Thanks for Asking | May 19, 2010

What’s the best way to get from Water Street to Oakwood Mall?

Frank Smoot |

How did Hastings Way get its name?
Thanks for asking. That is a hard one. What we know is thanks to recent research done by Brian Amundson (among America’s Top 10 Public Works Leaders, as astute V1 readers know). Let’s let him spin it:

Looks like it was first created as a road that went from Omaha Street to just south of Seymour Road. This was platted as part of “Somona Park Place,” recorded in 1916.

A 1940 map shows what’s now Hastings Way having several names along its route: Chippewa Falls Road (north of Seymour Road), Hastings Way (Birch Street to Seymour), Birney Street (Altoona Avenue to Main Street), and Osseo Road (Brackett Avenue to Altoona Avenue).

A 1918 ad in the Eau Claire Leader shows lots for sale in Sonoma Park Place. “$1 down and $1 per week. No interest or taxes for two years – no payments when sick or out of work.” These lots were being marketed and sold by Hastings Realty Co, which assured the reader “Anyone can buy a lot the Hastings Way.”

Until we hear otherwise, Brian and I are guessing the phrase just kinda stuck.

Do you know when the staircase from downtown to the Eastside Hill was built and the elevation gain it has?
The current steps are public-works stuff of the Depression, which started about 1933 and ran through 1940. (Other projects: Owen Park Bandshell, Carson Park stadium, grading Gray Street, most of the east-side sewers. On and on.)

At that time, people probably thought of the steps as access to downtown generally and Bartlett School specifically – which was where the Park Tower apartments sit now on Farwell Street. But these “new” steps were a second (or third?) generation; the originals were built up the hill, to give access from downtown to Forest Hill Cemetery.

The cemetery was fenced in 1867, but had actually been in use a few years already; it was fenced, finally, to keep cattle out. A newspaper of the day called the fact that cattle ran there “a disgrace to Christian society.”

About 1870 H.C. Putnam (Putnam Street, Drive, Heights, etc.) “advocated a flight of steps [to ease cemetery access] with benches at intervals up the bluff, which was 90 feet high.” (So there’s that answer!) Putnam was a powerful and persuasive fellow, and I’m sure his steps got built.

No road for vehicles went directly from downtown to the cemetery until 1874, so the steps would have been the only path for several years. I have some idea – for no very good reason – that this 1874 road is the brick path (still visible) intersecting the steps.

What’s the best way to get from Water Street to Oakwood Mall?
The thing about Eau Claire is that there are always at least two ways to get anywhere and none of them very good. Being a generous soul, I like to think the trouble has to do with our beautiful rivers and sheltering hills.

Three common ways, of course. Left on State Street to Harding Street Hill, or “Plank Street” to super-townies (four and a half miles, starting at The Joynt); right on State to the State Street Hill (five miles); and down Menomonie to Clairemont (seven miles), which seems way out of the way but really isn’t, because all these routes clock-in at just over 10 minutes. I would take Plank Street Hill.