James Monroe School Canon Canonet QL17 G-III Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros 2010
Banking off yesterday’s post, with the photo of me in my second-grade classroom, I thought I’d share this photo of the school building itself, on the south side of South Bend, Indiana. The building was built in stages, the first of which was erected in 1930 and was funded by the Studebaker family. This is the original main entrance in the 1930 part of the building.
Additions in 1946 and 1959 brought the building to its footprint at the time I attended (1972-79). A 2010 renovation and expansion added a great deal of space and relocated the main entrance.
The land on which my home stands was farmland not 20 years ago. It’s typical: thanks to sprawl, many American neighborhoods occupy land that produced crops sometime within the last hundred years. In my town, a suburb of Indianapolis, neighboring subdivisions and shopping centers are brand new. I remember well the farmland that was there before.
But at some point the last farm will become another vinyl village or strip mall. Children born here then will have no memory of this area’s bucolic origin.
I was such a kid once, born into a busy and thriving South Bend, Indiana, neighborhood where the last new house had been built 20 years before. It was a typical 20th-century city neighborhood bordered by shops, businesses, and schools. You could almost get away with not owning a car.
My mom managed it: she walked to her job as a teacher’s aide at James Monroe School a block away. I visited her at her job one day when I was about 13. While snooping through some cabinets, I came upon this photograph, and it blew my mind.
This is that school’s front lawn on the occasion of a May Day celebration. I found the image online recently with a comment that the photo was taken in 1939. That’s eight years after the school was built, but twelve years before my childhood home was built. It and many others would soon be be built on that distant grove of trees in the photo’s upper-right corner. It is fascinating to not see the houses there that have always been a part of my memory!
To me as a kid, our 1951 house might as well have been built in 1851 or even 1751 — it was a time I could not imagine. From my limited childhood perspective, my neighborhood had always existed.
I knew intellectually that this couldn’t be true, of course. But I had no way of imagining the neighborhood before it was completed. The 1939 photograph made that time more imaginable!
At right is an excerpt from a 1922 map of South Bend. It shows the location of my childhood home and of the school, neither of which had been built yet. I lived on Erskine Boulevard, the curved street, which would eventually curve back and end at Donmoyer Avenue, the street at the bottom of the map.
I’ve written about my elementary school here many times, and occasionally other former students find my posts and leave comments full of memories. One fellow who attended Monroe School in the 1950s commented on this post how his father never stopped calling my neighborhood “the new extension.” He clearly remembered when this land was that grove of trees.
This is the same delusion in reverse, and it illustrates how sticky our sense of place can be. Because this man remembered the grove of trees, he likely considered it to be this land’s true use and purpose.
Similarly, I have childhood memories of neighborhoods being built well south of James Monroe School. I still recall what was there before, and forty years on those neighborhoods still feel new, in a way, to me. And on my first visits to Indianapolis as a child, US 31 in the county just north of Indianapolis passed through nothing but farmland. A building boom that started in the 1980s brought tall office buildings to that corridor, plus a long string of stoplights. Recently US 31 has been converted into a limited-access highway there. But even after all these years I still marvel at how it’s all changed.
Even the existing built environment changes. If you’re a young student of James Monroe School – or, should I say, Monroe Primary Center, which is its name today – you might not know a time before the school was renovated and expanded (read about it here and here). My memories of this building do not include its current dropped ceilings, and include rooms that no longer exist. And my mind’s eye will forever remember the school’s front yard looking as it did in this photo, which I took in 1984.
Visiting my hometown in 2013, after the school’s renovation was complete, I happened to take this photograph one gray morning from about the same place. Little of the landscaping survived the addition of the driveway — except the pine trees at right, which are almost certainly the same little pine trees in the lower corner of the 1939 photo.
The years to come will surely bring more changes, and they’ll surprise both current students and aging alumni like me. Because place imprints on all of us.
I first shared these thoughts and photographs in 2014, but rewrote the article for today.
It remained vacant for a long time before someone finally bought it and lived in it. I think it’s been sold one more time since then. I live around the corner from this house and drive by frequently. I’ve watched many exterior improvements be made — all faithful, thanks to protective covenants Indiana Landmarks placed on the house.
A you-pick blueberry patch went in next door. It is kind of startling to find such a thing within the city limits! I’m pretty sure it’s run by the people in this old farmhouse.
The Aston Inn at 6620 Michigan Road was built in 1852 and, for a time, served as an inn for travelers. In those days, it was still a full day’s journey from here to downtown Indianapolis! Here are my 2008 photos.
Little has changed in 2017, except that the trees and shrubs in front of the house have grown to block the house. I’m sure the owners hope the greenery will turn down the volume on the traffic noise from always-busy Michigan Road. But it’s a shame not to be able to fully see this great old house.
In Augusta, the 1832 Boardman House, at 7716 Michigan Road (right), stands next to this block house that looks to be from the early 20th century. I photographed it in 2008 both before and after the owner de-ivied it.
