Hill built Maryhill, named for his wife and daughter, as a residence on his 6,000-acre model agricultural community. Construction stopped during World War I because of a labor shortage and Hill's financial setbacks. That is when Hill's friend, American modern dancer Loie Fuller (1862-1928) talked him into making Maryhill a museum. Maryhill Museum of Art was incorporated in 1924.
Fuller, Hill, and Queen Marie knew one another from Hill's frequent trips to Europe. Loie Fuller had introduced Sam Hill and Queen Marie at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Loie Fuller had been by Queen Marie’s side in Romania during World War I and had helped to arrange aid for Romanians during the war when famine ravaged the country. She had comforted Queen Marie in the aftermath of the death of her three-year-old son Mircea from typhoid fever on November 2, 1916. Both Fuller and Hill helped Queen Marie raise funds for Romania in the aftermath of World War I.
Queen Marie had gained popularity during World War I for her work on behalf of the Allies and victims of war. She published books and articles in the United States and was already well-known when she began her visit.
Queen Marie and her 85-person retinue traveled aboard a luxury train called the Royal Roumanian. Queen Marie’s biographer Hannah Pakula describes the Royal Roumanian as being composed of:
“seven private cars, donated by officials of various railway companies, each with its own dining room, chef, and porters; three compartment cars; two sleepers; a general diner, changed every time the train switched railway companies; and baggage cars. Marie’s coach alone contained a bedroom with brass bed, a bath fitted with porcelain and marble fixtures, a second bedroom for Princess Ileana, and an office; at one end was a drawing room; at the other, a private dining room and kitchen. At the end of the train was a glass observation car, used by the Queen as a reception room” (The Last Romantic, p. 351).
The movements and intrigues of her large entourage filled newspapers, since royalty rarely visited the U.S. Gossip mongers speculated as to the real nature of Hill's relationship to the Queen, but Queen Marie’s journal of her trip makes it clear that their relationship was strictly platonic.
The royal party detrained at the tiny Maryhill station and continued by automobile. Constance Lily Morris, Queen Marie’s American hostess, described the royal party’s approach to Maryhill in her memoir, On Tour With Queen Marie:
“A fine road stretched from the railroad station up a steep hill and wound its way along the side of a mountain to the end where stood the museum of Maryhill. The country all around is rugged, queer shapes of rock apparently volcanic in formation jut out on all sides, while below winds the Columbia River with a road along either bank. These roads, which are marvels of engineering and dreaming, were built through the intervention of Mr. Hill, who has indeed left his mark on the State of Washington where he grew up and which he loves with an intense affection. ... It took about twenty minutes to reach the uncompleted concrete house which is most peculiar in architecture, like a dream that had become a bit distorted in translation to the medium of the real. As the road runs directly through the building, the automobiles took us right into the main hall where the Queen alighted at the foot of the throne and mounted the steps. The decorations of yellow chrysanthemums and Roumanian flags in this large hall helped to take away from the bareness of the building that is absolutely devoid of any decoration and very unfinished, not even having windows or furniture of any kind” (p. 125).
At Maryhill, Queen Marie delivered $1.5 million in paintings and statuary for the museum's Romanian Room, along with carved furniture from Castle Bran in the Carpathian mountains of northern Romania and manuscripts of her writings in her own hand. Queen Marie also donated the cloth-of-gold gown she wore to the 1896 coronation of her cousins Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. She spoke to a crowd of 2,000 gathered in front of the east ramp to the building, which included 400 schoolchildren from Goldendale and an auto caravan from Portland. She complimented Hill for his vision and Loie Fuller for her dedication and loyalty.
In her diary Queen Marie called Maryhill “that strange uncouth cement building erected by the just as strange old Samuel Hill. ... I knew when I set out that morning to consecrate that queer freak of a building that no one would understand why; I knew it was empty and in no wise ready to house objects for a museum. I knew there were scoffers about me, even hostilities, but a spirit of understanding was strong in me that day and I managed by my own personality, by my words, by my spirit, to move all the hearts beating there this morning. ... I knew that a dream had been built into this house, a dream beyond the everyday comprehension of the everyday man” (p. 95).
The New York Times called Maryhill’s dedication by Queen Marie “the crowning moment in the career of this eccentric old soldier of fortune [Sam Hill]” (“Queen Defends American Trip,” November 4, 1926). After the dedication the royal party continued to Portland, Oregon, where they attended a horse show and spent the night.
The museum still needed to be finished. Hill died in 1931 and even though the museum was to receive half his estate, litigation tied up the funds for years. The doors finally opened in 1940.