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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Road Trips, Stories Told

Avoiding Kokomo

One of the things that got me interested in the back highways was the city of Kokomo, Indiana. More accurately, it was avoiding Kokomo that helped spark my interest.

Long ago, US 31 went right through downtown Kokomo. But congestion became a problem, and so about 40 years ago a new four-lane US 31 was built to the east, bypassing the city. Businesses quickly sprouted along the bypass end to end – restaurants, gas stations, stores, even a mall. Stoplights multiplied like rabbits. Soon the bypass was even more congested than the original route through town had been.

Bypass on the left, old US 31 on the right

My dad let me have the spare car my senior year in college and at first I dutifully followed the route he always took when he drove me to school: US 31 from South Bend through Kokomo to Indianapolis, then I-465 west and south around the city, and then I-70 to Terre Haute. But I had to drive the Kokomo bypass only once to realize I didn’t want to do it again. The bumper-to-bumper traffic crawled along at 20 or 30 miles per hour, and I swear I stopped at every. last. stoplight.

It also didn’t help that the rest of the route was a crashing bore. Back then, Indiana’s maximum speed limit was 55 miles per hour. But both US 31 and I-70 were four-lane highways that begged for far greater speed.

So I began looking for alternative routes. I unfolded my Rand McNally map, which seems so quaint when I think about it now, and traced routes between my hometown and my college town. I found several suitable routes, all along two-lane Indiana state highways, and tried them all on my various trips back and forth. This was my first exposure to Indiana’s small towns and endless cornfields and I quickly became hooked.

Today, most of US 31 is posted at 60 MPH, and most of I-70 is posted at 70 MPH. I use these roads when I need to get somewhere in a hurry. But as much as possible I try to give myself plenty of time so I can enjoy driving through Indiana’s countryside.

Driving through Kokomo is still a drag, though. But not for much longer – the state is building another US 31 bypass even farther east of town. It’s a bypass of the bypass! This time they’re doing it right and making it an Interstate-style limited access highway. I’m sure I’ll try it out when it opens. But you’ll still be more likely to find me on a back highway.

And then there was the time I spun my car most of the way through tiny Fulton, Indiana. Read that story