Maryhill Museum of Art

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 1/21/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5084
Maryhill Museum of Art, overlooking the Columbia River gorge south of Goldendale in Klickitat County, displays diverse collections ranging from Native American treasures to sculptures by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) to Russian icons to a unique collection of post-World War II French haute couture fashion mannequins. The museum was built by Sam Hill (1857-1931), a Minneapolis railroad executive who moved to the Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century. Construction began in 1914 on what was then planned as a magnificent mansion. The museum opened in the spring of 1940, and by 2001 was receiving 10,000 visitors a month.

In addition to business and investment activities, Sam Hill promoted good roads in Washington and Oregon, international trade, and education. He owned a gas company in Seattle and a telephone company in Portland. One of his ventures was a 6,000-acre model agricultural community in the Klickitat Hills on the Columbia River he named Maryhill after his daughter and his wife. The project never grew as Hill had hoped, but he started construction on a magnificent mansion on the property in 1914. The reinforced concrete structure was designed with eight suites of rooms, seating for 250 dinner guests, and a parking lot.

Hill used the Washington, D.C. architectural firm of Marshall and Hornblower, which had drawn up plans for his home in Seattle as well as public buildings in the nation's capital. The designers used a Flemish style for the 60 by 93 foot main building that was 50 feet high. Since Hill was an advocate of good roads, he included ramps and turnarounds for automobiles.

In 1917, Hill cancelled construction because of financial problems and a wartime labor shortage. At that time, Hill's friend Loie Fuller (1862-1928), a dancer and art promoter well known in Europe, convinced Hill to convert the mansion to a museum. In 1924 Hill incorporated the Maryhill Museum of Art. Fuller used her contacts to assemble a collection starting with works by sculptor Auguste Rodin. She enlisted to the effort San Francisco art patron Alma Spreckles (1881-1968). The museum was formally dedicated on November 3, 1926 by Hill's friend, Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938). Queen Marie also donated many pieces for the collection.

Hill died in 1931 and left half his estate to the museum. But litigation over his will stalled the bequest for years and the museum staff had to apply to the courts for funds to maintain the building. After years of struggle by the museum's board and tiny staff, Maryhill Museum of Art opened its doors to visitors on May 13, 1940. That first season, 49,000 people viewed the collections.

By 2001, Maryhill saw 10,000 visitors a month during its March to November season. Maryhill has been accredited by the American Association of Museums, one of only 15 institutions so recognized in the Northwest.


Sources: John E. Tuhy, Sam Hill: The Prince of Castle Nowhere (Portland: Timber Press, 1983); Maryhill Museum of Art website (www.maryhillmuseum.org); Theatre de la Mode ed. by Susan Train with Eugene Clarence Braun-Monk (Portland: Palmer-Pletsh Publishing, 2002). .

Related Topics:   Buildings | Visual Arts

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