A Classical Temple of Learning
The James J. Hill Center has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975 when a joint application was sent, along with the St. Paul Public Library who shares our building, to the National Parks Service who manages the program. The National Register program’s mission is to “coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.” To protect America’s historic resources, one must preserve them; an essential step in remembering history as to not forget it. Stating our building’s significance in the 1975 application:
The St. Paul Public Library and the James J. Hill Reference Library is a significant building in St. Paul both architecturally and historically. Architecturally it is an excellent example of the Northern Italian Renaissance architecture which flourished in the United States from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The James J. Hill Library, which retains its original design and furnishings, is an excellent example of a turn of the century library — a ‘classical temple of learning.’ The location of the libraries is also architecturally significant in St. Paul. Situated across from Old Federal Courts Building and separated from it by Rice Park, this area forms an important visual element in downtown St. Paul.
A “classical temple of learning,” the Hill Center’s history comes alive during our public tours. I often describe the Hill Center as a “time capsule” of history – almost everything in the building is original. Visitors will peek at long-forgotten graffiti where “Wally + Sally 1945” and “Billy Mitchell 1955” can be seen written in pencil in the book dumbwaiter shaft well off the beaten path. Almost all of our tables, chairs, lamps and fixtures are original to our 1921 opening and our formative years of the Great Depression and WWII. While not always an ergonomic choice by today’s standards, I believe researching while sitting on our historic furniture brings an added camaraderie and inspiration from the past; who sat in this chair before me? A historic site offers the opportunity for visitors to fully embrace “history where it happened” – a 360 experience that cannot be replicated.
During National Historic Preservation Month this May, we remember both the small and large steps that are the cost of preservation. The large steps take the form of leadership from the community, both private and public parties, who step forward to champion the preservation of our invaluable historic sites. The small steps are easy and accessible: take care when handling historic texts or artifacts, volunteer your time and expertise to support the projects and spaces that you believe in, and finally, be an advocate for the preservation of historic places by visiting them!
Written by Lindsey Dyer, Director of Library Services, James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or [email protected].