The North Oaks Company is a real estate development firm based in Minnesota, USA, that has been in operation since the mid-20th century. Founded in the 1950s by Louis Hill, Jr., the grandson of the famous railroad magnate James J. Hill, with the goal of creating a unique residential community in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. The North Oaks Company acquired a large parcel of land in the town of North Oaks, Minnesota, and began to carefully develop it into a residential community that preserved the natural beauty of the area, with large lots and custom homes designed to blend seamlessly into the wooded landscape.
Over the years, the North Oaks community grew and evolved, with the company developing additional neighborhoods and amenities, such as parks, lakes, and golf courses. Today, North Oaks is a thriving community with a reputation for exclusivity, privacy, and natural beauty.
The North Oaks Company remains a family operated business that has also been involved in conservation and philanthropic efforts, supporting a range of charitable causes in the local community.
Charles Duncan Gilfillan purchased 3000 acres surrounding four lakes north of St. Paul to utilize as a means to connect to the Mississippi River and created a source of water for the city of St. Paul. This land is now the city of North Oaks. Gillfillan created the St. Paul Water Company, now known as St. Paul Regional Water Services, Still today, more than a 100 years later water is conveyed from the Mississippi river through a series of lakes and channels in North Oaks to provide water to St. Paul and several surrounding communities.
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 built a farm that would support his Great Northern Railway and the immigrant settlers the railroad brought to establish farms along its tracks.
Hill saw North Oaks Farm as a place where his organization could improve methods to grow agriculture crops and livestock breeds and pass that knowledge on to the settlers to ensure their success. 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.
In 1950, Louis Hill, Jr., James J. Hill’s grandson, took over the day-to-day operations of the farm, farming a portion of the land and keeping the rest as woodland. 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 Mari and her husband Doug Harpur have continued Mari’s father’s dream. Mari and Doug are 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 by reserving more than half of the remaining undeveloped land in the city with permanent conservation easements.
In 1999, they brought in renowned land use planner, Randall Arendt, to realize their vision. Arendt created a master plan that clustered homes together around 900 acres of unaltered natural environment, which provided a variety of housing types for residents. After two years of consultation with the city of North Oaks and under careful public scrutiny, a set of strict planning guidelines was adopted to ensure that all future development will adhere to the environment-friendly values that have characterized North Oaks since its inception. The first roads to access these neighborhoods began in 2000 and have been completed over the last 20 + years, as follows:
2000 – First homes built in the Pines
2003 – First homes built in Red Forest Way
2005 – First homes built in Rapp Farms
2006 – Waverly Gardens Main Buildings opens
2022 – First homes built in East Preserve
2023 – First homes built in Spring Farm and Hill Farm Condominiums open
Today, the North Oaks Company continues to pursue the vision of Louis Hill Jr., Mari Hill and Doug Harpur by bringing beautiful developments to life in North Oaks. More than ever, conservation efforts are guiding today’s actions.