Bridge over the St. Joseph River at Leeper Park

Leeper Bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2008

Of all the bridges I’ve documented, this is one of my top favorites. It carries Michigan Street, former US 31, over the St. Joseph River in South Bend. Built in 1914, its 56-foot-wide deck was unusually broad in its day. Even today it carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, which certainly helped it survive. Starting in 1917, it carried State Road 1; in 1926 it began to carry US 31. A great deal of traffic passed over this bridge over the years. Had it been able to carry only one lane of traffic in each direction, it would have been insufficient and would have been replaced long ago. Even though US 31 was rerouted onto a bypass of the city many years ago, this road remains a highway as State Road 933 today. It carries about 31,000 vehicles each day.

Bridge standards evolve over time, and today this bridge’s 56-foot-wide deck is considered intolerable for that volume of traffic. I’m sure it survives primarily because it is in fair condition overall, according to its last inspection. I hope it gets good maintenance so it can keep serving, because it’s a beautiful bridge. Many excellent views are available in Leeper Park, which hugs the south bank of the river here on both sides of the bridge.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Leeper Bridge

A beautiful concrete-arch bridge north of downtown South Bend.

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Photography, Preservation

Beautiful old buildings in downtown South Bend

In the 1970s and early 1980s, my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, gleefully tore down as many of its old downtown buildings as it could. That’s how it seemed, at least. During most of my childhood, downtown was full of holes where old buildings used to be.

I didn’t much care in those days. My inner preservationist wouldn’t awaken for a few decades yet. But now I recognize how staggering a loss South Bend suffered.

One April day in 2010 I was in town on personal business. I’d needed a will for some time, as I wanted my estate (as modest as it was) to go into a trust for my children in the event of my death. My mom was a clerk in the probate court in St. Joseph County, and one of the attorneys she knew agreed to write my will for a nominal fee as a favor to her. It was a real kindness to me — even though I made good money, the majority of it went to child support and paying off the attorney fees from my divorce. Money was always tight then.

The attorney’s office was in the J.M.S. Building, on the northeast corner of Main and Washington Streets. (In South Bend, Main Street isn’t the main street; Michigan Street, one block to the east, is.) Completed in 1910, it is named for John Mohler Studebaker, at the time Vice President of Studebaker Corporation. It was the tallest building in the city then. The marble first-floor facade is not original; it was added in a renovation some decades ago. The interior underwent a renovation in the mid-2010s.

JMS Building

As you can see, I brought a camera with me this cool spring day. A friend had given me his old Canon PowerShot S80 as a gift and it had become my everyday camera. I slipped it into my coat pocket before I made the trip north that day. I had this blog then; I have no idea now why I didn’t share these photos with you when they were new! Better late than never.

The St. Joseph County Courthouse is on the opposite corner from the J.M.S. Building. Completed in 1898, it has been in use as a courthouse except from 1969 to 1971. The terrific Courthousery blog has the full story; read it here.

St. Joseph County Courthouse

This courthouse replaced one built in 1855 on the same site. The old courthouse still exists — it was moved to a lot behind this site! It was turned around to face Lafayette Blvd., which runs parallel to Main Street one block to the west. For whatever reason, I didn’t photograph the older courthouse this day — except for its cupola. If you’d like to see the rest of it, check out this entry on the Courthousery site.

Courthouse Cupola

I did photograph this 1889 church building, across the street from the older courthouse. It was originally the First Presbyterian Church, but today it houses a congregation called Ambassadors for Christ. This building also has a Studebaker connection, in that Studebaker Corporation co-founder John M. Studebaker contributed funds so it could be built.

Ambassadors for Christ church

Back on Main Street, I walked to the end of the block the courthouse is on to photograph the First Bank Building. That’s what I’ve always known it as, at any rate, as until the 1980s it was the headquarters of the First Bank and Trust Company. But as I researched it for this post, I learned it began its life as the Farmers Security Bank building upon its 1915 completion. I don’t know what became of Farmers Security Bank, but I do know what became of First Bank. They renamed themselves to First Source Bank around the same time they built a modern steel-and-glass headquarters on Michigan Street where one of the holes had been. The old headquarters remains, however, as an office building. It’s one of the most distinctive older buildings in town.

First Bank building

To wrap up my photo walk, I headed east to Michigan Street and then north to Washington Street to photograph the grand Palace Theater, which was built in 1922. In its day it was one of South Bend’s grand movie houses. I wrote about those movie houses here. Today, after a wonderful renovation, it’s known as the Morris Performing Arts Center. In 1987 — before that renovation, the interior not in great condition — I got to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen here. I told that story here. The last time I was inside the Palace was in 2006, when I saw the rock band Heart perform here. I got to meet the band that day, a story I told here.

Palace Theater

I was pleased to find these photos and remember this very nice day.

