The Goldendale Sentinel, Goldendale, WA., November 24, 1932, page 6
STORIES ABOUT THE LATE SAM HILL
(From the Seattle Times)
The $50,000 stone castle which Sam Hill built in 1906
so that he might entertain Crown Prince Albert of Belgium, who never came,
is up for sale.
The mysterious, ivy-covered building at 814 E. Highland Drive, with the iron gates and the heavily-barred windows, in which the late son-in-law of James J. Hill, the "Empire Builder," locked himself and his valued possessions away from burglars is undergoing a strange metamorphosis.
The ivy has been clipped to their roots, leaving the outer walls cold and unnaturally bare. The iron gates swing freely on their red, rusted hinges. And the barred shutters, which for three decades have cast prison-like patterns on the rich carpets and lavish furnishings within, are soon to be thrust aside, exposing the windows in all their nakedness.
That indefinable air of remoteness, intrigue and melancholy which caused the old mansion to stand out on its lonely street as if plucked from the heart of a horror tale, is slowly but effectively being dispelled.
Sam Hill has been dead for more than a year now. And for more than a year his great house, in which Queen Marie of Roumania and Marshall Joffre of France were received according to their stations, has remained cold and untenanted. Dust has settled upon the massive tables, the great leather-covered chairs, the finely brocaded hall chairs, the rich red velvet hangings, tapestries, the priceless paintings and the rare old editions in his extensive library.
Not long ago three young men - they must have been little better than amateur burglars - broke into the house and lived there for several days. They pulled the books from the library shelves, turned the contents of drawers onto the floor, and prowled through maps and blueprints looking for money.
They never would have remained three days in San Hill had been living here, because his ingenious burglar alarm system would have trapped them before they had worked through the lower confines of the house up to the great hallway.
Sam Hill slept in a little, plainly-appointed room between his dining room and his library. At his bedside was a button, the pressing of which turned on every light inside and outside the house. You couldn't move a door in the great house at night or creep up a stairway without the master knowing it.
Soft buzzers and flashing lights presaged your movements at every turn. Sam Hill had a wholesome fear of burglars and he designed his home to be a burglar trap. It still is today.
Outside Sam Hill's bedroom un unpretentious little door opens on a secret passageway which gives access to all the other main rooms on the first floor and from which a stairway curls below to the garage. There was a passenger elevator, too, in which one might elude intruders.
D.B. Hill, a cousin and heir, is now occupying the mansion until the estate find a purchaser. He will undertake to renovate it, a task he readily admits is a gargantuan one.
Sam Hill lived a quiet life in his house on East Highland Drive. Save when royalty was in town he rarely entertained. He was seldom seen in Seattle society. That gave rise to the story that he was seldom in Seattle, and that he almost never occupied the house that he had first built for the Crown Prince of Belgium, later the King. But that is not true. He was often at his Seattle home. He regarded it as his headquarters, although he did maintain homes at Maryhill, Washington and Semiahos, B.C.
He was served in Seattle by old Sam Finch, is valet, a Negro, and formerly head waiter at the Hotel Lafayette at Lake Minnetonka, Minn., and by two maid-servants. The maid-servants are now living on the Maryhill estate and old Sam Finch in a pensioner's cottage in Seattle.
Sam Hill was fond of the Pacific Northwest. He refused to let any but Northwest products go into his home -- except for the cement which was Belgian. The woodwork and the doors were largely fir, the pieces matched by Mr. Hill himself. He carried his enthusiasm for Northwest products to the point of refusing to let oranges, to his table. Oranges, he argued, came from California. Seattlelites ought to eat apples.
Although the molding in the dining room and hall, set in flush with the walls, are transparent colored photographs of Northwest land and sea-scapes, they can be illuminated by lights behind. These illuminated photographs, as large as a car cards, cast a soft, complementary light upon his women guests and pleased then immeasurably. The photographs are undeniably beautiful.
There is a library, dining room, reception room, hallway and master's bedroom on the first floor; six bedrooms and four bathrooms on the second floor. On the roof, access to which is either by stairway or elevator, is a penthouse and roof garden. On the roof Sam Hill once entertained as many as one hundred guests. Below the first floor is the service floor; kitchen, servants' living room and sleeping quarters. Below that is the heating plant and the garage.
When Marshall Joffre and his party arrived at the Hill mansion in 1922 the staff was assigned guest rooms, two officers to each room, the upstairs bedroom being furnished with two single beds each. Difficulties at once arose because, it appeared, a major would not consent to share a room with a captain, a captain positively would not occupy a broom with a lieutenant.
So Sam Hill sent the whole staff down to the New Washington Hotel where he gave each man a room and an unlimited expense account. According to the story the boys took a little advantage of him, having their shoes resoled, their uniforms repaired and their clothes laundered -- charging all to their hotel bill.
Sam Hill - to hear old Sam Finch, his combination butler-valet-cook, tell of it - was the greatest man that ever live.
