Northfield, Minnesota

Northfield is a city in Dakota and Rice counties in the State of Minnesota. The city is mostly in Rice County, with a small portion in Dakota County. The population was 20,007 during the 2010 census.[6]

Downtown Northfield, September 2010
"Striving For Excellence, Committed To Service"
Location of the city of Northfield
within Rice and Dakota Counties
in the state of Minnesota
Coordinates: 44°27′30″N 93°9′40″W
Country United States
State Minnesota
CountiesRice, Dakota
  TypeMayor-council government
  MayorRhonda Pownell
  Total8.52 sq mi (22.07 km2)
  Land8.50 sq mi (22.01 km2)
  Water0.03 sq mi (0.06 km2)  0.58%
Elevation912 ft (278 m)
  Total20,007 (2,010 census)
  Density2,409.27/sq mi (930.23/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central)
  Summer (DST)UTC-5 (Central)
ZIP code
Area code(s)507
FIPS code27-46924
GNIS feature ID0648725[5]
WebsiteCity of Northfield


Northfield was platted in 1856 by John W. North.[7][8]. Local legend says that the town was named for John North and for a Mr. Field. John North, realizing that the town was located astride the proposed northern border of Rice county, went to the state capital to lobby to move the border one mile to the north. Northfield was founded by immigrants from New England known as "Yankees" as part of a New England colonization of what was then the far west.[9] Northfield 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 the 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 producing 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.

Since early in its history, Northfield has been a center of higher education. Carleton College (then Northfield College) was founded in 1866 on the northern edge of town 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.[10] 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 a total of more than 5,000 students, make Northfield a college town.

In the 1970s, completion of Interstate Highway 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. A new area hospital, which opened in 2003 in the northwest corner of town, 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 a total 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.[11] The peak elevation is about 912 feet.[2]

Roughly speaking, the town is centered around the Cannon River and rises both to the east and the west away from this bisecting river body.

Interstate 35 is 6 mi (9.7 km) west of Northfield. Minnesota State Highways 3, 19, and 246 are three of the main routes in Northfield.


Historical population
Est. 201820,634[12]3.1%
U.S. Decennial Census[13]
2015 Estimate[14]

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 20,007 people, 6,272 households, and 3,946 families residing in the city.[3] The population density was 2,337.3 inhabitants per square mile (902.4/km2). There were 6,832 housing units at an average density of 798.1 per square mile (308.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 88.8% White, 1.3% African American, 0.2% Native American, 3.5% Asian, 4.0% from other races, and 2.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.4% of the population.

There were 6,272 households of which 32.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples living together, 9.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 37.1% were non-families. 30.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 3.04.

The median age in the city was 26.4 years. 19.8% of residents were under the age of 18; 29% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 19.1% were from 25 to 44; 20.1% were from 45 to 64; and 12% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.4% male and 52.6% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 17,147 people, 4,909 households, and 3,210 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,452.2 people per square mile (947.1/km²). There were 5,119 housing units at an average density of 732.1 per square mile (282.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.57% White, 0.90% African American, 0.34% Native American, 2.36% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.78% from other races, and 1.99% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.73% of the population.

There were 4,909 households out of which 35.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.7% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.6% were non-families. 27.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 3.08.

In the city, the population was spread out with 20.2% under the age of 18, 32.1% from 18 to 24 (a figure heavily influenced by the student population of St. Olaf and Carleton College), 21.0% from 25 to 44, 16.1% from 45 to 64, and 10.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 23 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $49,972, and the median income for a family was $61,055. Males had a median income of $40,008 versus $28,456 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,619. About 2.8% of families and 7.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.3% of those under age 18 and 7.4% of those age 65 or over.


