James J. Hill Monument, St. Cloud
A Works Progress Administration (WPA) group laid the parkway and constructed the base for a monument to James J. Hill on the banks of Lake George in Saint Cloud’s Eastman Park. Hill, historian Bill Morgan noted, had established the Great Northern Car Shops in the neighboring city of Waite Park and “made enemies among his competitors and employees during his 60-year career,” but remained “a mythic hero to the Great Northern shopworkers of St. Cloud and Waite Park.” While an earlier submission by a former Great Northern carshop employee, Jacob L. Hohman, had been rejected in the 1920s, progress toward building the statue began in 1937 at the request of Hill’s grandson, Louis Hill, Jr.
Thousands of people, including a thousand veterans of the Great Northern Railway, attended the statue’s dedication on rainy Saturday, June 17, 1939. The Great Northern drum and bugle corps, along with a Cathedral high school drum corps and the municipal band, played at the ceremony, which was presided over by St. Cloud Teachers College president George Selke and St. Cloud Mayor Fred Collignon. It featured a speech by Louis Hill, Jr., who declared the monument “a gift to those of the future, either the inhabitants of this city or those who pass and see the fine memorial so fittingly carved from granite, the stone which best symbolizes the rugged strength and lasting quality of the work and memory of James J. Hill.”
Sculptor John B. Garatti, who also constructed a 57-foot statue of a Native American for the Ramsey County Courthouse, constructed the granite statue above the WPA-built base. As the St. Cloud Times described it, “Ever stand close to the mountain and see its rugged base? Not until you get away from it for a distance can you get the full understanding and the thrill of its grandeur, its beauty and greatness. Today the statue, landscaping, and seam-faced granite wall sit 12th Avenue South from Lake George and Eastman Park. The plinth on the monument is dedicated to James Jerome Hill, ‘Empire Builder'”:
“Fields industries and homes on plains and mountainland
Forever will memorialize the genius of James Jerome Hill.
He applied that genius to colonization of new county and to advancing the welfare of the thousands of families who participated with him in building the Great Northwest Empire.”
“GN Vets Ready For Reunions in City Saturday,” St. Cloud Times, June 15, 1939, 1.
“Dedication of Largest Hill Statue Features G.N. Reunion,” St. Cloud Times, June 16, 1939, 11.
“Hill Memorial Unveiled, G.N. Veterans Here,” St. Cloud Times, June 19, 1939, 1, 5.
William Towner Morgan, Earth, Wood, and Stone: Central Minnesota Lives and Landmarks (St. Cloud, MN: Sentinel Printing, 2008), 136-137.
Project originally submitted by Cory Haala on September 24, 2019.
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