In 2008, I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end, documenting the road and its built environment. Here is an installment of that trip report. While this article refers exclusively to the Michigan Road, another historic highway, the Dixie Highway, was routed along this portion of the Michigan Road.
Since I made this survey, a new-terrain US 31 was built between South Bend and Plymouth. In St. Joseph County, the Michigan Road remains intact except for a slight detour on the south side of South Bend. What I call US 31 in this article is now Old US 31, and is signed as State Road 931.
Lakeville is on the Michigan Road in southern St. Joseph County. It and La Paz (just to the south in Marshall County) have always struck me as twin sisters, towns of similar size one right after the other along the road. Where La Paz is bounded by US 6 on the south, Lakeville is bounded by State Road 4 on the north. As La Paz is a railroad town, so once was Lakeville, but several years ago Lakeville’s tracks were removed. You can’t tell from the road that tracks were ever there. This map shows how the Michigan Road swings around Pleasant Lake and into Lakeville from the south.
It’s hard to make out on the map above, but the Michigan Road’s original path diverges briefly from US 31 as it passes Pleasant Lake. The northernmost tip of this original alignment probably passed behind what is now a shopping strip north of US 31 (see the upper right corner of this map) and curved into current US 31.
Here’s the south end of Quinn Trail.
Just north of where Quinn Trail begins, this house appears on a bluff overlooking the road.
This northbound shot shows the road from in front of this house.
Quinn Trail carried US 31 until that highway was expanded to four lanes in northern Indiana. It’s not clear to me why Quinn Trail was left behind; it seems like it would have been possible to expand this road to four lanes. A small bridge built on what is now Quinn Trail seems to have anticipated a wider US 31 – as the map excerpt below shows, it could carry four lanes of traffic, albeit with no shoulder.
Here’s Quinn Trail’s northern end.
Lakeville was named after the two small lakes that stand near it. It was deliberately founded along the Michigan Road to take advantage of all its benefits, but I haven’t been able to learn exactly when. The town did all right because of the road, but really took off when railroads intersected it. Lakeville is lined with homes; this one is typical.
This was once Lakeville’s Mobil station.
This is probably the nicest old house on the road in Lakeville. It’s an apparel and gift store today.
This southbound shot of the east side of the road is north of Lakeville’s business district.
I think that this postcard, postmarked 1911, was taken in about the same spot. I figured I’d have no trouble finding this scene in modern Lakeville, but it turned out to be quite challenging. I think that the third house from the left in the postcard is the same one as the third house from the left in the photo above. Notice how wide this dirt road is. The Michigan Road was built with a 100-foot right-of-way.
I marvel at how there is no sign that there were ever tracks on Lakeville’s north side. This photo is taken from where the road once passed over the tracks.
From about the same spot, here’s the southbound road as it leads into Lakeville.
And here’s the northbound road as it leads out of Lakeville. The Lakeville United Methodist Church is behind the trees on the right.
The Lakeville Cemetery, established 1849, is actually north of Lakeville.
This building was once a school. It most recently housed an outlet of the Country Bake Shop, but even that has been closed for probably 20 years.
In case you can’t read it: “Pleasant View School, Dist No 2, 1902.”
This is the Michigan Road as it enters South Bend. I’ll bet that the original Michigan Road builders’ minds would be blown if they could see what the road has become here.
Here’s the road as it approaches the St. Joseph Valley Parkway, which carries US 31 around the west side of South Bend. (Since I made this trip in 2008, a new-terrain US 31 was built between South Bend and Plymouth. The northern end of the new US 31 meets the old US 31 at about where the 31 shield is at the center of the map below. It is no longer possible to drive old US 31, the Michigan Road, through into South Bend, as it dead ends where the new US 31 merges in. To enter South Bend on the Michigan Road, you must turn left onto Kern and take the exit onto northbound US 31.)
An interesting old house just south of the city limits.
Southlawn Cemetery, which has been here since 1836, appears at the very bottom of the map above.
People from South Bend can joke that they live in extreme southern Michigan. Originally, Indiana’s northern boundary was even with the southern tip of Lake Michigan. What is now Johnson Road in South Bend was originally along that boundary line.
