Column: Worthington has a somewhat rich historyWORTHINGTON — Who do you guess was the wealthiest person ever to visit Worthington? There is no way to know, of course. Every guess is a fair guess.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Who do you guess was the wealthiest person ever to visit Worthington?
There is no way to know, of course. Every guess is a fair guess.
What difference does it make? Well — all the news media voices say, above all things, Americans today are concerned about money and the economy. It is a fitting time to look back on those who had it made, on people who didn’t worry about money.
George D. Dayton probably comes to mind for many. George Dayton was the pioneer banker, the man who built a notable, two-story red brick bank building at the corner of 10th Street and Third Avenue, the man who built the popular Dayton House on Fourth Avenue. Worthington residents of the time, more than a century gone by, generally thought George Dayton was the richest guy in town. They were probably right.
When Banker Dayton left town — when he became head of the big Minneapolis department store — he returned to Worthington as a visitor.
It is doubtful, however, that George Dayton ranked high among the wealthy of America. Consider, for one thing, we all call it the Dayton House. Dayton built another house just like it along a shaded Minneapolis avenue. All of Minnesota judged these to be houses, not mansions. George Dayton had money, but he did not rank with the super wealthy.
How about a movie star? Do you know Jeanette MacDonald? A long time ago — three-quarters-of-a-century ago — Jeanette MacDonald was a major Hollywood celebrity, an actress and a singer. Jeanette did operettas on film. The Merry Widow. Rose-Marie.
One summer afternoon Jeanette was stalled at the Worthington depot. She had to change trains, but the train she was changing to had not yet arrived. MacDonald, in a fashionable suit and a broad-brimmed hat, strolled down the east side of 10th Street, main street, to the Fifth Avenue intersection. Then she crossed the street and walked back along the west side, past the old courthouse. Some local residents were awed.
It was the time of the Great Depression. A movie actress could probably have stopped by J.C. Penney and bought everything in the store.
But — no. The singing screen star would not have been among America’s most wealthy.
We surely should focus on Averell Harriman. Averell Harriman was a governor of New York State and a U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Twice (1952 and 1956) Harriman bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Harriman was a Turkey Day speaker who spent two days and a night at Worthington. Near the Second Avenue dam, wearing a borrowed rain coat, he scrambled over rocks to get a better view of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels..
Here’s the thing: Harriman established a New York City banking business, Harriman Brothers & Co. Besides this, he was chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad. His “associated properties” included the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Central Pacific Railroad, Illinois Central Railroad, Wells Fargo & Co.
Having Averell Harriman on the speaker’s stand on Turkey Day was like having Daddy Warbucks in town.
There is still another Worthington visitor who (hard to believe) probably had an even greater net worth.
This column last week reviewed the Close Brothers, who owned 500,000 acres of U.S. prairie lands, including land in the local area. The Close Brothers had a friend, George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. This is the guy who had money.
The Duke of Sutherland owned 1.5 million acres of farmland in Britain. He had a castle in Scotland, a mansion in London, a steam yacht. He came to America to “see the lay of the land.” He was on his way to Sibley, where the Close Brothers had an office. The Duke’s train, like all trains, needed to stop at Worthington for fuel and water. This is what Worthington was for.
The Duke’s train was two luxurious private cars, a kitchen car and a baggage van. The drawing room had fresh flowers.
We don’t know what the Duke was worth, but he soon bought 425,000 acres of America. There probably never was another Worthington visitor who had a fortune to match the Duke’s.
But, no. We don’t know whether he stepped off his train while he was here.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.