Founded by the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches as Northfield College, in Northfield, MN, Carleton College has a truly interesting story behind its name. In 1870, the prosperous manufacturer of brassware William Carleton met the Reverend James W. Strong, the first president of the school called Northfield College. Shortly afterward, President Strong miraculously survived a horrific accident in which his carriage was struck by a train. Moved by Strong’s survival, Carleton donated $50,000 to the fledgling Northfield College. Out of gratitude, Northfield College’s board of trustees renamed the college Carleton College.
Due in part to Carleton’s donation, Carleton College became a highly-touted liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,000 students. To this day, the story behind Carleton College’s name is told to incoming freshman, usually by President Oden.
In 1867, Charles Goodsell and Charles Augustus Wheaton donated two ten-acre properties to erect Carleton College’s campus. The Cowling Arboretum was created sixty years later and is now the environmental heart of Carelton’s campus. It encompasses 880 acres of forest, field, and floodplain, and the trails go on for miles and miles. The arboretum was conceptualized by the artist Christopher Williams.
It’s often said that the library serves as Carleton’s de facto student center, and only part of that is because Carleton students like to study. The truth is that the library is a great spot to hang out. The boisterous top floor, filled with collaborative work areas and comfortable couches, is the place to see and be seen, with descending floors becoming less and less social. In the evenings, people wander from table to table to chat, which prevents the completion of homework but provides a stellar outlet for gossip.
Carleton’s student center isn’t flashy, but it is a major hub for students. The mailboxes, snack bar, bookstore, newspaper, and radio station are all based here, as are some recreational options like pool, ping-pong, and outdated video games. Day or night, you’ll see students shooting the breeze, eating unhealthy fried food, petitioning for certain causes or student organizations, filming movies, playing piano, and on Fridays, buying flowers for friends.
Carleton owns 800 acres of prairie adjacent to the campus and takes very good care of every one of them. There are jogging and biking trails, restored prairie plants, swimming holes, fire pits...really everything you’d need to enjoy the great outdoors. In the warmer months, there’s nothing quite so sublime as a bonfire deep in the Arb. Surrounded by friends and towering trees, one feels nothing so much as a profound communion with nature. The arboretum is arguably Carleton’s finest resource – it’s used by everybody, from biology classes to itinerant student fishermen – and one of the best spots for hanging out.
Carleton’s main quadrangle is called The Bald Spot. Unlike other colleges, this isn’t a fenced-off, untouched patch of grass. In the winter, the college floods the whole thing with water, creating two excellent rinks for skating and broomball. Come spring, the Bald Spot is the site for tossing a Frisbee, skimming over homework, and half-hearted attempts at tanning.
The Watson Japanese Garden is regarded as one of the best gardens of its kind in America. It’s a beautiful showpiece, expertly maintained by doting gardeners and respected by all who see it. It’s really that awesome. The location – tucked behind Watson Hall in a quiet corner of campus – keeps the crowds away, and ensures that the garden remains a place of tranquility and peace. The Watson Japanese Garden has a reputation as a kind of stoner’s haven, which is only partially justified and does a disservice to what is probably Carleton’s most impressive piece of campus art.
Northfield’s motto is displayed on the welcome signs from the Minnesota highways: "Cows, Colleges, and Contentment." Indeed, one could extrapolate a lot from this motto. For one, there are colleges here! But it also gives a good indication of the kind of life Northfield citizens live. It’s an extremely quiet town, with a quaint main street and a few scattered stores and restaurants. And, like the rest of Minnesota, Northfield is pretty cold in the winter.
Students appreciate Northfield’s proximity to Minneapolis, a city Carleton students almost uniformly enjoy and often frequent on weekends or during the summers when they offer a number of internship opportunities.
Goodbye Blue Mondays is the prototypical college town coffee shop, filled with kooky art and a good mix of students, professors, and people from town. Blue Mondays really is the place to be off-campus, and during the late afternoon and evening it can be a tough task to find a seat.
None of the three local bars that Carleton students visit are legitimately great, but each has its positives. The Rueb ‘N Stein is basically a redneck bar: a lot of wood paneling, pool tables, an interesting clientele, as well as a happy hour with free buffalo wings. Until the recent statewide ban, the Rueb was one of the last places in town to allow smoking indoors. The Contented Cow is the most upscale of the town bars, and is meant to be a British-style pub. They serve good, expensive beer, so it’s the sort of place you go to chat with friends or have a beer with a professor. The Tavern is notable mostly for its half-price wine night, which brings basically every senior to the bar and features countless messy re-tellings of stories from back in the day.
Northfield’s park is a place for innocent escape. On any given spring day, there are students tossing Frisbees, swinging on the swing set, sliding down slides, or perhaps just picnicking on the grass. Sure, Carleton has a lot of green space, but it’s nice to be a part of the greater community sometimes.
The Sayles-Hill dances are themed dance parties (80s Night, Bar Mitzvah, or Hip Hop)that take place in the Great Space in the Sayles-Hill Campus Center on Saturday nights. At the Sayles dances, an unofficial tradition takes place around midnight, when the DJ plays “Like A Prayer” by pop diva Madonna. When it comes on, it's "traditional" to remove your shirt (guys half-naked, girls in bras) and dance shirtless (usually accompanied by an off-key performance of the song) for the duration of the song. This tradition isn’t exactly Carleton-specific, as it seems many liberal arts schools over the years have adopted it. Nobody it quite sure where it originated.
