Crawford Hill (1862–1922) was a successful Denver businessman and philanthropist. The firstborn child and only son of Alice and Nathaniel P. Hill, Crawford inherited their fortune and carried his father’s prosperous businesses into the next generation. A quiet, conservative man, dedicated philanthropist, and savvy real-estate investor, he helped propel the rough, young city of Denver to new heights.
Crawford Hill was born on March 29, 1862, to Alice Hale and Nathaniel Peter Hill in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1867 the Hills relocated to the mining town of Black Hawk in Colorado Territory, where Nathaniel Hill, formerly a chemistry professor at Brown University, established the first successful smelter in the American West. His business success propelled him to political office as mayor of Black Hawk and, starting in 1879, a US Senator.
Crawford was educated in the local Black Hawk grammar schools before being sent to the English and Classical School in Providence. There he followed in his father’s footsteps by attending Brown. After graduating with his BA in 1885, he returned to Denver, where his family had moved, and began working for his father’s newspaper, the Denver Republican.
Family and Social Life
By the 1890s, Hill was known in Denver as an avid clubman and sportsman—and the most eligible bachelor in town. At the Denver Country Club, he enjoyed playing golf, tennis, and billiards among other activities. He also belonged to the Union Club of New York City, the University Club, the Denver Athletic Club, and the Denver Club, where he served for a time as director.
In 1893 Hill met an energetic Southern belle, Louise Bethel Sneed, at a ball in her honor at her cousin’s mansion on the corner of East Colfax Avenue and Marion Street. Hill’s personality was demure, and those who knew him described him as being devoid of a sparkling disposition, but he was strong of character and conservative in society and business. What Crawford lacked in social presence, Louise more than made up for with her exuberance, ambition, tenacity, innate sense of leadership, and drive to succeed; it was a perfect match. On November 9, 1894, the couple announced their engagement. They wed on January 15, 1895, in a lavish ceremony in Memphis, Tennessee, and returned to Denver to make the Mile High City their home.
Initially the Hills lived at 1407 Cleveland Place, a lovely mansion purchased for the newlyweds by Nathaniel P. Hill. There the Hills welcomed their first child, Nathaniel, in 1896, and their second, Crawford, Jr., in 1898. After the birth of their sons, the family desired more space and newer accommodations. In 1904 Hill acquired property at the corner of Tenth Avenue and Sherman Street, where he hired the architectural firm of Boal and Harnois to build a three-story French Renaissance mansion. It was in that home that Louise Hill cemented the family’s position as undisputed leaders of Denver’s elite set, known as the Sacred 36.
Crawford Hill never actively pursued a career in politics, but he was an influential member of the Republican Party, and his prowess was sought out by local and national officials. Although he had no prior military experience, in 1891–92 Hill served with the rank of colonel on the military staff of Governor John L. Routt, and in 1895–96 he served on Governor Albert W. McIntire’s military staff. In 1900 he was an alternate delegate for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. In 1908 he served as chair of the Colorado delegation at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, and in 1912 he served again as a delegate. Hill was close to nationally prominent Republicans such as US senator Simon Guggenheim and President William Howard Taft, the latter of whom the Hills entertained during his 1911 trip to Denver. Taft was also an occasional houseguest at the Hills’ palatial residence at 969 Sherman Street.
Hill entered business in the 1890s, largely following in his father’s footsteps. In 1896 he was elected vice-president of two companies where his father served as president: Western Oil and United Oil. A year later, he established the Dolly Varden Mining Company with two business associates. After his father passed away in 1900, he inherited family businesses such as the Republican Publishing Company, the Denargo Land and Investment Company, and the Boston and Colorado Smelting Company—all based in Colorado. Along with his mother and two younger sisters, Isabel and Gertrude, he established the Hill Land and Investment Company to manage the family’s properties. He was also elected as his father’s successor to lead United Oil.
By 1911 Hill had acquired many other prominent positions in Denver. He was treasurer of the Inland Oil and Refining Company and director of the Colorado Museum of Natural History (serving on the board of trustees from 1901 to 1922), the First National Bank of Denver, the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, and the Young Women’s Christian Association (an organization his mother had been heavily involved in prior to her death in 1908). He also ran the Denver Republican until 1914, when he sold it.
Much like his mother, Hill was a dedicated philanthropist and donated frequently to local charities, though he and his wife chose to keep the majority of their donations private. Among his public contributions, he helped fund the Museum of Natural History’s new building in City Park, which opened in 1909. He also took a particular interest in the Red Cross during World War I and even housed a Red Cross headquarters in the family mansion.
In 1920 Hill suffered a stroke. He never fully recovered and passed away on December 22, 1922, at the age of fifty-seven.
Today Hill’s legacy tends to be overshadowed by that of his father, a brilliant chemist and businessman, and his wife, Louise, an innovative and powerful social entrepreneur. Although it stood in contrast to their dynamic personalities, Crawford Hill’s quiet steadiness provided a solid foundation for his family, friends, and business associates; his support behind the scenes helped set them up for success. In addition, Hill’s influential backing of local institutions such as the Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature & Science) helped cement Denver’s future as a cultural hub and propelled the city forward to the modern era.