The History of the Boston Hill Center
Updated: Apr 12, 2019
The history of Grant County would not be complete without the story of the Boston Hill Center. Originally called the Boston Store and later renamed the Hill’s Department Store, the building was constructed around 1880 on the corner of Marion’s Fifth and Washington Streets.
In 1881, the building first opened its doors as the Boston Store. The Boston Store was a department store offering over 60,000 square feet of merchandise, including clothing, appliances, household goods and furniture. In essence, a person could find anything they desired within the store’s 43 departments, spread across three floors, that were filled to capacity with the finest goods.
According to the Marion Examiner, the newspaper at the time, the establishment of the Boston Store, in conjunction with the neighboring Harwood Bazaar as well as the Goldthait Store, gave formation to one of the most prosperous shopping centers in the Midwest.
Soon afterward, the store became known as “The Busy Boston Store” and was quoted by the Marion Examiner to be “Marion’s most progressive store.” Owners of the Boston Store were excellent at staying current with the trends of the times. With each change of season, the owner would send the heads of each department to Philadelphia and similar large eastern markets to return to Marion with the latest fashions.
Both locals and out-of-towner's enjoyed spending their afternoons in downtown Marion bargain-shopping the newest fads and then taking a quick stroll across the street for an evening of live music at the Butler Music Company or a round of bowling on Washington Street.
In its height of operation, The Boston Store required more than 150 sales personnel on the floor! The daily volume of traffic grew so large that both the Marion Post Office and American Express found it most convenient to operate their own substations within the store. Not surprisingly, the Boston Store’s capital stock was valued at $100,000 by 1905, which equates to approximately $2.6 million in today’s currency.
After 54 years of prosperity, the owners of the Boston Store sold the store to a New York firm, The Hill’s Corporation, in 1935. Around this time, the first major renovation was made to the building. At this point in history, the trend in business renovations was to strip all identifying features of the building to create a completely new look for the incoming business.
Though the Boston Store surrendered its identity to the Hill’s Department Store, the building continued to serve as the central department store for Marion and Grant County. Hill’s adhered to the original vision and legacy of the Boston Store by offering similar merchandise that kept with current trends. Hill’s was a momentous player in keeping downtown Marion modern and thriving.
Unfortunately, after years of prosperity, Hill’s faced a decline in sales that forced the firm to file bankruptcy. After 39 years of operation, Hill’s publically announced its closing on June 21, 1974.
The building was primarily vacant for a little over five years until the Grant County Courthouse Annex made its home within the building in 1980. During its time as the County Annex, the building hosted a plethora of key county offices. The historic building continued in its legacy to serve as the central hub for a majority of dealings in Marion and Grant County.
In 2008, a man by the name of James E. Kraemer purchased the building under his company name, The Centrum Mall, LLC, giving it the name most locals recognize it by today. Since then, the building has changed owners several more times and undergone a few additional renovations to maintain the building. Even still, Grant County locals continue to recognize the building as the "Centrum Mall.”
Most recently, Marion Housing Authority purchased the building in November 2017 with plans to revitalize the building’s legacy, preserve its rich history, and rebrand its image to re-populate the building. With this vision in mind, Marion Housing Authority determined a new name for the building, the Boston Hill Center, drawing upon the previous three names.
Plans are currently underway to restore the historic facade of the building and Marion Housing Authority hopes to reestablish the Boston Hill Center as a central part of Grant County.