Business History

By the early 20th century the city of South Bend and Mishawaka were the leading industrial manufacturing centers in the Midwest.  In the menu on the left you will find under the “Business History” heading a partial list of companies that called St. Joseph County home.

Mill Races and the St. Joseph River Dam

One of the main reasons factories were located in South Bend was because of the East and West Races.  Although the idea of digging a mill race was put forth in 1835 it was not until 1843 that a dam and the East and West Races were constructed.  The construction was done by the South Bend Manufacturing Company, incorporated in December 1842 for this very purpose.  The South Bend Manufacturing Company thus became owner of the water power rights on the West Race, while Samuel Cottrell owned the water rights along the East Race.

The St. Joseph River dam was rebuilt in 1855 after it had been washed away in a flood.  In 1867 the South Bend Hydraulic Company purchased the rights to the East Race for $100 and made improvements.  The company’s advertisements professed that “Such hydraulic power in New England would ensure the building of a city of fifty thousand inhabitants in two years.  It would set the capitalists of Boston half crazy in an hour; and agitate the ‘hub of creation’ to the extremity of every spoke.”

In 1903 the ownership of stock, property rights, and property of the South Bend Manufacturing Company on the West Race passed to the Oliver Chilled Plow Works.  Old head gates were replaced at the south end of the West Race and reconstruction work took place on the dam itself.  Concrete walls were built around the island between the West Race and the river.  The Oliver powerhouse, of fireproof iron construction, was in operation by 1905.  This Oliver hydro-electric plant was demolished in 1973 to make room for the construction of the Century Center.

In the late 1940’s Indiana and Michigan Electric Company purchased the rights along the East Race and began filling it in around 1954.  In the mid-1980s, the East Race was re-excavated and turned into a man made whitewater kayaking course.  The history of the races are the history of South Bend’s industrial history.

Learn more about South Bend and Mishawaka’s industries by clicking the many links on the menu to the left.

Aerial view of South Bend looking from downtown towards the southwest. The large building in the background is one of Studebaker Manufacturing Company buildings.