South Bend, Indiana is probably best known as the home of Notre Dame University. While the college campus is attractive and certainly worthy of a visit, there is another attraction that is equally as amazing and much less well known. It is the Studebaker National Museum.
At first glance, this seems to be a standard auto museum with lots of stunning cars on display but with a little deeper look, the layers of this museum are revealed. It is part of a complex called The Museums at Washington and Chapin and together with the J.D. Oliver House (Copshaholm), the Historic Oliver Gardens and the Worker’s House; it is The Center for History.
When you purchase your ticket, most likely at the Studebaker National Museum, you will need to register for a guided tour of the J.D. Oliver House. Guided tours are conducted at regular intervals so be sure to check with the website or give the museum a call before you visit to avoid disappointment. Tours are also limited in size which can be a factor on a busy day. There are stairs involved in visiting both of the houses which is something to keep in mind.
Studebaker National Museum
Depending on your interests, this is a great place to start your visit. It is located on two floors and is done chronologically. As you begin your tour on the first floor you learn the history of the Studebaker family how they ended up going into the automotive industry. One of the most fascinating exhibits is on this first floor, it is four presidential carriages. One of the most spectacular is the one the President Abraham Lincoln rode in the night that he went to Ford’s Theatre. It is an amazing piece of history.
The second floor has the later vehicles produced by the company including the Lark and the Avanti. There is an elevator in this building so there is no problem with moving between the floors.
Back on the first floor in the other wing of the building there is an exhibit along one wall entitled “Lincoln Highway: Centennial Reflections”. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of this iconic road that connects New York City with San Francisco and travels for over 3,000 across the country.
A quick walk outside the rear of the building that houses the Studebaker Museum and The Center for History is the J.D. Oliver House. The house was designed by a New York architect Charles Alonzo Rich. Like any other city, there was a certain amount of competition among the wealthy residents to have the nicest home and South Bend was no exception. Built between 1895 and 1896 the house is a 38 room mansion built of gray stone in the Queen Anne style. The Oliver family had earned their money in the plow business and this house was the way to show off that wealth. The family lived in the house for more than 70 years. Today you can take a peek at what their life was like.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Worker’s House which is exactly what it sounds like and the difference between this home and the Oliver House is vast. The date within the house is the 1930's.
The property is approximately the same size as it was when the Oliver’s were living in the home and the gardens are made to look as they would have in 1915. There is a tea house, a pergola, a fountain, tennis lawn and formal Italian gardens. We didn’t have time to tour them so we will need to go back for another visit.
Center for History
The museum in the same building as the Studebaker Museum is loaded with history. We had a very short time to tour we were left wanting more. If you are interested in doing research about the area, there is a library that offers that option. There are also galleries with a wide variety of displays including items that belong to the Oliver family.
There is more than one level so be sure to so downstairs. That is also the location of the Kidsfirst Museum. One display that stands out is the one about the South Bend Blue Sox of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.Another is the Voyagers Gallery which is an amazing walk-through history lesson.
I can’t emphasis enough how wonderful this entire complex is and how worthy of a visit. You should allow an entire day to do it justice.