Sam Hill's Stonehenge
America's first replica of Stonehenge was built by mistake.
Sam Hill was the visionary who heaved up this 'henge, a wealthy railroad and utilities magnate who was also an early crusader for modern roads.
Hill bought 7,000 acres of empty land along the Columbia River in 1908. He founded a town named Maryhill, and tried to lure Quaker farmers to settle it. None came. A few years later the town burned in a fire.
In 1918, Hill surveyed what was left of Maryhill, chose the most dramatic spot (a windswept promontory high above the river), and knocked down an Inn that he had built there. Then he began erecting a full-size, astronomically-aligned replica of Stonehenge.
Stonehenge? Hill believed the mistaken legend that the original in England had been used for human sacrifice. His replica was meant as a metaphorical memorial to the dead soldiers of World War I, a reminder that "humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war."
Sam engineered his Stonehenge like a modern road, using slabs of reinforced concrete. He had no interest in making it a picturesque ruin. Instead, Sam built it the way that he imagined the Druids would have built it if they'd had 20th century construction technology: uniform concrete blocks, given an artificial lumpy exterior, then mortared into megaliths.
(Pacifist Sam used a similar approach when he later built The Peace Arch on the U.S.-Canadian border.)
Sam may have failed in gleaning Stonehenge's purpose, but he succeeded in building a World War I memorial that people still want to visit. Despite its remote location, Sam Hill's Stonehenge remains a popular tourist stop. The dry air and clear skies offer views of miles and miles of brown sagebrush and grass. Below, what's left of Maryhill occupies a tiny patch of green on the Columbia River bank. Above, wind turbines spin on a nearby ridge.
Bolted to the upturned "sacrifice" side of the altar stone is a plaque that extols "the fire of patriotism which death alone can quench." This is apt, as a sign next to Stonehenge cautions that "the area is notorious for large destructive fast-moving fires" and that "major fires occur here almost annually" and that visitors should "smoke inside of vehicles only and discard cigarettes in your ashtray."
The same kind of wind-fueled inferno that torched Maryhill could someday toast Stonehenge, although there isn't much left to burn except careless tourists.
Sam Hill, known for erratic bursts of manic energy, labored on his Stonehenge for twelve years before it was complete. By then he was in a deep depression, and he died soon afterward. He had himself buried next to Stonehenge, about halfway down the bluff, because he didn't get along with his family. And there is no easy path to his grave, because he wanted to be left alone.