NHS Collection

NHS Mission

The mission of the Northfield Historical Society is to serve as the primary stewards of the unique history of the Northfield area, fostering an awareness of its meaning and relevance through the discovery, documentation, preservation and interpretation of our collective stories.


The Northfield Historical Society (NHS) was formed in 1975 for the dual purpose of saving the historically significant First National Bank building and creating a historical society and museum for the city of Northfield. The core of the NHS collection is the variety of items relating to the James-Younger Gang’s failed bank robbery in 1876. Many of those items are on display in our permanent exhibit.
Beyond the robbery, the collection includes clothing and household goods, furniture, toys, military items, guns, paintings, photographs, audio visual materials, newspapers, and rare books. Many items have a tie to local families or to the immediate area, while other items are representative of the region as a whole. In addition to the three-dimensional collection, the society also has an archival collection. The collection contains business records as well as personal papers from a variety of Northfield citizens.


Special Collections

In 2015, the family of John Campbell, the founder of Malt-O-Meal, donated a collection of historic artifacts and archives to the Northfield Historical Society. This collection documents the growth and development of the original Malt-O-Meal hot cereal and the various promotions, advertisements, products, and facilities of the company.

Collection items include bound ledgers, binders, scrapbooks, photographs, slides, newspaper clippings, audio recordings, video/film recordings, print advertisements, television commercial storyboards, product packaging, three-dimensional artifacts (including premiums and branded merchandise), equipment, clothing, and more. These materials form the Malt-O-Meal Company’s only corporate archives.

Portions of the collection may be viewed by the public, by appointment only. Contact Stephanie Hess at hess{at}northfieldhistory.org to arrange a visit.


The public is invited to use the collection for research purposes. If there is an item of interest to you, please make an appointment to see it. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that a staff member will be available to assist you if you stop by the museum without making an appointment. Please contact us prior to your visit.

Phone: 507-645-9268

To Donate

NHS accepts donations to the collection in keeping with the mission of the historical society. Offered items are taken to the Collections Committee, where they are discussed prior to final acceptance into the collection. Dropping an item off at NHS does not guarantee that the item will be accepted for the collection. Donors are encouraged to share with NHS any history about the donated item that can enrich its story.

If you have a question about a potential donation, please contact us.

Phone: 507-645-9268

Cathy Osterman, Curator and Archives Manager

Email: osterman{at}northfieldhistory.org


NHS makes use of volunteer help for collections projects. Sometimes special projects come up that need a special set of skills. Other times there is an on-going project that merely requires willingness to learn and work. Unfortunately there is not always an opening in the collections department for additional volunteers. Please check here for postings.


NHS encourages students in college to consider interning with the museum. Internships can be during the school year or over the summer months. Projects depend on the needs of the staff and may change year to year. Internships are open to students with a History, Social Studies, American Studies or similar background, though all applicants will be considered. Due to the small staff size and the variety of volunteer projects taking place year-round, NHS can only accommodate a couple of interns at any given time. Please check here for postings.

To apply for an internship, please email a cover letter describing your background, relevant experience, and interest. Also include a resume. Email Cathy Osterman, osterman{at}northfieldhistory.org or Stephanie Hess, hess{at}northfieldhistory.org


Can I just drop items off that I want to donate?

A donation is a legal process. It involves a legal transfer of title from you to NHS. You may drop an item off at NHS, but it doesn’t legally belong to NHS until a donor form is signed completing a transaction. This is why NHS frowns on anonymous donations. When a donor does not wish to leave their name and contact information, a legal transfer of title cannot happen and NHS may not be able to consider the item donated.


Why isn’t everything on exhibit?

The museum has two main functions in regard to the collection. First, it preserves its donated items for perpetuity. Safe storage methods are used to make sure that what is donated today can be seen decades into the future. Secondly, it makes items available for research. The museum may use the item in an exhibit for a short time, but the item is always available for anyone to study even if the general public doesn’t see the item exhibited.


What happens to my items when they go off of exhibit?

Items in the collection cannot be on exhibit forever. Exhibiting items inherently damages them, so periods of rest and rotation are necessary to extend the lifetime of the item. Once removed from an exhibit, items are returned to storage and are preserved, awaiting the next time they are needed in an exhibit.

Additionally, items on exhibit are still available for loans to other museums and for use in NHS programs. The item’s life does not end when it is no longer on exhibit to the public.


Can I have my items back if NHS is not displaying them?

At the time of donation, legal possession of the item is transferred to NHS. NHS holds its items in the public trust. ‘In the public trust’ means that the public has ownership of the item as a significant piece of community history. The item no longer belongs to one person but to the entire community.


Can I have my items back over the holidays or for a family reunion?

NHS does loan items but only to organizations and not to individuals. Again, the items at the museum are held in the public trust, so it is only fair to loan out items that can be enjoyed publically, rather than privately. If you have a desire to see an item from your family’s history during the holidays or a family reunion, you are encouraged to contact the museum to set up a time to view it on site.


Does the museum take long term loans?

The short answer to this questions is that no, NHS does not take items on long-term loan. NHS makes loans renewable each year so that items may appear to be at the museum long-term, but really the lender or NHS has the option to discontinue the loan at any time. Renewing the loan each year allows the museum and the lender to remain in contact and to respect wishes regarding changes in the loan or ownership during the loan period.


How can I loan an item to NHS?

NHS does not take items without a specific and immediate need for the item, usually as it relates to an exhibit. Unsolicited queries regarding items that an individual wishes to see displayed but is not willing to donate will be declined. If you have something that you think would be of interest to the museum, please contact the museum and describe your item. NHS will note the information and your contact information and keep it on file for a future exhibit that your item may fit. NHS will not accept an item on loan just to keep it in storage with no future exhibit planned for its use.


I don’t want to donate my item now, but may want to later. What should I do?

NHS does not want the public to donate items that are still important family pieces or that a family member will continue to treasure. Staff at NHS can work with you to figure out the best preservation plan for your item while it is still in your possession. If and when the time comes that the item is no longer cared for or your family no longer wants to keep it, please contact NHS to inquire about donating it. Many families find relief and take pride in the fact that their family items enter the public domain and will be preserved in a museum where all family members and generations to come will be able to enjoy them.