Road Trips

Old US 31, the Dixie Highway, and the Michigan Road in downtown 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.

Signs

In downtown South Bend, US 31 passed through town along Michigan Street with traffic flowing northbound and southbound. In the late 1960s, Michigan Street was made one-way northbound from downtown to deep into South Bend’s south side. At the same time, the same section of Main Street, one block to the west, was made one-way southbound, and southbound US 31 was routed onto it — except for five blocks of downtown, where US 31 was rerouted one block east onto St. Joseph St. In those five blocks, Michigan Street was closed to traffic and a disastrous pedestrian mall was built, which I wrote about here.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

All of this helped traffic flow through South Bend a lot more efficiently, but was no good for downtown’s businesses. And then in 1982 a new US 31 was completed to bypass South Bend to the west, well into Michigan. Original US 31 became Business US 31 in South Bend. Parts of the road are also signed as State Road 933, parts that used to also carry US 33 until 1998 when that road was truncated to end in neighboring Elkhart County.

Sometime during the 1990s, the pedestrian mall was removed from four of those five blocks, which were restored to two-way traffic. Then in 2018, all of Michigan/St. Joseph and Main Streets were restored to two-way traffic. This article shows Michigan Street downtown after it was reopened to two-way traffic, but while Main Street was still one way south and the rest of Michigan Street was still one way north.

In the last post in this series, my friend Brian and I had traveled south on former US 31 to where the southbound route split from Michigan Street to follow Main Street. We made a left as soon as we could to return to Michigan Street. This northbound photo is at the north end of the isolated Michigan St. alignment where St. Joseph St. curves to become Michigan St. again. This is where Old US 31 meets the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Lake Michigan and enable white settlement of northern Indiana. The Michigan Road followed what is now Lincolnway West to LaSalle Street, where it turned right onto Michigan Street.

Northbound

The 1921 Morris Performing Arts Center stands at Colfax Avenue and Michigan Street, gorgeous in the early daylight.

The Morris Performing Arts Center

The Morris was first the Palace Theater, a burlesque house and later a movie theater. During the downtown’s malaise years of the 1970s and 1980s, the theater, renamed the Morris Civic Auditorium, had fallen into disrepair. I watched It’s a Wonderful Life there at Christmastime in 1987 and the building was in a sorry state. But when I saw Heart play there in 2006, it was clear that great pride had been taken in the old theater’s restoration. (South Bend is my hometown.)

Morris Performing Arts Center

South of the Morris and across Michigan Street stand the modern twins, the 1st Source Bank headquarters and the Marriott Hotel. These buildings went up in the 1980s in the ongoing fight to fill the holes left by the aborted Associates Superblock. Their design was somewhat controversial at the time, but have become a point of pride for the city. These buildings fill the block; the Marriott borders St. Joseph Street.

First Source Bank and Marriott Hotel

When the city tore out the unloved pedestrian mall in the 1980s, it rebuilt Michigan St. as two lanes with pull-in parking. The revival has had reasonable success, but there’s still some work to do to bring businesses back to this strip. In the photo below, which is northbound from Michigan St. at Jefferson Ave., the street is blocked for a foot race.

Northbound

It was always hoped that the State Theater, south of Jefferson on the east side of Michigan Street, would be returned to full use in some way, but none of the attempts ever caught on. At least the facade remains solid and strong.

State Theater

My mother took my brother and I to see Bambi and, later, Fantasia,here when they toured in the 1970s. We took the city bus downtown and walked to the theater and its huge auditorium. I was very young, so I’m glad I have some memories of those trips.

State Theater

The photo below looks northbound from south of Wayne St. The second building on the left is the former Robertson’s Department Store, now an apartment building. I remember that Robertson’s advertised its annual clearance sale on TV with the jingle, “Save a fourth, save a third, save a half, on every department, on every floor!” Here, have a listen:

Northbound

One block later, at Western Ave., the downtown strip of Michigan St. ends. This photo is from Michigan Street just south of Western, where it curves to become St. Joseph Street. You can see the bypassed section of Michigan Street on the left in this photo.

Bypassing Michigan St.

Next: A jaunt down Main Street, the onetime southbound lanes of US 31.

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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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Road Trips

US 31 and the Dixie Highway south from the Indiana/Michigan state line

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.

Just after sunrise, Brian and I headed for the Michigan border. As the photo below shows, we were reminded that Hoosier hospitality is no accident. Neither is it an accident that tobacco and fireworks are available at the border – Indiana’s tobacco taxes are lower than Michigan’s, and Indiana allows fireworks that Michigan doesn’t. When I was young, Hoosiers of a certain age liked to visit the liquor store that used to stand on the other side of State Line Road, because you could buy beer at 18 in Michigan then. Hoosiers sure called that hospitality! Michigan’s legal age was 21 by the time I was old enough to care.