Although not officially condoned by the administration, many either chuckle or look the other way when Carleton students streak during the Opening Convocation, athletic events, or the Halloween Concert. One particularly funny streaking incident was when a handful of Carleton men and one Carleton woman slowly streaked during a softball game between Carleton College and the College of St. Catherine’s, an all-women’s Catholic school. There were definitely some shocked faces among the players of St. Cat’s. This all happens, it seems, despite Carleton's negative temperatures and generally frigid climate.
A bust of Frederick Schiller often appears, as if from nowhere, at large campus gatherings and events. In 2006, Carleton students created an online scavenger hunt, consisting of Carleton-themed riddles, leading participants to Schiller's hidden location. In Schiller tradition, the bust was then stolen from the winner of the scavenger hunt. In 2006, the holders of the bust arranged for Schiller to graduate along with the other students in the graduating class. His name was called during commencement, and the bust was displayed.
Rotblatt is a spring softball game in honor of Marvin Rotblatt, one of the worst pitchers in MLB history. A bunch of people drink a lot and hang out all day long, eventually playing some softball (sort of). The number of innings played coincides with the Carleton’s anniversary year. That’s a whole lotta innings. Sports Illustrated recently named the event the "Longest Intramural Event" in college history.
Walter Alvarez (1962) is a geologist who proposed the theory that an asteroid impact caused the dinosaurs' extinction.
Pierce Butler (1887) served as a Supreme Court justice from 1923 to 1939.
Barrie M. Osborne (1966) is a movie producer who worked on the Lord of the Rings movies, among others.
Don Rawitsch (1971) created the Oregon Trail video game while he was a senior at Carleton.
Tapes n’ Tapes (2003) is an indie rock band that got together at Carleton.
Laura Veirs (1997) is a singer/songwriter who has performed with artists like Sufjan Stevens.
Carleton is a Division III school with 19 varsity teams, 23 club teams, and a host of intramural options. Cross-country, swimming, and diving are generally the best regarded athletic programs at Carleton, and these teams are regularly some of the best in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. In 2006, the men’s basketball team tied for first place in the MIA Conference, and in 2005, women’s volleyball was the conference title runner-up.
Club sports, as at other liberal arts schools, are often as popular (if not more so) for students and fans as the varsity sports. Rugby and ultimate Frisbee both field big teams and big turnouts for their games. The ultimate Frisbee team has been a national contender for the title on consecutive occasions.
There are two popular sports at Carleton: Frisbee and basketball. However, Frisbee dominates every sport in its path. Most students at Carleton College have competed in an intramural Frisbee match at some point during their Carleton educations. Moreover, the Carleton Ultimate Team (men’s team), Gods of Plastic (men’s team), and Syzygy (women’s team) are always competitive at the National Championships. At a distant second, basketball is popular sport at Carleton College. At the height of basketball season, many Carleton students paint their chests, bringing D’s and fences to cheer on their defense, and they often chant throughout the entire game.
The Cave is the oldest student-run pub in the country, founded in 1927. It continues to host musical acts regularly (from on and off-campus) as well as other events.
KRLX, Carleton’s radio station, is consistently ranked among the best student stations in the country.
The Oregon Trail computer game was first created by Carleton students at in 1971.
The Reformed Druids of America was founded at Carleton in 1963 in an effort to be excused from attending the required chapel services. Only later did it become a legitimate spiritual exploration.
The school's all-male a cappella group, the Carleton Singing Knights, performed a version of a Daft Punk song that has garnered over a million YouTube hits. Videos of them performing other songs have also found a large YouTube audience.
A scene from D3: The Mighty Ducks was filmed in Carleton's Great Hall.
Goodhue Hall is the dorm farthest away from the main attractions of campus. It’s not beautiful, and it’s not convenient – unless you exercise a lot, in which case this is where you want to be, right next to the Recreation Center and the Arboretum. Even still, Goodhue is filled with freshmen and seems like a fun place to be (if you live there and are a freshman). Maybe you’re in Myers Hall or Musser Hall, two nearly identical attempts at Modernism occupying similar positions on the east and west sides of campus. Both have small rooms, sterile design, and convenient access to dining halls and classrooms.
What if you’re one of the lucky freshmen who gets to live in an older, more picturesque dormitory? Nourse Hall, for example, is a stunning building with many two-room doubles. Many freshmen also live in “the Complex,” three connected dormitories (Davis, Burton, and Severance Halls) also connecting to a dining hall and the campus center. These beautiful buildings, designed at the turn of the twentieth century and executed by master builders (probably), have a good mix of all the class years except sophomores, who generally have the worst luck in the housing lottery and have to live in places like Goodhue and Myers.
There are two dorms that freshmen don’t live in, though. Severance, with its suite-style living, has been judged inappropriate for freshmen by the authorities, and Evans Hall – a Gothic beauty and easily the most visually arresting dormitory on campus – has a baffling arrangement whereby the halls are arranged vertically rather than horizontally. Students get to their rooms by taking one of five staircases, each about 20 feet from another, and once in their rooms cannot move horizontally across the building; they must descend and then walk across the ground floor hallway to another staircase. The confusing layout and decent-sized suites, however, make Evans a great place to party.