Northfield was founded by John W. North in 1855. Northfield was an early agricultural center with many wheat and corn farms. The town also supported lumber and flour mills powered by the Cannon River. As the “wheat frontier” moved west, dairy operations and diversified farms replaced the wheat-based agriculture.
On September 7, 1876, Northfield experienced one of its most important historical events: The James-Younger Gang attempted a robbery on the First National Bank of Northfield. Local citizens, recognizing what was happening, armed themselves and resisted the robbers and successfully thwarted the theft. The gang killed the bank’s cashier. Jesse and Frank James escaped west into the Dakotas, while the remaining gang members were killed or taken into custody. Considering the James gang as related to postwar insurgency, the raid has sometimes been called the last major event of the American Civil War. One of Northfield’s slogans is “Jesse James Slipped Here”, based on the raid’s failure.