JAMES J. HILL – “The Empire Builder”
The sleepy village of Wayzata was excited at the arrival of the railroad on August 24, 1867. The famous William Crooks steam engine pulled two passenger cars down the main street of Wayzata, arriving to the shouts and applause of the local citizens. For several years the St. Paul, Minneapolis and & Manitoba Railroad made several trips a day hauling freight and passengers to Wayzata. However, once the initial excitement wore off, the citizens were less thrilled about the railroad traveling down their main street of town. Not only was it loud, smelly and dirty with the black ash coming from the steam engines, but it also made some citizens feel cut off from the lake.
By 1878 James J. Hill gained control of the railroad and later renamed it The Great Northern Railroad. After Wayzata’s incorporation as a village in 1883 one of their first orders of business was to have the railroad move the tracks further north. They lost the first case, but won the second time and Hill was forced to move the tracks off the street, but instead of moving them further north, he brought them closer to the lake. He also removed the train station that was located at the foot of Broadway Avenue, and built a new depot east of town near Bushaway Road and named it Holdridge. He declared that the residents of Wayzata could “walk a mile for the next twenty years.” The “feud’ between Wayzata and Hill ended in 1906 when Hill built Wayzata a new depot. It was said to be the “handsomest” depot along the entire railway line.
Service continued out of the depot until 1971, and in 1972 Burlington Northern deeded the depot to the City of Wayzata. In 1981 it was placed on the National and State Register of Historic Places. It is ironic that the Railroads presence can also be thanked for much of the preservation of the tremendous public viewing areas in Wayzata that remain to this day. In addition, the many former railroads no longer needed for rail transport in our region have become revitalized as the basis of the framework of much of our magnificent regional trails system. Today – the Wayzata Historical Society maintains the depot as a museum.
Wayzata’s James J. Hill Days is an annual celebration of the town’s history, as well as a way to thank Mr. Hill for helping to preserve Wayzata’s history as it has become a thriving Lake Minnetonka community.