Shuttered from progress, Harkin Store celebrates its history

WEST?NEWTON – The heritage of the settlement of West Newton was celebrated Sunday at the Harkin Store, on County Road 21, halfway between New Ulm and Fort Ridgely State Park.

In the mid and late 1800s, West Newton was booming. It had a hotel, brewery, sawmill, dance hall and general store/post office (Harkin Store) when steamboats were common on the nearby Minnesota River. Boats stopped just down the hill from the store.

Immigrating to the area and starting farming in 1867, Alexander Harkin opened the general store and post office. A few years later, railroads began operating with a stop in New Ulm but not in West Newton. The store remained open for decades, serving area farmers.

West Newton continued to be vital until the turn of the century when free rural mail delivery led to the closure of the store, post office and other businesses. Much of the store’s merchandise remained there, forgotten by progress.

The store remained vacant for almost four decades.

The building re-opened in 1938 as a museum with lots of original merchandise on the shelves including oil lamps, buckets, barrels, spices, jars, dishes, nails, screws and other tools, tonics and medicine.

A gift shop next to the store now sells candy, cards, and period gifts.

Sunday’s event drew Tom Donahue of Mound, who has relatives that lived in the area.

“I’ve got to take a break from the (Twin Cities metro area) rat race once in a while, so I come down here,” Donahue said.

Black and white photographs and typewritten accounts of West Newton families were placed on tables on the store porch Sunday.

The store remains open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Mondays through August. After Labor Day weekend, the store will be open on weekends until mid October.

Old time music will be featured outside the store, 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug 11. For more information, visit

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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