Key dates in James J. Hill's life and the tenure of the Hill House.

September 16, 1838

James J. Hill is born to a Scotch-Irish farming family in southern Ontario, Canada.

July 21, 1856

17-year-old Hill arrives in St. Paul by riverboat and begins his career as a shipping clerk.


Hill meets 18-year-old waitress Mary Theresa Mehegan at the Merchants Hotel.


James and Mary are married.


Hill and four others invest in the bankrupt St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. It was renamed the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad. As general manager Hill began to expand to Canada and later to the Pacific Ocean.


Construction begins on an elaborate new home for the Hill family on fashionable Summit Avenue. Built in the Richardson Romanesque style popular at the time, the massive red sandstone mansion is completed in 1891 at a cost of $931,275.01. At 36,000 square feet, it is the largest private home in the state.


The newly named Great Northern Railway is completed across the continent to Puget Sound in Washington. Hill becomes known as the "Empire Builder," a term coined by financier J. Pierpont Morgan. He is also called less complimentary names, including the "Oregon Robber," the "Scourge of the Orient," and the "One-Eyed Bandit," due to a boyhood eye injury.

May 29, 1916

James J. Hill dies in his bedroom at the age of 77. Mary Hill lives in the house until her death on Nov. 21, 1921. Although the Hill fortune was estimated at $63 million, neither leaves a will.


The Hill children donate the home to the Catholic Church, which uses it for 53 years as a teachers' college and office building, among other purposes.


The Hill House is recognized as a National Historic Landmark.


The Minnesota Historical Society acquires the Hill House and restores it as a historic site.