Heart of Treasure Valley

Farming family’s history lives on with Meridian’s Hillsdale Park

For practically his whole life, Marti Hill’s life has revolved around dairy cows.

Before he was old enough to do actual milking, he had chores that had to do with milking — bedding and feeding calves, cleaning corrals. When he was a teenager, he’d get the milking started for his father — at 4 a.m., before school. Through his adulthood, he did the same thing, only now it was entirely his responsibility.

He says: “It was just a way of life, just the way it was. … I didn’t know any different.”

And his was a small dairy farm, so that meant literally him. By himself. Out there milking 70 cows. And to point out the obvious, that’s twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Summer, winter, everything in between.

“With the cows, you were tied down. … The city kids, they’d always get to go out of town and go somewhere. … It was a big damn deal when I got to travel and stuff.”

Along with perpetual, it was also hard work.

“I’m out there in the milk barn and it’s colder than hell and there’s the tail from a cow — with what I call dingleberries on their tail — and you’re getting slapped in the face. … And you’re cold anyway. …

“And then flip it the other direction: I’ve have milked cows down there in that barn when the thermometer in that barn said 110 degrees. And you’re thinking, what in the hell am I doing here?”

In 2001, Marti Hill and his cousin, Angus Hill Jr., each received a Century Farm award. That means their farms on the corner of Eagle and Amity roads, two parts of their grandfather’s original homestead, had been in the family and been continuously farmed for more than 100 years.

“You go through the good times and you go through the tough and the hard times. And you’re able to keep it going and you’re thinking, holy heck///, what am I going to do tomorrow? Milk prices are clear down here (in the pits). But you just keep grinding away and then. …

“And then you get something like this and you think, OK, it was worth it.”

• • • 

In the old communities, schools were built four miles apart because the thought was, in those days, that a student could walk two miles to school. Grandfather Angus Hill donated an acre of land to the West Ada School District at the corner of his homestead.

“They built the school and a few years later, the school board came to my grandfather and said we need to buy some dirt from you (because) we need to expand our playground for a softball field. And my grandfather says, well … I’m not selling you the ground. … But you can move the fence.

“So the grade school fathers moved the fence over and they built the softball field for the kids. And they named it Hillsdale School.”

That school no longer exists (a substation is now on that spot). However, its memory does. And will.

In 2013, the heirs of Angus Jr. sold their Century Farm land. New homes are growing on the old fields, but in one corner, developer David Turnbull of Brighton Corp. donated land for a school — the newly opened Hillsdale Elementary School.

As this was unfolding, an idea was percolating in Marti’s mind. When Turnbull donated land for the school, Marti added 15 acres to create a campus: school, park and future YMCA.

“Because the family was well-known out here in this area, that’s why I kind of thought, well, that’s why I’d like to do something. Give back to the community, to Meridian, and leave a legacy for the Hill family. Not just my grandfather and grandmother, but my dad and his four brothers and two sisters, and the cousins.

“This city is kind enough; they’re going to call it Hillsdale Park. …

“On one hand, yeah, (it’s sad that my cousin’s land was sold). On the other hand, no. I’m excited with the project here; it’s kind of fun. I used to raise animals, raise crops; now it’s going to be kind of fun to quit doing that and watch kids be raised. …”

• • • 

Marti’s grandfather immigrated to Idaho in 1881 from Missouri, like many early Meridian settlers. Grandfather Angus (though he wasn’t Angus Sr.; that was his son — and Angus Jr. his grandson) got a sheep herding job around Mountain Home, and, 10 years later, homesteaded 160 sagebrush acres south of Meridian and raised his own sheep.

He was a smaller player in the industry, but he and the bigger names in sheep back then would rent a rail car together and ship their sheep to Chicago once a year for sale.

In 1908, Angus returned to Missouri to attend his sister’s wedding. While he was back home, a certain fourth-grade school teacher caught his eye, his sister’s maid of honor.

“He made the comment that … he was going to build a house and (said) I’m going back, I’m going to marry her and bring her out. And that’s what he did.”

Angus built a two-story home made of poured concrete brick (when it was torn down a few years ago, the bricks weighed 40 pounds each), complete with enviable indoor plumbing and electricity powered by a gas generator. He and his bride, Clara, married in 1912 and raised five sons and two daughters.

Marti’s mother, historian Lila Hill: “She was 32 or 33 when they married, and then she had seven kids. Can you imagine? From 1915-1923, she had seven kids. … Grandma Hill told (her) daughter there was one two-year period where she never left the farm.”

