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Restoring the Connection

A photo of the 1888 Northfield depot taken in 1896. Used with permission of the Carleton College Archives.Track crews of the Minnesota Central, formerly Minnesota & Cedar Valley Railroad, reached Northfield on September 6, 1865. Passenger service to St. Paul began on October 18. The first wooden depot was built in 1868 just south of 3rd Street West. A replacement and an additional depot were built between 1870 and 1888 serving different railroads. In late October 1888, workers for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad laid the cornerstone for a new red brick building at its current location, the south side of 3rd Street east of the tracks. Completed in January 1889, that depot still stands.

The original layout of the 1888-1889 depot provided separate waiting rooms for men and women, as seen on the plans above. Indoor restrooms were added in 1900; when the depot was remodeled in 1945, the dividing wall between the waiting rooms was removed.

Interior plan of the Northfield Depot

Any thought of Northfield during this seventy-fifth anniversary year must carry with it an appreciation of the railroads, which have literally put the city on the map.
- Northfield News, May 2, 1930.

The railroad and Northfield’s depot played a crucial role in the development of the city. Farmers and millers (including Jesse Ames & Sons) relied on trains to transport wheat, flour, and dairy products to market. Both Carleton College (founded in 1866) and St. Olaf College (founded in 1874) depended on passenger rail service; for generations of students who arrived by train, the Northfield depot became a gateway to the future.

Until the 1950s, the Northfield depot remained the city’s primary link to “the great world outside.” Increasingly limited passenger service was suspended entirely by 1969, and the depot fell into disuse. In June 1980, the city council designated the depot a Northfield Heritage Preservation Site. Efforts to rescue and restore it have begun again.

To learn more about the history of the depot and the railroads that served Northfield, visit the following: