NOW BILLED AS “A Classic American River Town” by the local tourism office, Northfield fits that description. This southern Minnesota community, where the James-Younger gang was defeated in 1876, hugs the Cannon River. The historic downtown is filled with mostly home-grown shops and eateries. And, as cliché as it sounds, Northfield is quaint and charming.
I love Northfield. If the cost of houses in 1984 had not been significantly higher than in neighboring Faribault, Randy and I would be living there. Instead, Randy has commuted from Faribault to Northfield to work as an automotive machinist for too many decades. But such is life and we’re happy to call Faribault home.
But back to Northfield. There was a time when this city actively tagged its community with the phrase “Cows, Colleges & Contentment.” That slogan still graces some signage. I observed a cow-themed sign encouraging masking early in the pandemic. “Protect the herd” focused the message from the City of Northfield. I thought that incredibly powerful and catchy. You know, we’re all in this together type attitude. Care about one another.
I understand how “contentment” fits this community. And colleges, too, as Northfield is home to St. Olaf and Carleton colleges.
But I didn’t quite get the “cows” part until I found an explanation on the Visit Northfield website. In summary, in the late 1890s, a local farmer/newspaper editor suggested Northfield could attract businesses by focusing on breeding of Holstein cows. That eventually happened with 5,532 Holstein dairy cattle and 261 breeders in the area by 1916, a Northfield Holstein Club and the moniker, “Holstein Capital of America,” attached to Northfield. The aforementioned colleges also established Holstein herds. I encourage you to read the full story about the Northfield cows by clicking here.
On a recent walk through downtown Northfield, I didn’t see any Holsteins. But I happened upon a blue cow painted on an orange door. The cow graphic marks Downtown Bicycles, 321 Division Street. Seeing that cow brought to mind the “Cows, Colleges & Contentment” theme, which led me to uncover the story behind the bovines of Northfield.
© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling