James J. Hill House
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member bookworm1225
N 44° 56.740 W 093° 06.528
15T E 491416 N 4976920
Quick Description: Marker describing history of James J. Hill, and the house he built on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.
Location: Minnesota, United States
Date Posted: 8/15/2009 2:50:07 PM
Waymark Code: WM70NX
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member KC0GRN
Views: 11

Long Description:
James J. Hill

"Most men who have really lived here have had, in some shape, their great adventure. This railway is mine," wrote James J. Hill to the Great Northern Railway employees upon his retirement in 1912. Throughout his long working life Hill remained a titanic force in the economic transformation of the Northwest as his railroads encouraged immigrant settlement, agricultural development and commercial expansion.

Hill was born in southern Canada in 1838 and began his career in transportation as a 17-year-old "mud clerk" on the bustling St. Paul levee. He spent 20 years in the shipping business on the Mississippi and Red rivers, and in 1878 along with several other investors he purchased the nearly bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Hill toiled ceaselessly during the next two decades to push the line north to Canada and west across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. "When we are all dead and gone," Hill declared of the renamed Great Northern Railway, "the sun will shine, the rain will fall, and this railroad will run as usual."

"Empire Builder" Hill pursued a vast network of related businesses: coal and iron mining, electric and water-power development, Great Lakes and Pacific Ocean shipping, agriculture and milling, banking and finance. Hill supported many educational institutions and built the St. Paul Public Library along with the reference library that bears his name. He spoke at countless county fairs and civic organizations on scientific agriculture and sound business practices. Presidents sought his financial support and economic advice and national and international concerns. After amassing a personal fortune of $63 million, James J. Hill died in his Summit Avenue home on May 29, 1916, one of the wealthiest and most powerful figures of America's gilded age.

(Other side)

The James J. Hill House

The population of St. Paul expanded dramatically during the 1880s, and many business and civic leaders began building fashionable homes along the bluffs overlooking the city. Forty-six new houses were constructed on Summit Avenue between 1882-1886. James J. Hill tore down the first house ever built on Summit Avenue to construct a house that symbolized his success and suited him, his wife Mary, and their large family.

The red sandstone mansion was designed in the massive Richardsonian Romanesque style by Boston architects Peabody, Stearns, and Furber. Completed in 1981, the 36,000 square foot residence immediately became the largest and most expensive house in Minnesota. The interior featured carved oak and mahogany woodwork, stained glass, gilding, and crystal chandeliers. A two-story skylit art gallery at the east end of the first floor showcased Hill's extensive collection of French paintings. Innovative technical systems provided central heating, gas and electric lighting, plumbing, ventilation, security and communication.

Mary Hill maintained a watchful eye over the household, raising the children, hiring and managing servants, and hosting numerous social events, including a reception for President William McKinley in 1899. After her death in 1921, the children gave the house to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and until 1978 it was used as a school, residence, and office building by the church. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, the James J. Hill House is now a historic site operated by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Erected by the Minnesota Historical Society. 1997

(#45 in Minnesota History Along the Highways: A Guide to Historic Markers and Sites, by Sarah P. Rubinstein)

Marker Type:: Other

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