Harkin Store celebrates West Newton Day

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Harkin Store Site Manager Ruth Grewe describes some of the wares to visitors Aug. 5. From Grewe’s left are Kevin and Neng Curtis and their son Grayson, all of St. Paul. On Aug. 12, visitors can learn about 1870s leisure hobbies of men and women at the store. Refreshments will be served.

WEST NEWTON TOWNSHIP, NICOLLET COUNTY — Visitors learned about the history of the Harkin Store and the village of West Newton Aug. 5.

Site Manager Ruth Grewe told the story of Scottish immigrants Alexander and Janet Harkin who came to the Minnesota Territory to farm in 1856. After a few difficult years, their sheep farm on a hillside near where the store is now, prospered and Alexander was appointed or elected to a number of positions in West Newton.

Harkin was the coroner, school board treasurer, justice of the peace and postmaster. In 1867, he opened a general store and post office in the same building. A grain warehouse was built near the store, closer to the river, for easier loading to river boats.

“Riverboats were 100 feet long but needed just three feet of water to operate,” Grewe said. “They would bring supplies from St. Paul to West Newton, load up with grain and go back to St. Paul.”

Fortunes changed in 1973 when the railroad bypassed West Newton and locusts descended on southern Minnesota — and stayed for four years. West Newton and the Harkin Store declined over the next few decades.

Grewe said Harkin allowed people to make use of charge accounts at the store. At one time, charge accounts totalled $5,000.

The store closed in 1901 as river and road traffic declined. In addition, the post office was replaced by free rural mail delivery. Forty percent of store merchandise remained in the store that re-opened as a museum in 1938.

The Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) took over Harkin Store operations in 1977. It is now managed by the Nicollet County Historical Society.

The store, located at 66250 County Road 21, nine miles northwest of New Ulm, hosts programs every Sunday from the first weekend in May to the third weekend in October.

Programs this year wind up with Lonesome Ron’s Round-up, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. King of the valley yodelers, Ron Affolter of Mankato will lead a musical jam with a number of groups that will perform folk, country and bluegrass music. Anyone else who wants to play is invited to do so, too.

In addition, Lonesome Ron will share cowboy ballads, yodel and tell stories through song, 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 2 at the Harkin Store.

Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors (65 and older) and college students with ID; $4 for active military and veterans with ID and children age 5-17. Children under age four and MHS members are free.

For more information, visit mnhs.org/harkinstore or call 507-354-8666 or 1-844-MNSTORY.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.