If you have a Sunday afternoon with nothing to do, visit the Center for History in South Bend, Indiana. Housed in a fairly new building in near downtown South Bend, the museum has some very interesting rooms. The Studebaker National Museum is housed in the same building and you can see both for one price.
Displays range from the early settlements to local industry to other cultural influences in the area. Each area has a gallery name which provides you with an idea of what the gallery is about. For instance, Voyages – Exploring the History of the St. Joseph Valley has real mastodon bones and fur trade artifacts. It also describes the impact of the Jesuit missionaries. There are handouts set out in bins throughout this part of the exhibit. These contain lists of internet websites that provide additional information. The handouts are provided mostly for grade school group tours, but they are available to everyone. So, if you would like to know more about a specific fact, pick up one of the handouts and research at home at your leisure.
The Wheels of Power Room is an amazing exhibit. It shows the impact of industry on the area. It has interesting examples of glass, iron and all kinds of products manufactured in the area. It includes a scale model of the Cook nuclear plant in Bridgeman, Michigan. Since the 9/11 disaster, the Cook nuclear plant is no longer open to the public, so this is as close as you can get to understanding how this nuclear power plant works. Additional galleries are: the Indian room; the African American room; and the Civil War room. Each of these contains noteworthy information about and artifacts from the area.
One entire hall is a tribute to Notre Dame. There is a lot of about Knute Rockne, who was a student and then went on to become the most famous coach ever from Notre Dame. Some facts from the Notre Dame room:
Knute Rockne married Bonnie Skiles on July 15th , 1914, in Sandusky, Ohio, where they met while working at the Cedar Point resort
Notre Dame became the site of a training school for the Navy during World War II
In 1842, Ste Marie des Lacs, a school and orphanage, became Notre Dame du Lace. It was at this same time that Notre Dame was established
Another interesting display is a tribute to womens baseball. It chronicles the AGPBL – All American Girls Professional Baseball League. This league was started during WWII by Philip Wrigley, who was then the owner of the Chicago Cubs. The league consisted of four teams from: South Bend, Indiana; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Rockford, Illinois; and Racine, Wisconsin. They averaged 25 to 35 away games per season, so spent a good portion of their time travelling. A list of conduct rules is just one of the facts displayed about the league. One rule stated that the women were not allowed to wear pants in public. They were required to wear dresses or skirts except on the field. Isn’t it incredible how much things can change in such a short time? There are great photos and memorabilia, even a photo of some of the original players as they looked recently. The league was disbanded in 1954, but still managed to inspire the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. Movie posters and costumes are also on display.
A favorite exhibit of many would be the Changing Channels exhibit. This chronicles how television has impacted our society. It has a display of Red s, who was one of the few entertainers who took his show from radio to television. This exhibit describes how the murder of President Kennedy in 1963 was the catalyst for changing television into the main source of news for the American people. It highlights early television shows and explains how television gave us a different take on history with the comedy Mash, how All In the Family helped us make fun of our prejudices, how many of us loved the place where everybody knows your name Cheers and the list goes on. It is an entertaining exhibit with walks down memory lane for many of us baby boomers.
There is a Kids First Childrens Museum which is aimed at getting smaller children involved with some hands on features. They can ride in a birch canoe or a Conestoga wagon. It looked like the small children were really enjoying this room.
The museum has plenty of parking, is easy to locate and is fairly inexpensive to visit. It appears to offer a lot to the area schools and homeschoolers for social studies and history for children. It has some good displays, but fails to get you involved with its offerings. It is a good way to spend some time, but is rather on the dry side. If you are not already interested in history, you might find it a little harder to enjoy.