All Signs Point to Hastings History

Frieda Belasco and Natalie Garson

Though many residents have walked by the “Museum in the Streets” signs around downtown Hastings, how many have actually stopped to read them? The signs, arranged in a “walking tour” around town, were put up by the Hastings Historical Society in 2005.

Sue Smith, the village historian for Hastings, and past president of the Historical Society, was in charge of creating the signs. In an interview, she explained the thinking behind the walking tour. “The idea was to get the history out to the people, instead of counting on the people to come to the Historical Society to learn about it under our roof.” 

The idea to create the historical signs was first proposed by Patrick Cardon, who created the whole “Museum in the Streets” program on the national level. The program “design[s] free walking tours that foster a sense of historical identity, educate, encourage preservation of local historic sites and promote knowledge of stories, events and traditions,” according to its website.

To choose which sites to add to the walking tour, the Historical Society had to think about what would create a cohesive trail, and what pieces of information would be most interesting to the public. 

“We tried to pick places that were either identified with a famous person, that had some kind of event there, or contributed to the community’s history,” said Smith. 

There were many decisions in the process of creating “Museum in the Streets.” Since the Historical Society has over 10,000 images in its archive, it had to choose the best images to include on the signs. It also had to choose a second language to include, since all “Museum in the Streets” walking tours are required to be bilingual. Examples of this include “Museum in the Streets” tours in France, which are in French and English, and multiple bilingual tours in Maine. At first, the Historical Society considered including a language spoken by early immigrants to Hastings, like Polish or German, but then settled on Spanish.

Although the project of creating and putting up the signs was mainly completed by the Historical Society, the Village of Hastings helped with parts of it. For example, getting approval from the Village Board to put signs on village land and having some members of the Department of Public Works help put up the signs. 

As for the overall goal of the walking tour, Smith said, “I hope that it spurs some interest in Hastings history, and maybe raises some questions about it. Because even though it’s a little town, there’s lots of history and lots of stories to tell, which is what the Historical Society does.” 

The Museum in the Streets walking tour is just one of many projects that the Historical Society has undertaken in order to share the vibrant history of Hastings. The digitization of the Historical Society, which was undertaken about 20 years ago, was another one of its greatest achievements. The group was able to digitize all of their photographs, the covers to their pamphlets, and more. The proprietary database is currently open only to volunteers, but if a researcher contacts the Historical Society, the search for information is easy, quick, and thorough.

Another of the Historical Society’s projects is their work with the Quarry Park committee. This project involves the former marble quarry, which is right off of the aqueduct. The group is trying to have the quarry turned into a park which is scheduled to open sometime this year. The Historical Society worked with the Quarry Park committee to put together some historic signage, a combination of written material and photographs on the history of the quarry. The goal is to show how it was Hastings’s first industry, and how it was subsequently abandoned, restored, and then abandoned again, until the process began for another restoration. “Some committed citizens about 20 years ago started agitating for the dump to be cleaned up and for it to be converted back into a park,” said Natalie Barry, the president of the Historical Society. “It took a long time, but their voices were finally heard.”

The Historical Society is committed to education about village history. Before the pandemic, it was an annual ritual for a Historical Society volunteer to teach the Hillside second graders about local history. Last year, there was a recorded presentation for the second graders, but Barry is hoping to return to the classroom. She wants to make presentations that go back even further in history, covering the lives and history of indigenous people that once called this land their home.

The group hosts an annual exhibition at the Draper Observatory Cottage. The next one, called Unbuilt Hastings, is scheduled for November 2022. It is covering projects that were proposed for construction in Hastings but never happened.

A way for people to help out is to volunteer and sign up for internships at these exhibitions. The Historical Society is an all-volunteer, totally self-supporting entity that “survives on membership and donations, and also a bit of merchandise,” according to Barry. Interns are listed as curators of the exhibit alongside other volunteers, and much of the material they write gets published in the Historical Society’s quarterly newsletter.

The Historical Society has bounced from location to location since it was chartered in 1971, but its current home is in the observatory cottage in Draper Park.

The Hastings Historical Society has come a long way from a “little closet” in the Municipal Building, but their mission has stayed the same: “to preserve and promote the history of our village.”