Monday, April 13, 2015

Mansion on the Prairie

Elevated view looking over Northcote, Minn. bonanza farm.  Visible is a
large two-story brick house with hip roof, several barns, and a water tower.

[Source: Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo, ND (2023.42.11)]
Swathing & Bundling during harvest, at the Hill Farm
[Source:  Minnesota Historical Society]
Hill's personal train, often used to travel to Northcote farm
[Source:  Minnesota Historical Society]
Until I track down interior photos of the Walter Hill home (hopefully in its prime, before modifications), my old school friend Dee Dee Giffen Bakken has graciously agreed to share her memories of inside the mansion:
I cleaned for Marva and Byron Hanson who owned the house [until 2004]. 
The front of the house as you come to it from the road is actually the back of the house. When Walter Hill lived there the road came to what is now the back close to the river and came around in a circular drive. That face of the house is the grand entrance with a fancy little roofed porch. 
You enter into an entry with the staircase facing going upstairs. to your left is the great room with a fireplace, a very large room. Behind that is a porch which was open in Walter's day but is now enclosed. To the north of it is an office and bathroom. To your right of the entrance is the dining room with a beautiful chandelier and wood paneling. 
Almost all of the woodwork in the house has unfortunately been painted as Marva told me there were many different varieties of wood used on the doors, paneling, trim and so on. I don't think the paneling in the dining room is painted, but don't remember for sure. 
Beyond the dining room to the east is a sun room which overlooks where the pool was. Going north from the dining room is a huge kitchen which in Walter's day was sectioned off with part of it being the butler's pantry where the food was prepared for serving. It is now a homey big kitchen with a table. 
To the west of the kitchen is an entry where guests come in now with beautiful old tile floors. The entry also has a door going to the hallway which leads to the bathroom, and an office to the north of the great room with some built in closets.  The kitchen is now linoleum.  I don't know what it was before [possible wood flooring originally]. In the kitchen as well is a door that leads to a staircase upstairs; this was once a servant's staircase that now leads to a small sewing room and bathroom. Originally, this would have been a servant's bedroom. 
As you go up the grand staircase to the upstairs, you come to a landing which goes to your left then rises to the top floor. As you go to your left you can go northeast which goes  to the servants bedroom. Direct left is the master bedroom with a beautiful fireplace with tiles from either Belgium or Italy. Off this room to the east is a sun porch.  To the north is a huge walk-in closet. To the west is the master bath with a shower made of marble. It is walk-in and huge. There is a tub the size of a Buick and old fashioned toilet and pedestal sinks. The floor is white octagon tile. 
To the right of the staircase is a den or possible bedroom. I think it may have been the library. Down the hall at the end is a woman's bedroom with a fireplace with blue tiles of sailing ships (I think) that came again from either Belgium or Italy. I believe the library had a fireplace too. It's a large room with a walk-in closet. A door to the north leads to a sun porch that is shared by another large bedroom that has a huge bathroom that is attached to it. Again, there is a Buick sized tub and old sinks and white tiles. 
I don't remember how you get up to the attic from the upstairs, it's been a long time. But I was up there a few times and it is as big as the house. Marva told me the boys in Walter's family slept up there and there is a big space in the middle that they held dances in I think. There is a huge basement where they have a pool table from the old pool hall in Hallock here. (Of course I forget the name but I think it was Blado's Billards & Restaurant. It was in the basement of a building near where our business is today.) 
The window wells for the basement have squares of amethyst. Sadly, many people have chipped pieces out for souvenirs over the years. 
Marva's son Marvin was a Minnesota state senator.  In conjunction with his political activities, they held parties at the mansion; even Hubert Humphrey was once there for an event.
NOTE FROM TRISH:  The Hanson family moved to the Hill farm in 1967 and their grand daughter Kate lives there part-time, to this day. Check here for more photographs and information about the farm itself...

The amethyst glass blocks are still over the basement window wells
at the Northcote Hill Mansion to this day, a very innovative design
A brief overview of the farm the mansion was part of:

The J.J. Hill Mansion was really Walter Hill's mansion (J.J.'s son) although J.J. Hill probably financed it. Northcote Hill farm was a subdivision off of the Humboldt Farm or Humboldt Division (subdivided in 1910). Before that, it was part of Humboldt Farm.

There is a dam on the Two Rivers, west of the house, downriver. It is small and old, and beginning to fall apart, but still working. By it on the north bank is a falling-down brick building, possibly a mill house.

Over the basement windows were coverings of concrete and glass with a brass sign labeling it as made by the American Luxfer Prism Co (Boston, New York, & Chicago)