North Oaks has a rich history brought about by the vision, dedication and hard work of many people. The combined efforts of three in particular, Charles Duncan Gilfillan, James J. Hill, and Louis W. Hill Jr., led to the unique, private and multi-faceted North Oaks community we know today.
More than half of the land in North Oaks—3,000 acres—was purchased between 1876 and 1880 by Charles D. Gilfillan with the intent of safeguarding the lakes that were a part of the St. Paul water system. These water rights remained intact when Gilfillan sold the property to James J. Hill in 1883.
Hill, a pioneer railroad builder, developed the North Oaks lands into one of the nation’s leading agricultural experimental farms. His son, Louis W. Hill, Sr., preserved the farm in its natural, unspoiled state throughout his lifetime. After his death in 1948, title for the properties passed to his four children, Louis, Jr., Cortland, Jerome, and Maude, who decided that the time for exclusive use of the land by one family had passed.
Louis W. Hill, Jr. increased the area to approximately 5,500 acres through purchase of additional land including the Robb Farm in 1949, and developed a plan to turn the North Oaks Farm into a residential community with a beach, dedicated park land and an 18-hole golf course. Hill formed the North Oaks Company and retained a professional community planner to carry out his vision.
Over time, additional properties were developed with each neighborhood becoming part of an overarching governing body, the North Oaks Home Owners’ Association (NOHOA). As of January 2017, the city of North Oaks covers 8.6 square miles of property and is home to more than 1,800 households and 5,000 residents.
More information on the history of North Oaks can be found in the book ‘Three Bold Ventures’ (2007) written by North Oaks residents Joan C. Brainard and Richard E. Leonard, the proceeds of which go to the Hill Farm Historical Society to fund the restoration of the North Oaks Farm and to provide educational programs and events.