This southbound shot from north of the St. Joseph Valley Parkway shows the onramps to that road. South Benders have called this road “the bypass” for as long as I can remember. When I lived here, the bypass didn’t go any farther east than this. Even though US 31 has not gone through South Bend in decades, people still call the road through town “31.”
The first white man to set foot in St. Joseph County and what would become South Bend was French explorer Robert de La Salle in 1679. The first white man to settle St. Joseph County was Pierre Navarre, who came in 1820 and built a home north of the St. Joseph River near what is now downtown South Bend. In 1823, Alexis Coquillard (co-QUILL-erd) began trading furs near where La Salle landed. The area was first known as St. Joseph’s, and in 1829 a town named Southold was founded here. Navarre and Coquillard were the driving forces behind the town’s early development. The town’s name became South Bend in 1830. In 1831, South Bend was named the seat of the newly formed St. Joseph County, and in 1835 was incorporated as a town. South Bend is said to have lobbied hard to have the Michigan Road routed through town. With the river, the Michigan Road, and the railroad’s 1851 arrival, the stage was set for South Bend to boom, and it did. Manufacturing companies blossomed in the fledgling town, which became a city in 1865.
This map shows the Michigan Road’s route through town. It heads north on Michigan St., and then makes its big left turn and heads out of town on Lincoln Way West.
I took this in-car photo just south of Chippewa Ave., where Michigan St. becomes one way north all the way to downtown. There’s no way to drive the Michigan Road south from downtown to Chippewa Ave.; you have to drive Main St. instead, one block west. (This is no longer true. Since 2017, both Michigan and Main Streets carry two-way traffic from here to downtown.)
North of where Michigan St. becomes one way north stands the South Bend Motel.
The South Bend Motel’s great neon sign.
This northbound shot shows the one-way Michigan Road on South Bend’s south side. I grew up four blocks east of here; these are my old stomping grounds.
This used to be Cira’s Supermarket, which had all of five aisles but a well-regarded meat department. I rode my bike down here for a gallon of milk more times than I could ever count.
I never got my hair cut here, but I rode my bike past this barber shop and its little pole all the time. It’s about a half block north of Cira’s.
South Bend is full of non-standard highway shields. I’ve counted three shields with this funky shield shape and blocky typeface. Sign fans will also notice the single “Business North” sign, when the standard is to have separate signs. I’m pretty sure the Business North sign was hand painted. A lot of road signs were hand painted in South Bend during my 1970s-80s childhood there.
This building about a mile north on Michigan St. just south of Indiana Ave. used to be a Bonnie Doon drive-in. Imagine a day when the locked gate was gone, the sign’s first two parts still read “Bonnie” and “Doon,” and you could get a great tenderloin and wonderful made-in-South-Bend ice cream here. At one time, Bonnie Doon locations dotted Michiana. I think only one Bonnie Doon, on the Lincoln Highway in neighboring Mishawaka, remains.
Two restaurants, the Kitchenette and the Kitchenette II, stand on the northeast corner of Ewing Ave. The neon Eat sign still lights up every night.
North of Ewing, it becomes clear that South Bend’s south side has seen happier days.
This little market seems to be doing all right.
This appears to be a 1930s service station with a 1960s overhang tacked on.
Michigan St. was once rich with homes and neighborhoods on the south side, but over time most of the homes have been razed. Here are some survivors.
More decay on the south side.
This northbound photo was taken just south of Sample St.
Here’s a closer look at some of the signs in the previous photo. Notice how some of the signs are fading badly. The “Stadium A&C Center” sign is easily 40 years old. The Indiana 933 sign was ungracefully tacked over a US 33 sign. US 33 once ran through South Bend on its way to St. Joseph, Michigan, but since 1998 has ended on the western outskirts of Elkhart. Old US 33 in St. Joseph County is now State Road 933.
I made a road trip along this corridor once before when I explored US 31’s original path in northern Indiana. (See my report on South Bend from that trip here). A fellow e-mailed me to say that he used to live in a neighborhood that used to stand here. It made way for The Frederick Juvenile Justice Center.
