Editorial: Benefactors have helped SH more than we know

A couple of weeks ago was a big moment for all of us.

As many of our local residents headed into local forests to harvest timber, comb the woods for game with bows in hand or sight in their rifles and scout the local deer population in preparation for the Sept. 30 opening of rifle season, few were probably even aware of it.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that those involved in this milestone didn’t make a big deal of it, publicly.

We’re talking about the 100th anniversary of the Trust established for members of the Hill Family of St. Paul, Minn., of which we give a brief report starting on page 1.

There’s a lot more we could have said there, but it seems more appropriate to say it here.

This was a milestone for Sweet Home and the fact that very few were even aware of it makes it even more special, something all of us should appreciate.

Most of us know that many local residents have jobs because of the Hill forestlands managed by Cascade Timber Consulting.

We’re allowed to recreate on their land, with few restrictions. What we mentioned at the beginning about local residents heading out to hunt is telling, because CTC allows very free access to the Hills’ land in most cases – something local outdoors enthusiasts should appreciate greatly.

We local residents may have some fuzzy awareness that the Hill Family owns roughly a hundred thousand acres of timber around Sweet Home, and probably more vaguely, that their patriarch came into possession of the land from a guy cut a deal with Congress to build a road over the mountains – and get a lot of land in return.

The story for us now really starts with Louis W. Hill (1872–1948), who, in his day, as one biographer put it in an account published in 2010 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, was “a man who, in his time, had the mystique of a Steve Jobs and Bill Gates combined.”

That local residents aren’t really aware of the facts of the life of this man may be in large part due to the fact that only recently have biographies of Louis W. Hill been produced, detailing his life and contributions.

He was the son of James J. Hill, a railroad magnate who was much more famous, one of the giants of industry at the turn of the 20th century. The Hills were based in St. Paul, but their influence extended across the nation, not in the least because of the three railroads James Hill chaired.

Society at the time was surprised when the elder Hill turned over control of his business empire to his second son, Louis, but his foresight was vindicated.

Louis Hill was, by all accounts, a sagacious businessman who saw opportunity where others, even his more famous father, did not.

We won’t go into many details here, except to note that not only was he extremely successful in his business enterprises, he was instrumental in the establishment of Glacier National Park, and was a major community organizer and player in the development of St. Paul as a community.

He also wasn’t looking for attention. He got things done, but according to some of the biographical information that’s come out, it’s pretty clear that he didn’t seek the limelight.

“Most holders of fortunes the size of the Hills moved to New York, where there were more exciting ways to spend their money,” notes the Pioneer Press article. “James J. did not, nor did his son Louis.”

Notable was that Louis Hill also left a sizable portion of his fortune to the community of St. Paul in the form of foundations. He was successful, but he was also generous and, states at least one writer, so were his descendants.

Louis Hill’s acquisition of the timberland in our area led to the establishment of the Trust, and the ongoing propagation of timber here.

According to website of the Northwest Area Foundation, which Hill also founded, he loved the West, exploring it on horseback, wagon and automobile, sleeping on the prairies, in ranch houses and primitive communities, studying the land, talking and listening to the people.

“It was said that he knew more people of more kinds west of the Mississippi than any other man.”

Hill also was concerned about the residents of the West. After studying the structure and performance of various foundations, trusts and endowments, he decided to establish a philanthropic foundation. In 1934, the Lexington Foundation Inc. was founded in accordance with Hill’s desire for anonymity.

In 1950, after Hill’s death, the trustees renamed it the “Louis W. and Maud Hill Family Foundation” in recognition of Hill and his wife’s gifts and to reaffirm the continuing interest of succeeding family generations in the founder’s objectives.”

Louis W. Hill’s son Louis W. Hill Jr. (1902-1995), commonly known as “Louie,” also loved the forest and was a regular visitor to the West. He and his wife lived in Sweet Home in the 1940s, where he “literally learned the forestry business from the ground up while working in his father’s timber business,” as one biographer put it.

The Hill family has, for generations, maintained forest plantations that have benefited Sweet Home at many levels, especially when responsible management of public forests diminished significantly after the spotted owl court rulings and policy changes.

The family has continued, quietly, to do Sweet Home good. They’ve provided for Sweet Home’s needs in other ways as well, but to be honest, we really don’t know many details. It’s all done anonymously, we’re told by sources who do.

Like their forebear, Lewis W. Hill, they don’t seek credit. They’re not pushing their name. They’re just doing the right thing by Sweet Home – like their family has done for 100 years.

Even based on the little we know, we can and should be very grateful.