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Column: Oxford Street sure is busier than it used to be

WORTHINGTON -- I was driving south on Humiston toward downtown. I wanted to make a left on Dover. You can scarcely believe what that stretch of city street has come to be.

There was a line of vehicles coming toward me in the opposite lane. I had to wait for those to pass before I could make my turn. There were 16 of them. Cars and pickups and one semi-truck, all headed for the Humiston-Oxford intersection. There are plenty of residential streets in Sioux Falls, in St. Paul, where you never wait for a parade of 16 vehicles to pass before you can make your turn.

A state highway department worker has reported the Oxford-Humiston intersection is the busiest intersection between Mankato and Sioux City. Nine thousand vehicles some days. Oxford Street has more traffic hour by hour than any other single section along that 200-mile Mankato-Sioux City stretch. It is an interesting place.

In the memory of many still living in our area, Oxford Street was long Worthington's north border. When you rolled across Oxford, you rolled out of town. Oxford Street then was a but a gravel back-road two lanes wide. When cars rolled along Oxford, the dust flew. There was only a smattering of houses along the way. A couple of farm houses.

The Nobles County Historical Society has a copy of the century-old (1914) "Standard Atlas of Nobles County." There is nothing platted along Oxford Street -- there is not a single lot facing on Oxford Street -- save for one row of eight lots on the north side of Oxford between Burlington and Grand. Those eight lots are labeled "North Worthington."

In the beginning -- when people first began putting their names on plats of land at Worthington -- Timothy and Eliza Clary, and Timothy's sister, laid a claim on the empty prairie that bordered Worthington on the north. They drew a line on their plat and called it Clary Street. Very many people like seeing their names on maps. The Clarys drew two more lines and labeled them Dover Street and Milton Avenue, names of towns near their old country home in Massachusetts. They also drew a line along the north edge and named it Oxford Street, for Oxford, Mass. Founded 300 years ago -- 1713 -- Oxford, Mass., today is a Worthington-size town. You can buy an Oxford history for $17.95.

I was working part-time in the Daily Globe's advertising department in years just after World War II. Every month Bob Vance, who was in charge of advertising, would give me a sheet the size of a newspaper page with eight small boxes and six large boxes drawn on it. This was called the Oxford Street Page. The point was to fill the boxes with advertising to call Worthington's attention to its emerging new business district. There were 16 businesses along Oxford from east and west. Fourteen boxes on my sheet. I could take no for an answer just twice -- I had to get 14 ayes. That challenge was enough to cause a bit of sweat, stir some anxiety.

One of those 16 businesses was my dad's Phillips 66 station at the corner of Oxford and Humiston. That was a "free box" for me. Other stops along the way were Cargill, Enger Lumber, Anderson's Standard, Lohr Electric, Ace Radiator, Scott Well Supplies, Shorty's Texaco, the Chicken Koop.

Well -- one way and another we got that page sold every month. The roster of businesses began to grow. Oxford Street became four-lane and concrete. Traffic lights went up.

The sensational development came in 1976 with Northland Mall. Northland is a beautiful shopping mall inside. It was filled the day it opened. There was a chocolate shop in a corridor because there was no other site available.

It is sad. Northland Mall from the beginning was the property of distant owners who demanded ever-increasing rents but had no interest in the town. Northland still could be a focus of community pride.

Cars, trucks and tractors roll by in ever-growing numbers. No question of this. Thousands per day.

I sometimes worry for pedestrians standing at Oxford Street intersections waiting for a chance to cross. That is a perilous passage. Oxford is a busy street.

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