about 1919 to 1960. Of these houses, 78 percent were completed by 1950. Older residences are found along Forest Boulevard where development began about 1919 with the construction of houses at 150 and 200 Forest Boulevard. Residential development did not begin on Lakeside Drive until 1940, with the majority of the houses completed between 1943-44. The houses within the district range from modest one-story vernacular houses to larger one and two story architecturally distinctive residences. Despite the variation in residential style and size, an overall cohesiveness runs through the district that is apparent in the rhythm of the buildings and the uniform setback of the houses. The landscape reinforces the cohesiveness of the district with its park, curvilinear streets, and vegetation.

The district features residences that depict many of the popular architectural styles of the time. Three Colonial Revival houses are present within the district--212 Forest Boulevard, 234 Forest Boulevard, and 923 North Elm Avenue. All three of these houses display Colonial Revival style features, including two-story height, a side gable roof, symmetrical facade, and a portico with side lights. Other architectural styles include the Tudor Revival style house at 238 Forest Boulevard and the French Eclectic style house at 500 Forest Boulevard. The residence at 520 Forest Boulevard, built about 1938, is one of the most distinctive in the district. Completed in the Art Moderne style, this house is a two-story masonry building displaying characteristic features such as an asymmetrical facade, a smooth stucco wall surface, curved corners, flat roof, and prominent horizontal lines.

More vernacular residences with limited architectural details are also present in the district. For example, the two-story cube residence at 150 Forest Boulevard displays a hipped roof with an overhang as its defining feature. Along Lakeside Drive, the Hastings Housing Company completed a number of residences in the early 1940s in the Minimalist Traditional style. These one-story, brick veneer structures typically display rectangular plans and side gable roofs with or without intersecting front gables. Minimal architectural detailing is used on the houses such as concrete window sills and lintels, a decorative concrete pattern surrounding the entrance, a small gable roof over the entrance, and frame supports holding a shed roof over the entrance. Houses completed after 1950 are generally one-story ranch houses displaying characteristic low-pitched, hipped roofs with deep overhangs. For example, the residence at 129 Forest Boulevard is a typical large ranch house.

The district includes 51 contributing and 13 noncontributing resources. The contributing resources entail 49 buildings, including 47 residences, one site-the park-and six structures, including bridges, and the road system. Only one garage--238 Forest Boulevard--was included in the resource count. This brick structure, designed in the same style as the house, was individually distinctive and warranted inclusion. Other garages and small sheds within the district were vernacular, individually undistinguished, and were not substantial in size or scale and therefore not included in the resource count.

The district's housing represents two residential construction periods in Hastings. The late 1910s and early 1920s were times of steady growth and prosperity for the community, which was enhanced by Hasting's establishment as a railroad center and the prominence of its local industry. Within the district, seven residences on Forest Boulevard were constructed during this first period. The second period of residential construction, the late 1930s through the 1940s, occurred in response to regional housing shortages caused by thriving war production plants and related industries. The establishment of the Naval Ammunition Depot near Hastings brought an influx of residents to Hastings and an immediate demand for housing. In response, a large number of modest residences were constructed between 1939 and 1950. Within the district the formerly vacant land on the north side of the park on Lakeside Drive was filled with one-story residences, mostly constructed between 1943-1944.

The district's period of significance begins in 1886, with the platting and creation of the park and continues through 1950 to encompass the residential development surrounding the park. Heartwell Park has undergone a number of changes through the years, but the overall design principles and integrity remain. Most of the residential properties in the Heartwell Park Historic District are individually undistinguished, but relay their significance collectively.

History of Heartwell Park

Heartwell Park is named for James B. Heartwell, owner and creator of the once privately-owned park. J.B. Heartwell was a prominent businessman, promoter and politician in the 1880s. He came to Hastings in 1879 and quickly established himself as one of the town's leading citizens. He was the first president of the board of trustees of Hastings College; he served in the state legislature; and he built the finest house the county has ever known. But the pioneer banker's fortunes turned sour in the Not-So-Gay Nineties of early Nebraska, and he left for California in 1896.

Most conspicuous among the many things which make up the legacy of J.B. Heartwell in Adams County, however, is the twenty acre park which bears his name. Heartwell originally created the park on the east side of the city as a preserve for family and friends and as a source of ice for the Heartwell mansion. But it was generally open to the public and became a favorite of local recreation seekers. It was also part of a larger, forty-five acre development called "Heartwell's Park Addition," which included the park, a golf course (the first in Adams County), and a plat containing fifty-seven residential lots. What made Heartwell Park unique was that it was designed by a landscape architect, A.N. Carpenter of Galesburg, Illinois, and was the region's first planned residential neighborhood to include landscaping as a vital component. It was this last point that caused the park and surrounding area to be included in the National Register of historic Places.

