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Ralph Nading Hill Collection

Identifier: mss-980

Scope and Content

The papers consist of Hill's personal and business correspondence, family papers, manuscripts, illustrations and galleys for several of his books, plus materials connected with the many organizations to which he contributed his time. These include annual, financial and committee reports, publications, and correspondence. The papers have been divided into three series: family papers/general correspondence, other material arranged alphabetically by subject, and manuscripts and correspondence relating to Hill's writings. All series are arranged chronologically within subseries or, in the case of large subseries such as the Shelburne Museum and Vermont Life papers, within the subject subdivisions within subseries.

Subsequent to the arrangement of the larger part of Hill's papers, a smaller collection was added which fills in chronological gaps in the first collection. The papers are therefore divided into an "A" and a "B" collection, each containing materials in the three series described below in the "A" collection. A list of notable correspondents covering both collections can be found at the end of the collection description.

The "A" Collection.

Series one contains general and family correspondence and a number of scrapbooks created by Hill and by his mother Marion. The correspondence is arranged in chronological order; a list of notable correspondents is provided in a separate appendix at the end of the collection description. Hill retained copies of most of his own correspondence, providing an unusually complete record of the contacts he maintained with his friends, relatives, and associates.

Most of the scrapbooks contain a variety of material connected with Hill's books and activities, along with personal correspondence, clippings and family memorabilia dating from 1882 to 1982 but concentrated between 1928 and 1960. Because of their multi-subject content, and because some of the most important material in the collection is contained in scrapbook form, a cross-index of the scrapbooks has been prepared (Appendix A).

Series two contains material related to the organizations and institutions to which Hill belonged or for which he worked. It also contains personal correspondence with U.S. Senator (1940- 1975) George D. Aiken (1892- 1984), photographs and clippings on the Webb family, and materials on certain other individuals. The subseries on the Shelburne Museum contains important correspondence and other materials documenting the history of the museum from the early 1950s to 1987, including detailed accounts of the process of moving the Ticonderoga overland to the museum in 1954-1955. Likewise, the Vermont Life Magazine subseries contains, in addition to the working correspondence of the editorial board, materials related to various controversies within the magazine and to its conflicts with the Vermont Agency of Development and Community Affairs, under whose aegis Vermont Life operated. The most frequent correspondents are editors-in-chief Walter Hard, Jr. (editor 1950-1972), Brian Vachon (1973-1981), Charles Morrissey (1981-1983), and Hill's fellow editors Vrest Orton (b. 1897 d. 1986), owner of Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vermont, author, and one of the founders of Stephen Greene (1914-1979) owner of the press of the same name, which published some of Hill's books.

Hill's tenure as a member of the Vermont Bicentennial Commission, which organized Vermont's celebration of the Revolutionary War Bicentennial, 1976, and the bicentennial of the Vermont Constitution in 1977, brings to the collection: Commission meeting minutes, reports and publications, as well as an extensive series of grant applications to the commission from groups and individuals.

Among the more unusual material in series two is Hill's memorabilia of his World War II tour of duty in the Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC). Hill collected Nazi propaganda leaflets in French and other German artifacts. There are also CIC instruction manuals and a number of confidential and secret Army documents relating to the campaigns in northern France and Germany in 1944 and 1945. These include maps, directives, and information about German and occupied French administration, military posts, and individuals.

Because of his involvement in saving the Ticonderoga, and his books and articles on steamboats, Hill received numerous letters from readers containing information about the history of steamboats and old sailing ships, on Lake Champlain and elsewhere. The collection contains considerable historical material on this subject, and on many other subjects of interest to Vermont and Lake Champlain Valley historians. It should also be noted that, although the scrapbooks labelled Sidewheeler Saga in series three contain some correspondence and reviews related to his book by that name, the majority of pages are taken up with a record of the Shelburne Steamboat Company and its activities.

Series three provides an interesting view of the writer at his craft. Writing in the days before computers, Hill began his drafts in longhand and proceeded to subsequent typewritten drafts. Several manuscripts have various drafts attached together page by page, allowing a look at the creative process from rough draft to finished work. Correspondence in this series concerns mostly his dealings with Greene press and Lane Press of Vermont; and letters from readers of his works. The series includes many of his published magazine articles and several unpublished articles, short stories, and plays. Hill's copious research notes and source materials for several of his books have been retained as part of series three, most notably for Yankee Kingdom and Lake Champlain: Key to Liberty, and are a valuable reference source for many Vermont topics.

Hilll edited one book published by another author: Senator Aiken's Senate Diary, 1972- 1975. the collection contains Aiken's entire typescript journal of his final year in the U.S. Senate, which was heavily abridged by Hill before publication. There are also a number of works by other writers which Hill apparently reviewed. Among these is, A World of Profit by Jay Auchinloss.

The "B" Collection

Generally, this collection contains many of the same kinds of materials as the "A" collection, with concentration in the time period from about 1957 to 1975. An exception to this is the 1940s correspondence and other papers of Ralph N. Hill Sr., which includes both personal correspondence in Series one and business correspondence in his position as chair of the board of directors of Green Mountain Power Corporation.

