City of Northfield
Northfield is a city in Dakota and Rice counties in the State of Minnesota. It is mostly in Rice County, with a small portion in Dakota County. The population was 20,790 at the 2020 census.
Northfield was platted in 1856 by John W. North. Local legend says that the town was named for John North and a Mr. Field. North, realizing that the town straddled the proposed northern border of Rice county, went to the state capital to lobby to move the border one mile north. Northfield was founded by settlers from New England known as “Yankees” as part of New England’s colonization of what was then the far west. It was an early agricultural center with many wheat and corn farms. The town also supported lumber and flour mills powered by the Cannon River. As the “wheat frontier” moved west, dairy operations and diversified farms replaced wheat-based agriculture. The region has since moved away from dairy and beef operations. Today it produces substantial crops of corn and soybeans, as well as hogs. The local cereal producer Malt-O-Meal is one of the few remnants of Northfield’s historic wheat boom. The city’s motto, “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment”, reflects the influence of the dairy farms as well as its two liberal arts colleges, Carleton College and St. Olaf College.
Since early in its history, Northfield has been a center of higher education. Carleton College (then Northfield College) was founded in 1866 by the Minnesota Conference of Congregational churches whose Congregation consisted of the “Yankee” settlers who had largely founded the town. These were people descended from the English Puritans who settled New England in the 1600s. Carleton soon established its campus on the northern edge of town. St. Olaf College was founded in 1874 on the western edge of town by Norwegian Lutheran immigrant pastors and farmers who were eager to preserve their faith and culture by training teachers and preachers. These two institutions, which today enroll more than 5,000 students, make Northfield a college town.
In the 1970s, completion of Interstate 35 six miles west of Northfield enabled the expansion of the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metro area south of the Minnesota River. The downtown grain elevator accepted its last load of corn in 2000 and was torn down in 2002. Residential growth has been rapid since the mid-1990s. Northfield Hospital, which opened in 2003 in the town’s northwest corner, is in Dakota County, so chosen because government reimbursement rates are more generous for Dakota County than for Rice County.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of 8.61 square miles (22.30 km2); 8.56 square miles (22.17 km2) is land and 0.05 square miles (0.13 km2) is water. The peak elevation is about 912 feet.
The town is roughly centered around the Cannon River and rises to the east and west from it.
Interstate 35 is 6 mi (9.7 km) west of Northfield. Minnesota State Highways 3, 19, and 246 are three of Northfield’s main routes.
The Ames Mill on the Cannon River
Early in the city’s history, local merchants created a small town square between Fourth Street to the north, Division Street to the east, the Cannon River to the west, and the southern storefronts. The old Ames Mill/Malt-O-Meal plant was also nearby, originally powered by the dam on the river. Bridge Square and the surrounding downtown area remain a strong cultural attraction for the city. The square has several amenities including a large fountain, a memorial statue, and a concession stand known as “the popcorn wagon” run by the senior center. Several scenic walkways follow the river, and numerous shops and boutiques can be found on the neighboring streets.
Businesses serving the growing senior citizen community of Northfield have expanded to include the Northfield Senior Center, the Village on the Cannon, Millstream Commons, and new construction at the Northfield Retirement Center complex. The northern edge of the city has also been expanding with several residential and commercial developments.
Jesse James’ and the James-Younger Gang’s 1876 attempt to rob the First National Bank of Northfield serves as a heritage tourism draw for the town. The original bank building was converted to a museum operated by the Northfield Historical Society. The First National Bank of Northfield operates from a main office built half a block away from the historic site. In its front lobby, a glass case showcases a gun used during the robbery.
The Northfield Convention and Visitors Bureau provides comprehensive tourism information and visit planning services.
Arts and culture
Defeat of Jesse James Days Celebration
On September 7, 1876, Northfield experienced one of its most important historical events, when The James-Younger Gang attempted a robbery on the First National Bank of Northfield. Local citizens, recognizing what was happening, armed themselves and resisted the robbers and successfully thwarted the theft. The gang killed the bank’s cashier, Joseph Lee Heywood and a Swedish immigrant, Nicholas Gustafson. A couple of members of the gang were killed in the street, while Cole, Bob and Jim Younger were cornered near Madelia, Minnesota. Jesse and Frank James escaped west into the Dakota Territory, while the remaining gang members were killed or taken into custody. Considering the James gang as related to postwar insurgency, the raid has sometimes been called the last major event of the American Civil War. Two of Northfield’s slogans are “Jesse James Slipped Here”, based on the raid’s failure, along with “Get your guns boys, they’re robbing the bank!”
