The Mississippi River has long been a major artery for trade and transportation.
For thousands of years, Indians traveled on the river by canoe. By the 1850s, rivertowns like Hastings boomed as steamboats brought settlers into the region. The steamboat era was colorful but short, coming to an end with the expansion of railroads.
With the construction of the lock and dam system in the 1930s, the Mississippi again became an important shipping thoroughfare — and it remains so today.
The Steamboat Era
From the 1850s through the 1870s, steamboats carried the bulk of shipping on the river, bringing settlers, tourists, and goods to the new state of Minnesota. Steamboats also transported grain and flour from Minnesota to markets around the country.
Steamboat crews contributed a bit of wild flavor to early Hastings. There were plenty of saloons in town for crews to patronize. Gambling was a popular pastime, and fights were not uncommon between rival crews.
The Reign of the Railroads
The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Soon after, trains replaced steamboats as the preferred means of transporting freight and passengers. Trains travel faster and year round, unlike steamboats, which depended on a navigable river.
Greater railroad traffic through Hastings attracted settlement, industry, and farming to the area.