An artist captures the beauty of the Hastings High Bridge in a lasting tribute in the city's American Legion Post.
From the windows and veranda of American Legion Post 47 in Hastings, the truss bridge can be seen arching across the Mississippi River.
Capturing that graceful scene is a local artist who is painting a mural inside the Legion to memorialize the High Bridge.
It will have spanned the Mississippi River for more than 60 years by the time it comes down in 2013, making way for a new four-lane, $120 million bridge.
David Youngren, a member of the Sons of the American Legion, has been donating his time on Saturday mornings to paint the mural.
"It's for the American Legion and the whole community of Hastings," he said.
The mural is the talk of this river town, which has long identified with the iconic bridges that have spanned the Mississippi River throughout its history.
"It's going to be beautiful," said Jerry Kleis, the Post 47 commander. "It's so great now, people are coming from all over, people who we haven't seen before, because there's so much talk about how nice it is."
Youngren's mural details the first steel truss bridge in Minnesota, but it showcases much more: a Bald Eagle and a red-white-and-blue theme with stars, which frames the bridge.
"The American Legion stands for all the different branches of the military, so I've created a design that lists all those branches," Youngren said. "And because America's symbol is the bald eagle, and we have six eagles down in that area, and you can see them from the American Legion, I wanted them in there, too."
Fifty years ago, on another wall at the Legion, a group of artists painted a huge mural of the old spiral bridge, a nostalgic landmark built in 1895. It had a spiral design intended to slow horse-drawn buggies coming down Hwy. 61.
The new mural is on the opposite end of the building. So now, from the Legion's interior, people can see murals of the two old bridges -- and within a couple of years, if they look out windows facing the river, they will see the new bridge, too.
A special place for history
Hazel Jacobsen-Theel, a 101-year-old retired historian in Hastings, said she is pleased.
"They've done a lot of things like that," she said of the Legion's contributions. "I think they should preserve all they can, and their past, too. It's a wonderful group."
Jacobsen-Theel had fought to keep part of the old spiral bridge in place as an observation deck and tourist attraction when the current bridge was built in 1950-51, but it was torn down because city leaders did not want to pay maintenance costs at $50 a year.
Randy Tesdahl, department adjutant for more than 500 American Legion posts throughout Minnesota, said the mural is a great project, and one that embodies what Legion stands for.
"When you see those things like in Hastings, where they're commemorating that bridge, it's part of what we do," he said. "It's about preserving heritage and the things that have been in our communities for many years."
Wendy Dodge-Agen, manager of the Hasting post, said people love the mural and are coming in to regularly to check its progress.
"The spiral bridge was a landmark for many years, and this bridge replaced that one as a landmark," Dodge-Agen said. "Dave incorporating the bridge into the mural keeps part of the history of our town."
As land is prepared for the new bridge, the Department of Transportation recognized the historical significance of the site, where four blocks burned in an 1899 fire.
The state contracted with Two Pines Resource Group of Chisago for an archeological dig in a gravel lot where a hotel and saloon once stood. There are 32 banker's boxes of old bottles and other artifacts to sift through, said Michelle Terrell, who led the dig.
She called the bridges the "gateway" to Hastings, and the community's connection, too.
"The spiral bridge is very much a symbolic icon for Hastings, and I hope this bridge gets its due, too," she said.
Bertrand Goderstad, president of a local historical society, dined at the Legion last weekend, near the new mural.
"It'll be nice for people to see that bridge as well as the spiral bridge in the other room," Goderstad said. "It's going to be a history lesson for people who come to Hastings and wonder about the different bridges."
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017