The events have become the basis of an annual outdoor heritage festival called The Defeat of Jesse James Days. It is held the weekend after Labor Day and is among the largest outdoor celebrations in Minnesota. Thousands of visitors witness reenactments of the robbery, which is staged on Division street, outside of the First National Bank of Northfield. Other activities during the festival include: a championship rodeo, carnival, car show, and parade, as well as arts and crafts expositions, and musical performances. Many food stations are set up in Bridge Square, and during the evenings live music is played in a “beer tent” on Water Street. A horseshoe hunt takes place the week prior to the celebration; an antique horseshoe is hidden somewhere within the city on public grounds and the finder claims that year’s cash purse.
Parks and Recreation
Bridge No. 8096 over Spring Creek, which runs through the Carleton College Cowling Arboretum.
The city owns 35 parks consisting of over 400 acres (1.6 km2) of land. Three of these parks have picnic shelters.
The Carleton College Cowling Arboretum is a sizable, well-established arboretum and nature preserve adjacent to and owned by Carleton College. It offers extensive trails for walking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
St. Olaf College also owns many hundreds of acres called the St. Olaf Natural Lands. These include 350 acres (1.4 km2) of natural habitat and 444 acres (1.80 km2) acres of agricultural land. Of that, 150 acres (0.61 km2) is restored prairie with 10 species of native grasses, and 25-40 species of wildflowers, 15 acres (0.061 km2) of big woods habitat, and up to 9 acres (0.036 km2) of surface wetlands. The St. Olaf Natural Lands are open to the public all year long.
The Mill Towns State Trail was built in 1998 as a joint effort of the cities of Northfield and Dundas.
- Peter Agre (born January 30, 1949), Nobel laureate in chemistry
- Adelbert Ames (October 31, 1835 – April 13, 1933), Union Army general during the Civil War and Mississippi politician during Reconstruction; father Jesse Ames purchased the Ames Mill, producers of Malt-O-Meal, in 1865
- Cyril Archibald (1837 – April 13, 1914), member of Canadian Parliament
- Ian Barbour (October 5, 1923 – December 24, 2013), winner of 1999 Templeton Prize
- Steven Brust (born November 23, 1955), author and musician
- Lincoln Child (born 1957), author
- F. Melius Christiansen (April 1, 1871 – June 1, 1955), pioneer of a cappella choral music
- Raymond Cox (1951-2017), Minnesota state legislator and businessman
- Michael Dorris (January 30, 1945 – April 10, 1997), author
- Joan N. Ericksen (born 1954), United States District Court judge
- Steve Grove (born 1978), American businessman, former Google News Lab Director and Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
- Ralph B. Goodhue (January 27, 1878 – January 18, 1960), Minnesota state senator and farmer
- Laurence McKinley Gould (August 22, 1896 – June 21, 1995), geologist, educator, polar explorer
- Joel Heatwole (August 22, 1856 – April 4, 1910), U.S. Representative
- Lucius Roy Holbrook (April 30, 1875 – October 19, 1952), U.S. Army major general
- Alexandra Holden (born April 30, 1977), actress
- Siri Hustvedt (born February 19, 1955), author, poet, and essayist
- Justin Kloos, NHL player for the Anaheim Ducks
- Thomas M. Neuville (January 31, 1950 – January 26, 2022), Minnesota state senator and judge
- Karl Rolvaag (July 18, 1913 – December 20, 1990), governor of Minnesota
- Ole Edvart Rølvaag (April 22, 1876 – November 5, 1931), author
- Gilmore Schjeldahl (June 1, 1912 – March 10, 2002), inventor and entrepreneur
- Peter Schjeldahl (born March 20, 1942), art critic and writer
- Marilyn Sellars (born 1944), country music singer
- Chad Setterstrom (born June 13, 1980), professional football player
- Mark Setterstrom (born March 3, 1984), professional football player
- Edward Sovik (June 9, 1918 – May 4, 2014), architect, liturgist
- Steve Strachan (born January 26, 1965), former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, former sheriff of King County, Washington
- Edward John Thye (April 26, 1896 – August 28, 1969), governor of Minnesota and U.S. Senator
- Thorstein Veblen (July 30, 1857 – August 3, 1929), economist and sociologist
- Paul Wellstone (July 21, 1944 – October 25, 2002), U.S. Senator
- Jon Wee (born 1965?), professional juggler
- Johnny Western (born October 28, 1934), singer-songwriter, actor, radio host
- Charles Augustus Wheaton (July 1, 1809, – March 14, 1882), major figure in the abolitionist movement and Underground Railroad
- Ida Belle Clary Wilcox (August 6, 1850 – January 26, 1928), missionary honored by South Africa in 2009
- Jerome J. Workman Jr. (born on August 6, 1952), American spectroscopist, editor, author
“Northfield, Minnesota” │ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northfield,_Minnesota