James J. Hill, a Canadian born in southern Ontario, would build the most expensive house in Minnesota and be recognized as the man most credited with opening the Northwest to American settlement.
In 1878 he bought a near-bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific Railroad with a vision to push the line north to Canada, and then extend the new railroad company he called the Great Northern Railway across the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
His success allowed him to create one of the first near-million-dollar mansions in America. It still stands as a testament to the American hard work, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit.
Today it, along with the avenue it sits on, stands as a major tourist attraction for St. Paul and the Twin Cities area. Summit Avenue is littered with symbols of American success – the ultimate dream mansion.
It is as though each new builder tried to outdo the one before in constructing the most majestic examples of Victorian architecture, displayed like masterpieces on both sides of Summit Avenue, and kept intact by subsequent owners and city fathers.
Wandering through the home today one is struck by the overpowering wealth that existed that far back. Carved oak and mahogany woodwork highlight parts of the 36,000 square feet, spread over five floors. It certainly should not have been hard to find one of the 13 bathrooms, or warm up winter around any of the 22 fireplaces. The 100-foot-long sky lit art gallery is in itself reason why thousands make the James J. Hill House a must-see every year.
St. Paul itself often does not get the recognition it deserves compared to its twin city, Minneapolis.
But this city is its own attraction, with exceptional sightseeing opportunities and a wide range of dining and entertainment options to choose from. The Xcell Energy Centre is home to the Minnesota Wild, and hosts most of the big live acts that make their way through the United States and Canada.
While there are a number of good restaurants gathered around the Xcell Energy Centre, the entire surrounding region also represents a journey into the architectural history of the region as old homes have been converted into fine dining establishments.
And there is dining in abundance throughout St. Paul. We had fun choosing between the more formal ambiance of I Nonni Italian restaurant in nearby Lilydale and the casual atmosphere of the connected pasta bar at Buon Giorno.
Being unable to decide, we sampled both. After delicious appetizers and wine at I Nonni, we went next door where the relaxed informality of the servers at the huge pasta and deli bar seemed to ignite spontaneous laughter from most of the tables patrons were seated at. No pretensions were allowed here, as customers sparred with the people behind the food counters, over portions and additions to the plate. No one left hungry with huge portions served at a very fair price. We want to go back and visit both again, separately.
It seemed that as we drove to and from our Embassy Suites Hotel where we stayed in St. Paul, we would often pass near Summit Avenue and the James J. Hill House. Even though he lived and made his fortune in St. Paul, as a Canadian it was with a certain sense of pride that we walked in the same footsteps he may have treaded over a century ago.
He could envision a railroad, but I doubt he could have seen restaurants and entertainment centres through his looking glass that would be built upon his footsteps.
And St. Paul offers a myriad of choices, in addition to historic James J. Hill House. While Hill went on to become one of the richest men in America before he died in 1916 in the magnificent mansion he built on Summit Avenue, nearby is the Cathedral of St. Paul, just down the street.
But the foundations he created allowed for those that followed to add to his dream in an era where tourism would become an economic driving force.
Share and discuss this story with your friends
Ron PradinukOver the past few years I have had a weekly travel column in the travel section of the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday, and have hosted a weekly travel show on radio station CJOB in the same central Canadian city. My blog, which I try to do most days is http://www.thattravelguy.ca/. I have also writen, and continue to write, destination stories for a number of newpapers and on line emagazines. You can read samples of my destination stories on http://journeystravelgear.com/DestinationStories.cfm My own background includes travel to almost 60 countries so far. As I talk to fellow travellers, as much as I have traveled I realize my list of places I must still visit is very long compared to others. So many places...only so much time in a life to see it all. For almost 30 years I have operated a travel agency focusing mostly on leisure travel. I served on the national board of the Association of Canadian Travel Agents for years and was the National President for two years. In 2000 we opened a travel superstore called Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre. It carries just about every travel product imaginable. It is also a swim wear and luggage centre and carries a wide range of travel clothing in brands like Tilley Endurables, Ex-Officio, and Royal Robbins just to name a few. In my blog I write about destinations, airline and tour operator policies, good and bad travel products you have used, and anything that has the connotation of travel. You can read my column every Saturday online at http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/ then clicking on to the feature sections link and then on to the travel section. They usually hold past columns and freelance stories You can listen live to the radio show online at http://www.cjob.com/ Sundays at noon Central Time, then clicking on listen live.
Located: Winnipeg Canada
Likes: Europe, Asia, South America, South Africa, Cruising, Golf Vacations, Fishing Vacations, Generational Family Vacations