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Arts & Culture

OREGON EXPERIENCE: Sam Hill

OPB | Oct. 30, 2006 9:44 p.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 11:13 a.m.

OREGON EXPERIENCE: Sam Hill takes a look at the man whose life was etched with hard fought triumphs and colossal failures, but his enduring devotion to progress made him one of the most important and legendary figures in Oregon’s history. Tune in to the next episode in the Oregon Public Broadcasting series on Monday, November 6 at 9pm to learn more about one of Oregon’s most interesting characters.

Hill believed that good roads were essential for a society to thrive. He became a self-taught expert on the subject and began a public relations campaign to build a paved highway through the Columbia River Gorge despite the popular belief that the topography was too difficult and too unstable for a highway.

He hoped such a road would help in building another of his dreams — a farming utopia on the Columbia River. He purchased 6,000 acres about 100 miles east of Portland and began building a community he called Maryhill, after his daughter. But Hill had set Maryhill too far east where the meager annual rainfall couldn’t support the intensive farming he imagined.

The failure did not defeat Sam Hill. Early in 1913, he convinced the Oregon legislature to build the Columbia River Highway that was immediately hailed as an engineering masterpiece.

By 1920, Sam Hill had become an international celebrity. But folks at home would still point to his failure at Maryhill, known locally as “Hill’s folly on the Columbia.”

At the suggestion of a friend, Hill drafted a bold plan to turn his abandoned farmhouse into a museum. He initiated a campaign to collect works of art from his friends around the world and invited Queen Marie of Romania to dedicate the fledgling museum in November 1926. Today, the Maryhill Museum of Art is home to original works by Rodin, rare Native American artifacts and a collection of European furniture and paintings.

Some say Sam Hill gave his life and fortune to the people of the Pacific Northwest. Others believe he was a well-financed dreamer who wasted his fortune in the pursuit of fame. In the end, Sam Hill was both.

Queen Marie’s dedication speech at Maryhill Museum in may explain Sam Hill best: “Sometimes the things dreamers do seem incomprehensible to others, and the world wonders why dreamers do not see the way others do.”

Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, Oregon Cultural Trust and James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

About OREGON EXPERIENCE
OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting new history series on OPB-TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home.

About OPB
OPB is the state’s most far-reaching and accessible media resource, providing free access to programming for children and adults designed to give voice to community, connect Oregon and its neighbors and illuminate a wider world. Every week, over 1.5 million people tune in to or log on to OPB’s television, radio and Internet delivered services. As the hub of operations for the state’s Emergency Broadcast and Amber Alert services, OPB serves as the backbone for the distribution of critical information to broadcasters and homes throughout Oregon. Oregon Public Broadcasting is statewide network that includes OPB Television, an affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and OPB Radio, presenting local news coverage and the programs of National Public Radio (NPR), Public Radio International (PRI) and American Public Media (APM). The OPB Web site is opb.org.

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