My parents came to visit this past weekend, and one of the activities we did with them was a tour of the James J. Hill house. This house, located on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, was the home to James J. Hill, a turn-of-the-century railroad tycoon, and his family during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The house has been well maintained since then and is absolutely beautiful. Since it’s situated on the hill overlooking the Mississippi river, there’s little to block the natural light from filling the rooms. This made it a lot of fun to photograph. I can’t wait to go back to shoot more.
The tour that we took, Hill House Holidays, was a bit unusual as tours go. The tour was given by actors who played the roles of servants who worked in the house at the turn of the century. When I say that they played the roles of servants, they acted as the actual servants – we heard biographies on all of them, how long they worked for the Hill family, what their personalities were like, etc. It was really rather interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff, and I am.
We got to tour most of the main floor, and then we went into the basement for the tour of the kitchen and laundry areas. If you’re thinking, “Ew, the basement!” then think again. It was beautifully tiled and full of windows (the house is on a hill). The kitchen was a chef’s dream with the natural light and the hearth, and might have been my favorite part of the tour.
While the house is large by any standards, it’s not a bit pretentious. It has beautiful hand-carved woodwork on the main floor, and a music room with a mosaic-tiled fireplace and a pipe organ, but altogether it really feels like a home, not a show space. All in all, I was very impressed with the classic beauty of the house. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the house here, and about James J. Hill here.