History of Rice County

The first time that the Minnesota territorial legislature assembled was in St. Paul during the winter of 1849. At the direction of Governor Ramsey, the Minnesota territory was divided into districts. By this time, white settlers were in what is now known as Rice County. The trading post near the present site of Faribault was an active hub of trapping and trade.

A portion of what is now known as Rice County was created by the territorial legislature on March 5, 1853. Subsequent changes and modifications occurred to the boundaries of Rice County as other counties were created and modified (such as Steele County's creation at a later date on February 20, 1855.)

Source: 1910 History of Rice and Steele Counties, Volume 1, Pages 54, 57.

Settlement Dates of Rice County Cities/Townships


1852 ­ Dundas
1853 ­ Bridgewater, Faribault & Webster
1854 ­ Cannon City, Northfield, Richland & Warsaw
1855 ­ Erin, Millersburg, Morristown, Shieldsville & Wheatland
1856 ­ Nerstrand & Walcott
1869 ­ Lonsdale
1880 ­ Veseli
Black and white porttrait of Henry Rice

Henry M. Rice


Henry Mower Rice was born in Vermont in 1817. He first came to Minnesota in 1839 when he visited Fort Snelling. He worked as a fur trader in his early years, later contributing to his success in helping the government to work with the Native American Indians in treaty negotiations. Henry M. Rice first came to what is now Rice County in 1844 with General Sumner with a pack of mules that carried their provisions.

On this trip, Rice met Alexander Faribault who was acting as a guide at the confluence of the Straight & Cannon Rivers. Due to his devotion to the territory, the state legislature voted Rice to be Minnesota's first U.S. Senator in 1857. He served one term and then ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1867. Henry M. Rice was prominent in Minnesota's history from the creation of the territory to statehood.

Sources: 1910 History of Rice and Steele Counties, Volume 1, Pages 95, 124, 241-242. RCHS' Research Files, Rice, Henry, 29 Nov. 1817 ­ 15 Jan. 1894.

Rice County Courthouse


The Courthouses of Rice County have had a rich and varied history. The early courts in Faribault were held in a one-story brick building, in the same block as the current courthouse. In 1874 the first official Courthouse was built, and contained all county offices and a large district court room. The site for the courthouse building was secured for $225.00. This was made possible by donation of three of the lots. The Courthouse was widely considered to be one of the most magnificent buildings in southern Minnesota, or the entire Northwest, if a local paper from the time is to be believed. In 1924 two fireproof wings were added to the building in order to increase vault space.

On February 25, 1931 a fire broke out on the west side of the attic in the building, and while firemen were attempting to put it out, the fire spread to cupola and engulfed the tower. Virtually everything, other than the two fireproof wings added in 1924, was destroyed. However, there were not any injuries to people in the building, and even the Courthouse cat, Tommy, made it out alive thanks to a brave custodian. The cause of the fire was never determined.

The fireproof vaults had preserved Faribault's most important records, but something needed to be done about the building. Almost immediately there was controversy over whether the old building should be rebuilt, or if another should be put in its current place. On August 13, 1931 John E. Lister, a Northfield farmer, served an injunction on the County Board of Commissioners to prevent them from moving and wrecking the old Courthouse. The County Commissioners took their case to the local Faribault court, which upheld the injunction. On January 24, 1932, the Rice County Commissioners took the injunction to the Minnesota State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling and granted the Board of Commissioners permission to put their plans for a new building into action. The new Courthouse was constructed of rubble stone, concrete, steel and Faribault marble, in Art Deco style. The structure covers a plot of ground 134 feet by 98 feet, approximately 5,300 square feet more than the old structure.

Source: RCHS Archive File, Rice County Courthouse; Faribault Daily News dated February 26, 1931.

First Courthouse Built in 1847

Black and white image of the two story courthouse around the year 1932

Courthouse in 1901

Black and white image of the Rice County Courthouse in 1901

Jesse James Gang - Bank Robbery of 1876


Northfield is famous for the Jesse James gang bank robbery of 1876, when Jesse Woodson James and seven others tried to rob the First National Bank.

Northfield citizens took matters into their own hands, ambushing the riders from the hardware store as well as the second floor of the hotel aborting the robbery plans. It is generally accepted that Frank James was responsible for the death of Joseph L. Heywood, bank cashier who refused to open the safe. Other persons in the bank included A.E. Bunker, cashier (shot in the shoulder) who escaped out the back door, and Frank J. Wilcox, assistant bookkeeper.

Nicholas Gustavson, a Swedish immigrant who couldn't understand English, when instructed to get out of the street, as well as gang members, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell were killed in the streets. On September 7, 1876, the James-Younger gang, whose members had robbed and intimidated citizens in raids on trains and banks for a decade, came to a bitter end in Northfield.

During the escape, the Younger brothers were captured. Charley Pitts (aka Sam Wells) was killed and the James brothers escaped back to Missouri. The Youngers were tried and served 25 years in the Minnesota Stillwater Prison.

Jesse James

Sepia tone image of Jesse James

First National Bank

Balck and white image of the two story First National Bank

Agriculture & Industry


Rice County also remains a blend of agriculture and industry. Faribault is still famous for its woolen products, as well as its garden and nursery industry. Northfield's main business is education, with a typical population of over 5,000 college students in a city of 19,000. Towns like Lonsdale are growing once again, this time as suburbs of Minneapolis.
Black and white image of the two story square Woolen Mill
Farmer Seed Nursery Postcard 1944