The Hill’s Connection to the St. Paul Winter Carnival

By Leah Kodner, Business Reference Librarian

Hey St. Paul, guess what? It’s Winter Carnival time again! We’re excited because many of the events happen right outside our doors in Rice Park. We’re also excited to tell you about how James J. Hill and his son Louis W. Hill were integrally involved with planning some of the earliest St. Paul Winter Carnivals. While digging through our collections recently, we found a few retro Winter Carnival souvenirs:


Caption: 1916 or 1917 Winter Carnival Director’s Badge, likely the property of Louis W. Hill


Caption: Winter Carnival souvenir button from 1938, possibly once the property of Louis W. Hill

Why would we have these items in our collection, you ask? The answer dates back to the first-ever Winter Carnival in 1886.

The Hill Family’s Association with the Winter Carnival

The idea of starting a Winter Carnival came from an unexpected source. In the fall of 1885, several newspaper reporters from the eastern U.S. visited Minnesota, and their resulting articles painted a picture of a frozen, uninhabitable wasteland. James J. Hill and other prominent businessmen wanted to correct this negative image and to draw more visitors and settlers to the area. To this end, they came up with the idea of the Winter Carnival, designed to show onlookers that Minnesota is fun and livable, even in the middle of winter. The event also helped to showcase the success of businesses in St. Paul, which of course was always a goal of Hill’s.

The Winter Carnival happened annually between 1886 and 1888, and then was not held again until 1896. After this, there was a 20 year lull. In 1916, James J. Hill’s son, Louis W. Hill, joined with other prominent members of the community to resurrect the Carnival. As a result of his efforts, he was asked to serve as Carnival president in 1916 and 1917. Louis W. Hill remained interested in the Winter Carnival for the remainder of his life, and offered his support to the next Carnival revivals between 1937 and 1942.

Because of the connection of the Hill family to the Winter Carnival, the staff members of the James J. Hill Center have always felt an affinity for the Carnival, and we encourage you to visit. Going to the Carnival is a great way to celebrate St. Paul’s past and present, and to support local businesses. The Carnival provides opportunities for local vendors to sell their food, drink, and wares. It brings hundreds of thousands of people into St. Paul and generates millions of dollars of revenue for the city.

That support of local businesses is something that employees of The Hill feel strongly about. We also work to support local businesses and entrepreneurs through our services and programs. While you’re checking out the Winter Carnival, come visit us as well. Come network with fellow entrepreneurs at One Million Cups on Wednesday mornings at 9 or visit the library to gather the business information you need. We’re only a short walk from Rice Park!

The James J. Hill Center is open to the public Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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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.