The Lincoln Highway in St Joseph County

The Lincoln Highway. The idea was the brainchild of Carl Graham Fisher to create a road that connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts with a hard surface, all purpose facility. In one of those “small world” moments, the Lincoln Highway went on to connect my family to that of my wife. My family comes from the area of the Lincoln Highway in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Her family comes from the area of the old road in the subject area: St. Joseph County.

Carl Fisher’s idea was to improve the road, not build it. There were many roads already in place. The problem was that most of them were simply dirt paths through the wilderness. In Indiana, roads were owned by one of three types of organizations: county governments, township governments, or toll road companies. And, toward the time that the Lincoln Highway came into being, the toll road companies were basically gone. The Lincoln Highway association had the task of promoting and locating the road. This required a large number of surveys and decisions to decide what towns would and would not be lucky enough to be connected to the coast-to-coast network.

Northwestern St. Joseph County, Indiana, 1876. The red line shows the Michigan Road, with the lighter red having become part of the Lincoln Highway. The green line north from South Bend will become the Dixie Highway to Niles, Michigan. The blue line is the Mishawaka Road, which will become part of the Lincoln Highway. Most of it, to this day, is still called Lincolnway.

In western St. Joseph County, the new Lincoln Highway followed what was originally built as the Michigan Road. The above 1876 map shows the route of both the Michigan Road and the Lincoln Highway west of the county seat. That road shown in 1876 existed in pretty much the same configuration in the mid 1910’s when the LHA decided it would be part of the longer road. There have only basically been two changes in the road shown on this map. One, a reroute of the road east of New Carlisle to make a safer way to cross the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (New York Central) Railroad. Two, there was a reroute closer to South Bend to allow for an expansion of the airport.

Northeastern St. Joseph County, 1876. The blue line leaving South Bend to the east will become part of the Lincoln Highway within 40 years of this map.

East of South Bend, the “new” road was laid out along the Mishawaka Road, stretching from South Bend to Goshen (in Elkhart County), with the exception of the section through Elkhart. The LH was routed through Elkhart, where the Mishawaka Road bypassed the city. Most of this route in St. Joseph County is still called, to this day, Lincolnway. The blue line east of Osceola is the Mishawaka Road, not (what will become) the Lincoln Highway.

What is important to point out here is that the LH, the granddaddy of all Auto Trails, was actually a collection of county roads, connected by a common sign. This same principle would be applied to the state of Indiana in 1917/1919 with the creation of the state highway system. The only difference is that the state would be responsible for the maintenance of the roads, instead of local authorities. Ironic, that. The second road taken into the state highway system would be the Lincoln Highway. Thus, the state became responsible for an Auto Trail set up to be a more private concern.

1959 topographical map of South Bend, showing the original route for the Lincoln Highway. The section above Monroe Street, which on this map is marked US 33, has long been removed in the name of urban renewal.
1971 topographical map of South Bend, showing the same area as the last picture.
1969 topographical map of South Bend, with changes (in purple) made before reissue as a 1986. This shows the removing of the Lincoln Highway above Monroe Street, the rerouting of the Michigan Road (or, in South Bend, Michigan Street), and even some elevation changes made near the St. Joseph River.
Google Map image (taken 1 June 2019) showing the reroute of the old Lincoln Highway (and historic Michigan Road) at the South Bend airport. A straight line is still clearly visible showing where the road had been for over 150 years.
Google Map image (taken 01 Jun 2019) showing the “S” curve entering New Carlisle. The original road was a straight line across the railroad tracks.

One thought on “The Lincoln Highway in St Joseph County

  1. I have very dim memories of the section of LH in downtown SB that was removed. Some years ago someone shared photos of that stretch on one of the Facebook “you know you grew up in South Bend when” pages and glory be, it was very much as I recalled. I had to be 3 when they tore it all down.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s