Telling people I’m from Northfield, MN usually elicits one of three responses. They haven’t heard of it, they know it as “that college town”, or, my personal favorite, a chuckle, followed by something along the lines of “Ah, Northfield. Know anyone who’s tried heroin?” (Thank the news for that one. Don’t believe what they say, we’re not all on opiods down here.)
Although college town is an accurate label, it doesn’t come nearly close to properly representing all the things my hometown has to offer. If you’ve got some time to kill, or maybe just an urge to explore, let me show you around The City of Cows, Colleges, and Contentment.
When first driving into Northfield, you notice a lingering smell. You’re wondering why it’s familiar when it hits you; Coco Roos. If you’re lucky, though, it’ll be the rich chocolate scent of the company’s namesake — Malt O’ Meal. Don’t let the modern factory fool you, because the company actually holds its own in terms of history. It started from the original town gristmill, built by the founder of Northfield himself, John North. It isn’t exactly a destination, but Malt O’ Meal isn’t something you come to Northfield without noticing. If your route of choice doesn’t pass you by it, don’t worry. Your nose won’t let you miss a thing.
Continuing on, words like ‘idyllic’ may cross your mind. Enter the James-Younger gang. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Get your guns, boys, they’re robbing the bank”, then you already know a piece of Northfield history. In 1876, eight men rode into town, attempting robbery of the First National Bank. Between the bravery of citizens and employees, the gang was defeated and the money went untouched. The story is the town pride and joy, and is celebrated once a year on the weekend after Labor Day. The town transforms into a buzzing hub of events and people, and highlights include the arts fair, the carnival, and, of course, the raid re-enactmnents, complete with guns and horses. It all wraps up with a parade on Sunday, and then the tourists clear out. I’d definitely recommend visiting during Defeat of Jesse James Days at least once, but to do as the townies do, come down on a summer morning and let’s take it from there.
During the warm season, Bridge Square becomes home to the open-air Riverwalk Market. It boasts a wide selection of items, stretching from locally-grown organic produce to regional fine crafts. It’s a town staple, and not something to miss if you’re in the area on a Saturday. Afterwords, I’d suggest a stroll over to Goodbye Blue Monday Coffeehouse. Aside from the great people watching, Blue Monday is everybody’s first choice for a dose of piping hot fair-trade organic coffee.
Take it to-go, and then head over the hill to the Carleton campus, where you’ll find the Cowling Arboretum. It spans a whopping 800 acres of pure, unadulterated nature. The arb is possibly one of the quietest places you’ll experience for miles in each direction. It’s worth an hour or two of your time to go explore, and if the mood takes you, there’s even a couple banks along the river fit for some spontaneous swimming.
Wrap up your trip by filling up at Hogan Brothers, well known by townies and visitors alike as being the best hoagie shop around. It’s never empty, but even during the slower hours be prepared to sit down and wait for your sandwich. Sit down and enjoy the atmosphere because, much like the rest of Northfield, no one’s in a hurry.
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