The Alexander Harkin Store
The Harkin Store is a twenty mile drive from our farm - a perfect destination for a Shunpiker's picnic. Located in the village of West Newton, West Newton was a thriving Minnesota River town built on steamboat travel. At the heart of the town was Alexander Harkin's General Merchandise Store, where trade and talk flourished as goods, news, and ideas changed hands. Farm families traded butter and eggs for buttons and thread. Groceries, hardware, and dry goods supplied the town. Alexander Harkin, who also ran a wheat shipping business, was such a community leader that the nearby St. Peter Tribune on August 17, 1870, called the village Harkinville.
Although letters and newspapers filled pigeon holes in the store's post office bringing news more than a month old, the town was not isolated from outside events.
When the railroad was completed nearby in 1873, river commerce began to dwindle, and with it West Newton. Grasshoppers boomed that year, devastating area agriculture for several years to come. Farmers could neither buy goods nor pay debts. The store that posted $3,000 in sales in 1870 would see that number drop to $351 by 1890. When rural free delivery replaced its tiny post office in 1901, the store closed.
The Harkin's granddaughter, Janet H. Massopust, reopened the store as a museum in 1938 with much of the original stock still on the shelves. Today, restored to its 1870 appearance, the store offers visitors a glimpse of a town and time that have faded, like a down stream steamboat on a foggy day.
Yet once you get to the store, you will notice the smells of cinnamon, clove, camphor, and lemon extract. Original patent medicine bottles, some still with their original contents, fill half the shelves in the store.