Road Trips

Old US 31 in Kokomo, 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.

Kokomo, a boom town in the late 1800s when natural gas was discovered here, is nine miles south of Grissom Air Reserve Base (which we explored last time). I am told that before US 31 bypassed Kokomo, driving through Kokomo was a pain because of all the traffic downtown. A bypass was built east of town to ease congestion, but businesses just moved to it, and today the bypass is a pain, a highway of a thousand stoplights. Driving through downtown Kokomo isn’t so bad anymore, though – but there’s little to see. Here’s where US 31 veers off to bypass Kokomo. Old US 31 follows the route to downtown.

The famous Kokomo split - US 31 in Indiana

This map shows how US 31 veers east to bypass town, while old US 31 swings west on its way downtown as Washington St. Brian had his nose in the 1924 Automobile Blue Book, which said to turn right on Morgan St. and then right onto Washington St. We guessed that this meant that in 1924 Washington Street didn’t extend this far north, and that drivers entered Kokomo from the north on Apperson Way. That’s the skinny road that extends straight south where Washington St. starts to swing southwest. I imagine that this was State Road 1’s route, and depending upon when the curved section of Washington St. was built, an early alignment of US 31, too. We drove Apperson to Morgan to Washington; it was unremarkable.

Windows Live Maps, 2007
Windows Live Maps, 2007

Just south of North Street, we came upon this grand building of the St. Patrick Catholic Church, completed in 1911.

St. Patrick Catholic Church - Old US 31

The Masonic temple, completed in 1891, stood on the southeast corner of Taylor St.

Masonic temple - Old US 31

The Grace United Methodist Church, completed in 1896, stood on the southeast corner of Mulberry St.

Grace UMC - Old US 31

The most interesting thing we saw in Kokomo was this building on the southeast corner of Walnut St.

Former Fire Dept. building - Old US 31

We couldn’t figure out what it was — I have since learned it was once the City Hall — but one section of it was prominently labeled “Fire Department.”

Former Fire Dept. building - Old US 31

This is the building from the southwest.

Former Fire Dept. building - Old US 31

Three blocks south of this building, Washington St. crossed a river and neighborhoods lined the road. We followed it to where it curved to intersect with US 31.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here’s a photo of the two roads look like coming together, southbound. It’s a little hard to see US 31 merging in, but There wasn’t a safe place to get in close. US 31 curves in from the left, underneath the billboard at left in the photo. Beyond the stoplight, Washington St. becomes a ramp that empties onto US 31, which by that time has curved into the path of Washington St.

Old US 31 at Alto Road

The 1924 ABB had drivers turn east onto Hoffer St. and then south “with the trolley,” which was probably Lafountain St., which led them all the way to Westfield. My 1916 ABB gives even more confusing directions, having the driver meander all over northern Miami County before entering Kokomo on old US 35 (David Rd. on the first map above) and exiting with a series of turns back and forth along that trolley line. Today, the toughest thing about driving to and from Kokomo is being patient with the thick traffic and all the lights on US 31.

The US 31 Kokomo Freeway opened in November of 2013, bypassing the bypass of Kokomo. The earlier bypass became State Road 931.

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13 thoughts on “Old US 31 in Kokomo, Indiana

  1. Dan Cluley says:

    I recognize the name Apperson from the early auto manufacturer, but couldn’t have told you that they were made in Kokomo.

  2. So sad that economics blinded civic leadership; the automobile’s primacy was probably inevitable but it seems any foresighted planning was neglected in response to a seeming increase in traffic. Like so many small Midwestern cities, imagine if 1- developers had been prohibited from commercializing the bypass corridors, and 2- bypass-to-downtown access (via dedicated connectors and parking lots/garages and/or light rail loops) fixed infrastructure had been built in up front. We might still have vital downtowns with local-based commerce in Kokomo, Marion, etc, instead of all the sad Ubiquitowns that have replaced them.
    No going back now, and the only endpoints I can envision are hardly consistent with advancing civil life and culture.

    • We weren’t very smart about this stuff back when. I gather that there was a “progress over everything” mindset and you didn’t dare question what the progress was actually toward.

    • In a similar affront to civic life, freeway developers in the 1950s chopped through neighborhoods needing “urban development”. This was developer-speak for black or ethnic areas that they could buy cheaply or bribe politicians to condemn via eminent domain.

  3. Route66Fan says:

    Kokomo, IN is one of a couple of places that I know of (Clarence, MO is another, where the alignment of US 36 was shifted farther North over the years.) where where the bypass has been rerouted.

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