Indiana state line

Old US 31 enters Indiana as a five-lane slab on a straight line from Michigan, as this map shows.

Windows Live maps, 2007

The US 31 strip at the border was a blight during our childhoods and remains so now, as this southbound photo shows.

SR 933 & M-51 (old US 31) at the Indiana/Michigan line

On the Indiana side, the road is State Road 933. In Michigan it becomes M-51. But to all of us who lived in Michiana before the bypass, this road will always be “31” — or Dixie Way, a nod to it being part of the Dixie Highway.

SR 933 & M-51 (old US 31) at the Indiana/Michigan line

An old motel, which at night is just an otel, sat a few buildings south of the state line. The building wasn’t much to see, but the sign might please neon fans.

Otel

Roseland begins as soon as you drive under the Indiana Toll Road (I-80 and I-90), as the map below shows. The town is known today for its ongoing political squabbles. Just two days before our trip, a notorious member of Roseland’s town council was ejected from a council meeting for being too argumentative. The story goes that he then lipped off to the town marshal, who roughed him up. Roseland’s quite the Peyton Place, it seems. But when I was a kid, it was just a sea of neon you had to pass through at exactly 35 mph or get stopped for speeding. Much of the neon’s gone, but as I entered Roseland at 55 mph, Brian had to remind me that the cops still love to enhance town revenue with speed traps.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

The photo below shows the Toll Road overpass with Roseland framed beneath it. The road just north of the overpass is Cleveland Road. It was never US 31, but is currently designated Business 31 west of this intersection because it provides a connection to current US 31.

Old US 31 southbound, Roseland

Next: Old US 31 and the Dixie Highway in South Bend.

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Road Trips

Finding the original US 31 in northern 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. But I’m slowly bringing all of those articles to this blog so I can repurpose that URL for another project I have in mind. This is the first of many posts about that road trip.

A silver bus rolled along a narrow Indiana highway, a wanted man aboard: Richard Kimble, in the TV series The Fugitive. The bus turned a corner as the camera dollied away, revealing a US 31 shield on the road.

Still from The Fugitive, Season 3, Episode 4, “Trial By Fire”

I leaned forward in my chair, wondering when US 31 had ever been just two lanes in Indiana. All of my trips down US 31 to that time more than 20 years ago had been on the dull four-lane divided highway to Indianapolis. But there it was, a two-lane US 31 on an episode of The Fugitive, shot in the 1960s.

I didn’t know that much of US 31’s original two-lane route in northern Indiana still existed. I also didn’t know that the road had a long and important history before Richard Kimble stepped onto it on TV. But during the years I drove back and forth to college along US 31, I sometimes noticed road signs marked “Old US 31.” I told myself I ought to explore them one day. I tried once near Rochester, and I promptly got lost. I was daunted. But even though I stuck to the well-marked roads for many years after that, my curiosity never abated.

US 31 and I go way back because I grew up four blocks from it on South Bend’s south side. I used to ride my bike those four blocks to a little grocery when my family ran out of milk. Dad always called the road Dixieway, despite the US 31 shields every few blocks and the Michigan St. signs on every corner. Dad said that in the old days you could follow Dixieway all the way to “the South.” Turns out he was right. At a time before highways were numbered, this road was part of a small network of roads called the Dixie Highway that did indeed stretch to the South, to points deep in Florida.

1925 Rand McNally Junior Auto Trails Map of Indiana

This road has had other names. In the 1920s, Indiana created a state highway system and gave this road the number 1. Also, the portion of this road from downtown South Bend to Rochester was originally part of the Michigan Road, which the state built in the 1830s from the Ohio River at Madison, through Indianapolis, and to Lake Michigan at Michigan City, to stimulate migration and commerce through the state.

The excerpt at left from a 1925 Rand McNally map shows all three designations along this stretch. State Road 1 is marked by a circled 1, the Dixie Highway is marked by the number 25 in a dark square, and the Michigan Road is marked by the number 26 in a dark square.

Then in 1926, the federal highway system came into being. US 31 shields appeared along the highway to reflect its new number, and the old names eventually fell into disuse.

