By Erin George
University and college campuses appear to be in an almost continual state of renewal and change. New students join the campus community, new programs enhance the curriculum, and new buildings rise on the campus landscape. And sometimes remnants of an earlier campus setting are rediscovered.
Northrop Field was dedicated November 4, 1899 as the first on-campus outdoor athletic facility at the University of Minnesota. The dedication event included a faculty procession, brief speeches by Minneapolis Mayor James Gray and University President Cyrus Northrop, and a football game pitting Minnesota against Northwestern University (final score: Northwestern 11 and Minnesota 5).
The November 5, 1899 Minneapolis Tribune reported that President Northrop “had little ambition for his name to be used commonly, but in so far as the choice of the name by the student body represented the love and respect of the students for himself, it was appreciated by him as a high honor.” The Tribune also noted that “not less than 3,000” people were in attendance for the dedication event and the “new athletic field…is in every aspect perfectly adapted to the requirements of an athletic area.”
Three years later, plans were announced to enlarge Northrop Field.
The Northrop Field grandstand and brick wall were prominent features of the campus.
Northrop Field was home to the University of Minnesota football team until 1924, when Memorial Stadium opened on the corner of Oak and University, the site now occupied by the McNarama Alumni Center and the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center. During their time playing at Northrop Field, Minnesota football teams won a national championship and reigned as their conference champion or co-champion eight times.
The football team moved their games to Memorial Stadium while Northrop Field continued to be used as their practice facility. Northrop Field also served as a venue for baseball games and tennis matches.
As the University prepared for a wave of students to hit in the late 1960s, the landscape on the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth campuses was changing. The changes included the razing of Northrop Field and its facilities in1959 to make way for the Architecture Building, now known as Rapson Hall.
Another piece of the Northrop Field story was shared with our staff by a University alumnus and ardent Gopher football fan who said that sections of the Northrop Field wall were still standing on campus. Using photographs in our collections and the Campus History Maps tool on our website, we identified possible locations for the remaining sections of the wall. And on a recent walk across campus, we rediscovered one pillar from the Northrop Field wall near The Armory.
As new and refurbished facilities were woven into the fabric of the Twin Cities campus, the remnants of Northrop Field may have been obscured by the changes around them, but those remnants continue holding a place for Northrop Field as a prominent piece of the University of Minnesota campus history.
—Erin George is the University Archives Research Services Archivist. To learn more about the University of Minnesota Archives, please visit www.lib.umn.edu/uarchives.