In the 1870s, the Harkin Store had a big role to fill. The rural general store in the Minnesota River Valley was both the economic and social center of the growing community of West Newton. Steamboat trade made the town's future seem bright, but then - as with so many other rural towns - the railroad passed it by.
The store's original owners, Alexander and Janet Harkin, who were born in Scotland, arrived in the Minnesota Territory in 1856 to farm. After several difficult years, the Harkins and their farm began to prosper and Alexander was appointed or elected to a variety of positions including coroner, school board treasurer, justice of the peace and postmaster. In 1867, he opened a combination general store and post office. Their fortunes changed soon after, however, when in 1873 the railroad bypassed the community and locusts descended on southern Minnesota - and stayed for four years. West Newton and the Harkin Store declined for the next few decades. The store eventually closed in 1901 as river and road traffic dwindled and the post office was replaced by free rural delivery. Its doors were locked and the store and its merchandise remained untouched until the site reopened as a museum in 1938.
Today owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, the site is managed by the Nicollet County Historical Society. Special programs are offered during the summer months, including a bluegrass music concert; June Dairy Day; an Independence Day celebration with music, speeches, games and a cannon salute; and the annual West Newton Day, which features craft demonstrations, music and lemonade.
The Harkin Store is located on County Highway 21, eight miles northwest of New Ulm. Hours June through August are Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. In May and September through mid-October, hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and free for children 12 and under. For more information, call 507-354-8666 or 507-934-2160.