Tuesday, July 18, 2006

History haunts Mayor Coleman

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:21 PM |  

David Downing of Downing’s World posts that as part of St. Paul's observance of the anniversary of James J. Hill’s arrival in St. Paul, an actor portraying the "Empire Builder" will disembark from a riverboat Friday afternoon in downtown St. Paul and will be greeted by Mayor Chris Coleman.
I wonder what kind of greeting the mayor will give him? I ask, because I remember the harsh words mayor Coleman had for Hill just a few months ago. The Hasbro company was doing a publicity stunt for its Monopoly board game, asking people to vote for properties around the country that could be included on an updated version of the game board. Real estate candidates from the Twin Cities included the Mall of America, the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis (built by Hill for the Great Northern), and St. Paul's Summit Avenue, anchored by the Hill mansion, now a historic site.

Told that the monster mall was leading the voting, the Pioneer Press quoted mayor Coleman as saying, "Summit's getting its ass kicked in the contest, but there's no question that that should be the symbol. It's the symbol of monopoly. It was the home of J.J. Hill, one of the biggest robber barons of all time."

Mayor, where's the love?

It will be interesting to see what sort of nice things Coleman has to say about Hill at the event this Friday. What praise will he heap upon "one of the biggest robber barons of all time"?
I wrote a column for the St. Paul Legal Ledger that tongue-in-cheek admitted that government did create jobs and then illustrated with examples. The mayor's history lesson is worth repeating.

Mayor Chris Coleman -- Job Created: City Historian.

St. Paul’s Summit Avenue is, said Mayor Chris in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “getting its ass kicked” in a vote to see which Twin Cities property is represented on an updated version of the board game Monopoly. “But there’s no question that [Summit Avenue] should be the symbol. It’s the symbol of monopoly. It was the home of J.J. Hill, one of the biggest robber barons of all time.”

Robber baron? A brief history lesson.

The Union Pacific and Central Pacific met at Promontory Point, Utah, completing the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. The project was spawned by the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, which granted the railroads huge tracts of federal land and the right to secure more based on government incentives that encouraged inefficient construction practices. Following the Civil War, the railroads were back before Congress looking for more funding.

Meanwhile, James J. Hill built the Great Northern Railway, running from the shores of Lake Superior to Washington State, with private capital.

While subsidized railroads used government authorization to grab public and private lands, Hill spent his own money to relocate farmers along his rail route. He knew that his railroad would prosper only if the region it ran through prospered. Hill funded agricultural research and livestock breeding to ensure that farmers, and his railroad, had something profitable to ship.

In tough economic times, when subsidized railroads fell on hard times, Hill and other private railroaders built spurs into Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks, creating a tourist industry and introducing Easterners to the grandeur of the American West.

Robber baron?

Oh yeah. Hill’s railroad made him rich. That was his sin. Had he built the Great Northern with government subsidies, instead of naming a Monopoly street in Hill's (dis)honor, the mayor might be building a government office building bearing his name.