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James J. and Mary T. HIll Come to The Celtic Junction Arts Center!

I am teaching a class this March at the Irish College of Minnesota, a division of The Celtic Junction Arts Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The course will be conducted on Zoom, which means anyone, anywhere, can attend! I am looking forward to partnering with this fantastic organization.

This class is slightly different from other talks I’ve given or classes I’ve taught on the Hills. I will look at their lives – separate and together – with an eye on their heritage. James and Mary were both children of emigrants from the island of Ireland. How did this fact impact their lives?

From the Celtic Junction website:

This course explores the lives of Saint Paul’s James J. Hill (1838-1916) and Mary Theresa Mehegan Hill (1846-1921). James Hill was a railroad builder and one of the country’s most innovative and influential businessmen. Mary Mehegan Hill, his wife, and equal partner was intelligent, strong, patriotic, pious, and charitable. The class sessions will cover their Irish roots and early years, their life in early Saint Paul, and their philanthropic legacy.

3 Sessions: Saturdays. 1:00-2:30 p.m. March 6-20. 3/6; 3/13; & 3/20.

Payment: $60

You can register here. Please contact me with any questions!

Black and white photo of James J. Hill House

James J. Hill at the Fair

..On September 3, 1906, Mary Hill wrote in her diary:

Clara, Rachel, Mary M. and I went with Papa to the State Fair where he delivered an address and dedicated the new Agricultural Building.  An immense crowd in attendance.  Such disorder and bad manners.


James J. Hill delivering address. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.
James J. Hill delivering address. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.

The address? The Nation’s Future. Hill begins, “The highest conception of a nation is that of a trustee for posterity…” The published version of the address is thirty pages long and sets forth the challenges faced by the United States moving forward through the twentieth century.

James and Mary Hill, 1915. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.
James and Mary Hill, 1915. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.

Hill discusses population growth, immigration, industry and agriculture. He explores how understanding personal responsibility and man’s relationship to the natural world can be tools for confronting what ails society. In addition, Hill proposes practical adjustments to the current systems to achieve prosperity and a strong nation.

Sections on crop rotation, soil deterioration and livestock management would have interested many in attendance at the opening of the new building. Hill spoke of the tremendous potential in agriculture and how innovation and careful planning would allow the farms of the United States to feed a projected 200 million citizens by 1950. (Hill was a little off – U.S. population in 1950 was 152.3 million.)

The final lines of the address are typical of the language throughout:

…the sober dignity with which a whole nation rises to the winning of its broad and permanent prosperity, will depend the individual well-being of millions of this and many generations. Largely by this method will posterity, our fit and righteous judge, determine whether what issues from the crucible of this twentieth century is a bit of rejected dross to be cast aside or a drop of golden metal to shine forever upon the rosary of the years.


Now, we don’t know whether the “disorder and bad manners” of which Mary writes refers to the crowd at her husband’s speech or at the Fair in general. Maybe they were just excited to see the new building. Certainly, such behavior would never be exhibited by today’s Fair-goers!

This is in the History section of the 2016 Minnesota State Fair Media Guide:
“110 Years • 1906 • James J. Hill dedicated the original Livestock Amphitheatre. It was also known as the Hippodrome. The Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum now stands in its place.” 
And for a little context, also in 1906, “Legendary pacer horse Dan Patch set the world record time of 1:55 for one mile at the Grandstand.”