When we headed to southern Minnesota to celebrate Oktoberfest in New Ulm, we discovered another reason people visit the area that time of year: the beautiful leaves. You may hear locals begrudgingly refer to these seasonal spectators as “leaf people.” But it’s no wonder that the especially beautiful views along the Minnesota River Valley draw crowds.
In fact, it was in our search for fall foliage that we discovered the historic Harkin Store. On the crisp autumn afternoon we visited, we were the store’s only visitors. Climbing the wooden steps top the sprawling porch felt like we were traveling back in time. Located outside of New Ulm on the banks of the Minnesota River, this site is a perfectly preserved time capsule. The Harkin Store’s wonderful volunteers gave us a comprehensive history of the family business while the smell of the smoldering original 1870s wood stove wafted through the air.
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A bit of history about the Harkin Store
During the mid-1800s, Scottish immigrants Alexander and Janet Harkin arrived along the banks of the Minnesota River. At the time, West Newton was a busting river boat community. In 1867 the Harkins opened a combined general store and post office that became a local gathering point. The store carried everything from clothing and household items to medicine and farming supplies.
Then in 1873 the railroad bypassed West Newton and grasshoppers descended on southern Minnesota. Traffic to the store slowed to a crawl when farmers with decimated crops couldn’t afford to do their shopping. The need for a post office was replaced by the introduction of free rural mail delivery. Eventually, the store closed in 1901.
However, much of the stock remained intact on the shelves. In 1938 the family’s granddaughter Janet H. Massopust reopened the store as a museum. In the early days she charged 25 cents for admission to explore the wares and other items collected over the years. In 1973, she sold the site to the Minnesota Historical Society, which spent four years restoring the store to its former glory.
Today the collection has been thinned to reflect what the Harkin Store may have stocked between 1870 and 1901. Many of the items on display are originals like the medicine bottles or mail organizers. Others like much of the clothing and linens have been reproduced and replaced.
If you visit the Harkin Store
Like many roadside attractions, the Harkin Store is open mainly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Even if you’re not a history buff, the Harkin Store’s story is impressive and makes for a fun afternoon. Discover this unique part of southern Minnesota’s history and step back in time with this gem of a historic site.
Hours: May, September and first three weekends in October: Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm / Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day: Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 5 pm / Open Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, 10 am – 5 pm
Admission: $6 adults / $5 seniors and college students / $4 children ages 5-17 / Free for children age 4 and under and Minnesota Historical Society members
Harkin General Store, 66250 County Road 21 in New Ulm, Minnesota