Mission and History
Maryhill Museum of Art ignites a journey of educational enrichment in the Columbia River Gorge by preserving and interpreting art and historic collections.
In 1907, Samuel Hill purchased 5,300 acres of land along the Columbia River with the dream of establishing a Quaker farming community. He formed the Maryhill Land Company, named after his daughter, and set about building a town. The village included a store and post office, a Quaker church, an inn, a blacksmith’s shop, and a stable.
In 1914, work began on a hilltop mansion that was to be Hill’s home. But the remote location of Maryhill and the lack of irrigation proved insurmountable obstacles and the land company failed. Construction of Hill’s mansion stopped in 1917.
It was then that a friend of Hill’s—Loïe Fuller, a pioneer of modern dance living in Paris—convinced him to turn his would-be mansion into a museum of art. Fuller’s close association with well-known artists in France, helped build the core of the museum’s collection, including the acquisition of more than 80 works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Hill also transferred his own art collections to the museum.
Although still unfinished, the museum was dedicated in 1926 by Sam Hill’s friend, Queen Marie of Romania (the granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria), in a ceremony that received national attention and was attended by more than 2,000 people.
In 1931, Hill, on his way to address the Oregon legislature on behalf of the Good Roads Association, became ill and died three weeks later at the age of 73.
Hill’s death and the drawn-out settlement of his estate delayed progress on the museum, which was filled with unpacked crates of art. In 1937, Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, the wife of San Francisco sugar magnate Adolf Spreckels and a friend of Hill’s, took up the task of finishing the museum. She was elected to the newly-formed board of trustees and donated artwork from her personal collection. Under her guidance, the museum was opened to the public on Sam Hill’s birthday, May 13, 1940.
The history of Maryhill Museum of Art is inseparable from the life of its founder, Samuel Hill. Born in 1857 in Deep River, North Carolina, Hill where he grew up in a Quaker family and at the age of eight moved with them to Minneapolis. After graduating from Haverford College, with subsequent study at Harvard University, Hill practiced law in Minneapolis and in 1886 became a law clerk for the Great Northern Railway. Hill became a trusted advisor to the company’s president and two years later married his boss’s oldest daughter, Mary. The two had a daughter, Mary, and a son, James.
Hill became president of the Seattle Gas and Electric Company—owned by Minneapolis investors—and in 1899 moved to Seattle. His wife and children later joined him, but returned to Minneapolis after only six months out West. A successful businessman and entrepreneur, Hill quickly became known among the political and social elite of the Northwest. He served as president of the Washington State Good Roads Association and spent much of his lifepromoting the development of roads throughout the Northwest, and lobbying Washington and Oregon legislators for funding. Hill’s own road-building experiments included the Maryhill Loops Road, the first macadam paved road in the Northwest.
It was Hill who was the catalyst behind the Columbia River Highway. His dream was to “build a great highway so that the world can realize the magnificence and grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge.