The railroad arrived in Northfield more than 150 years ago. The Northfield Historical Society and the colleges have helped us gather a visual history of the city’s many depots.
Northfield’s 1st depot (Milwaukee), 1865
A small shed was built south of 3rd Street West when passenger service began to St. Paul. It is estimated to have been roughly 16 feet by 16 feet and moved in 1870.
Northfield’s 2nd depot (Milwaukee), 1868
A wooden frame building (for both passenger and freight) was built next to the new Milwaukee elevator (some speculate that it was later moved and was part of the crumbling freight depot that used to be on the Q-Block).
Northfield’s 3rd depot (Chicago Great Western), 1883
The 1883 depot was on the north side of 3rd Street and east of the tracks (on left). Brick was a preferred material over wood due to sparks produced by the trains. At the end of the street on the right, the photo shows the Farmer’s Home Hotel, now Basil’s Pizza. By 1910, there were 19 businesses on this street view looking east down 3rd Street between the railroad tracks and Water Street.
By 1930, the Great Western depot was used as freight depot. The depot was demolished in 1975.
Northfield’s 4th depot (Milwaukee), 1888
The third Milwaukee depot (Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul), a brick faced building, was built south of 3rd Street and east of tracks. With swooping hip roof and graceful flared, overhanging eaves held up by decorative timber brackets, Northfield’s 1888 depot offers a classic, if modest, example of what might be termed “Richardsonian Depot Vernacular.” The large overhang provides shelter for passengers when sitting or standing outside.
For many years, Northfield had three passenger depots: our 1888 Milwaukee depot, the Chicago Great Western, and the Dan Patch depot. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul depot is the only one still standing in Northfield.
The original plan of the 1888-1889 depot included two waiting rooms (one for men and one for women), a baggage room, a central fireplace, and an office. This office was located in the bay window so that the controller could see the trains coming from both directions. Indoor restrooms were added in 1900. When the depot was remodeled in 1945, the dividing wall between the waiting rooms was removed.
Note the milk cans at the station. Dairies in southern Minnesota used the rail to ship milk to the Twin Cities. They contested an increase in shipping fees by the railroad which resulted in a dispute that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1890.
The founders of both St. Olaf College and Carleton College indicated that their decision to locate in Northfield was largely due to the presence of rail service and the access it provided for their students.
A young woman, Mildred Ware, wrapped in stars and stripes and riding a massive elephant, greets the 300-pound Republican. According to the Minneapolis Journal, the prodigious president said, “I am pleased to see this beautiful emblem of party victory. I should like to mount the animal myself, but I am afraid there isn’t time to rig a derrick to get me on there.”
Over time, a vibrant Northfield commercial district grew up around the passenger depots, freight houses, grain elevators, coaling yards, and other buildings associated with the rail lines. People often congregated around the depots to meet trains, witness mail and parcel deliveries, and converse with fellow townsfolk.
A crowd waited at the depot to welcome back the Carleton football team in fall 1916, mostly likely after defeating Hamline–their traditional football rivalry at this time. The Carleton team went on to win the state championship with an undefeated season.
This plan shows the original 1888 depot with a planned baggage house connected by a pavilion. The baggage house was built, but no longer exists. The pavilion was never built. The design of the additions, however, will guide our planned restoration and build-out.
The first four individuals in the back row are Carl Vestling (son), Dr. Vestling, Mrs. Vestling, and Louise Vestling (daughter). A note on the picture reads, “Picture taken at the station before the Vestlings left when he went to Olivet, Michigan to become President of Olivet College.”
In 1980, the Northfield City Council designated the 1888 depot a Northfield Heritage Preservation Site.
Back in 1982 and 1983, train rides between Northfield (from our depot) and Dundas were offered during the Defeat of Jesse James Days. There was also a special post office car on the train in Northfield, which caught the mail bag alongside the railroad tracks and took the mail to Dundas. (Head to Wikipedia for more history on that.)
Northfield’s 5th depot (Dan Patch), 1910
The planned “interurban” rail (Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, and Dubuque Electric Traction Company) targeted travelers and produce shipping in southern Minnesota. The rail reached Northfield in 1910, but was never extended south. It was later reorganized as the Minneapolis, Northfield, and Southern.