The Lunchtime Tourist

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June 28, 2004 // UPDATED 2:18 pm - April 25, 2007
By: George Draper Dayton Dayton's/Marshall Field's founder
George Draper Dayton Dayton&#039;s/Marshall Field&#039;s founder</i>

Now that Downtown's premier department store is about to change hands, let's revisit the story of the man behind one of the nation's largest retail establishments.

George Draper Dayton was born in New York State in 1857. By the time Dayton was 16, he'd sold so much coal and lumber for a local company that the owner sold him the business. In the 1870s, Dayton and other Geneva, N.Y. investors bought into a bank in Worthington, Minn. as the country expanded westward. Ten years later, after a series of harsh winters and grasshopper plagues, many farmers defaulted on their mortgages. Dayton traveled to the southwestern Minnesota town to check on things, and soon his wife Emma and two young children joined him in the town of 600 people.

An early mover and shaker in Worthington, Dayton got the bank back in shape, established the town's board of trade, planned a land and immigration convention, served on the school board and organized the Minnesota Loan and Investment Company.

To encourage better farming practices, Dayton had the bank distribute free subscriptions to agriculture magazines and provided saplings for anyone interested in growing apples. With his encouragement, the town thrived.

Dayton's own investments in the Worthington area included farmland and commercial real estate. But by 1890, he decided to branch out and began buying land along Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. In 1902, one of his tenants in a building on the corner of 8th Street & Nicollet began having trouble. He bought them out and changed the store's name from Goodfellow's Dry Goods to Dayton's.

Soon, the name itself embodied quality merchandise, excellent service and the latest in fashions. The original building remains there today but has had significant additions and alterations. In 1962, Dayton's, the fourth largest retail establishment in the country, launched the more affordable Target stores, and in 1990 they acquired Marshall Field's.

While the 180-mile trip might be too long for a lunchtime destination, the recently restored Dayton home in Worthington just opened for tours.

For links to historic Dayton's photos including window displays and clothing departments, e-mail thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com.

LUNCH TIP: You can't beat the popovers in the previously men-only Oak Grill on the 12th floor of Marshall Field's.