In April, 1886, the Hastings Gazette-Journal reported that "Heartwell's park in the eastern part of the city is being rapidly improved this spring. Twenty-five men are busy putting in trees and making other improvements. A very attractive feature will be an artificial lake in the center." The lake was such a source of pride for the community that the Hastings Tribune obituary of Harry T. Ingalls in August, 1932 noted that he helped construct the lake with an team of oxen and a hand- controlled drag as part of that effort.

By the early 1890s the lake was used for boating, fishing and ice skating. After Heartwell abandoned the park in 1896, local cold storage companies cut blocks of ice at the lake. It was this commercial use of the lake that eventually influenced the city of Hastings to purchase Heartwell Park.

The story of how Hastings acquired the park was told in the Hastings Tribune on July 14, 1925 in the report of a Chamber of Commerce speech given by Jacob Fisher, former Hastings mayor and the man for whom Fisher Fountain is named. According to Fisher, in 1899 the park was owned by the Nebraska Loan and Trust Company because James Heartwell had defaulted on his loans a few years before. One winter day Mayor Fisher met a group of dejected skaters walking back to town from the park. "Isn't the skating good today?" he asked. "The skating is all right," was the answer, "but there are some men out there cutting up the ice." The mayor resolved to remedy the situation by purchasing the park for the city. But the city had no money, so he went to A.L. Clarke of First National Bank and persuaded him to finance $1,000 of the $2,000 purchase price for the property. Clarke then suggested that Fisher talk to Charles H. Dietrich, president of German National Bank and future U.S. Senator, about loaning the other $1,000. Fisher succeeded, and the deal was struck.

"But there were some who kicked about it," Mr. Fisher recalled. "They thought $100 an acre for the 20 acres was too much money and the vote in the council was not unanimous." The Hastings Weekly News, however, praised the purchase in its July 22, 1899 edition, noting that the city was in a "splendid position" to create a "model park." At any rate, Hastings now had its third public park (after Highland Park at 12th and Burlington and Prospect or Chautauqua Park in west Hastings). It was soon connected to the city's storm sewer system as a source of water for the lake.

The park was often highlighted in promotional materials describing Hastings in the early 1900s. In Hastings: Queen City of the Plains (1903), William H. Steele described it as "the oldest and best improved park in the city. It contains 45 acres of ground,a beautiful lake and plenty of shade. The Country Club has a neat Club House and golf ground in this park." The Book of Hastings: A Sketch of the Town with Illustrations said "Heartwell park is a stretch of land [which] includes Heartwell Lake, the only body of water in or near Hastings. This park is a popular place for picnickers and others in the summer and in the winter the lake is a source of much pleasure to skaters." By August, 1901, the Hastings Tribune advertised that Harry Cowton, park policeman, was renting boats at the lake for public use. Other people built sheds on the vacant lots around the lake to store boats at Heartwell year round.

Fishing was very popular in the park at the turn of the century as the lake was stocked with everything from catfish to trout. In 1905 Mayor Miles declared that every Thursday would be "Fishin' Day at Heartwell Lake." On Friday, June 30, 1905 the Tribune reported that the mayor's "piscatorial edict" was so successful that over a thousand men and boys took part, and one single fisherman caught "a mountain of fish" weighing over 1750 pounds! But the event also depleted the lake of every fish in the park; according to the Tribune "the last fish in the lake was pulled out at 6:30 yesterday by Rev. Father McDonald. It weighed just eight ounces." Needless to say, "Fishin' Day" was discontinued.

Other wildlife was also part of the park from early times. By the 1930s, people like policeman Henry "Fat" Schreiner were stocking the park with ducks, geese and pelicans. In May,1938 the Hastings Morning Spotlight noted that he was adding pheasants to the menagerie at Heartwell. During the 1950s Pelican Pete was a well known park visitor.
Although trees were planted and foot bridges were built in the park before WWI (including a "mystery bridge" to the island in the lake no one would take credit for constructing), decorative street lights were installed in 1921, and playground equipment was installed in 1926, the 1930s were a time when great improvements were made to the park. Most were related to the work relief projects of the Depression. In 1931 a wading pool and more playground equipment for children were added. In 1935 WPA projects were begun to dredge and enlarge the lake and construct a new dam. A shelterhouse was constructed using broken concrete from the storm sewer system the WPA was replacing west of the park. The WPA also built a new street bridge and brick barbecues.

