Friday, December 30, 2011

Historical Facts- James J. Hill

Today I'm going to catch up on this week posts. I've had a busy Christmas break.

So I'm not sure if any of you have even heard of James J. Hill, but if you don't, he was a famous man who ran a railroad company back in the late 1890s to early 1900s. I happened to be visiting in St. Paul, MN the other day and we decided to visit this large mansion near the cathedral. Although, I didn't take any pictures to show you, my cousin's boyfriend did, but I don't have any yet.

James J. Hill
James J. Hill
On September 16, 1838, James. J. Rockwell was born in Rockwell, Ontario, Canada to Scottish-Irish parents. During his early years he worked as a store clerk, lost the use of one eye, and his father died. In 1856, after traveling to "Pig's Eye" (What is now St. Paul- funny name for a state capital, don't ya think?), he began his work in transportation. He would work in the shipping business for nearly 20 on the Mississippi and Red Rivers before purchasing the almost bankrupted St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in 1878 with some other investors.

Mary Hill
In 1864, James met a waitress at the Merchant's Hotel where he would take his meals every day. Her name was Mary Theresa Mehegan who was a catholic (unlike James who was protestant). She was born in 1846 in New York City to the parents of Irish immigrants who moved to St. Paul in 1850. She went to finishing school in Milwaukee and married James in 1867.

Over the period of nearly two decades, James worked tirelessly go bring the St Paul line into Canada, but when that didn't work he went west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The rail was renamed the Great Northern Railway in 1890.

James also had other interests, such as coal and iron ore mining, Great Lakes and Pacific Ocean shippping, banking (he helped build the first national bank in Minnesota) and agriculture. He helped farmers use principles of scientific agriculture to their crops.

James. J. Hill again
After James married Mary, they had ten children over 18 years: Mary (who was married before the mansion was built), James, Louis, Clara, Katherine (who died as a baby), Charlotte, Ruth, Rachel, Gertrude, and Walter. Four of the children were married in the mansion and five of their children had homes on Summit Avenue where the Mansion and other Victorian homes are located.

At the time of James's death on May 29, 1916, the man known as the "Empire Builder", he had a personal fortune of $63 million dollars and died as one of America's most wealthy and powerful figures.

The James J. Hill House
The mansion, built in a Richardsonian Romanesque style, was the largest and most expensive home in Minnesota when it was completed in 1891. It has 36,000 sq. ft. with five floors containing 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, a two-story sky lit art gallery (he loved art and helped build the Minnesota Museum of Art), and a reception hall nearly 100 ft long. At the time, James had sophisticated technical system in the mansion providing central heating, gas and electric lighting, plumbing, ventilation, security and communication. The total cost of the mansion was $931, 275.01 which included the construction, furnishings, and landscaping for the three-acre estate.

For 30 years the house was the center of James's family life. Mary kept the house after Jame's death until her own in 1916, five years after her husband. In 1925, family members gave it to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul. It has since then served as an office building, school house for the blind and deaf, and it became a National Historic Landmark in 1961. The Minnesota Historical Society has kept the house since 1978. It costs over 2 million to maintain every year.

What I learned

  • Mary Hill was only two inches taller than me, at 4'11. My cousin and I joked that I should have tried on her lavender gown that they had gotten. 
  • One of the wood carvers, who was the highest paid worker during the whole construction of the house at a dollar an hour I think, actually carved his face into one of the wood panels. 
  • The James J. Hill House hosts parties and receptions including prom, but no weddings. 
  • The main hall, the drawing room, and the picture gallery was and are used as the dance floor. 
  • The bathroom in James's room looks like a modern bathroom but without all the glass. 
  • Walter, the youngest child, was only 6 when they built the house and was sent away three years later to boarding school at the age of nine. 
  • The house is fairly empty as they try to use as much as the original furtinutre as they can.
  • You had to be single to work in the house and in the maid's quarters they had two girls per room with ten per one bathroom. Much like a dorm. 
  • The younger children were all taught at the house until they were sent away to boarding school. But one of their teachers wasn't very good because when the kids went off, they were a year behind every one else. 
  • In the picture gallery, there is a complete organ there worth over 2-3 million dollars. 
  • The mansion is kitty corner to the catholic cathedral which is now a pilgrimage site. Most of the cathedral was funded by Louis. Who lived right next door to his dad's mansion. 


1 comment:

  1. this is really good. i like these articles


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