Elizabeth Spilinek believes that a person can tell a lot about the history of a community just by looking at its historic buildings.
"I see the architecture of the past and present as three-dimensional documents that we can all learn from," she said in a recent interview.
Spilinek, a historical preservationist, just released the book "Hastings Then and Now," a pictorial history of the city from its founding in 1872 to 1950, comparing historical photos with photos of the current places and buildings. Her book has become the focal point for the "Hastings: Then & Now" exhibit at the Hastings Museum of Cultural and Natural History.
"My inspiration was the architecture in Hastings," Spilinek said, looking around at the photos from her book hanging on the walls of the museum's East Gallery.
Spilinek started the book about a year ago when she was approached by Arcadia Publishing. Over the next eight months, Spilinek gathered more than 80 historical photos of the city's architecture to tell the community's history from 1872 to 1950. After finding those photos, Spilinek grabbed a digital camera and walked the streets of Hastings to take modern photos of each of the sites.
The 95-page book gives readers a then and now look at architecture throughout the city and some of its more recognizable buildings, including the Farrell Block, Hastings Museum and the former Clarke Hotel.
The book is divided into four chapters: The boomtown period, the Victorian period, the Arts and Crafts period, and ending with the Great Depression and the modern period.
Spilinek said the chapters start with the boom period and end with the bust period caused by fires and depressions.
The first bust period came in 1879 when 33 wooden structures in the downtown burned to the ground in a huge fire.
Spilinek said that was probably her favorite photo of the entire book.
"That picture shows how this optimistic town was just being born and growing when all of a sudden it was extinguished when 33 of its wooden buildings burned downtown. That was a major turning point," she said.
"We could have gone up or down, and what did we do? We went up, and I saw that throughout each of these periods."
Spilinek said no matter how great or small the depression was that came after a boom period, the people of Hastings always picked up and continued on.
"So in each of these four areas of growth boom and bust times the architecture changed to reflect what was going on within those periods," she said.
In addition to the photos, Spilinek said, the text in the exhibit and the book tells more about why the buildings changed and provides more information about the significance of the structures.
"I think it's neat for kids who come here and learn about local history in the third grade to relate to history when they do see what's now compared to then," she said.
"I think if they can see what they're used to, they can relate, and it's more relevant to their experience."