I don’t know just when, but it was probably in the 1960s and 1970s that US 31 was widened to four divided lanes and rerouted to bypass several towns. I’m sure the road was a welcome relief for travelers. But I grew to dislike the four-lane US 31 for being so boring to drive, and I tried to avoid it. I discovered the network of state highways, which usually added a little time to my trip but were a prettier and more engaging drive. Still, sometimes I ended up on US 31, where I was still curious about the original route. Then I discovered that old routes are often labeled on online maps. And then I found some old state maps and learned about the old Automobile Blue Books of the early 20th century and their turn-by-turn directions along the old routes. It was pretty easy to determine the route.

I was telling my old friend Brian, with whom I grew up in South Bend, about wanting to explore US 31’s original route in northern Indiana someday. He enthusiastically recalled that trips to visit family in southern Indiana as a small child always began on the old two-lane US 31. He remembered that somewhere along the way it merged into the newly built four-lane. The more we talked, the more we knew we had to schedule a road trip as soon as we could. We managed to make our trip on September 15, 2007, a crisp and sunny early-autumn day.

At the time I made this trip, there was serious talk of upgrading the entire route to freeway standards as part of Governor Mitch Daniels’ Major Moves initiative. The new road would bypass every town between South Bend and Plymouth, create a bypass of the bypass around Kokomo, and possibly even replace the existing intersections through Westfield and Carmel with depressed roundabouts, allowing through traffic to sail overhead. It all happened, changing US 31 permanently. This road trip shows US 31 before these projects started and, as such, is a historic record.

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Road Trips

Classic motels on the National Road/US 40 in central Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is the last of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we entered Effingham, we missed a sign telling us to fork right to stay on the National Road. As we looked for a place to turn around, we came upon this old motel on US 40.

Effingham Motel

This motel is on current US 40. This might also be the National Road as well, despite the earlier sign directing drivers along a different path. I covered the two possible National Road alignments in Effingham in an earlier post; click here to read it.

The motel was a going concern. Apparently, the half-ton truck convention was staying here. Or perhaps the motel was next to the Dodge dealership. I can’t remember which.

Effingham Motel

Twelve miles past Effingham is Altamont. We didn’t plan to stop here, but we found an old motel still operating on the corner of Cumberland Rd. and Main St.

Altamont Motel

We parked in front of a Laundromat next door and started taking pictures. An Indian fellow came out with his young son, quite concerned, wondering why we were taking pictures of his motel. He was relieved to learn we were just tourists exploring the National Road. He told us that the motel was built in 1959, and that he never turned on the lights on the Inn sign. He gave us permission to take all the photos we wanted.

The limestone hotel looked well cared for.

Altamont Motel

The motel sign said, “American Owned.” The Indian fellow must have become a citizen to be able to claim that.

Altamont Motel

So many of these older motels become run down and dirty, but this one gets pretty good reviews online.

Altamont Motel

When we returned to my car, I discovered that I was blocking the parking spaces for the Laundromat, which I thought was closed. Two cars had managed to get around my car and park. As we approached my car, a couple came out wondering why we were taking pictures. They were disappointed to learn we were just National Road tourists out exploring. They had hoped we were investors looking for property to buy in their small town. The young man lamented how many businesses had closed in recent years and hoped someone would buy and reopen the convenience store that sat across from the motel.

About six miles later we came upon tiny St. Elmo. We passed through it as quickly as we entered it, but not without noticing its old homes. Just west of town we came upon two old motels, both in limestone, one operating and one decaying. The hotel on the north side of the road, of limestone and trimmed in turquoise, appeared to be half occupied that day.

Motel property

The owners had added a pool, but placed it out front. I can’t imagine swimming in view of a highway.

Motel property

Everything looked neat and clean.

Motel property

A little side building that looked like a diner had a sign on it saying that it would soon reopen as a restaurant.

Motel property

The motel across the street did not get this kid of attention. It looked abandoned.

Derelict motel

Past St. Elmo we soon came upon a confluence of old roads, where the National Road, US 40, and I-70 all meet. I wrote about it here.

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Road Trips

The Green Lantern on the National Road/US 40 in Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we came near to Effingham we could see a tall neon sign in the distance. As we got closer, we could see that it was grand.

Green Lantern

Sadly, the building behind this sign had burned about a month earlier, on the night of June 5. It had stood since 1938, first as a bar, then as a fine dining establishment, and most recently as a roadhouse of sorts. For many years, it was the only place on US 40 for several states that was open Sunday nights, when it drew crowds from a hundred miles away.

Green Lantern

The owner pledged to rebuild, but it never happened. In 2014, the site was sold to someone who maintains it as an investment. I looked the site up on Google Maps (it’s here). The last time a Google Street View car drove by, which was in 2019, someone was selling yard sheds on this lot.

I hope this great sign was saved!

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