James J. Hill Center Statement Regarding Current Closure

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Joseph Pyle, Librarian and the Original “Original Thinker”

Deciding who to lead James J. Hill’s brand new reference library was an easy pick – look no further than Joseph Gilpin Pyle – newspaper editor and Hill’s very own speech writer and biographer. “In May, 1915, Joseph Gilpin Pyle, a long time friend of J.J. Hill, with the guidance of Hill himself, began the work of preparing the library book lists.” With close ties, Hill was sure to have a trusted partner in Pyle to create the vision for the reference library.

When Hill passed away in 1916, Pyle maintained leadership at the library – carefully selecting books from around the world to support this general research library. Many of these books were rare and valuable, which made a trip to the James J. Hill Reference Library even more appealing for both the common and advanced researcher.

By the time the doors opened in 1921, Pyle had acquired 10,000 volumes (many of which were selected by Hill himself), which was not an easy task during the early acquisition phase of WWI. Nevertheless, the library opened its doors and was an easy sell to the people of Saint Paul. The James J. Hill Reference Library welcomed nearly 23,000 annual visitors in the early years and upwards of 60,000 annual visitors during its peak years of the early 1940s.

To be sure, Pyle’s vision of the library as the hub for the “original thinker” stands today. Entrepreneurs and small businesses trying their hand at original products and services are at the hub of action at the Hill, and our resources are still the backbone of research to get a product from seed stage to for sale on the shelf.

Joseph Pyle, James J. Hill, and the story of this epic building on the National Registry of Historic Places will be further explored in the Cabinet of Curiosity tour every third Thursday at 10:30am. Go back in time in this one hour tour, up and down the catwalks, and through the vault in a nooks and crannies inspired experience. We’ll also explore some of Pyle’s original documents, including this immaculate scrapbook of newspaper clippings that Pyle collected from 1907-1911. Our June tour sold out, so get your tickets early!

Written by Lindsey Dyer, Director of Library Services, James J. Hill Center. 
If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or [email protected].


Patrons with accessibility needs please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit.