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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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.

Image