In 1883, railroad magnet James J. Hill purchased 3,500 acres of land in Moundsview and White Bear Townships from Charles D. Gilfillan. Hill named his property North Oaks Farm, and in the next few years purchased adjacent farms to increase his land ownership to about 5,500 acres. Hill’s plan was to build a farm that would support his Great Northern Railway and the immigrant settlers the railroad brought to establish farms along its tracks.
Hill saw his North Oaks Farm as an opportunity to improve both the agriculture and livestock and pass that knowledge on to the settlers to ensure their success, as well as supply them with seeds, supplies and livestock. As the farmers prospered, Hill theorized, so would the railroad.
In its heyday, 400 men worked at the farm which had more than 40 buildings, some of which still stand and are part of the historic farm site and listed on the national registry.
Louis Hill inherited the farm when James J. died in 1916. Upon Louis’s death, his son, Louis Hill, Jr., took over the day-to-day operations of the farm, farming a portion of the land and keeping the rest as woodland.
In 1950, Hill formed North Oaks Company and began to develop the property for residences. Development was measured, and quality took precedence over scale. Housing sites were chosen to conform with nature; natural beauty was to be preserved if at all possible. Bridle paths evolved into spectacular nature trails. They are laid out to follow the natural contours of the land. Hill helped survey most of the early lots himself and would sometimes alter the path of a road to save a single tree.
Since 1995, Louis Hill Jr.’s daughter and her husband have continued her father’s dream. They are both passionate about conscientious land use and understand the contours and features of the property just as well as Mr. Hill did 50 years ago. Under their guidance, North Oaks Company initiated a long-term conservation plan. They brought in renowned land use planner, Randall Arendt, to realize their vision. Through their stewardship, more than half of the remaining land in the city is now subject to permanent conservation easements.
In 1999, after two years of consultation with the city of North Oaks and under careful public scrutiny, a set of strict planning guidelines was adopted. This endorsement ensures that all future development will adhere to the environment-friendly values that have characterized North Oaks since its inception.