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I lived in South Bend for four years, from 1958 to 1962. Quite frankly, South Bend was a dump back then.
I don’t think it ever really bothered me. Besides, I certainly wasn’t an expert on metropolitan planning, and I wasn’t planning on sticking around beyond graduation from college anyway.
The funny thing is that I got used to all that was wrong with the northern Indiana city. There certainly were a lot of bars and taverns, and few if any of them would be considered upscale. Most of them were working men’s saloons, where the guys off the lines from Studebaker and Bendix would plop down on bar stools and order boilermaker depth charges (shot glasses of whiskey dropped into steins of beer).
Needless to say, such practices often resulted in visits from the police.
After graduation and my departure from South Bend, I waited several years to return. In fact, I don’t think I went back until the late 1970s, maybe even the ’80s. I still remember that first return visit. I got lost.
The South Bend that I had known had been transformed. The streets weren’t the same, and the businesses on those streets were certainly not the ones I remembered.
The downtown had a new look to it, almost modernistic. It was a lot brighter than the dreary environment I remembered. There were even skyscrapers — or what passed for skyscrapers in my mind.
From an aesthetic view the new South Bend looked a heck of a lot better than the old South Bend. But I found myself missing the old one. It was the only South Bend I had known for four years, and it was gone.
I wonder what former residents of Columbus who left in the 1960s would think of the city if they returned today. I arrived here in 1966 and immediately felt right at home. Truth of the matter is that the Columbus of 1966 looked and felt a lot like my South Bend of 1958 to 1962.
I don’t know if boilermaker depth charges had made it to Columbus, but there were sure a lot of bars and taverns. I counted in a city directory as many as 20 drinking establishments in the downtown alone.
Quite frankly I’d be afraid to go into most of them today. What the heck, I was afraid to go into a lot of them when I was in my 20s.
Most of the bars and taverns were for the working men of the city. The majority of them were good people, just out for a little relaxation. However, there were enough of the other kind to give the downtown a pretty bad reputation. Even today, long-retired Columbus police officers can laughingly recall the drunks they arrested and the fights they broke up.
Obviously things have gotten a lot better over the years, and the downtown has evolved into a showplace. It’s been a steady transition that has accelerated over the past five years as a direct result of the Vision 2020 project for the revitalization of the downtown. The seedy bars disappeared years ago, and even the memories of them are fading.
Most of us who have lived here during this period have had time to adjust to all of the changes and feel comfortable with the new downtown. Still, I wonder what those who left here in the late 1960s and returned for the first time today would think.
I imagine some of them would miss their old downtown. I suspect a few of them might even get lost.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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