Anyone with an interest in Northfield history should be thankful for Mrs. Emily Bierman. Emily Augusta (Sargent) Bierman, 1869 — 1939, was the queen of Northfield history in the 1920s and 30s. She took it upon herself to collect items — primarily newspaper clippings, but also programs, booklets, and some original photographs — that told the tales of the town. And with those items, she assembled nine scrapbooks.

How big of a deal were these scrapbooks? They earned a mention in her obituary. From the Northfield Independent of Aug. 24, 1939:

Mrs. Bierman had many and varied interests, but she was perhaps best known in the community for her work on local history. Assiduously collecting newspaper clippings, printed programs, letters, and other materials bearing on the life and activities of the Northfield territory, she accumulated a large collection of valuable material now deposited in the form of scrapbooks in the Northfield public library and in the archives of the local DAR.

Today, the nine scrapbooks all live at the Northfield Public Library, locked safely away due to their age and value. Photocopies of the book are available to view in the library’s Pye Room, but the 1,500+ pages are a lot to wade through if you’re looking for something specific — or even if you’re not.

I am so pleased to announce that all nine scrapbooks have been scanned and are available to view online 24/7 through the Northfield History Collaborative — even better, they are full-text searchable. The first volume has now been available online for more than a year; the remainder were processed this summer thanks to a new Legacy Grant from the state of Minnesota.

Obviously, this collection will be extremely useful for the researcher of Northfield history. Northfield Historical Society Director Hayes Scriven found that in the year the first scrapbook was online, a significant number of the research requests he received were sparked by items that people found by Googling their subject and ending up inside the scrapbook. Pages from one of the scrapbooks are part of the new U.S.-Dakota War exhibit at NHS. Short of all old Northfield papers being digitized, this may be the next best thing for the internet history detective.

Newspaper clippings probably make up 85 percent of the content — unfortunately, Mrs. Bierman didn’t identify the publications or dates she clipped from. A smattering of booklets and programs add some more local color.

Then there are the original photographs.

There are few things more rewarding after the monotony of scanning page after page than the
amazement on the faces of Hayes Scriven and Chip DeMann when they see some of the original photographs pasted to the pages. Back in the first scrapbook on Early Northfield History, there were the cartes-de-visite of Joseph Lee Heywood, his wife, and his little daughter. In one of the newer volumes, it’s the original photograph of Henry Wheeler, which the two say is the closest they’ve ever seen to Wheeler’s age at the time of the 1876 bank raid.

Special thanks to the Northfield Public Library, for preserving these books and allowing the Collaborative to scan them; to the late Mrs. Bierman, for her faithful work and foresight in compiling them; and to the NHS Junior Curators, who cut tissue paper to line the 1,500+ pages.

Instead of going on and on about how fantastic they are, I will leave you with links to the nine scrapbooks and their index. Look for individual blog posts about each scrapbook in the days and weeks to come.

Learn more about how to use our site in this blog post.