Northfield may be known now for cows, colleges, and contentment, but its history is first and foremost that of a milling town. John North began his development of Northfield with a wooden mill dam in 1855, and he followed with a sawmill and a gristmill just a year later. He sold the gristmill, located on the East side of the river near Bridge Square, to Charles Wheaton in 1859, and Wheaton in turn sold it to Jesse Ames in 1865.

There are 12 Northfields in the United States, somewhere between two and five Red Wings (depending on how finicky you are about spelling and adjectives), three Dennisons, four Dundases, four Hazelwoods, at least 13 Waterfords, 15 Stantons, and a whopping 23 Randolphs. But there’s only one Cannon Falls in the world, at least as far as the internet seems to know.

Living in Northfield with two small boys, questions about the Cannon River are inescapable.  “Why is it called the Cannon River?” asks my 6-year-old, probably hoping that the answer has something to do with gunpowder and large projectiles.

Small towns and rural communities abound in Minnesota.  Each one has its own unique story, of settlement and growth and change, and how they have come to make Minnesota what it is today.  Rice County is full of stories of adventure and beginnings, populated by hardy, colorful characters—your ancestors, if your family hails from these parts.

We people are funny creatures.  We like to order our world, from A to Z, from soup to nuts, from small to large and back again.   Everything has a name, a meaning, and a theme.

Every place tells a story because that is who we are. We explore our world every day, we name, we create, we re-create, we forge ahead. We add to the stories of the millions of people who have gone before us while we try to make sense of what they have left behind.

A town square by definition is a space in the center of a town set aside for community events.  When is a square (a town square) not a square (the shape)?  When a river runs by it, such as Bridge Square.  Squares, the kind you find in a town, generally are rectangular in shape but, when Northfield’s founder John Wesley North, met with the surveyor to plot out the town, they considered the placement of the two existing mills along the Cannon River.  They

Small towns are special. They appear in personal blogs, trip advice sites, and everything related to road trips. They endear themselves to historical buffs and qualify for lists for any number of reasons—funny names, local industries, notable residents or festivals—you name it. Minnesota is full of such special places.

The hall is impressive: two-stories high with a cast-steel ceiling, semicircular, and everywhere you look is a marble column lining the perimeter. This chamber is known as the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol and this is where you will find two of your own.

Life on the American frontier required a keen sense of adventure and vision. Travel was difficult, living was a challenge, adjusting to a town-in-the-making was, well, an adjustment, and being prepared for the unexpected was a luxury most could not afford. Even so, the appeal to many was strong and come they did. John Wesley North was one of those drawn to the open spaces and natural beauty of Minnesota.

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