Road Trips

Old US 31, the Michigan Road, and the Dixie Highway on the south side of South Bend, part 1: Southbound

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.

We spent a lot of time in South Bend on this trip because it is our hometown. I covered the north side of South Bend here and downtown here. In this post I cover the south side of South Bend, southbound. Next post I’ll cover it northbound, as the two directions followed two different streets.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

When US 31 was created in 1926, it followed Michigan Street all the way through South Bend. This highway’s predecessor, original State Road 1, did the same upon its 1917 creation. But in about 1971, US 31’s route was changed. From just north of downtown, at Marion Street, southbound traffic was diverted to follow Main Street for three miles, to Chippewa Avenue on the south side of town. This section of Main Street was made one way southbound at this time. The map shows how these roads were configured downtown at that time.

The corresponding section of Michigan Street was made one way northbound, except through five blocks downtown, where traffic was diverted one block east to follow St. Joseph Street, also one way northbound. It was at about this time that the five blocks of Michigan Street now bypassed were converted into an unloved pedestrian mall called River Bend Plaza. Suburban shopping centers and malls had drawn away many people who used to shop downtown. River Bend Plaza was meant to draw them back, but it failed. The city began to remove River Bend Plaza in 1986, and in time returned these blocks of Michigan Street to two-way vehicular traffic. Through traffic still followed Main and St. Joseph Streets, however.

In about 2017, the city returned Michigan/St. Joseph and Main Streets to two-way traffic. The southbound split at Marion Street was converted into a roundabout, as was the merge at Chippewa Avenue.

After Brian and I finished exploring Michigan Street downtown, we drove over to Main Street to begin our journey south. This is a view of Main Street southbound, from Marion Street, one block before the intersection with westbound Business US 20 at LaSalle Street. South Bend’s tallest building is just beyond it.

Old US 31 in South Bend

The 1898 St. Joseph County Courthouse stands on Main St. at Washington.

St. Joseph County Courthouse

South of the courthouse, on Jefferson Blvd., stands the old First Bank building. The First Bank of South Bend renamed itself First Source Bank in the 1980s and then built the new steel-and-glass headquarters I showed in the post about Michigan Street downtown. Quite a difference in architecture!

First Bank building

South of downtown, Main and Michigan Streets parallel each other, separated by one block. Main St. becomes lined with light industry and small businesses.

Southbound Main Street

This old McDonald’s sign was a relic even in 2007. I’ve never seen another one like it.

McDonald's Sign

When Main St. reaches Chippewa Ave. on the south side, Business US 31 follows Chippewa east for a block. Then it curves south onto Michigan St. where the road resumes two-way traffic, as the yellow highlighting on this map shows.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here’s the intersection of Main and Chippewa, southbound. I used to ride my bike every Saturday morning to bowl in a league at an alley on this corner. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t so bright to ride my 3-speed across a busy highway while carrying a 14-pound ball.

Southbound Main St. at Chippewa Ave.

Here’s a northbound view of Main Street from the same spot.

Northbound Main St. at Chippewa Ave.

This shot is of Chippewa Ave. east toward Michigan St. The curve onto Michigan St. was being rebuilt. On the south side of town, “Business” never managed to get appended to any of the old US 31 shields.

Chippewa Ave. to SB Michigan St.

This map shows Business US 31 from Chippewa Ave. to the St. Joseph Valley Parkway, which carries US 31 and US 20 around the city. (South Bend old-timers just call it “the bypass.”) Southbound US 31 comes in from the west on this map, but exits to rejoin its original alignment at the interchange.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

When we made our trip, Michigan St. was being rebuilt at Chippewa Ave., as this southbound photo shows. The single lane with the concrete median in the photo is for traffic turning left onto Michigan from westbound Chippewa. It’s a tight fit for city buses. Southbound.

SB Michigan St. at Chippewa Ave

Here’s the northbound view from the same spot. This is where Michigan Street becomes one way northbound.

NB Michigan St. at Chippewa Ave

Shortly we came upon the interchange that brought US 31 back to its original alignment. I don’t remember a time when this interchange didn’t exist, but during the years I lived in South Bend the bypass did not continue east of here. The future road’s right-of-way lay empty for years, however, and malls, schools, and neighborhoods were built around it. One of my aunts owned a house a few doors north of the right-of-way in one of those neighborhoods. Today, the elevated highway crowds the neighborhood. Roadfan.com has a great timeline of the St. Joseph Valley Parkway.

Entrances to the St. Joseph Valley Parkway

Just past this interchange, at Jackson Road, stands a historical marker that explains how land north of here originally belonged to Michigan. It’s why I sometimes joke I’m from extreme southern Michigan.

Indiana Territorial Line marker

As we drove south out of town, US 31 was four undivided lanes all the way to Lakeville. Here’s the southbound highway at Johnson Road.

SB US 31 at Johnson St.

This road has changed dramatically since 2007, when I made these photographs. The intersection at Michigan and Chippewa is now a roundabout. The interchange with the St. Joseph Valley Parkway is unchanged, but the view from Johnson Road south looks nothing like this. Johnson Road is now elevated over US 31 on a bridge, most of these homes and businesses have been razed, and a new alignment of US 31 curves to the west (right) from here.

In Part 2 of this tour of South Bend’s south side, we travel Michigan Street north from Chippewa Avenue to downtown.

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3 thoughts on “Old US 31, the Michigan Road, and the Dixie Highway on the south side of South Bend, part 1: Southbound

  1. I’ve never seen that style McDonalds sign either but I love that you captured them promoting a new product that we now know has stood up to time.

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