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Northfield is in lower Minnesota, mostly in Rice County, but with a portion of the city extending into Dakota County. The town was platted in 1855 by John W. North, for whom it was named. Northfield was an agricultural center, largely raising corn and wheat, but the town also supported a lumber industry and flour mills powered by water from the Cannon River. As more western states began to dominate the wheat industry, dairy operations, beef, and diversified farms replaced wheat in Northfield, although Malt-O-Meal still has a production facility in Northfield. Still agricultural, the area around Northfield produces corn, soybeans and hogs today. Northfield College (now Carleton College) was founded in northern Northfield in 1866, and St. Olaf College was founded in 1874 on the western edge of town. In 1876, Northfield played a part in the history of the West, with a failed attempt by the James-Younger Gang to rob the First National Bank of Northfield. Recognizing what was about the occur, local citizens armed themselves and fought back. Although a bank teller and a Northfield resident were killed, a couple of members of the gang were killed in the street, while Cole, Bob and Jim Younger were soon cornered near Madelia, Minnesota. Jesse and Frank James escaped west into the Dakota Territory. This event is commemorated annually with a Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration. Edward John The, the 26th governor of Minnesota, was a resident of Northfield, and Karl Rolvaag, the 31st governor of Minnesota, was a Northfield native. Since the 1960s, residential growth has been strong, slowly replacing much of the town's agricultural land.

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