Brief History of Northfield Minnesota

Tagged: CIty History, James-Younger Gang, John W. North, Malt-O-Meal,

In January 1855, Northfield was first settled by John Wesley North who moved from St Anthony Falls, MN to settle land receded by the Dakota tribe. North settled in Northfield because of its close proximity to the Cannon River and its potential for hydrologic power and natural resources. North and his brother-in-law George Loomis constructed a sawmill, gristmill, and bridge in the future location of Northfield.

Most other settlers to Northfield were from New England. North and his wife attracted many like-minded people to Northfield. People who believed in temperance, women’s rights, temperance, the abolitionists movement, and education. Because of the Cannon river, Northfield was an early agricultural center with many wheat and corn farms as well as lumber and flour mills. At the 1867 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Jesse Ames and Sons, the new owners of North’s mill, won the straight flour category for best flour in the United States. Later in 1927, the mill was sold L.G. Campbell and Northfield became the headquarters for Campbell Cereal Co., which produced Malt-O-Meal cereal.

Since its establishment, Northfield has been the center of higher education. Carleton College was founded in 1866 by the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches, whose members consisted of New England Puritan descendants. A little less than a decade later in 1874, Saint Olaf College was founded on the western part of town by Norwegian Lutheran immigrant pastors and farmers.

Northfield is famously known for its part in stopping the James-Younger Gang. On September 7th, 1876, the gang rode into town attempting to rob First National Bank of Northfield. The town’s residents gathered in the streets, arming themselves after a merchant discovered the robbery taken place at the bank. A battle ensued ending with two of the robbers dead and two more badly wounded. The rest of the gang, including Jesse and Frank James fled south. The heroes of the town included J.S. Allen, A.R. Manning, Henry Wheeler and Joseph Lee Wood who died because he refused to open the vault for the robbers.

The town experienced steady growth until 1970’s when construction of Interstate Highway 35 was completed, which allowed for the expansion of MinneapolisSaint Paul metro south of the Minnesota River. Since then, the city of Northfield has grown and urbanized with a population of 20,000. The downtown grain elevator was torn down in 2002 and the city is now becoming a bedroom community to the Twin Cities.

Northfield’s downtown buildings are well-preserved, consisting of 19th and early 20th-century architecture. Because of its early success and the city’s two thriving colleges, Northfield’s downtown area is more extensive and better maintained than most Midwest communities. Presently, commercial development continues on the southern edge of the city.    

If you have any questions regarding the city of Northfield, Minnesota, or if you would like to sell or buy a house in the area, please feel free to visit TwinCitiesPropertyFinder.com or call 1-800-909-1953.


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