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Column: What's in a name? A lot, if you're George Dayton

WORTHINGTON -- George Dayton kept an eye on east Worthington. He believed there would be significant growth along Oxford Street and wanted to share in the development. This was in the 1880s. Street names were important to him, but they were not o...

WORTHINGTON - George Dayton kept an eye on east Worthington. He believed there would be significant growth along Oxford Street and wanted to share in the development. This was in the 1880s. Street names were important to him, but they were not of primary importance.
The Clary family did not embrace a site near the downtown, but they hoped the Clary street name could be continued.
No problem. George and the name of Clary - Worthington’s only cross-town street - was continued. There was another thing. In Massachusetts the town of Clary had two sister cities, and all of these were to be continued. George Dayton was flexible. He became adamant, however, that the unnamed east side street would have the Dayton imprint.
The short, east-west street along the east boundary would be named Clifton, and the parallel street would be named Spring. Dayton offered no explanation, but biographers learned George Dayton’s hometown was Clifton Spring, N.Y. He named two streets at Worthington from the place where he was born.
This bore special significance. Clifton Spring was a stop on the underground railroad. Blacks escaping the barbed whips of the South made the Dayton residence their own residence. They sometimes even slept in George Dayton’s bed. This would be a stop on the railroad - there would be two streets at Worthington that would be tributes to a small town in New York.
There would be a third street that was more of a puzzler. Douglas Avenue.
Douglas was named for Frederick Douglass, a hero in George Dayton’s experience. He admired Douglass, and he concluded to pay Douglas a special tribute. With one of the new streets, he would pay Douglass an honor of a kind not found anywhere else in Minnesota. Douglass Avenue is Douglas Avenue - and the tribute to Douglass is lost . Meanwhile, Dayton’s good friend, Stephen Miller, a former Minnesota governor, was forced from Worthington at the point of a pistol under the protection of two bodyguards. “Get this guy out of here” was a prevailing sentiment. Humiston Avenue is more nearly a street of infamy than a tribute to a great man.
What might be called George Dayton’s dream is only now shaping as a reality. Dayton envisioned a grand avenue - Grand Avenue along a route with four traffic lanes divided by a sightly boulevard. Traffic arriving at Worthington and traffic leaving Worthington would roll along broad traffic lanes. Trouble was, the State of Minnesota had mapped a highway plan that made Highway 59 a boulevard through Worthington.
Last month, the Worthington City Council voted to extend Grand Avenue from its longtime terminus with Oxford Street to a new terminus at Interstate 90. The plan for north Worthington will be significantly altered. Heading the list of alterations will be new building lots on either side of the new Grand Avenue. The appearance will be transformed.
Like a child after a long nap, Worthington appears to be waking up. The town we knew so well soon will not be the town we knew so long.

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

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