Sedate, dignified Arthur Hill, whose name was perpetuated by his thoughtful and important philanthropies, was one of the most cultured Saginaw multi-millionaires whose fortunes were grounded in the lumber industry. Hill achieved great wealth with lumber holdings but also in mining, steamship lines and railroads.
Arthur Hill was born March 15, 1846, in St. Clair, Michigan. He came to Saginaw in 1856 when his father opened a small sawmill. There he learned how to sort logs and how to measure the mill’s daily output. Young Arthur attended public schools and proved an apt and industrious student. One of his discerning teachers pleaded with Arthur’s father to give the boy a college education. The elder Hill finally agreed and Arthur was graduated in 1865 from the University of Michigan with a degree in civil engineering.
For seven years after college, young Hill was a “landlooker,” estimating quantities of timber on tracts of vacant state or federal land. Sturdy of body, he often carried “grub packs” for days through remote reaches of forest.
Later, Arthur Hill & Company, Ltd. became one of the wealthiest firms of its time. Holding office in several other concerns and stock in many others, Hill had interests all over the United States. His lumber empire was widespread.
He served three terms as mayor of Saginaw City (now the west side) before its consolidation with East Saginaw. In 1907, he lost a battle for appointment to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His supporters and friends—and there were many—said that Hill, long a loyal and liberal contributor to the Republican Party, lost the Senate bid because of some shabby politics by Michigan’s then-governor, Fred M. Warner of Farmington.
Hill served on the Saginaw City school board for six years, part of that time as president. The former west side high school, which once stood near the courthouse, was named for Arthur Hill, as is the current Arthur Hill High School. And likewise the former west side manual training school which was located at Michigan and Mackinaw.
In 1901, Hill was named a regent of the University of Michigan, which he befriended liberally with gifts of lasting and pronounced educational worth. When Hill died in Saginaw in 1909, at 63, his will revealed public bequests of $525,000. He provided $125,000 to build the west side trade school and $75,000 to endow it; $200,000 for an auditorium (it would be named Hill Auditorium) at the University of Michigan; $50,000 to Saginaw General Hospital; $25,000 each to the YMCA and the Home for the Friendless and $25,000 to endow four west side high school scholarships.
In 1903, when the University of Michigan established its forestry department, Hill, then a regent, bought 80 acres of outworn, cleared farm land three miles west of Ann Arbor and deeded it to the university. He specified that it be named Saginaw Forestry Farm. Sixteen years later, students and faculty members had transformed it from a farm into a forest. The regents officially changed the name to Saginaw Forest.
The property is especially valuable because it offers so many different kinds of trees to study in such a compact area and because complete records of plantings and other operations have been maintained there right from the beginning. Altogether, more than 50 species, ranging from western yellow pine to black walnut, have been planted. “No one block of 80 acres has played a more important part in the development of forestry in the United States than the Saginaw Forest,” S. T. Dana, dean emeritus of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, once said. “Here many students have gained useful experience in nearly every branch of forestry, have had an opportunity to improve their finances, and have had a thoroughly good time.”
Hill’s wife was the former Louise Grout of Saginaw. Mr. and Mrs. Hill were acknowledged social leaders of their time in Saginaw, but there was nothing of the imperious manner about either to indicate their position. They were popular hosts in their fine lumber-era mansion which once stood at the corner of Michigan and Remington. It was a three-story brick and stone structure of 14 rooms, including a third-floor ballroom. Its interior woodwork was of the finest material obtainable.
Mrs. Hill, who lived to be 97, died at Pasadena, California, where she had lived since the mid-50s. In 1940, she gave $7,500 as the nucleus for construction of the Arthur Hill Stadium, among the finest high school installations in the state. In 1957 she gave $5,000 for use in converting the former Arthur Hill Trade School into a technical high school. The stately Hill mansion was bought during World War II and converted into eight apartments during the pressure to provide more war housing. Many west siders who grew up from childhood admiring the lordly mansion considered the apartment conversion a form of desecration. It was devastated by fire in 1965.
Across from Hill’s old home there lived for a good many years S. S. Roby, once a prominent Saginaw banker and a friend of Hill. From Atlanta, Georgia, where he lived later in life, Roby wrote a letter concerning Arthur Hill. It stated in part: “Mr. Hill was my very good neighbor just across Michigan Avenue all my life in Saginaw. I liked him the best of all men. He always was a good mixer, but he liked the young people best and I remember parties he gave on the Fourth of July and other days on his front lawn, giving prizes for various events and stunts. He helped young students get an education a long time before he gave the scholarship fund, probably seeing how well they turned out.”