The History Museum: Explore The Bend’s Past

What you see around The Bend today is rooted in its past.

Few attractions bring this to light better than The History Museum, which is on the same campus as the Studebaker National Museum. Its exhibits paint a vivid picture — from prehistory to settlement to the rise of industry with stops along the way. It’s a must-see for any visitor, especially those looking to include a history tour on their itinerary.

A Closer Look at the Area’s Growth

Seven rooms of dioramas and interactive displays explain how the St. Joseph River Valley blossomed from dense forest to the age of French exploration and into a thriving Midwest industrial center.

Visitors can “walk” the portage that connected the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. They can see how early settlers lived in the area. This permanent exhibit tells how the native Potawatomi were forcibly removed from the area in the 1830s.

It also touches on the Grand Kankakee Marsh, which was dredged for farmland. An award-winning, 30-minute video documentary in the Free Life Theatre features stories about the African American community in the region from the 1820s through World War I.

Another area explains industrial growth in the late 1800s, including the rise of Studebaker and the Oliver Chilled Plow Works.

Guide yourself through this area so you can take in each display on your own time.

Women’s Baseball in The Bend

Men abroad during World War II sparked an idea for Philip Wrigley – create the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Immortalized in the film “A League of Their Own,” the league actually operated for 12 years. Teams propped in cities across the Midwest. South Bend jumped into the game with the South Bend Blue Sox. It was one of the original four tams and stayed in the league for all 12 seasons.

So, basically every participant in the league visited The Bend at some point.

The History Museum’s collection — a repository for the league — includes photographs, programs, film footage, scrapbooks and playing equipment used by teams. It’s a treasure for baseball and The Bend.

See Them While You Can

One stop at The History Museum might not be enough. Several exhibits change, giving visitors a new look every time they make the trip.

“CUT! Costume and the Cinema,” shown below, runs until Jan. 6. This exhibit walks you through the glamour of design specifically for the movies. The exhibit features 43 costumes worn by the likes of world famous actor Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” These costumes will transport you to London in the 1800s, the World War II era and beyond.

“Cirqzoolodon: A History of the Circus,” which includes local photographs, runs until June 9, 2019. Another upcoming exhibit, “Prohibition in America,” is scheduled to open during the winter.

Tour an Historic Mansion

History doesn’t get much more pristine than this mansion (pictured at the top of the piece).

Once owned by the industrialist J.D. Oliver, it was built in 1895-96. A New York architect designed the 38-room home. Tour it and you’ll find what others have seen — it’s in perfect condition. All the furnishings are original, which offers a rare window into how the Oliver family lived decades later.

Some facts about the mansion:

  • It was built with Indiana field stone, which was transported to the site and cut.
  • It was one of the first homes in South Bend with electricity.
  • More than two acres of Italianate gardens surround the mansion.
  • The mansion and gardens are listed on the National Record of Historic places and registered as an American Treasure.