They say no man is a hero to his valet. But that didn't apply in Sam Hill's case. Sam Finch worshipped Sam Hill even after they had their disagreement, and later dispensed with his services.
"I never took care of anybody, I guess, like I took care of Mr. Hill," the old Negro recalled. "Many a night I sat in that little bedroom of his and watched over him while he slept."
Sam sat in his master's bedroom when the latter was having "anarchist trouble." Sam Hill, so Sam Finch says, thought he had been many enemies. While his residential fort at 814 E. Highland Drive in Seattle might easily have withstood the onslaught of an army - at least until the police could get there - there was always the danger that someone might slip a bomb into the place and blow it to powder.
There were times -- Sam says there were not many - when the milk man and the ice man were forbidden to enter the house. They left the milk and the ice in the courtyard below the heavily-barred and formidable windows. And when they were well out of sight, Sam Finch, trusted servant, would go out and bring in the ice and milk himself.
There was a time when Sam Finch was packed and ready to accompany his master to Europe; when Sam Hill suddenly decided that the presence of a servant might attract undue attention to him; might bring international spies fluttering about him like birds. So Sam Finch stayed home.
Sam Finch makes little of these incidents. Sam Hill, he says, was under a constant nervous strain. The wealthy son-in-law of the late James J. Hill, "Empire Builder," was geared to high for normal life. He found ease only in activity. Sam Finch says he thinks Sam Hill was unhappy most of the time.
"Everyone who was close and dear to him advised against the building of the Maryhill mansion down by the Columbia River," Sam Finch remembers. "But Sam Hill said: 'I've got to do something. I can't live just sitting here and doing nothing.'"
Sam Finch prefers to remember Sam Hill as the genial, expansive host at the head of the table in the great dining room at 814 East Highland Drive. Sam Finch prefers to remember him as the man who would telegraph from Portland, from Vancouver, B.C., from Spokane:
"Prepare the house for myself and four guests tomorrow night. Have car at a railroad station."
Sam Finch never knew when he would get a telegram like that. And he never knew how long Sam Hill would remain in his stone castle on Capitol Hill after he had returned home. Usually it was not more than five days. Sam recalls that once Mr. Hill ordered his chauffer to meet him at Portland. The next the chauffer and Sam Finch heard, the master was in Belgium.
"Mr. Hill had a special system of ordering meals," Sam says. "He had what he called a No. 1 dinner, a No. 2 dinner and a No. 3 dinner. No. 1 that meant he would have four guests for dinner; No. 2 that he would have twelve guests, and No. 3 that he might have as many as forty. The No. 1 dinner was always the best, with four and five kinds of wine. The No. 2 dinner was simpler. And the No. 3 dinner was nearly always plain American cooking. He never ordered dishes himself. He left that to me after he had given me a rough idea of the sort of dinner he wanted."
Mr. Hill's favorite dishes were roast suckling pig, saddle of lamb and corned beef and cabbage. And often he ate beans and brown bread, Southern style.
Because he spent most of his life traveling from town to town, port to port, Mr. Hill designed a special sort of suitcase. He had these made by the dozens and completely outfitted with the evening clothes, business suits, golfing costumes, shoes, neckties and shaving apparel. These he placed in leading clubs and hotels throughout the world. When he traveled he carried only a little black bag. For a change of clothing and linen he depended on the suitcases, placed at strategic points along his route.
Sam Finch recalls the building of the stone castle on East Highland Drive. Mr. Hill, he says, but fourteen carloads of railroad scrap iron into the retaining wall. The foundation at the footings are four feet thick. Mr. Hill used to say, he recalled, that if the house toppled over into the gulch and landed right-side up he would only have to connect the water and go right on living in it.
Sam Hill always planned to build a stadium in the gulch below his house and present it to the City of Seattle. Somehow he never got around to it. The 10,000 acres and the great building at Maryhill and the golf course and home at Semiahmos, B.C., demanded too much of this time.
It was over the Maryhill home that Sam Hill and Sam Finch had their quarrel.
"Mr. Hill wanted me to go down there in live all alone," Sam said. "Think of it! One man alone on ten thousand acres. I would have gone crazy in two months. The place was so wild when Mr. Hill started to build there he had to put his own highway in there ten miles, and he told us it cost him $10,000 a mile.
"'Sam,' he said, "'I want you to go to stay down at Maryhill and keep an eye on it for me.'
"'I just can't do it, Mr. Hill," I said. 'It's too lonesome.'"
"I've started twice to write a book about Mr. Hill," Sam Finch said. "But I couldn't get anywhere with it. Someone should write a book, though. Mr. Hill was a great man. He was fair and square. I guess I must have liked him as much as any man could like another."
The boys over at the Washington State Colored Republican Club know quite a little about Sam Hill. Sam Finch lives at 1820 24th Ave. on a pension. He drops into the club every afternoon. And somehow the talk always drifts around to the colorful if intermittent life that was lived in the big house at 814 E. Highland Drive.
© Jeffrey L. Elmer