Northfield, Minnesota, (population 19,413) is a vibrant 19th century river town founded in 1855 by abolitionist and land speculator John W. North. From the beginning, Northfield was an agricultural center known for its wheat and corn farms. The construction of the Minneapolis and Cedar Valley Railroad in 1865 facilitated the transportation of farm products to urban markets. In 1876, local citizens armed themselves and stopped the outlaw Jesse James and his gang from robbing the town’s bank, an event that would still be talked about 133 years later.
One of the city’s claims to fame is the Scriver Building, which housed the Northfield Bank. In 2005, the Northfield Historical Society received funds to restore the building to its 1876 appearance, the date of the failed bank raid. The construction involved hiring many local contractors. The building houses collection rooms, offices and community and genealogical society archives. Following the restoration and the addition of two permanent exhibits, the Northfield Historical Society was named “Best Western Historical Society” and the restored bank the “Best Historical Site” by True West magazine.
The historical society also maintains programs that help teach area students about the city’s heritage. Junior Curators, a summer program for seventh graders, teaches cataloging, documentation, exhibit planning, and preservation techniques. Northfield is home to several colleges, including Carleton College and St. Olaf College. The Student Community Outreach Program Experience (SCOPE) puts together teams of college students with eighth graders to work on projects. Since 2005, more than 50 students have researched and written booklets on Northfield history.
Due to the efforts of downtown business owners and other concerned citizens, Northfield’s downtown has retained its Victorian character. In 1978, the Northfield City Council adopted a heritage preservation ordinance and established the Northfield Heritage Preservation Commission, whose mission is to recognize, protect, and enhance the city’s heritage.
In addition to creating an inventory of historic properties and approving exterior improvements within designated districts, the preservation commission has created brochures to promote the city. These include “A Walking and Biking Tour,” outlining suggested tours of the historic Central Park neighborhood and “A Look at the City’s Historic Houses,” which describes the various housing styles in Northfield.
Working with the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation and numerous local organizations, the Heritage Preservation Commission has created heritage events. The “Defeat of Jesse James Day” has been held annually for 60 years to honor the heroism of the townspeople. Re-enactment of the raid, a grand parade, and a rodeo are the highlights of the event.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2008.