Thursday, June 12, 2014

James J. Hill House tour

Earlier this year, I bought a Minnesota Historical Society membership. I've had wonderful experiences with the organization's museums (including the Mill City Museum and Minnesota History Center) as well as the Summit Avenue neighborhood tour and the F. Scott Fitzgerald-themed walking tour, and I'm excited to support its great work and learn more about history, locally and statewide.

Last week, I visited St. Paul's James J. Hill House for the first time!

James J. Hill was a railroad magnate who built the Great Northern Railway that connected St. Paul to Seattle in 1893. His mansion was finished in 1891, and he lived there with his wife and most of his 10 children. I'm learning more about houses (thanks to lots of HGTV) and one detail that floored me was that this home is not 5,000 square feet or 10,000 square feet, but 36,000 square feet. The tour guide—who also led the Fitzgerald tour I took!—did a delightful job of blending architectural details with stories about how the family used each space. The 75-minute tour surveyed all three floors plus the basement, though there are additional tours that take different angles (such as the Nooks and Crannies tour offered in the summers, which sounds great). Our group of six or seven also paused toward the end for a short video, played in the Hill boys' schoolroom, that provided some context about James J. Hill's work.

I didn't expect this, but knowing I could (and likely will) drop by sometime soon for another tour left me feeling more relaxed. Instead of trying to absorb every tidbit our tour guide told us, I'd think more about a story she had mentioned, imagine the house back in the 1890s, and notice more details that piqued my interest.

And, oh, the details were plentiful:

The end of the tour brought our group to one of the mansion's several porches. I have a soft spot in my heart for porches and I liked wrapping up the tour by visiting one of them.

If you can't already tell, I enjoyed the James J. Hill House tour greatly and highly recommend it. I loved learning some of the stories and history behind a Summit Avenue landmark I've passed by so many times.

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