I met the owner of this house once and he said that it is an extremely sturdily built structure, with walls a foot thick (I think) on the bottom story and hand-hewn exposed beams overhead in the cellar. He has since sold the house. The new owner has cleaned the place up nicely. The block house has been de-ivied, as well.
Across the street, at 7711 Michigan Road, stands this little structure that I feel certain is a log cabin beneath that siding, which looks from a distance to be aluminum. The shape of the house suggests it strongly. The center door is flanked by windows. There’s a large space above the door and windows before the roof begins, suggesting a typical loft above the ground floor. The sloping-roof addition is a classic way to expand a log cabin. I first photographed this house in 2010.
In 2017, the siding is dirty and the gutter is hanging low — time for a little basic maintenance. But the house still stands. And I’m still dying to know whether I’m right. I hope the owner stumbles upon this post and leaves a comment.
Here’s hoping that I can come back with my camera in another nine years and find all of these structures still in good condition.
Like this post? Share it on social media with the buttons below! And subscribe to get more in your inbox or reader six days a week. Click here to subscribe!
I’ve been looking through old photographs as I’ve thought about a subject for the photo book I’d like to produce. Reviewing photos from my Pentax KM, I found this 2013 photo of my dad. I used a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens and Kodak TMax 400 film — which I mistakenly shot at 100. Fortunately, Photoshop rescued it and brought out strong contrast.
Dad’s walking down the steps of the four-room schoolhouse where his education began, now abandoned and decaying, in the coal-and-railroad town of Handley, West Virginia. As I grew up, he told stories of how he had to repeat the first grade because the first time through he simply refused to speak to the teacher all year, and of how that teacher used to delight in sadistically pushing children so they’d fall down the hill on which this school stands. Oy! Visiting Handley made all these stories I’d heard since childhood so much more real.
This arch, of which I’ve written before, once admitted students to one of the oldest schools in Indianapolis. Students have been educated at this site on the Michigan Road in northwest Marion County, Indiana, since 1837. The building formerly attached to this arch was built in about 1916 and razed in 1983. The school that stands on this ground now, Crooked Creek Elementary School, was built in stages from the 1960s through the 1980s.
On Monday I’m going to share some urban decay photos from this part of Michigan Road. But I wanted to lead with this photo, as the school is a bright spot in this neighborhood — the neighborhood in which I live. I shot it early last year with my Yashica-D on Kodak E100G slide film.
The balloons filled the air, hundreds and hundreds of them squirming around each other in the wind. The sky turned red, yellow, blue, and green as they raced away. A cross current soon caught them, drawing them across the sky on their way to who knows where. Six hundred children gathered on the school’s back lawn jumping and whooping with excitement from the moment they opened their hands to send these balloons on their way. We all stood and watched them go, each of us excitedly trying to follow the balloons we had released, pointing to the sky and calling out to our friends a play-by-play as each balloon made its way. We watched them go until the last one disappeared from view.
This was an annual autumn event at my elementary school, at least while I was there in the 1970s. Each student would get some number of balloons — did we buy them? I can’t recall. Attached to each: a post card with the school’s address on one side, and on the other, an explanation and instructions and the name of the student who let it go. As what goes up eventually comes down, we hoped people would find each spent balloon, write on the postcard where they found it, affix a stamp, and drop the card in the mail.
We tracked every returned card on a huge map, watching how the balloons dispersed from South Bend. Typically, they flew north and east: up into Michigan, over to the Indiana counties to the east of us, sometimes into Ohio. An occasional rogue would catch some northerly current and sail up to Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan, or be wafted by the west wind and find its way to Wheeling, West Virginia. Sometimes a card came back from Ontario in Canada — how exciting; a balloon made it across the Great Lakes!
The map filled with markers as the pattern emerged. We tracked the number of miles each returned card had traveled, allowing many weeks to go by to be sure we had received as many cards as possible. The student whose balloon traveled the farthest received some sort of prize.
I always hoped my balloon would go the farthest, and was always excited when one of my cards came back — and a little disappointed when my balloons inevitably landed in non-exotic locales such as nearby Elkhart. Most of our balloons landed within fifty miles of the school, actually, but that never diminished our overall excitement. Getting our balloons, letting them go, watching pins appear on the map, seeing which student’s balloon had gone the farthest — every bit of it captured our collective attention and imagination.
That’s what it was all about, actually — studying wind currents, noticing dispersal patterns, considering the probability a card would actually be returned. It was a giant educational exercise that captivated the entire school.
Unbelievably, I have about thirty silent seconds of film from a Balloon Day in about 1977. A neighbor with an 8mm movie camera came to school to watch her daughter Sally release her balloons. That’s Sally as the film begins, holding a red balloon in one hand and an orange one in the other.
Many thanks to Robyn Weber, that neighbor’s oldest daughter, for sharing this film with me and granting me permission to share it.
First shared in October, 2012. Robyn and Sally were friends from Rabbit Hill, a fine place to grow up. Read about it!