West Newton in 1870 was a thriving town, serving riverboat travel on the Minnesota River. It consisted of a hotel, a livery stable, a brewery, a sawmill, a wagon works, two blacksmith shops, three saloons, and many dwellings that made the town an important shipping center.
In the heart of West Newton sat the Harkin Store, a combination general store and post office operated by Alexander and Janet Harkin. Their store was the social center of the community, where farmers and townsfolk gathered to buy groceries, barter for supplies, and exchange the news of the day.
The Harkins, both natives of Scotland, had settled in the area in 1856. Alexander, a successful farmer who also ran a grain shipping business, became such a respected community leader in West Newton that a local newspaper dubbed the town "Harkinville".
As long as the town prospered, so did the Harkin Store. But in 1873 the railroad bypassed West Newton in favor of New Ulm, while river traffic dwindled. Deprived of both river and rail transportation, West Newton saw its role as a commercial center come to an end.
Further misfortune came in the 1870s when grasshoppers devastated the area's crops. Farmers could no longer buy goods or pay their debts. By 1890 most of the Harkin customers had moved away and their business had dropped to a trickle. When rural free delivery replaced the small post office in 1901, the store closed.
With much of its original stock still on the shelves, the Harkin Store reopened in 1938 as a museum operated by their granddaughter. Today, restored to is 1870 appearance by the Minnesota Historical Society, the Harkin Store offers a glimpse of a time when river towns prospered.
seal of The Minnesota Historical Society
Erected by the Minnesota Historical Society.