Stories Told

School speed limits

This is where I went to elementary school.

James Monroe School, South Bend, Indiana

James Monroe School, built in 1931, was probably a model of modern school buildings in its day. Its slate roof and copper gutters had to cost a fortune. It was built anticipating growth on South Bend’s south side. I once saw a 1941 photograph of a class taken as they stood in neat rows near the flagpole on the lawn. Beyond the school to the east (left in the photo) lay an open field that stretched to the horizon. My parents’ house, and the street it sits on, would lie a block away in that direction in ten years. The street in my photo, Donmoyer Ave., ended just east of the school at Fellows St., and Fellows St. ended its southward journey at Donmoyer Ave. Both streets continue for many blocks beyond this intersection today. So growth did come, especially after World War II. The school was filled beyond its capacity in the 1950s, with classes being taught in the stairwells. The building was expanded several times to keep up. In 1972, when I arrived at James Monroe School, neighborhoods stretched for a couple miles in all directions. Each school day, six hundred children filled the sidewalks morning and afternoon, converging at four intersections near the school. I was a crossing guard and for two years stood mornings at this intersection, on the corner from which I took this photo.

James Monroe School, South Bend, Indiana

Imagine this corner packed with children crossing at the police woman’s okay, children running along the sidewalk to their entrances, moms dropping kids off at the curb, and starting in 1976 a bus or two dropping off black students after the school system chose to integrate to avoid being forced to do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if buses line these streets today while neighborhood children continue to walk, creating just as much congestion around the school as ever. So it’s not surprising that the city has posted one of these signs one block away from the school in each direction:

School speed limit sign by Monroe School

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Any time you see children within a block of the school, you slow to 25 miles per hour. It’s safer for the children in case they dart out into the street.

All of my sons have attended Crooked Creek Elementary School, one of the oldest schools in Indianapolis. It was was founded in 1837 along the Michigan Road (Indiana’s first state road, which stretched from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan) at a time when this part of northwest Marion County was way out in the boondocks. Its current building was built in 1985, a sprawling single story of tan brick and open classrooms, to serve the growing suburban population. Here’s a view of the school from Kessler Blvd., along the school property’s southern boundary.

Crooked Creek Elementary School

Of course, you can’t see the school from Kessler Blvd. because it is set a good distance back. You can see only a tiny bit of the school from Michigan Rd. This school is well secluded.

Nobody walks to Crooked Creek. It’s suicide to try; both Kessler Blvd. and Michigan Rd. are thick with 45-mph traffic most of the day, and there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. For many decades, every student at Crooked Creek has been driven to and from school, whether by parent or by bus. Once dropped off, it’s quite a walk back to the road. In my 13 years in Indianapolis, having driven by the school on school days thousands of times, I have never seen a single child along the roads that border the school.

The city was slow to install school speed limit signs around the school, not that it meant the 25-mph limit wasn’t in place anyway. But last year, signs like this one finally appeared near the school along both Michigan Rd. and Kessler Blvd.:

School speed limit sign, Crooked Creek

Drivers must slow down from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm any day school is in session. I understand how it’s prudent to slow down when parents and buses are coming and going given the traffic congestion. But I don’t understand why I have to drive 25 mph past this school at 10:30 am or 1:15 pm when no children are around, no buses are shuttling them, and no parents are driving in and out.

I can’t think of another situation in north and northwest Indianapolis where a school is so hidden from the road. But most schools in these former suburbs are set well back from the road, with buses and cars being the only way children are transported to and from school. Except at arrival and dismissal times, you never see a student.

Why do we have to slow down at times when nobody, but nobody, is going to be outside the school building? Why can’t they put flashers on the sign, time the flashers to when children are arriving or leaving, and make the speed limit stick only when the lights flash? I wonder this every time I creep by a school at 11:30 am, not a soul in sight for blocks. I slow down only to avoid being ticketed. I sure don’t like having the only reason I obey a law be to avoid the penalty for disobedience.

Updated 27 July 2008 to remove broken link to Crooked Creek Elementary School history pages.

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13 thoughts on “School speed limits

  1. Dani says:

    I soooo agree with the idea of using flashing lights during the busy children pedestrian times. When children are in the building, why do we need to slow down? Brownsburg school signs are vague: “Speed Limit 20 when children are present.” Present? Does this mean at 5:30p while after-school activities are in progress? Or during Saturday afternoon soccer games? Can the 20 mph be legally enforced during those times?

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  2. Ed Modlin says:

    I was SO entertained by your recollections of James Monroe School in South Bend. I recall my father referring to Donmoyer, east of Fellows, and Fellows, south of Donmoyer as “the new part” and “the new extension.” We lived on South St. Joseph Street from 1954 until 1963 and both my sister and I attended James Monroe. To the left of you picture (from the corner of Donmoyer and Fellows) one of the kindergarten classrooms had a rock wall enclosing a small playground just for the Grade K kids. That same classroom had a beautiful stone fireplace. I don’t recall any classes in the stairwells, except when our classrooms were being painted. The school also had a beautiful, well-equipped auditorium. The stage had footlights, wings and curtains that rose and lowered! The policewoman that worked at Donmoyer and Fellows was Mrs. Gniseley, who had bright red hair and a gruff exterior, but the proverbial heart of gold.

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  3. Ed, thank you for sharing your memories! I played in the stone-walled playground, always wishing I could be on the main playground because it had better equipment! In my day, you could get to the K playground from either K room. I had forgotten about the stone fireplace, though. I sang in the choir for four years and remember the auditorium very well.

