Touring the James J. Hill House

Touring the James J. Hill House

A while back Emily, myself and a group of friends toured the famed James J. Hill House here in St. Paul.1 (Emily was and is on a kick to be tourists in our own town this summer.) Mr. Hill, the railroad magnate, constructed a gargantuan 36,000-square-foot residence, still the state’s largest.

James J. Hill's portrait

James J. Hill House's pipe organ

Now this is just bad-ass. Dude doesn’t want a plain ol’ phonograph scratching out the hits of the early 1900s. He wants a real, live, honest-to-goodness pipe organ in his house.2

James J. Hill House restoration in progress

You wouldn’t believe how incredibly carefully this man was working. Plus, it looked like a perfectly good staircase railing to me. But with tiny, tiny brush strokes, we was restoring some grain of wood to its former glory.

James J. Hill House library

Just your run-of-the-mill library, with a bank vault.

James J. Hill House grand staircase

During the tour they keep the house lit as it would have been in the early 1900s, so the shadows and dark corners really are this dramatic coming down from the grand staircase.

James J. Hill House coal furnace

It only took about four railroad cars’ full of coal to heat the house each year. A small price to pay for comfort when you’re a tycoon.


  1. And what makes this all the more obscene is that the tour guides made it sound like Hill and (parts of) his family were snowbirds. He only lived in the house a few months a year.  

  2. Unfortunately, the house is one of the things now shuttered by Minnesota’s state government shutdown. The Tibbettses™: Touring local landmarks before government shutdowns for you since 2011.