From the very beginning, the official records of First National Bank of Northfield were filled with the names of men who were building the new community. Frederick Goodsell, the bank’s first president, was the son of one of the founders of Carleton College. John F. Ames and Edward T. Archibald were responsible for Cannon River milling companies in Northfield and Dundas. John C. Nutting and J. A. Scriver were connected to buildings bearing their family names. Local businessmen Harold Thoreson and George M. Phillips, and Faribault banker Hudson Wilson were the other stockholders.
A printed brochure dated January 1, 1873, announced the bank’s opening in these words: This bank, having been organized under the National Banking Act, as successors to the Bank of Northfield, commences this day, the transaction of a general banking business; and promises to serve its depositors and correspondents in the most prompt and accommodating manner. Particular attention will be given to collections and remittances will be made promptly at the lowest rates.
During the first 21 years of its existence, the bank was headquartered in the Scriver Building, the site now occupied by the Northfield Historical Society Museum. It was there that the infamous bank raid of 1876 occurred. In 1893, the bank moved to the Nutting Building at the corner of Fourth and Division Streets. Built in 1889 by J. C. Nutting and G. M. Phillips, the three story brick and stone structure originally housed a pharmacy and a jewelry store.
According to newspaper reports, many of the features of the new bank were state-of-the-art: When completed, its equipment will excel that of some pretentious city banks, and will be a credit to our community as well as to the institution itself.
The vault is, of course, wholly fire proof, having walls of brick and cement, two feet thick throughout, with the usual air space of four inches. The outer door hangs on a powerful crane hinge with ball bearings, and is forced into its place by a worm gear double pressure bar so as to make it absolutely air tight when closed.
The doors are as handsome in detail as they are massive in proportion and it is well worth a visit to the bank to see them.
A major renovation project, completed in 1993, expanded the size of the main bank, and encompassed five buildings. The Nutting Addition on Fourth Street had been added to the east side of the building in 1903. In 1976, the bank expanded into the building that had been occupied by a retail clothing store. Interior stonework from that building is featured in the current bank lobby. The Second Mergen Building was acquired in 1990. The south half of the building had been constructed in 1883, and the north section in 1886.
The history of First National Bank of Northfield is closely interwoven with the development of this community. The preservation of the corner of Fourth and Division Streets was undertaken in the spirit of maintaining that relationship.
The Attempted Robbery
On Thursday, September 7, 1876, eight notorious outlaws, including Jesse James and his brother Frank, and the Younger brothers, Cole, James and Robert, approached Northfield with the intention of raiding the bank. With guns drawn, the robbers insisted that cashier Joseph Lee Heywood open the safe. He refused, indicating that there was a time lock and it could not be opened.
The citizens of Northfield, led by merchants J. S. Allen and A. R. Manning, and medical student H. M. Wheeler, engaged the rest of the gang in a gun battle on the street. As it became apparent that the robbery attempt was failing, the three men in the bank fled, but not before one of them fired a fatal shot into Heywood’s head.
When the battle had ended, three lay dead – robbers Clel Miller and William Stiles, and Joseph Lee Heywood. Four days later Nicholas Gustafson, an innocent bystander, died of a gunshot wound.