Northfield is a city in Dakota and Rice counties in the State of Minnesota. Most of the city is located in Rice County, with a small part extending into Dakota County. The population was 20,007 at the 2010 census.
Northfield was founded by John W. North in 1855. Northfield was founded by immigrants from New England known as "Yankees" as part of a New England colonization of what was then the far west. 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. The region has since moved away from dairy and beef operations. Today it produces substantial crops of corn, and soybeans, as well as producing hogs. The local cereal producer Malt-O-Meal is one of the few remnants of Northfield's historic wheat boom. The city's motto, "Cows, Colleges, and Contentment", reflects the influence of the dairy farms.
Since early in its history, Northfield has been a center of higher education. Carleton College (then Northfield College) was founded in 1866 on the northern edge of town by the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches whose Congregation consisted of the "Yankee" settlers who had largely founded the town. These were people descended from the English Puritans who settled New England in the 1600s. St. Olaf College was founded in 1874 on the western edge of town by Norwegian Lutheran immigrant pastors and farmers, who were eager to preserve their faith and culture by training teachers and preachers. These two institutions, which today enroll a total of more than 5,000 students, make Northfield a college town.
In the 1970s, construction was completed of Interstate Highway 35 (six miles west of Northfield) enabled the expansion of the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metro area south of the Minnesota River. Northfield is now growing and urbanizing. The downtown grain elevator accepted its last load of corn in 2000 and was torn down in 2002. Residential growth has been rapid since the mid-1990s. Northfield is becoming a suburb and bedroom community on the southern fringe of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. A new area hospital, which opened in 2003 in the northwest corner of town, is in Dakota County.
Many of the buildings in downtown Northfield are reasonably well-preserved examples of late 19th & early 20th century architecture. Because of early economic successes and the stability of two thriving colleges, the downtown is more extensive and better maintained than in similar Midwest communities. Today, commercial development continues on the southern edge of the city, where room for growth remains.