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Column: Just another walk down memory lane

By Ray Crippen

WORTHINGTON — Seems like old times.

I regularly see Worthington women walking along sidewalks carrying bags of groceries. This is a tableau from the 1930s, 1940s, even the ’50s. And then, for half-a-century, it was almost never seen.

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Worthington sidewalks carried heavy traffic, especially through the noon hours. The kids (K-12) walked home and back to school once again for their lunches or their dinners. Many Worthmore creamery workers and Boote workers walked home to eat. Store clerks ate their meals at their homes. Bank tellers. Railroad workers. We are talking men and women here. If you needed to get somewhere, you often walked. There were no taxis. Worthington Hospital pressed hearses into service as ambulances.

There was mixed pedestrian traffic through the noon hours. Then, in the afternoons, housewives claimed the sidewalks. The grocery stores were on main street. Grocery shopping meant a walk to the downtown, as it does once again for some. Downtown or Oxford Street or Ryan’s Road.

I remember an afternoon — I remember hearing of an afternoon — when my mother took my brother with her on a trek for groceries. He was little more than a toddler. When they started home, my mother had her arms full of grocery bags. By the halfway mark, my brother simply refused to walk any longer. He simply sat down. He was not going to take another step. I believe N.L. Hanson came by in a car and resolved that predicament.

I have heard people talk of “the years between the wars.” 1919-1939. Those were the years when Worthington (and Jackson and Luverne and Sibley) learned not to walk. Those were the years when we transitioned from shoes to automobiles.

No one can know — I will make a guess — I will guess that fully one-fourth of the households in Worthington and maybe even one-half had no automobile when World War II began. Worthington was not really a “car town” until perhaps 1950.

Someone asked me, “Were people in town all the time?” Well — yes — people did spend a great deal of time in the old hometown. “Did they go anywhere; where did they go?”

When the young soldiers returned from World War I — 1919 — Minnesota was paving Highway 16 from Worthington/Rushmore to the South Dakota border. Many veterans found jobs with the paving crews. A dozen years later, Worthington residents were finding their way to Sioux Falls on a shopping trip or a Sunday afternoon jaunt. Two lanes. Everyone in vintage cars: 1927 models, 1934s, 1938s, through every town along the way. At Adrian, the highway was beside St. Adrian’s church. West of Magnolia, traffic rolled over a viaduct to cross the railroad tracks.

What did they see at Sioux Falls? Oh, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s. The department stores, Fantle’s and Shriver Johnson. There was not much that could not be found at home, but it was an outing.

People drove to Sioux City. This was more of an adventure. Sioux City is still a railroad and river town with a history that predates nearly everything else around. Besides shopping, people went to see the monument that honors Lewis and Clark’s Sgt. Floyd or to the Chief War Eagle monument, where you have an aerial view of three states. A shop at the Palmer Candy company had trays of assorted chocolates. The problem was, Sioux City is nearly 100 miles from Worthington. Sioux City was not a trip made frequently.

Worthington people drove to Lake Shetek with picnic baskets where, it was said, fishing was always good. Every summer, once they had taken to driving, local families went to Arnolds Park for a Sunday afternoon. Oh my! The fun house and the Queen sailing on Lake Okoboji and the Thriller and the ferris wheel. That was an outing.

Through one period there also came to be great interest in the Grotto — the Grotto of the Redemption — that Father Paul Dobberstein was constructing at West Bend, Iowa. Four stories high with tens of thousands of precious stones and sea shells. Arches and tunnels. Some call it The Eighth Wonder of the World.

Sioux Falls, Sioux City, West Bend, some lake. This was Worthington’s world when people first began forgetting about walking.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.