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An Excerpt from “City and Campus” by John W. Stamper

City and Campus tells the rich history of a Midwest industrial town and its two academic institutions through the buildings that helped bring these places to life. John W. Stamper paints a narrative portrait of South Bend and the campuses of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College from their founding and earliest settlement in the 1830s through the boom of the Roaring Twenties.

Anyone who has driven across northern Indiana on Interstate 90 would have the general impression that the city of South Bend is located in the midst of a relatively flat prairie landscape dotted with farms and woods. While northern Indiana is not generally known for its varied topography, it does, in fact, include numerous hills and river valleys, the product of receding glaciers that covered the area over ten thousand years ago. The city of South Bend is located in one of these valleys, that of the St. Joseph River. Originating in southern Michigan, the St. Joseph River enters the city from the east, angles northward through its downtown, then turns westward and again northward as it traverses the city’s north-side residential neighborhoods. Finally, it flows again into Michigan, passing through the cities of Niles and Berrien Springs before reaching Lake Michigan about 35 miles to the north at the town of St. Joseph.

The higher ground around South Bend, on either side of the valley, is made up of a series of moraines, accumulations of earth and stone that were long ago carried and finally deposited by the Huron-Saginaw lobe of the Wisconsin glacier. These moraines create highlands all around the city, with the exception of the southwest side, where a vast, low-lying marsh extended as far as the Kankakee River valley in neighboring LaPorte County. In all, it is a divergent landscape that changes in each direction, a landscape that is both beautiful and expansive, marked by fields and dense forests, farms and wetlands, rolling hills, and the meandering river valley.

Added to the variety of South Bend’s topography are its divergent weather patterns: hot in the summer, cold in the winter, with ample amounts of snowfall, often piled high from lake effect snow as the frigid winds blow northwesterly off Lake Michigan. South Bend’s architecture is influenced in part by the extremes in its weather conditions: steeply pitched roofs to shed the snow in the winter, and strong wood or masonry construction to withstand the high winds of the spring and summer storm seasons. There are many cold, grey days in the winter months, times when buildings look flat and dull, lacking shadows or highlights. Then there are those sunnier days in winter when reflections off the snow are almost blinding, and in summer months when strong shadows are cast, with the sun reflecting off brick-patterned walls, shingled roofs, and curtain-lined windows.

Indians, Explorers, Traders

In the seventeenth century, when the Puritans were already well-established in New England, the Dutch in New York, Oglethorpe’s British in the south, and the French in Quebec and Montreal, the St. Joseph River valley and the surrounding region of the Northwest Territory were inhabited by scattered settlements of Miami Indians. They lived in small clusters of wigwams and subsisted by hunting, trapping and fishing. There were as yet no wagon or stage-coach roads, no man-made canals, and no steamboats plying the rivers. Only canoes could be used to navigate the waterways, while the forests were traversed by narrow footpaths. A natural portage about ten miles across allowed the Miamis to carry their canoes from the St. Joseph River southwestward to the headwaters of the Kankakee River, and from there they could travel all the way to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico.

The first European explorers who canoed up the St. Joseph River and traversed the portage were Father Jacques Marquette in 1675 and René-Robert Cavalier de LaSalle in 1679. LaSalle was conspicuous in the annals of French Canada for doing more than any of his peers to expand the French Empire in North America. While holding command of Fort Frontenac on the north shore of Lake Ontario, his goal was to trace the still uncharted Mississippi River as far as its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. He departed from Canada in his boat Le Griffon in August of 1679, traveled across Lake Erie, up Lake Huron to the Straits of Mackinac, and down the west coast of Lake Michigan as far as Green Bay. Continuing on by canoe, he traveled southward and followed the lake’s southern shore until he landed at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. He built a fort there in 1680, called Fort Miami, which was the first French outpost in the region and marked the site of the future lake-front towns of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan. Traveling up the river, he spent several days in a small Miami Indian village located at the head of the portage, a site just north of South Bend, now occupied by the Riverview Cemetery. Referred to as LaSalle’s Landing, it is still a picturesque spot with stately trees and a panoramic view of the river.

LaSalle portaged across the Kankakee River and continued on to north-central Illinois, near the present-day city of Peoria, where he oversaw the building of Fort Crevecoeur to help defend the region’s indigenous peoples against the Iroquois. He passed through the St. Joseph River Valley again on his return trip to Fort Frontenac, Niagara and the St. Lawrence River. He eventually traveled back to his native country of France and to the Baroque architecture of the great palace and manicured gardens of Versailles, home of the French King Louis XIV. The opulence and monumentality of the King’s great residence were a striking contrast to the wild, unsettled landscape LaSalle had encountered in the American Midwest.

(excerpted from chapter 1)

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