Of interest in Series two, is the correspondence of U.S. Senator George Aiken, notably in 1943 on rural electrification and in 1967 and 1970 concerning his position on the Vietnam War. There is also a 1964 speech on Vermont legislative reapportionment.

All Webb family personal correspondence has been placed in separate files in Series two of the "B" collection. The correspondence of Electra Webb and her son J. Watson, Jr. (1916- ) is particularly well represented. The Shelburne Museum subseries also contains the administrative correspondence of Electra Webb, J. Watson Webb, Jr., and museum employees, along with other records similar to those in Collection "A".

Considerable material related to Dartmouth College has been added to the "B" collection. This includes documentation of Hill's role in the 1969 celebration of Dartmouth's 200th anniversary, for which Hill wrote the text for a presentation performed by the Dartmouth Glee Club. There is material related to the debate over the decision to admit women to the college in the early 1970s.

There is also an abundance of added materials on Vermont Educational Television in its early years from 1966- 1972. This includes the correspondence of the Broadcasting Council, of which Hill was a member; clippings, reports, and articles written about Vermont ETV by Hill for the Public Relations Office of the University of Vermont, with which Vermont ETV was then associated.

The series three correspondence, drafts and galleys, illustrations, and other material for several of Hill's published books and articles supplements material in the "A" collection.


  • 1882-1987



Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights:

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.


Ralph Nading Hill, an author of Vermont and Lake Champlain history, was born in Burlington, Vermont on September 19, 1917. He was the son of Ralph N. Hill, Sr. (1884-1959), president of Green Mountain Power Corporation, and Marion Clarkson Hill (1889-ca.1967), daughter of Edward Everett Clarkson (1864-1953), owner of Abernathy's Department Store and chairman of the board of Howard National Bank in Burlington. Hill attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1939, and served in the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps in Europe during World War II.

After returning to Vermont in 1945, he worked briefly at Abernathy's Store before pursuing his desire to become a writer. In 1943, while in New York City before heading overseas, he had met author Carl Carmer, editor of the Rivers of America series published by Rinehart and Co. Carmer encouraged Hill to write about the Winooski River after the war, as part of the series. This, his first book, was published in 1949, soon to be followed by Contrary Country (1950), a book of popular historical essays about Vermont. In all, Hill published or was editor of some twenty-five books and author of numerous articles in Vermont Life, American Heritage, Natural History, The Atlantic, and other magazines. Although most of his works were about Vermont or northern New England, he published a well-received volume about the Marineland aquarium in Florida, Window in the Sea (1956), of which an edition was published in Great Britain; and two children's books for Random House: Robert Fulton and the Steamboat (1954) and Doctors Who Conquered Yellow Fever (1957).

In the early 1950s, Hill became involved in what was to become a life-long passion: the preservation of the last sidewheel steamer on Lake Champlain, the Ticonderoga. With others in the Burlington area, he formed the Shelburne Steamboat Company in an attempt to keep the Ticonderoga afloat as an excursion steamer. That venture not succeeding, the decision was made to transport the steamer overland to the Shelburne Museum in the winter of 1954-1955. Thereafter, he headed several fundraising drives for its continued preservation. Among the directors of the Shelburne Steamboat Company was Electra H. Webb. (1889-1960), founder of the Shelburne Museum. Hill's long involvement with the Museum as a member and trustee, and as a friend of the Webb family, is richly documented in this collection.

Ralph Hill believed strongly that he had an obligation to serve his beloved Vermont and the Champlain Valley, not only by writing about its history and people, but by serving its institutions. Among his many activities, he was senior editor of Vermont life magazine from 1950 to his death in 1987. In that capacity he played an influential role in editorial policy and in the evolution of the magazine's uneasy position as a vehicle of the Vermont Agency of Development.

Hill also served as Chairman of the Board of Green Mountain Power Corporation, trustee at the Vermont Historical Society, Vermont Educational Television and Champlain College; and on the Burlington Historic Sites Committee, the Vermont Bicentennial Commission and the Dartmouth College Alumni Council. Perhaps his most personally rewarding accomplishment was the preservation of the Ethan Allen Homestead (Burlington) in 1974-1981. Having conclusively documented the authenticity of this site, he was a leading force behind the drive to raise funds to restore it and to build an educational center nearby.

Ralph Nading Hill was a respected chronicler of Vermont and its people, and a well-beloved servant of many of its important institutions. His contributions to his state were recognized by Dartmouth College, which awarded him an honorary doctorate of letters in 1964 and the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1971; and by the University of Vermont, which conferred an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 1979. He also received the Vermont Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year Award in 1980. In keeping with his important role in the recent history of Vermont, he preserved the record of that role in his papers. They will be an important historical source for scholars in years to come.


44 Linear Feet (44 cartons)


The papers consist of Hill's personal and business correspondence, family papers, manuscripts, illustrations and galleys for several of his books, plus materials connected with the many organizations to which he contributed his time.

Physical Location

Library Research Annex; contact for access.
Guide to the Ralph Nading Hill Collection, 1882-1987
Processor: Sylvia J. Bugbee.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)