Railroad Tycoon James J. Hill built the largest residence in the state of Minnesota.

The James J. Hill House is located in St. Paul, Minnesota, near the Cathedral of St. Paul on Summit Avenue. Built by railroad tycoon and founder of the Great Northern Railway, James J. Hill, the house was completed in 1891 and still retains the pride of being the largest residence in the entire state according to the National Historic Landmark organization. The house measures a remarkable 36,000 square feet.

History of the James J. Hill House

In 1882, as one of the wealthiest citizens in the Midwest, Hill purchased two residential lots at the end of Summit Avenue. With a terrific view of both downtown St. Paul and the Mississippi River, the site was one of the most fashionable neighborhoods of the day. Known as the “Empire Builder,” Hill previously lived in a residence in Lowertown St. Paul, however, it proved to be rather antiquated in both size and lacking modern amenities such as electric lighting and indoor plumbing.

Peabody, Stearns and Furber, an East Coast architectural firm was responsible for the initial design of the James J. Hill. The style of the house came in the form of the popular Richardsonian Romanesque style, with additional work supplied by A.B. Cutter and Company as well as Irving and Casson from Boston.

Features of the James J. Hill House

One of the most prominent features of the James J. Hill is the “Empire Builder’s” massive painting and sculpture collection. It also includes a large pipe organ, gas and electric lighting, however, it does not contain any electrical outlets. Much of the woodworking was hand designed with intricate detail throughout the living areas, with the exception of the bedrooms. The house is also fitted with a library, an office and two guest rooms.

James J. Hill House Becomes a Landmark

Following the death of James J. Hill in 1916 and his wife in 1921, the children moved out on their own. In 1925, the estate was donated to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which chose to use the building as an office for the next 53 years. While the church essentially maintained the residence in its entirety, it did choose to sell the majority of the original furniture. The house was designated a landmark in 1961 by the Department of the Interior and eventually given to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) in 1978, which restored the James J. Hill House to its previous glory.

Touring the James J. Hill House

  • Guided tours generally last 75 minutes with a 10 minute video.
  • Wed. – Sat. 9:30AM to 4:00PM
  • Sun. 12:30PM to 4:00PM
  • $8 adults, $6 seniors and college students, $5 children ages 6-17; free for children age 5 and under and MHS members.

Resources

MHS: James J. Hill House

Johnson, Craig (1993). James J. Hill House. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society. ISBN 0-87351-276-6

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