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 (warm water pool, fitness studio, meeting rooms, fitness center, dining program, art classes, computer lab), 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.[15] 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.[16] 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 Dakotas, 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 is "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.[17] 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.[18]

Park and recreation

The city owns 35 parks consisting of over 400 acres (1.6 km2) of land.[21] Three of these parks have picnic shelters.[21]

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.[22][23] Of that, 150 acres (0.61 km2) is restored prairie with 10 species of native grasses, and 25-40 species of wildflowers,[24] 15 acres (0.061 km2) of big woods habitat,[25] and up to 9 acres (0.036 km2) of surface wetlands.[26] The St. Olaf Natural Lands are open to the public all year long.[27]

The Mill Towns State Trail was built in 1998 as a joint effort of the cities of Northfield and Dundas.

Government and politics

The City of Northfield operates as a Mayor-Council form of government. The City Administrator is responsible for managing daily operations. The current mayor is Rhonda Pownell.[28] The city council consists of six members, four of whom represent city districts and two of whom are at-large members serving four year terms.[29]

Northfield is served by Minnesota State Senator Rich Draheim (RPM) in District 20 and State Representative Todd Lippert (DFL) in District 20B.

In the United States Congress, Northfield is part of Minnesota's 2nd congressional district, represented by Angie Craig (DFL) since 2019, and in the Senate by Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, both members of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, an affiliate of the Democratic Party.


Northfield is home to St. Olaf and Carleton colleges. Their student and staff populations account for a large portion of the town's year-round population.

The Northfield Public School district operates three elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, and an alternative learning center. In addition, Northfield has public charter schools: Arcadia (grades 6–12) and Prairie Creek Community School (grades K–5) in nearby Castle Rock. They receive state funding from the State of Minnesota.

Notable people



AM radio stations
Frequency Call sign Name Format Owner
1080KYMNThe OneNews/TalkNorthfield Radio, Inc.

FM radio stations
Frequency Call sign Name Format Owner
88.1KRLXCampus radioCarleton College
89.3 HD-2
KCMP89.3 The Current
Local Current
Adult Album Alternative
Adult Album Alternative
Minnesota Public Radio
(KYMN-AM Translator)
The OneNews/TalkNorthfield Radio, Inc.


  1. "2017 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  2. "Minnesota HomeTownLocator". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  3. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  4. "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  5. "2010 Census Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File". American FactFinder. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 27, 2011.
  6. Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 463.
  7. Fedo, Michael (2002). Pocket Guide to Minnesota Place Names. Canada: Minnesota Historical Society Press. p. 109. ISBN 0-87351-424-6. Archived from the original on May 27, 2009.
  8. The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917 page 339
  9. The expansion of New England: the spread of New England settlement and institutions to the Mississippi River, 1620-1865
  10. "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 2, 2012. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  11. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  12. United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved October 28, 2014.
  13. "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on October 19, 2016. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  14. "About Us - Northfield Historical Society". Northfield Historical Society. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  15. "Raid by robbers". The Worthington Advance. Worthington, Minnesota. September 14, 1876. Retrieved September 9, 2016 via
  16. "The Defeat of Jesse James Days Celebration". DJJD Committee, Inc. 2006. Retrieved September 9, 2007.
  17. "Horse Shoe Hunt - Defeat of Jesse James Days". Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  18. "Love Always, Santa". Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  19. Weyhe, Philip (October 25, 2016). "Northfield set for early movie premiere of 'Love Always, Santa'". Northfield News. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  20. "Parks". Streets, Parks and Facilities Division. City of Northfield. 2008. Retrieved July 8, 2008.
  21. "Natural Lands". Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  22. Prather, Shannon (July 21, 2017). "Walking among the bluebirds of Northfield". Star Tribune. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  23. "Prairies". Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  24. "Forest". Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  25. "Wetlands". Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  26. "Visitor Information". Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  27. "Mayor Rhonda Pownell". City of Northfield. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  28. "Northfield City Charter: Section 3.3. - Council Composition and Election". Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  29. Cohn, Jacob (January 25, 2013). "Professor Cherif Keita's Documentary Film "Cemetery Stories" Links South Africa to Northfield". Carleton College. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
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