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James J. Hill House | by Teemu008
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James J. Hill House

James J. Hill House, a national landmark in Saint Paul, MN (1891). Hill was born to a poor family in Canada. In 1852, after the death of his father, he moved to the United States to seek out a living to support his family. After a few oddjobs, he came to work for a wholesale grocer. He was tasked with the freight operations of the grocer, and came to appreciate the need for steamboats and railroads. With his experience, he entered the shpping industry in 1873. By 1879, he had established a local monopoly by buying out his largest competitor, Norman Kittson. He also had interests in coal, alsos establishing a local monopoly by 1879.

 

Following the Panic of 1873, the Saint Paul & Pacific Railroad went bankrupt. Minnesota's first railroad, it was a popular (but short) railroad stretching from Stillwater on the Mississippi River to Sauk Rapids, via Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Hill formed a group to purchase the railroad and it was renamed the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway. In five years, the company value went from $728,000 to $25 million. Hill always invested most of the profits back into the company to avoid scrutiny from the federal government. By 1889, the railroad stretched from Wisconsin to Montana. In 1893, the railroad became transcontinental, reaching Seattle. This prompted a name change to the Great Northern Railway. It was one of the only transcontinental railroads that didn't go bankrupt. Hill's deft handling of the Panic of 1893 resulted in the company gaining value during the economic crisis. Through his friend J. P. Morgan, he was able to acquire his main competitor, the Northern Pacific, when it went bankrupt during the Panic. Desparate to have his lines reach Chicago, he formed a coalition with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy to allow access. This coalition was one of the largest companies in the world and nearly monopolized train usage west of Chicago. At the behest of President Theodore Roosevelt, this was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1904 with Northern Securities Co. v. United States. Hill maintained a focus in the West, purchasing the Colorado & Southern and Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railways.

 

Hill had ten children (nine survived), including his son Louis W. Hill, who would become President of the railway. He bought three lots for his mansion in 1882 and had prominent Boston architectural firm Peabody & Stearns design it. The house was one of the only mansions on Summit Avenue not designed by a local architect. Hill was also an art collector, and allowed the public to view his art in one room of his house. Hill died in 1916. His wife died in 1921 and by 1925, the house was donated to the Roman Catholic Archdioceses of Saint Paul & Minneapolis. The Minnesota Historical Society purchased it in 1978.

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Taken on July 14, 2013