    A yearbook issued in 1975 to say goodbye to the 7th and 8th grades, which moved to Jackson Middle School after that, said that there had been classes in the stairwells, but if you don’t remember any, I’m sure the yearbook historian must have been working with bad information!

    The policewoman in my day was Mrs. Farrington, a very short woman with dark hair. She was very nice. As a patrol boy, as long as I stayed sharp she was nice to work with.

    Today, the school needs serious maintenance work. The slate roof sags noticeably. Most of the copper downspouts have been stolen. My parents work the polls every year in the school’s main entrance and tell me that the interior is in declining shape. I hope the school corporation finds money for the needed maintenance before it costs less to simply raze and rebuild.

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  4. Ashley Marie says:

    I enjoyed reading about Monroe Elementary School. I went there for 3 years beginning in 1999. I live a few houses west of Monroe, its interesting to hear of its history haha

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  5. Thomas Friend says:

    Jim,
    THE MEMORIES!
    I am so much enjoying finding your photos and commentary of South Bend so – Monroe, Michigan St, etc.
    I wish I could find the old 1975 Monroe yearbook! My brother had one and I don’t know what happened to it.
    I look forward to finding more of your work,
    hope you are well,
    “Tommy”

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  6. Ed Modlin says:

    Hi Jim,

    I’d forgotten about your site until I was playing with Google tonight. Here are a few other James Monroe memories and anomolies.

    One of the First Grade teachers, Miss Helen Kuntz, insisted on keeping her kids through Second Grade. Mr. Deward Doub, our Principal, signed off on the experiment and (I assume with the superintendent’s blessing) and the practice continued for, at least, the six years that my sister and I (1955-1961) were in her classes. That continuity meant a lot to me as a little guy just getting started in school.

    I also recall the first time I heard my dad call Mr. Doub “Dewey!” He was such a pillar of strength and that name humanized him. I never looked at him the same way but I think that was a good thing. I suddenly saw him as a man instead of an icon.

    My Hawbaker (sp?) had Band classes on the third floor in what had been the lunchroom. There was a full kitchen next to the band room/ dining room and three decades of that cafeteria smell could not be extinguished! Sadly, even in 1962 -63, the floor was beginning to sag. The new cafeteria had been part of the 1959 rear addition, where most of the Sixth through Eighth Grade classes were held.

    In 1961, an F-0 or F-1 tornado struck just as we were getting out of school! We saw the clouds but thought that the tire plant on Chippewa was burning scrap rubber and tires. I tried to walk home to S. St. Joseph Street and the Sorberg’s grandfather got me into his Studebaker Lark with his grandsons, Alan (deceased) and Philip. We went to their basement. My poor mother was a basket case when they found me after the storm.

    As you look at the front of the school building, you’ll notice the lack of trim on the top right of the front/center cupola. That section of brick was struck by lightning in the early 1970’s. Sadly, there were no artisans available to duplicate the original brickwork.

    Our music teacher was one of the most dedicated teachers I ever knew, Miss Rita Seidler, a 1938 Riley grad. And, such a kind lady!

    Finally, a confession: several of the Grade K through 4 teachers had German surnames; Stout, Kuntz, Schubert, Kupferer… and, in fourth grade, I started the rumor that they were all escaped war criminals who had found their way to South Bend via Brazil. I was always amazed by the “legs” that rumor had… and, that I’d never been pegged as the perpetrator! I honestly didn’t sleep well until we moved to Grand Rapids in the Spring of 1963.

    That great brick lady will ALWAYS have warm, special place in my heart.

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  7. Toni Swick says:

    I still think about my days at Monroe. You were in my class Ed. I think it was your mom that came in and taught us Spanish, right? I loved, loved, loved Miss Kuntz. I remember the tornado, it was the first time my mom had allowed me to ride my bike to school. I remember the crossing guard as “Hazel”. Gosh, I could go on and on……. oh yea, this is Toni LaRue.

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  8. Cindy L. says:

    Since this seems to be the only online tribute to the “old” James Monroe Elementary, I figure it’s up to those of us who remember those days to keep the memories alive. I had Mrs. Stout for Kindergarten, and got to enjoy the small playground with the stone fence that year. Seems to me there was an old fountain (long dry) in the middle of the courtyard there. And I too had Miss Helen Koontz as my favorite teacher, for 3rd grade. We were in the former science room; it had its own “lab” room to the side, a long, L-shaped room with black lab sinks and lots of storage. Highlights of thst year included making marionettes and then putting on our own puppet show, which we wrote ourselves!

    Christmas was a grand event in the late 1950s, there was a gigantic real tree in the foyer (smelled grest!) filled with hand-made ornaments. The auditorium had a balcony, accessible from the second floor, and a red velvet stage curtain that had been measured wrong! You could see the feet of the students moving scenery during breaks in plays, which really added to the entertainment. A warren of prop- and changing-rooms were to the left of the stage.

    One perk of being a band member: You could sneak into the 3rd-floor attic and explore the decades-old decorations, props and supplies that were stored therr!

    Every year there was a fall festival that included a “haunted room”, musical chairs (you could win a cake!) etc., etc. I was a nerdy kid — I loved to buy postage stamps from Nurse Hernley! We wore Halloween costumes and paraded through the Jr. High classrooms to show them off.

    I can solve one mystery: Classes were held in the stairwells in the 1930s. My dad also attended Monroe, and he remembered the overcrowding from that time. By the time I started there in the late 1950s, the “new” addition had been in use for some time.

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