Evelyn Hill, Inc. has a very distinguished history providing visitor services at Liberty Island, once known as Bedloe’s Island. In 2011, we celebrate 80 years of dedicated service, and we are now one of the oldest family-owned and operated concessionaires in the United States.
Our history with the Statue of Liberty began with Fort Wood, and a returning World War 1 veteran, named Aaron G. Hill. Aaron, who had served as an U.S. Army Medic, was stationed at Fort Wood, assigned first to medical duties, then to the Post Exchange.
While Aaron and his wife Evelyn, were living in the brick & clapboard Army housing on the Island, they produced two children, Charlotte and James.
In 1931, the U.S. Army discontinued selling souvenirs to civilians at the Statue of Liberty. Aaron Hill, recognizing the opportunity for a new business, retired from the U.S. Army and opened a souvenir stand on the tourist’s arrival pier. He named his new venture after his beloved wife, Evelyn.
Two years later, the National Park Service assumed responsibility for the two acres directly surrounding the Statue of Liberty, while the U.S. Army retained liability of the other 10 acres, as Fort Wood. This forced the Hill family to relocate to the Bronx, and to travel to and from the Island everyday, by boat, to operate their souvenir stand.
Starting in 1937, the U.S. Army began transferring the remainder of Fort Wood to the National Park Service, and by December of 1944 the Army garrison post ceased to exist. The buildings of Fort Wood were torn down by the NPS between 1948 and 1950; however, the Hills continued to operate their visitor services throughout this period. In 1943, at the age of 46, Aaron Hill passed away, leaving his wife, Evelyn, to continue the family business.
Evelyn was a brilliant business woman, light years ahead of her time and spoke 9 languages fluently. As a Polish immigrant, who arrived on these very shores in 1916, she understood the importance of satisfying the visitor.
She was known for going above and beyond, and there is a story that has been passed down through family history, that she actually purchased sugar on the black market during World War II, to ensure the steady supply for the guests at Liberty Island. One of her favorite things to do was to work the front sales counter and interact with the visitors, which she continued to enjoy until her death 1990, at the age of 88.
James I. Hill followed in Evelyn’s footsteps, and incorporated the business in her name in 1949; having retired from his Air Force career following the death of his father. In addition to the Statue of Liberty, James began providing visitor services at Fort McHenry, Sagamore Hill, Freedomland, an amusement park in the Bronx, and on the Sandy Hook Ferry Boat Service.
James’ passion for the Statue of Liberty is world-renowned. His famous saying, “Take care of the visitors, and they will take care of you”, has been our philosophy, and the reason for our continued success through the decades. He redesigned the facilities frequently, so that they never looked distressed or worn, due to the millions of visitors that used them. He defined “thematic retailing” by only carrying items directly correlated to the experience of being in a National Park.
Mr. James I. Hill also enjoyed a positive relationship with the National Park Service over his tenure. From Directors, Regional Directors and Superintendents to the laborers, he was well respected in his profession and understood that a handshake meant a contract, or more importantly, a promise.
James retired in 1996, after 46 years at the helm, to pass leadership of Evelyn Hill Inc. onto his son, Bradford A. Hill. Brad has since maintained the same leadership style that his father and grandmother employed.
Recently, Brad has increased the company’s focus on their environmental impact, providing healthy dining options to visitors, and utilizing locally sourced and organic foods in their cafes.
A plan to revise the type of food services we offered to visitors was set to take effect in late 2001. Due to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, our efforts were put on hold until we could reestablish ourselves. The new food service plan was implemented in 2005, and in 2006 our new menu was introduced.
What a success it was! Visitors had, “enough with hotdogs,” and feasted on healthy organic salad and sandwiches; 6-ounce angus burgers and high-end fisherman platters, crab cake sandwiches and lobster rolls. No longer were we selling ‘truck stop’ food. In 2007 we continued the process, introducing a full printed menu and adding locally raised foods as well as increasing the organic foods.
In 2010, Evelyn Hill Inc. opened the Liberty Gift Pavilion, a LEED Platinum Certified building. This environmentally friendly construction features recycled materials, waterless urinals, LED lighting, a Geothermal heating and cooling system and rainwater recycling.
Evelyn Hill Inc. became the leader in Concessionaire recycling methods, recycling over 94.2% of the solid waste produced by our operations. Mr. Brad Hill has been a guest speaker at many Parks to speak about his accomplishments, is a member of many associations, sharing his experience and learning from others, and has been honored with numerous awards and recognitions.