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Road Trips

Postcard views of the Michigan Road, Indianapolis to Michigan City

Here are the rest of the vintage postcards I collected showing images from the Michigan Road in Indiana. Last time I shared images from Madison to Indianapolis, the southern portion of the road. Now I’ll share images from Indianapolis to Michigan City, the northern portion of the road.

In Indianapolis, for many years the road on the northwest side of the city was called Northwestern Avenue. Today it’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. from the northwest edge of Downtown to the old city limits, and then Michigan Road from there to the county line. This bridge, long since replaced, carried the road over the White River. Guessing, I think this postcard is from the 1920s. Back then, this was outside the city limits.

The next postcards I owned take us 66 miles north of that bridge to downtown Logansport. The road followed Broadway Street for a few blocks. This view looks east, which is northbound on the Michigan Road. This postcard bears a 1906 postmark.

This 1920s view of Broadway looks west, which is southbound on the Michigan Road.

This 1960s view also looks west on Broadway.

Finally, as the road leaves Logansport northbound it passes by Logansport Memorial Hospital. This hospital building isn’t visible from the road; perhaps it’s been razed in favor of the current set of buildings. Perhaps it was in a different location in the city; I don’t know. But I’m including it because the current hospital is very much on the Michigan Road

Next, a couple views of downtown Rochester. This view from the air is on a postcard postmarked 1911. The grand Fulton County Courthouse is just out of the photo to the right.

Here’s a 1960s ground-level view from the intersection with 8th Street, right in front of the courthouse.

Next I had this postcard from Plymouth, a little south of downtown from its grand avenue of lovely homes. Most of those homes still stand today, making this just as lovely a drive now as then. This postcard is postmarked 1911.

This view of downtown Plymouth is from a postcard postmarked 1958, but judging by the cars I’d say the image is from the early 1950s. This photo looks northbound.

This southbound photo of downtown Plymouth is also postmarked 1958.

This is easily the most interesting postcard in the set. It’s a view of Lakeville, a small town just south of South Bend. It is postmarked 1911. This is a southbound view. Notice how wide this dirt road is! The Michigan Road claimed a 100-foot right-of-way when it was built.

Next is South Bend. This card postmarked 1906 shows Michigan Street, but the city has changed so much that I couldn’t tell you where this is located and whether this is a northbound or southbound photo.

The same would be true for this card postmarked 1909, except that its caption clears things up very nicely.

This card is from the same place as the one above, taken sometime in the 1950s. I think the building second from the right edge of the photo is the same one that’s second from the right edge of the photo above, the building with the advertisement sign painted on the side.

Finally, we reach the end of the Michigan Road, in Michigan City. This vast sand dune is no more. It was carted off load by load, and used to make glass. A giant cooling tower for an electrical power plant stands here today.

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Main Street, South Bend

Main Street, South Bend
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

South Bend’s Main Street isn’t the city’s main street. Michigan Street is, one block to the east.

One block of Main Street is paved in brick. I suppose many other blocks were, too, but they were paved over with asphalt at some time.

My brother had an apartment on this block back in the 1990s. Memorial Hospital, which you see in the distance in this photo, was buying out all of the other property owners on this block so they could raze the houses and pave a parking lot. Rick’s landlord, who lived upstairs in the two-story house, would have none of it. He made the hospital wait until he died to get his property. That was long after Rick moved away.

I don’t remember now whether the house still stood when I made this photo, but I remember a time when it and one other house were all that still stood on this block.

Meanwhile, the brick street remains.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Main Street, South Bend

The one block of Main Street still paved in bricks in South Bend, Indiana.

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Cushing St.

Cushing Street
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2008

Today I begin a “single frame” series on brick streets and highways. As bicycles and automobiles created a thirst for hard-surfaced “good roads” in the early 20th century, brick was one of the surfaces tried. The brick era ended by about 1930; asphalt and, to a far lesser extent, concrete won the contest. Except for some modern brick streets built largely for aesthetic reasons, when you find a brick road, it is 90+ years old.

My hometown of South Bend has a large number of brick streets in its core. The main roads were all paved in asphalt decades ago, often right over the original brick. You’ll still find brick only on the side streets.

My mom grew up on one of South Bend’s brick streets, in a large house just north of downtown. My brother had an apartment for a while on the one block of Main St. that’s still brick.

As a kid, I didn’t enjoy riding on the brick streets. They rumbled the car so! I don’t mind them at all today. What I’ve found as I’ve explored the midwest’s old roads is that South Bend’s brick streets are especially rumbly. Some of the brick roads I’ve driven on are as smooth as concrete or asphalt.

This is Cushing St., on South Bend’s northwest side. I made this photo from its intersection with Lincolnway West — the old Lincoln Highway, which in South Bend was routed along the old Michigan Road.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Cushing Street

A brick street in South Bend, Indiana.