This imposing structure, the Christ Temple Church of God in Christ, was originally the First Brethren Church. The house is attached.
Nearer to downtown, entire blocks have been razed. The near south side could be turning into an urban prairie!
I have heard that this block was in danger of being razed. (As of 2022, it’s still there, and stil boarded up.)
The South Bend State Bank has been gone for longer than I’ve been alive, but its building remains.
Signs of life begin to appear again immediately south of downtown. The Victory Bar has some great signage. (Sadly, the Victory Bar has since closed, and its great signage was removed.)
The UAW meets here.
The St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church.
At Bronson St., the railroad is overhead. An Amtrak train happened by when I was here.
This imposing building with its prominent fire escape stands right by the tracks.
Here’s a view under the tracks. Bronson St. actually meets Michigan St. here.
Last time I drove by here, this great neon sign was gone.
This corner has never been in great shape in my lifetime, but when I moved away from here in 1985 it still contained viable businesses. Today, except for an auto repair shop on the southeast corner, all of the buildings at this intersection are vacant. This is the southwest corner. Even though Fat Daddy’s was by no means the original tenant of this building, this is known as the Fat Daddy’s Block. (This block has since been razed.)
This is the northwest corner, which used to house Whitmer-McNease Music and a news stand.
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 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. Main St. was made one way south, and southbound US 31 was routed onto it. Michigan St. was made one way north, and northbound US 31 was routed onto it, except for several blocks downtown, where it was routed one block east to St. Joseph St. Michigan St. between Western Ave. and LaSalle Ave. was closed to traffic and made into a pedestrian-only “mall” called River Bend Plaza. This map shows how it works:
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. The pedestrian mall succeeded only in making it necessary to park farther from downtown businesses, creating a needless barrier for customers. South Bend’s first enclosed shopping mall was built at about the same time, on the far south side, and shoppers went there instead. It took South Bend 15 years to rebuild downtown after that.
This photo shows where Michigan St. starts to curve away onto St. Joseph St. Michigan St. has since been repaved and opened to traffic, as you can see near the center of the photo.
To follow the Michigan Road, turn left onto Western Ave. and then immediately right onto Michigan St., where you are greeted with this scene. As someone who grew up with that awful pedestrian mall, it is very gratifying to see all the cars here.
This early 1950s postcard is from about the same place.
This image from a postcard postmarked 1906 is from about the same spot. South Bend has changed a great deal in the past century!
Check out the old State Theater marquee in the 1950s postcard photo. The one below is the only one I’ve known. I saw my first movie at the State, a rerelease of Bambi, sometime in the early 1970s.
Here’s a long shot of the State.
South Bend still bears some evidence of its disastrous urban renewal period, as this block north of Jefferson Blvd. shows.
This image from a postcard postmarked 1909 shows the road northbound from Jefferson Blvd. as it once was.
The First Source Bank and Marriott Hotel building at Washington St. filled one of the last downtown holes in South Bend. When I was a kid, this lot was a popular place for people to watch the annual July 4th fireworks.
This grand 1921 building was originally a vaudeville theater called the Palace but is now the Morris Performing Arts Center. This real gem has been extensively restored. I’ve been in it twice, before and after the restoration, and all I can say is that an amazing, painstaking, and loving job was done. The theater’s story is here.
The block of Michigan St. in front of the Morris is only one lane wide and not used for traffic. To follow the Michigan Road, you must detour. One way is to turn left onto Colfax, go two blocks west to Lafayette Blvd., go north for one block, and then turn left onto LaSalle Ave., where you’ll resume the Michigan Road route.
The former La Salle Hotel stands where St. Joseph St. merges back into the Michigan Road’s original path. But to keep following the Michigan Road, you turn left around the hotel onto La Salle Avenue.
Here, the Michigan Road ceases to be the Dixie Highway and becomes the Lincoln Highway, running east-west rather than north-south.
Next: The Michigan Road and the Lincoln Highway in St. Joseph County.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.