Research Center

The Northfield Historical Society Research Center will have limited resources for the next few months.  NHS staff is preparing for building project, that requires moving of some shelves and other items that will limit the onsite availability of certain research materials. We ask that if you would like to conduct research onsite, that you call or email NHS in advance to see if we can get to the research materials.  In addition, the microfilm reader that was onsite from the Northfield Public Library is no longer at NHS.  If you have any questions feel free to call NHS at 507-645-9268.

We are sorry for any inconvenience but this building project will help us increase our capacity to better care for Northfield history.

Don’t miss the final ’40 For 40′ installment

Throughout 2015 the Northfield Historical Society has been celebrating 40 years of collecting and preserving Northfield’s history. The rotating “40 For 40” exhibit has been an opportunity to showcase important aspects of our shared history using the objects donated to NHS over the years.

Choosing only 40 broad themes that are indicative of the Northfield story has been a challenge because so many wonderful items have been donated over the years, and so many interesting stories have been capture. Regrettably, the three short exhibitions of items that have made up the 40 For 40 exhibit have barely scratched the surface of all there is to share about Northfield’s past.

As the final installment of the year-long exhibit is displayed, we hope that people of Northfield feel a sense of pride at their rich history, and that they continue to collect and donate items to preserve them and deepen the continuing story. Just imagine what the next 40 years might bring.

The final 40 For 40 exhibit opens on October 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Northfield Historical Society, 408 Division Street.

Here is a sneak peek at what the final installment will feature:

004Wellstone Button and Bumper Sticker
Paul Wellstone’s political buttons and bumper stickers could be seen all around Northfield when the former Carleton College political science professor was campaigning. His grassroots style and his agenda of social justice made him memorable. Even today, green and white “Wellstone!” bumper stickers can be seen on vehicles in the community.

Felt pennants were a popular decoration for the students at Northfield High School who were eager to show their school spirit. This pennant belonged to Hilda Schrader from the class of 1913. Many items from Hilda’s high school days have been donated to NHS in recent years.

Grand Theater Chair
The Ware Auditorium was renamed the Grand Theatre by Everett Dilley. Dilley had009 an interest in “moving pictures,” and the theater regularly began to show silent movies as well as live theater under his ownership. An organ was purchased to accompany silent movies, and in 1929 the first “talkie” was presented to the people of Northfield. This chair was most likely in use when the Grand Theatre presented the first movie with sound to a Northfield audience.

Cemetery Stories Tours

Tonight’s Cemetery Stories Tours are filling up fast.  If you want to guarantee your spot on a tour, please call NHS at 507-645-9268 or sign up online.  We need your RSVP by 3:30.
Eventbrite - Cemetery Stories


The Arts and Culture Commission invites Northfielders to submit the name of anyone whom they feel is worthy of being considered its 2016 Northfield Living Treasure.

The deadline for nominations is November 6, 2015. Nomination forms can be downloaded from or picked up in hard copy in the Museum Store.

The annual award honors an individual who has, over a period of time, made significant contributions to Northfield in, through, or on behalf of the arts and culture, so as to enhance the reputation of the city and the quality of life of its citizens.

Nominees may be either a practitioner in one or more of the arts, or an arts or cultural leader, supporter, or advocate. The award is one of recognition and has no financial value.

Criteria for nomination are adapted from the United Nations guidelines to countries, states, and cities who also offer such awards:

• The nominee must be living and a Northfield area resident.
• The nominee must have amassed a body of work that demonstrates consistency of excellence.
• The nominee must be an inspiration to others.
• Personal admirable attributes that the nominee may possess include: kindness, courage, wisdom, grace, authenticity, humor, humility, respectfulness and generosity.
• The nominee is encouraged to serve the community and share their expertise for a period of no less than twelve months from January 1 to December 31 during the year after receiving the award, to the extent they are able.

