Worthington 150: George Dayton resided in Worthington for 19 years

His home still stands today as a bed and breakfast.

Dayton House
The home of George Draper Dayton and his family for the 19 years they lived in Worthington remains today at the corner of 13th Street and Fourth Avenue. The Dayton House is now a bed and breakfast and a community gathering space.
Nobles County Historical Society
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WORTHINGTON — During his 19 years in Worthington, George Draper Dayton revealed the dynamic qualities that would later distinguish him as the founder of Minnesota’s largest department store complex. Dayton recognized Worthington's potential and worked diligently to establish a thriving agricultural community here.

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Backed by eastern investors, the 26-year-old Dayton trekked to Worthington in 1883 to take control of the Worthington Bank. Days before he arrived, Dayton learned the banking business in a few nights’ coaching from George S. Price, later treasurer of the New York Central Railroad. He set up business on Worthington’s 10th Street and soon became an influential member of the community.

Dayton prospered as owner and president of the Worthington Bank and later organized the Minnesota Loan and Investment Company. He served 12 years on the local board of education and proved a valuable member of Westminster Presbyterian church. He accepted the responsibility of Sunday School Superintendent and chairman of the building committee.

The Dayton family lived in the large house on the corner of Fourth Avenue and 13th Street, which is presently part of Cashel’s Boarding Home. The house featured New England design with twin chimneys, widow’s walk, iconic pillars and an immense porch surrounded by spacious lawn. Here the Dayton boys, Draper and Nelson, who would expand the business empire their father founded, grew up.

As a citizen and banker, Dayton worked to attract settlers to the area. At times he virtually drafted men to agricultural duty. One discouraged citizen who gave up his property to work in town was prodded back to the country with land Dayton sold him at $8 an acre. Dayton threw in 19 cows plus enough capital to make a fresh start. He also recruited one of the city’s infamous drunks and set him up on what became a remarkably prosperous farm.


Dayton was perhaps the most influential person in changing the local agricultural landscape. During his Worthington years he broke the farmers’ stubborn prejudice for wheat, and corn became the chief crop. He convinced clients that hogs would pay off the mortgage quicker than anything else, thus stimulating livestock production. Because Dayton missed the New England fruit orchard, he offered to pay the cost of the original plantings for anyone interested in such an experiment. Soon apple orchards flourished on local farms.

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Worhtington survived the panic of 1893 due to Dayton’s faith in the recuperative power of the agricultural community and his own determined will to survive. The Worthington Bank remained open during the initial run. Dayton reassured clients and met every demand. At one time he charged into the kitchen of a woman who had withdrawn all of her money and told her briskly that he needed the money worse than she did, so he took it.

At the end of the nation’s financial crisis, Dayton published an advertising leaflet whose cover read, “After a cyclone has swept over the country, the trees left standing are considered first-class timber.”

By the turn of the century, prosperity had returned to Worthington. Dayton prospered also and eventually expanded into activities that took him from Worthington to Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, he founded Dayton’s department store.

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