James J. Hill: Railroad Magnate and Wenatchee Visionary

jjhill“Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work,” was the mantra of railroad magnate James J. Hill. A hands-on detailed obsessed manager, Hill refused to believe the arid lands of Wenatchee could not be developed into bountiful orchards.

Hill’s faith in the future prosperity of the valley was so strong that he worked with local leaders to buy up development companies crucial to bringing water to a parched land. By 1905, 30,000 acres of orchards were producing fruit for transport on Hill’s Great Northern Railway line.

Hill, one of the historical figures featured Feb. 22 during the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s People of Our Past program, was so respected that a brand of apples was named after him.

The influence of the gilded age railroad baron on the local economy did not escape the notice of prominent citizen and newspaper publisher Rufus Woods who warned: “Fruit men are not always going to get through by leaving it all to God and the Great Northern.”

“The Great Northern was not the first railroad company to lay tracks in the area, but Hill made sure his were the tracks that counted,” said museum education coordinator Selina Danko. “His insistence on building a line with the shortest distance, lowest grades and least curvature won the day for the Great Northern.”

Hill, portrayed by Bill Murray, is one of five historical North Central Washington characters presented by the museum this winter. The rest of the lineup includes Wenatchee industry builder and pioneer E.T. Pybus, portrayed by Don Collins; Dryden pioneer rancher and author Dora Tibbits, portrayed by Kathy Smithson; civic leader John A. Gellatly, portrayed by Marv Gellatly; and Colockum-area mail-order bride Nellie Cox played by Sue Lawson.

Each actor will perform three times during the day with a culminating evening meet-and-greet gala starting at 6 p.m. Performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are by donation. Tickets for the evening event are $15 for members and $20 for non-members and include historically themed heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, live music and a chance to mingle with the characters following the performance.

For more information about the People of Our Past program, contact Selina Danko at 888-6240 or sdanko@wvmcc.org.


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