Road Trips

Old US 31 and the Dixie Highway on the north side of South Bend, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

Brian and I met in 1979 as seventh graders at Andrew Jackson Middle School on South Bend’s south side. Our friendship has endured, even though our paths at times diverged widely. Brian recently resettled back in our old hometown with his family. I’m a little jealous, because I love South Bend. If there were work in my field there, I might not be in Indianapolis today.

Old US 31 is Michigan St. in South Bend. As a kid, I thought it was so named because it was the street that led to Michigan. I’ve since learned that it’s because most of Michigan Street was the old Michigan Road, a historic Indiana highway. Not this part of Michigan Street, however — old US 31 doesn’t pick up the Michigan Road until it reaches downtown.

This map shows old US 31 as it passes by Notre Dame, enters South Bend at Angela Blvd., and heads toward downtown.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here’s a northbound view of Old US 31 at Angela Blvd.

Old US 31 in South Bend

The University announces itself at the corner of Michigan and Angela Streets. Like most people from South Bend, we cursed the traffic on football game days. But unlike most South Benders, I feel sure, the University was part of my family’s daily life. My father built furniture on a freelance basis for the University for years, which paid our bills. I worked for the University one summer in the art museum’s gift shop. My brother graduated from Notre Dame and worked there for many years afterward.

Old US 31 in South Bend

Turning around, I took a southbound photo from the top of the steepest hill on old US 31 in South Bend.

Old US 31 in South Bend

Shortly the road crossed the St. Joseph River at Leeper Park. This bridge and its park have been the subject of many postcards over the years. It was built in 1914 of Bedford limestone in the style of the City Beautiful movement. George Kessler, who was a leading figure in that movement, designed Leeper Park and is said to have designed the surrounding neighborhood. The $140,000 worth of lights on the bridge’s posts were added in 2007, replicas of lights placed on the bridge in 1915 but long missing.

Leeper Park Bridge, South Bend

This bridge has escaped the wrecking ball at least once. I find it remarkable that it accommodates five lanes. The designers and builders could not possibly have anticipated the traffic that would eventually come.

Leeper Bridge deck

Shortly south of the bridge is Memorial Hospital, which has been swallowing neighboring land for years. My mother has a deteriorating black-and-white photograph of a great-grand-something-or-other sitting on the porch of a house he owned on Michigan St. that was razed for the hospital before she was born. More recently, my brother had an apartment in a house on Main St. that is now a parking lot for the hospital. Every time I visited him there, more houses had been razed.

This is the road alongside the hospital. Notice how the road splits at the end of this block. The southbound lanes shift to follow Main St. through most of the city. At one time, all US 31 traffic followed Michigan St.

Old US 31 in South Bend

Notice the strange block numbers and the skinny shield on the reassurance marker on the pole. Several of these line the road in South Bend. The one-piece Business South sign is also nonstandard and might even be hand-painted. Through my childhood in the 1970s, hand-painted signs were not unusual in South Bend, and some of those signs remain around town today.

I’m relying entirely on memory of my 12th-grade social studies class for the story I’m about to tell, because my research has found no facts. The teacher was also a county-city councilman, so I’d think his his story was sound.

The Associates was a national investment company founded and headquartered in South Bend. In the wake of Studebaker’s failure, the company wanted to build a new headquarters and revitalize downtown at the same time. To build the new downtown Superblock, as it was called, several downtown buildings were demolished. Until that time, US 31 followed Michigan St. through downtown. The Superblock project rerouted US 31, with southbound lanes following Main St. to the south side of town, and the northbound lanes following Michigan St. except for several blocks downtown, where it was routed one block east to St. Joseph St. Then in 1975, The Associates relocated to Chicago, leaving the project a shambles. The city became known for the holes in the ground where proud buildings, some historic, once had stood. Michigan St. had been torn out downtown so that an outdoor “pedestrian mall” could be constructed, but it succeeded only in making it necessary to park farther from downtown businesses. South Bend’s first mall was built at about the same time, and shoppers went there instead. It took South Bend 15 years to rebuild downtown after that.

The split road remains. Traffic warranted it anyway. Michigan St. couldn’t have been widened to accommodate as much traffic as the two one-way alignments do – up to five lanes in each direction. Main St. is one way south, Michigan-St. Joseph-Michigan is one way north, and the downtown segment of Michigan St. is two way. The map shows how it works.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here is where the road splits on the northside, with the southbound lanes heading off toward Main St. South Bend’s tallest building is about two-thirds of the way across the photograph.

Old US 31 in South Bend

Here’s southbound Old US 31 following Main Street. In South Bend, Main Street isn’t actually the town’s main street; that’s Michigan Street one block to the east.

Old US 31 in South Bend

Next: Old US 31 in downtown South Bend.

Much has changed downtown since Brian and I made this trip. The city has returned both Michigan and Main Streets to two-way traffic. They replaced the curve from southbound Michigan Street to Main Street with a roundabout.

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4 thoughts on “Old US 31 and the Dixie Highway on the north side of South Bend, Indiana

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Sounds like life for your family in South Bend associated with Notre Dame was pretty idyllic. Everyone I’ve met from South Bend seems to really have like it and wished they were back there. Ditto for people associated with university employment; I know people working at Lawrence U. in Appleton Wisconsin, a great “smaller” town as well; and they love their reality! Since I haven’t been able to execute any changes during the pandemic, I’ve been thinking about investigating smaller university towns after all this clears, for a possible move…

    • The last couple times I was in SB I was shocked by how shabby it has become. The poor town is strangled for resources. All the good stuff moved to Mishawaka and Granger.

    • Fascinating story, thank you for sharing it! I remember that The Associates moved its HQ out of South Bend in the 70s or early 80s, but that’s it.

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