Previous recipients of the award have been Ray Jacobson, sculptor and visual artist; Myrna Johnson, theatre director, performer and arts-community leader; Cora Schultz, Northfield Youth Choirs founder and leader; Paul Niemisto, Vintage Band Festival founder and Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra founder and conductor; Patsy Dew, photographer, theatre artist, NAG and Senior Center arts programming developer and mentor; and Dewayne and Theo Wee, accomplished pianists, music teachers, and unstinting performers and accompanists for individuals and groups at more Northfield events than can be accounted for.

Cemetery stories back from the dead

EG Ad CS (2)After a year-long hiatus the Northfield Historical Society is excited to announce that Cemetery Stories will return to Oaklawn Cemetery October 10. The event will feature seven Northfielders from the past: Anna Mohn, Nellie “MOM” Phillips, Grace Whitter, Ira Sumner, Fredrick Heiberg, Margaret Evans Huntington, and George Huntington. Volunteers will adopt the personas of the seven while telling their stories at respective gravesites.

Tours will run October 10, 4:20–8 p.m. You can reserve your spot by calling the society at 507-645-9268, buying online at, or by stopping by the Scriver Building at 408 Division Street.

“We’re excited to bring back this popular event after taking time to determine how best to infuse it with fresh ideas,” says NHS Executive Director Hayes Scriven.

Here is a taste of what you’ll learn at this year’s Cemetery Stories event:

  • Anna Mohn was born in Decorah, Iowa, in 1852. She married Thorbjorn Mohn, who went on to become the first president of St. Olaf College. During the event Anna talk about how the college grew, her memories of the failed 1876 raid by the James-Younger Gang, and about how her family started the Mohn Printing Company.
  • Nellie “MOM” Phillips was born October 18, 1887. She grew up in Northfield and graduated from Carleton. She is most well known for her Northfield News column “To our boys in the Service.” She always claimed she had more than 300 children — the men and women she wrote to during the war. Many would write her and she would answer and sign the letter “MOM.”
  • Ira Sumner was born June 24, 1845. One of Northfield’s earliest photographers, he was best known for taking pictures of the dead robbers after the failed 1876 bank raid. In 1866 he moved to Northfield from Red Wing and worked with Z. Roberts, Northfield’s first photographer. Roberts taught Sumner about large-format cameras and lighting. Sumner acquired Roberts’ business in 1872.

FINAL voting for 40/40 Exhibit in October

NHS 40th logoFor the past few  months NHS staff have been developing the 40 for 40 exhibits. We have enlisted help of some of our NHS members, but now we are asking for some broader community input. We have narrowed down the final exhibit themes to ten possibilities. We only have room for five. Help us choose what goes into the exhibit. This is the final round of voting before the exhibit opens in October.
You only have until September 30. The final exhibit opens on October 22.
The rules are simple, you can vote once per day! The artifact that has the most votes will be the winner!


What it is all about…


Joseph Lee Heywood

Today will mark the 139 anniversary of the failed bank raid by the James-Younger Gang. The gang rode into Northfield intent on robbing the First National Bank of Northfield. It was just a bit before 2:00 p.m. when three of the raiders entered the bank. It only lasted seven minutes but those seven minutes have stayed with Northfield forever.

This week Northfield celebrates the Defeat of Jesse James Days (DJJD). The celebration is for the towns people that defeated the James-Younger Gang. People like, J.S. Allen, Henry Wheeler, Elias Stacy, A.R. Manning, Frank Wilcox, Alonzo Bunker and of course Joseph Lee Heywood. It was because of the bravery of these men the gang was defeated. Heywood paid the ultimate price, he refused to open the vault for the gang even after multiple beatings and was he was killed for protecting Northfield’s future. It is the extraordinary courage of these ordinary men that we honor this week.
DJJD starts Wednesday (September 9th) with a graveside memorial for Heywood in the Northfield Cemetery at noon. It is a great way to start off a fun-filled weekend as it really helps put things in perspective.