Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hill Farms

Co-Workers of my Grandpa Fitzpatrick at
Humboldt Hill Farm:  'Illegal' Canadians?
We often hear about illegal aliens working in America nowadays.  We normally think of them as coming from Mexico, South America, or even refugees that have entered the country illegally.

This problem is nothing new.  About a century ago, Kittson County Sheriffs faced the same problem, except the illegal aliens were coming from the north - Canada.  The irony of it is, manpower was in short supply in the local area, and these Canadian men were more than willing to work, yet the law sought to kick them out back to Canada.
In two cases involving Canadian employees on the Red River Valley estates, Hill tried and failed to leverage support from Minnesota's former governor, Senator Knut Nelson.  The first problem began in 1913 when Walter Hill, at his father's insistence, hired a Canadian veterinarian recommended by Thomas Shaw and ran into problems with the Immigration Bureau.  In March 1914 James Hill wrote to Nelson, asking him to intervene, but with no success.  A similar conflict arose in 1915 on Hill's bonanza estate at Humboldt, which had remained primarily a productive wheat farm, raising extensive crops under hired management.  In 1915 problems emerged with the farm's traditional Canadian labor force when the sheriff arrived in the middle of harvest and "took away four...shockers."  They were charged as illegal aliens, but Hill's manager asserted that the men had been working on the farm without trouble for fifteen years.  Hill again turned to Senator Nelson for help, but despite his protestations, the men were deported back to Canada.  Hill did not let the matter rest.  He asserted that immigration officials aimed to "make fees" by bothering "a number of poor men who...are trying to earn a living." The acting secretary of labor.  J.B. Densmore, corrected Hill, pointing out that the agents did not profit from arrests; he then closed the case and refused to make further inquiries.  Thus, by 1915 Hill's political influence had virtually vanished.  Without the muscle of the railroad and with few federal connections, Hill found himself in the uncomfortable role of a private citizen...
From Profiting from the plains: the Great Northern Railway By Claire Strom
Two men my Grandpa Fitzpatrick worked with at
the Hill Farm in Humboldt, in the early 1900's...
"James J. Hill Banished his Errant Son to Kittson County"
by Ruth Hammond
Minneapolis Tribune / October 7, 1978

Northcote, Minn. - Marva and Byron Hanson's farm is only a shadow of what it once was.  The great wooden doors are so weathered they've been painted over.  The 20-yard swimming pool is cracked and empty.  Buttons to summon the butler or maid are covered with rugs.  And the two tiled fireplaces upstairs are shut off because the four downstairs are sufficient. Not only that, but the Hanson family corporation owns a mere 5,000 acres while the estate's original owner owned 50,000.

The owner was railroad magnate James J. Hill, who built the farm six miles north of Hallock, Minn., for his 30-year-old son, Walter J. Hill, in 1912 (it was built for only $49,000.)  The "Empire Builder" wanted to get his son "out of St. Paul because he was such a tycoon."  Marva Hanson, 55, said "of course, he was a tycoon up here, too."  Local historians say Walter Hill simply transported his parties from St. Paul to Northcote via his father's "line of rust."
Trivia:  Ed Cameron from St. Vincent, was the principal builder and contractor for the original Hill Estate in Northcote.  Ed and his crew were responsible for the  barns, bunkhouses, and other outbuildings, which were built in 1911.
Hill Farm in 1930s
[Click to Enlarge]
After moving to the home 12 years ago, Marva found an old photograph of the farm behind a radiator.  Some of the structures in the photo are still standing; others have been moved or destroyed.  The two grain elevators that belonged to the farm, are now owned by the Northcote Farmers' Co-op Association.  They stand on Highway 75 near Northcote and are called Hill Siding, a name confusing to the uninformed because there is not a hill in sight.

Just west of the elevators is the old Hill mansion.  One drives up to it from the back; in the front yard are towering pines and the north branch of Two Rivers.  Beyond the well-kept  yard are the farm's original slaughterhouse, barn, and two 85-foot tall cement silos.  The silos were the largest in the world until some larger ones were built in Germany in the 1960's.  The Hill farm's power plant, water tower, foreman's residence, bunkhouse and workers' cottages are gone.

...The elder Hill thought this bonanza farm, stocked with cattle imported from Scotland, would satisfy Walter's need for adventure [it did not]...Walter sought to meet other needs in the taverns of nearby Northcote.  After imbibing one night, he walked home through the sticky gumbo and arrived at his farm, mud-covered from head to foot.  "I don't know what you're going to do or how you're going to do it," he reputedly announced to the world, "but we're going to have a sidewalk from here to Northcote."  The next day, he borrowed 30 men from his father's railroad and they laid a sidewalk of railroad ties.
Walter Hill:  He hunted from his car, raced his draft horses in the streets of St. Vincent, and drank mightily. 
Walter Hill was a "a goer, or someone vibrant for life," Hanson said.  He hunted from his car, raced his draft horses in the streets of St. Vincent, and drank mightily.  Before the fall harvest, he used to attach a hay-rack to the back of his car and go to Bronson, Minn., searching for labor.  Men eager for jobs climbed onto the hay-rack and Hill drove them home in his usual manner.  "By the time he got back to the farm, there would be only one man left," Hanson said.  The rest had humped out along the way in fear for their lives.

On the night of May 28, 1916, Walter got word that his father was dying.  He summoned the family train kept at Noyes, eight miles north, and rode through the night to reach the old man's deathbed.  Walter left he farm within months of James J. Hill's death, leading to speculation that he had only stayed there to please his father.  Walter Hill was never heard from in the area again...he died out west in 1944.
"The extensive (Humboldt) Hill farm, comprising about 15,000 acres in Hill and St. Vincent Townships, was sold during the summer of 1917, in 127 parts, to make small farms for settlers." - From Minnesota Place Names, by Warren Upham
The Hill farm was divided and sold.  The estate passed through several hands over the years and even stood empty for awhile.  "In 1932, my father chased sheep out of the fireplace," Marva Hanson said.  Someone stole six Tiffany carnival glass shades, worth $300.00 apiece in 1931, from the living room.

M.J. Florance, president of the State Bank of Hallock, Minn., owned the house during the late 1930s and 1940s.  He had more than 13,000 acres and employed 250 men during his busiest season.  Marva Hanson, who grew up in nearby Humboldt, said she babysat at the home as a girl.  "To me it was just a big house," she said, nothing special.

Byron and Marva Hanson eventually bought the farm in 1966.  Some of the features of the home - 9-inch thick cement walls covered in plaster, ceiling moldings that pictures hang from, hand-pained files in bedroom fireplaces, ornate chandeliers, marble showers,  ornate woodwork, etc.

As of 2011, Kate Hanson their daughter - who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota - still owns the property...