River Crossing Student Housing land rich in local history

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The site was once an amusement park, baseball diamond, and more

Image via/Photograph Collection of the Indiana University South Bend Archives.
Image via/Photograph Collection of the Indiana University South Bend Archives.

Staff Writer

When the IU South Bend River Crossing campus apartments were dedicated in 2008 and students began moving in that fall, there probably wasn’t a thought about the land the apartments now rested on.

Indeed it is certainly just soil, grass and some old concrete bleachers—but there is long history tied to the plot that is located between Lincoln Way East and the St. Joseph River in South Bend.

The property that sits across from IUSB and is connected by a pedestrian bridge built in 2006 once served many purposes for the residents of South Bend and Mishawaka. In the late 1880s the property was purchased by a streetcar company where they built a terminal and began transporting commuters.

The Northern Indiana Railway Inc. opened Springbrook Park in 1899 and offered picnic areas and available space for concerts. Opening parks was not uncommon for streetcar companies at that time, as many of their weekly riders would also use them on the weekend to visit the park. The railway was earning so much money from transporting patrons to the park that they installed a few rides. Over the next 25 years, Springbrook added more attractions including a dance hall, an amphitheater and a midway.

In 1916 a racetrack was added which included sulky racing, horse racing and later, automobile racing. Eventually, South Bend would host the first and only NASCAR race on July 25, 1952 where 3,700 fans showed up to watch the 100-mile 200-lap spectacle.

A baseball diamond was also constructed and it would later be used by the South Bend Blue Sox from the All-American Girls Baseball League from1943 until 1954.
A man named Charles Deibel eventually leased the property from the Northern Indiana Railway Company where he hired Earl J. Redden Sr., also known as Pete, as the manager of the park. Earl J “Pete” Redden Sr. eventually purchased the park from the Northern Indiana Railway Company in 1925.

Image via/Photograph Collection of the Indiana University South Bend Archives.
Image via/Photograph Collection of the Indiana University South Bend Archives.

Reddens’ wife and two sons helped him manage the park that had many attractions including boat rides, midget car racing, a casino, a roller coaster called the Jack Rabbit and a merry-go-round from Germany.

Redden wanted to rename the park so he created a name contest with a $50 prize. A young girl entered the contest with the name “Playland,” she left with her fifty dollars and, as they say, the rest is history.

Earl J “Pete” Redden Sr. also created a contest to name the roller coaster and held a “kiddies day” where the first 1,000 children to arrive at the gate would earn free tickets.
In an interview with the South Bend Tribune, Reddens’ son Pete Redden Jr. talked about the impact his father and the park had on the community.

“He always carried extra tickets in his jacket pocket. He could spot kids who couldn’t afford to ride and give them a few. I still have people coming up to me today who remember that,” Redden Jr. said in the article.

In the interest of the older patrons visiting the park, there was a dance hall where famous big bands of the era came to town to perform. Some of those acts included Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Johnny “Scat” Davis and Guy Lombardo. People from all over the Midwest began traveling to Playland Park with a real boom in popularity in the 1920s and ‘30s.

After World War II things began to slow down for the local amusement park business. Television was becoming increasingly more popular and the rise of the huge parks like California’s Disneyland which opened in 1955.

Playland Park closed its gates to the children in the local area in 1960 but reopened as a lighted par-3 golf course. The golf course closed in the mid-1990s and IUSB soon purchased the property and began planning for onsite campus housing for students. The now complete River Crossing is the first time IUSB students have stand-alone dormitory housing.

When the world moves like the speed of light, it’s easy forget that others before them helped create the spaces and the history of their community. Playland Park is long gone, but the memories will live on and the photographs will give a small window into a festival of a time.

1 comments on “River Crossing Student Housing land rich in local history”

  1. Hi Sarah –

    Just a note to commend you on your really well-written article in this week’s Preface!

    You’ve put together an interesting article – and the time you took to do your research is clear.


    Alison Stankrauff
    Archivist and Associate Librarian
    Franklin D. Schurz Library
    Indiana University South Bend
    P.O. Box 7111
    South Bend, Indiana 46634
    (574) 520-4392

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