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Personal, Stories Told

Brant’s and South Bend’s Miami Village

In the early 1980s I was a teenager living with my family on the south side of South Bend, Indiana. I lived in a real neighborhood, with plenty of shops and other businesses within walking distance. My favorite of them was Brant’s. In days gone by, Brant’s was known as a five and 10 cent store, or a five and dime store, or just a dime store. These were the dollar stores of their day — everything was a nickel or a dime. But their day had largely passed by the 1980s, and stores like Brant’s were more commonly called variety stores. The only thing you might still get for a nickel or a dime in them was a piece of candy. But nothing Brant’s carried was particularly expensive. It was a fine store to visit when you were on a tight budget.

Brant’s centerpiece was its gleaming stainless-steel soda fountain and counter with six stools. You could get a light lunch there, a hot dog or a grilled-cheese sandwich and a cup of soup. I did that from time to time, always the grilled cheese and bean-bacon soup with a Coke. They still made Cokes by squirting syrup in the bottom of the glass, filling it the rest of the way with soda water, and stirring. That was a throwback even then. They also made Green River sodas, a sweet lime drink. But for me, the soda fountain’s crowning glory was the milkshakes, hand dipped and mixed. I drank dozens of them over the years. Make mine chocolate, with extra malt.

I often went with my brother, who loved root beer. One day at the counter he asked if it were possible to make root beer double strength, that is, to use twice the syrup. “Of course,” was the answer, and they made him one. After that, he ordered one every time we went in. He became so well known for his double-strength root beer that every time we visited, while he shopped they’d make him one and leave it on the counter for whenever he was ready for it.

Like all five-and-dimes, Brant’s carried all kinds of miscellaneous stuff in its handful of aisles. For example, Brant’s was the only store on the south side that carried photo corners. They are little black paper pockets, backed with lick-and-stick adhesive. You place one, moistened, on each of a photo’s four corners and then press the corners onto paper. Regular photo albums were crazy expensive on my meager allowance. But at Brant’s I could make affordable photo albums out of three-fastener cardboard report covers, three-hole notebook paper, and photo corners.

Brant’s also had a postal station inside. I had pen pals in other countries, and we used to make mix tapes for each other. I packaged them up and took them over to Brant’s, where owner Ray Brant always took care of me. He’d weigh the package, look up the rate, take my money, affix the postage, and make sure the letter carrier picked it up.

That was another thing about Brant’s: it was a family business. His daughters and I’m pretty sure even his wife (who drew the image at the top of this post) all worked there. The whole family came to know the many kids who came in. They tolerated all of us kids very well. My brother and I were good kids who never caused trouble. Sometimes they’d chat with us briefly at the soda fountain — once Mr. Brant shared his snack of string cheese with me — and they always let us linger over our browsing well beyond the time we needed.

I loved going to Brant’s and headed there anytime I had a little money. A Coke was just 35 cents, so it didn’t take long to save up for a trip. I even had my first date at Brant’s, at age 13, taking a sweet girl to the soda fountain for lunch. But even as long ago as the early 1980s, stepping inside Brant’s was like stepping into 1965. It was clear to me even at that age that Brant’s was a holdover from a different time.

Brant’s was part of a larger community of businesses known as Miami Village, named for the street they were all on. Here’s a photo with Brant’s in it, next to a barber shop and what I remember being a little bar. Judging by the cars, this photo was taken in the 1980s.

The History Museum (South Bend) photo

Miami Village was just a mile from my house, a short bike ride or a long walk away. This composite photo from about 1975 was taken just north of Brant’s in the same block, on Brant’s side of the street, looking south on Miami Street.

Composite of two The History Museum (South Bend) photos

Miami Village offered bars and restaurants, banks, dry cleaners, gas stations, a dairy store (a convenience store before anyone coined the term), a public library branch, a hobby store (where I bought the plastic model cars I put together in those days), and more. In this north-facing photo from abut 1975, the gas tower looms over the village. It stored coal gas used to heat homes, and was a South Bend landmark for 60 years.

The History Muesum (South Bend) photo

The south end of Miami Village was anchored by Buschbaum’s Pharmacy. I used to go in there to buy MAD Magazine and candy. This photo is from the Blizzard of 1978.

Sourced from a South Bend group on Facebook

Miami Village started to slowly decline after I moved away from South Bend in 1985. For years it seemed like every time I went home to visit, more businesses had closed along this strip. Brant’s held on for a long time, through the late 1990s or early 2000s if memory serves. By then Mr. Brant was ready to retire, and he couldn’t find someone interested in continuing his business.

Today, the only Miami Village businesses still operating since the 1980s are a pub and, of all things, a lamp shop. The library branch is still open, too. Other businesses have moved into the old spaces. I hate to say it, but they’re not of the same caliber as the businesses they replaced. A wig store has operated out of the Brant’s building for many years, one of its plate glass windows replaced with an ugly piece of particle board.

At least Miami Village was still great at a time when I’d earned enough autonomy and had a little money, and could enjoy it.

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