Heartwell Park was site of the state Seventh Day Adventist Convention twice before World War I. According to county historian Dorothy Creigh, "the white tents of the pavilion and campers completely filling the park." In 1932 the park was the setting for the May Fete pageant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hastings College. During the `40s and the `50s the Hastings Garden Club planted flower beds at the park.

But Heartwell has also produced its share of headaches for the community over the years. In December, 1895 the Adams County Democrat posted a warning to children skating there because of holes created by ice-cutters. On August 12, 1897 a Hastings Daily Republican headline read: "BOY DROWNED. BLISS MILTMORE FINDS GRAVE AT BOTTOM OF HEARTWELL'S LAKE." The story described how the thirteen year old "sank to rise no more" while swimming with friends on a hot summer afternoon. On December 20, 1920 the Daily Tribune described how the body of a week-old infant girl was found floating in the lake. The identity of the child was never discovered, and the baby was buried at Parkview Cemetery without an inquest. Eventually swimming, boating and ice-skating were all banned at Heartwell.

The lake has been difficult to maintain because of intermittent water flows. In 1921 the head of the state health department declared the lake an "unclean pond" and "eyesore." He proposed that it be given a concrete bottom or filled in completely. Both ideas were rejected by the city leaders. A generation later (December, 1965) a different city council actually voted to drain the lake and cut a channel through it to handle storm sewer water. After protests to council members, however, on February 15, 1966 the Tribune recounted a "reprieve" in the form of a joint effort between the county board of supervisors and the city to clean up the site.

In April and May, 1970 the Tribune described a major pollution problem: fuel oil and waste motor oil had accumulated in the lake and even Meadowbrook golf course farther downstream was in jeopardy. The blame was laid on a leak at Hastings Utilities and service stations, manufacturers and private citizens who dumped oil into the storm sewers. John Foster of Hastings Utilities, City Engineer Willis Hunt and a group of Hastings College students all made the news with proposals to clean up the contamination. By September, 1970 the Board of Public Works had employed H & M Equipment Company of Hastings to remove nearly 6,000 cubic yards of oil-soaked dirt from the lake bed. Not until July, 1971 did the newspapers report that the lake was ready to be refilled with water. And within a year the algae problem in the lake was so severe that Mr. Hunt considered draining it again.

On December 11, 1987 Tribune columnist Gary Johansen wrote a piece called "Heartwell Heartbreak." He recounted how fish kills in 1937, 1960 and 1962 had resulted from pollutants ranging from crankcase oil to insecticides to ammonia. But none produced more discontent than the October, 1987 kill -- which was finally traced to ammonia discharged by a local cold storage company. Johansen used the event to push for improvements at the site: "Heartwell Park is one of the most attractive areas of Hastings, winter or summer. It would be an absolute shame to see it become unfit for fish, fowl or human. We shouldn't wait any longer to restore the lake to its original intent."

Although some councilmen favored removing the dam and letting the lake go to a channel, City Engineer Dave Wacker, Parks and Recreation Director Joe Patterson and Willis Hunt, now a Little Blue Natural Resources District board member, proposed a phased-in project to stabilize the banks of the lake and make other improvements at the park. In 1988 a joint city-natural resources district betterment project was undertaken at a cost of $701,806. It included deepening the lake, stabilizing the bank and repairing the California Avenue bridge and dam. The wading pool at Heartwell made news again as recently as 1999. After the parks department closed it because of fear of contaminated water, local businessman Jim Thom raised the funds to reopen the pool with a new pump and chlorination system.

As stated in the application for inclusion of the Heartwell Park area on the National Register of Historic Places: “The Heartwell Park Historic District achieves significance as a residential neighborhood within a planned and designed landscape. Although the park was created in 1886, the late nineteenth century plan to have residences on both sides of the park was not fully achieved until over 55 years later. With the construction of residences beginning in 1919 and following the city's trends in residential construction through the 1940s, the Heartwell Park Historic District has been able to convey the ideas of its original design."

In the eyes of most local residents, this citation is appropriate as Heartwell has become the "model park" proposed by editors of the Hastings Weekly News over a century ago.

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