Angus was a compassionate neighbor as well as an enterprising businessman. As he would help neighbors burdened by debt by buying their land, he also became fairly wealthy for his time.

When Marti dreamed up the idea that will become Hillsdale Park, he is merely following his Grandfather Angus’ footsteps.

Marti: “My grandfather was a businessman. But he was a giver, too. He helped a lot of people over the years. And my dad and my uncle were the same way. They gave, but in a different way.

“Here’s a way to say it: Grandfather gave and set his kids up, and my uncle and my dad gave and set things up for their kids. Where I don’t have any kids (who want to farm), this is the way I can give. The only thing is that I’m not giving it to (an heir); I’m giving it to the whole community.”

• • • 

Around the turn of the century, Meridian was establishing itself as a dairy center for the state. Grandfather Angus noticed the trend, eyed all the young laborers he and Clara were raising, and eventually turned to dairy farming. After Grandfather Angus’ death in 1937, Marti’s father and his brother, Earl and Angus Sr., took over the farming and the milking. They operated independently but cooperatively.

This is the life Marti knew. Although he went into the Marine Corps for two years/// after graduating in 1970, Marti assumed he’d return to the farm.

“And Dad said, no, you need to go out and get a real job, learn what it’s like out in the real world. He said if things work and you want, we’ll see about coming back.”

So for five years, Marti saw the world, or at least the United States, driving long-haul trucks cross-country. This time, when he came back to the farm, he and his father incorporated.

“And then I guess you could say the rest is history.”

Although, like history, nothing stays the same. His father retired; and in 2001, Marti shattered his hand while moving cows from one corral to another. He couldn’t afford to hire somebody, so he sold the cows and became solely a farmer.

Selling those cows turned out to be symbolic of a whole lot of things.

“When you’re born and raised on a farm, and your nearest neighbors were basically a quarter mile away — it’s a whole different feeling now when I go out to the shop in the morning, to see these houses (in the subdivision next door). …

“Back when I was growing up, a 150-, 160-, 200-acre farm was a big farm. Not any more. …

“But you know — it is what it is. You’re not going to stop Father Time. It’s going to change. This whole area has changed so much from when I was growing up.

Changed enough that it’s important to claim the Hill family’s role in history. Angus Jr.’s Century Farm sign will be incorporated into the park (Marti’s sign is displayed proudly at his home on the farm), and more informational signs will help visitors place the present into the perspective of history.

Lila: “These kids that are going to school today are not going to realize this was ever a farm unless there is some record made of it. (And a Century Farm? That) means nothing to them. ‘Century’ is not a word they comprehend. You have to live that long in order to know how long it is.”

Marti is looking forward to sitting on his porch with long-time partner Dixie Cook, watching the crops grow and the kids play in the new Hillsdale Park. He hopes the park will be finished while his 94-year-old father is still alive.

“It is kind of satisfying to know my roots are here — and have been here — and are still here.”

Marti has two daughters, neither of whom is interested in farming. Marti understands, even though there’s a twinge of sadness that the farm won’t make four generations.

“But this (park) here overshadows that. Because if I can’t pass (the land) on to (family) to farm … I’ll pass it on to the community and they can enjoy it.”

Katherine Jones: 208-377-6414, @IDS_Photography

Ahh. Mornings on the farm

“I’ll tell you, one thing I thoroughly enjoyed about the farming aspect of it — and this sounds corny — but to be out on the ditch bank at 6 o’clock in the morning. Nobody else is up, per se, not much traffic going up and down the road. …

“I used to irrigate with siphon tubes. You get the water set and you’re standing there, leaning on your shovel waiting for the water to level out, making sure everything is OK. And the sound of the water coming out of those siphon tubes was just peaceful.

“That sounds corny, but it was awesome. And then daylight comes and the sun is starting to come up, and in the mornings, it’s quiet. There was just something about that …

“I can’t say that about 5 or 6 o'clock at night when it’s 95 or 100 degrees out — that’s a whole different story. Then I’m kind of thinking what the hell am I doing out here. …

“When I was milking cows, I (also) thoroughly enjoyed the morning milking because it was just the cows and me. There was nobody else around. Nobody else was stupid enough to be up at that time in the morning. … I’d get up at 3:30 a.m. and throw the switch at 4 to start milking.

“Even though I talk about it being cold and all … it was just the cows and the milk machine and me, ka-che, ka-che, ka-che, ka-che. …

“That was my thinking time.”

—Marti Hill