A Slice of History – The Man Behind The Name: Clinton South

by Joanna Metheny

Photo by Joanna Metheny

Just off of Jack Tone, to the immediate north of Mistlin Park, is a short, nondescript street that doesn’t garner much attention. Dotted with a few homes, vineyards, and orchards, Clinton South Avenue ends at the junction of N. Ripon Road at the Ripon High School Farm. While most people probably haven’t given this street much thought at all, its namesake is steeped in Ripon history.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a man named Clinton South lived here in town, just off of Highland Avenue. He was the son of California immigrant, Albro South, whom settled in the Newman area in 1849. In 1901, Clinton married a local woman, Grace Johnson, and together the couple took over and ran his father’s farm.

Over the years, the South family did quite well for themselves, and amassed quite a bit of wealth earned through land and real estate developments. The Souths were prominent in the local community, where Grace long held a position on the school board.

In August of 1915, Clinton journeyed up to Stockton, where he purchased a brand new convertible Cadillac. Along for the ride were his mother, Celestia South, three-year-old son, Lawrence, and his mother’s friend, Mrs. T.E. Walden. On the drive home, the group made a brief detour to run an errand for Mrs. Walden. About a mile south of town near the Stanislaus bridge, a large sports car came racing up behind Mr. South, attempting to pass him. Apparently, Mr. South was not keen on having his brand new 8-cylinder vehicle challenged, increased his speed, and refused to let the other vehicle pass him. These acts of aggression quickly escalated with both cars battling for position and pushing well past the speed limit, until one of the tires on Mr. South’s new Cadillac blew out, causing him to lose control and careen into a fence along the road. Unfortunately, due to the vehicle’s excessive velocity, it ended up causing a horrific wreck, taking out a large swath of the fence, and flipping several times before finally crashing into and breaking a telegraph pole. Tragically, Clinton South, and his son were both killed instantly, while Mrs. South died several minutes later from her injuries. Mrs. Walden sustained serious injuries, but was rushed to a hospital in Modesto, and ultimately survived the crash. Clinton was only 42 years old.

At the end of August, a large funeral was held in Modesto for the three South family members killed in the accident. The event had a large turnout, as many local members of the community were greatly shocked and saddened by this loss. All three Souths were interred in the same Modesto cemetery where Clinton’s father Albro had previously been buried.

Sometime following the funeral, Grace Johnson South and other surviving family members wrote a letter to the community at large. The family was so touched by the community’s outpouring of support, that they were moved to pen a letter of thanks. Published in the Ripon Record, this letter thanked the people of Ripon for their condolences and comfort in time of grief. The letter is truly indicative of how deep Ripon’s tight-knit community roots run, and is a wonderful example of how Riponites have a long standing tradition of coming to the aid of and caring for their neighbors, which is still evidenced today.

Several years after the accident, the county began to divide up farmland, building roads between different tracts of land. The South family approached the county, asking that one of the roads be named in honor of the late Clinton South, and their wish was granted in the road that runs along the north end of Mistlin Park. Perhaps next time you drive past this road, you will remember the South family and the small bit of history they have contributed to our town.

About the author: For nearly a decade, Joanna Metheny has been a freelance writer specialized in the coverage of local topics and community interest stories. A Central Valley transplant and Bay Area native, Joanna permanently relocated to Ripon and hasn’t looked back once. She loves the city’s proud agricultural history and small town feel. Joanna enjoys spending her time in the community, tending her garden, and discovering local secrets along Ripon’s backroads.

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