The personal papers and business records of railroad magnate and businessman James J. Hill (1838-1916) and his son and successor Louis W. Hill (1872-1948) have been transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society by the James J. Hill Reference Library. This premier acquisition represents a major addition to the Society’s holdings of Hill Family materials as well as to the corporate records of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railway companies. Totaling over 2,000 cubic feet of materials, the Hill Family Collection provides extensive documentation on business history and family life during the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Thanks to the generous support of the Grotto, Jerome, and Northwest Area Foundations, the Society has begun a two year project to enhance research access to the papers and to develop a website that will showcase portions of the collection.
The James J. Hill papers date from 1856 and include extensive correspondence files with business and political leaders throughout North America and Europe. They document Hill’s early involvement in steamboating, freightage and warehousing, and fuel supply. From the 1870s, extensive correspondence concerns the railroad development in Minnesota, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest, settlement of the areas along his railroads, promotion of scientific agriculture, and his philanthropic endeavors. Special series within the papers document the development of coal fields in Boone and Webster Counties, Iowa; land and mineral development in Montana; his experimental farms (North Oaks Farm in Ramsey County, Minnesota, and Humboldt and Northcote farms in Kittson County, Minnesota), his support of educational and cultural organizations (especially, the St. Paul Seminary, Convent of the Visitation, and the State Agricultural Association), and his interest in publishing (St. Paul Globe, Nordvesten, and The Farmer). Corporate records within the papers include those of the Lake Minnetonka Navigation Company, Red River Roller Mills Company, Mille Lacs Lumber Company, Kootenai Railway and Navigation Company, Great Falls Water Power and Townsite Company, Montana Central Railway, Red Mountain Consolidated Mining Company (Montana), and the Constance Mining Company (Washington). Extensive files document Hill’s personal life and that of his family, including files on their residences in St. Paul, New York, and on the St. John River in Canada, the education of his children, and the growth of his art collection.
The Louis W. Hill papers continue documentation of many of his father’s ventures and significantly expands coverage to include development of the Great Northern Iron Ore Properties in northeastern Minnesota, copper mining interests in Arizona, the development of oil fields in Montana, Texas, and Oklahoma, timber and development activities in Oregon, and extensive files on the development and promotion of Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton Lakes Provincial Park in Alberta. Especially significant in the Louis Hill papers are his files on banking, securities, trusts, and investments, reflecting a change from economic development and production as prime sources of wealth to financial management. Louis’s charitable activities are documented in numerous files on Goodfellows, a St. Paul businessmen’s organization that provided assistance during the 1910s and early 1920s (including during the influenza epidemic of 1918/1919) and on the United Charities campaigns of the 1930s. His support for the development of the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul is well documented in the papers. Corporate records included in the Louis Hill papers include those of the Fort Union Development Company, the Cascadia Development and Production Company, the Shattuck Denn Mining Company, the Oregon and Western Colonization Company, and the Minnesota Log and Lumber Company (Oregon).
The Louis Hill papers also include a substantial amount of correspondence between and among family members, letters retained by his mother Mary T. Hill, files documenting the administration of the estates of his parents, and extensive files on the various trusts established for the benefit of his mother, children, and grandchildren. The collection includes more than 10,000 photographs, an extensive collection of maps (both printed and manuscript), and artifacts related to the family
Received at the same time as the James J. and Louis W. Hill papers are several auxiliary collections connected to them. Most significant is the Maud Van Cortlandt Taylor Hill (Mrs. Louis W. Hill) collection of family papers, including additional family correspondence (dating from the 1840s into 1961), genealogical data, photographs, and diaries. The Laurence H. Dorcy collection includes seven albums of family photographs. The Reed/Hyde Family papers contain genealogical materials, correspondence, and photographs of an extended family that interacted with the Hill family, and the Ann Walton collection includes research materials on the Great Northern Railway Company art collection and papers dealing with her publication After the Buffalo Were Gone.
While the Hill Family Collection is available for research use in the Weyerhaeuser Reading Room of the Library, researchers are cautioned that access to the collection is limited. Summary box lists to each of the collection’s units are available and Reference Department staff will be happy to assist patrons. As more detailed inventories to parts of the collection are finalized, these will be made available to researchers.