when did I fall in love with houses?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In the first grade. We lived in St. Paul, Minnesota. I remember when it came time to move to New York in my teen years and the other children would scoff at Minnesota. “Surely, you must be farmers!” What these kids didn’t know, and a lot of people outside of the state don't, is that Minnesota is an amazing state with amazing Victorian history. And I can’t grow a thing, although most people know this. These same prep school friends would be carrying copies of The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby in their rucksacks, written by a Minnesotan who grew up in my neighborhood. They would listen to Bob Dylan after class on CD’s (remember those?) also a Minnesotan. They ate Pillsbury cookies and General Mills cereals, shopped at Best Buy and even used Scotch tape. I haven’t lived in Minnesota since I was a child, but I love it.

Those early years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes started my love for architecture. It was the James J. Hill house, just down the street on Summit Avenue. We toured it one afternoon, fall of my first grade year, and I was in love. I took my husband to St. Paul after we married. I’m lucky in that my husband loves architecture as much as I do. Anyways, here are a few photos to hopefully talk you into a visit:

James J. Hill was born in Ontario. He purchased the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in 1878. He worked to bring the line north to Canada and then west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Through his life he owned the Colorado and Southern Railway lines into Texas as well as Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway. One of the things that made houses like this possible was the tax code, or lack thereof. Every artist needs a patron. Hill lived and died at his Summit Avenue home but was close and personal friends with J.P. Morgan and the home enjoyed a visit from the presidential office. The house itself was designed by Peabody, Stearns, and Furber in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. This house is huge! It has 36,000 square feet on five floors including 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, a two-story skylit art gallery, a 100-foot reception hall with more woodwork than you can imagine.

James J. Hill's den by Minnesota Historical Society

James J. Hill's bathroom (original bathtub). by Minnesota Historical Society

Formal Dining Room by Minnesota Historical Society

Lots more here, thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society

photos by http://onekgguy.blogspot.com and the Minnesota Historical Society and http://here4now.typepad.com

One thing I hear nomadic folks lamenting constantly is the prospect of moving to places where, "there's nothing to do." After living in even the smallest of rural towns throughout the U.S. I have learned that even the towns you don't hear people talking about in the media have history, architecture and an impact you can't see until you visit. You can't know until you go!