Feature Article #24

History of South Bend


The First Visitor….Robert Cavalier de LaSalle
The history of South Bend dates back to the later part of the seventeenth century.  In December 1679, Robert Cavalier de LaSalle, with thirty men in eight canoes passed up the St. Joseph river from Lake Michigan and crossed over the St. Joseph-Kankakee Portage in Indiana traveling to the present site of Peoria, Illinois.  The location on the bank of the St. Joseph, known as LaSalle landing, is commemorated with a historical marker erected by the Northern Indiana Historical Society[1] in October 1923. 

The First Settler….Pierre Navarre
In 1820, John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company appointed several agents that were instrumental in the development of South Bend.  One of these agents, Pierre F. Navarre, a man of European descent, was the first settler in what is now South Bend.  He married and built this log cabin on the north side of the St. Joseph River.  The cabin was moved in 1907 to a more permanent location in Leeper Park for ongoing preservation.

The Founder of South Bend…Alexis Coquillard
Alexis Coquillard is generally regarded as the founder of South Bend, Indiana.  Coquillard was born in Detroit on September 28, 1785 and was 25 years old at the time he came to Ft. Wayne.  Coquillard eventually moved from Ft. Wayne and established a trading post called the Big St. Joseph’s Station on the west bank of the St. Joseph River in 1823.  By 1824, Coquillard had bought out Pierre Navarre’s interest in the local fur trade.[2]

Lathrop M. Taylor, a trader, settled in what is now called South Bend in September 1827.  Based on entries in Taylor’s books of account, it appears that the name of his trading post was known as “St. Joseph’s, Indiana.”   

The Southold Bait Company?
South Bend has had many names throughout its history.  At first the town was called “The Bend”, then “Big St. Joseph’s Station”, then “St. Joseph.”  In 1829 another interesting change occurred.  Lathrop Taylor was appointed June 6, 1829 and commissioned July 14, 1829 as the first postmaster of the village which was given the name of “Southold,” Allen County, by the Post-Master General.  No satisfactory explanation of the Southold town name has ever been recorded.  The name was changed to South Bend, Allen county[3], October 18, 1830 and Taylor was officially commissioned Postmaster February 15, 1831.  While some credit Coquillard with the name change, others point to a more likely explanation being the location of the town on the “bend” in the St. Joseph River.   Despite many attempts to change the name, it remained South Bend.  Imagine if the name Southold would have been retained……would the now famous South Bend Bait Company been called the Southold Bait Company? 

Organization of St. Joseph County and Incorporation of South Bend
William Brookfield, the first county surveyor, made the first public surveys in 1829 but the first sale of public lands was not made until late 1830.  An act of the legislature that became law on January 29, 1830 provided for the organization of the two counties, Elkhart and St. Joseph.  On October 4, 1830 and October 25, 1830, Taylor and Coquillard purchased two adjoining tracts of land in St. Joseph County from the government—Coquillard the North half and Taylor the South half.  The town plat was prepared by William Brookfield, County Surveyor, March 28, 1831 and the county seat was laid out on the two tracts purchased.  

The plat of South Bend was filed March 28, 1831 by Taylor and Coquillard who had purchased the land previously from the government at $1.25 per acre.  On May 12, 1831 Coquillard, Taylor and others paid St. Joseph County the sum of $3,000 if the county seat would be relocated at South Bend.  They also donated 15 lots for use by the county.  This offer was accepted and South Bend became the county seat.

Incorporation as a City
The town was first incorporated October 3, 1835, and later disorganized in 1837.  Again it was incorporated and a charter was obtained from the legislature on January 15, 1844.  The town organization came to an end in 1865, and South Bend was incorporated as a city and divided into three wards.[4]  The first city election was held on June 5, 1865 at which 542 votes were cast and the Honorable William G. George was elected the first mayor of South Bend.

South Bend is now the fifth largest city in Indiana boasting a population of over 107,000 people.  Besides the now famous South Bend Bait Company, South Bend has been home to many other prominent figures, businesses, and organizations including the Studebaker brothers, U.S. Vice President Schuyler Colfax, and the college of Notre Dame. 


“Historic Background of South Bend and St. Joseph County in Northern Indiana.”  Schuyler Colfax Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.  South Bend, Indiana.  1927

“Alexis Coquillard—His Time.  A Story of the Founding of South Bend, Indiana.”  Mary Clarke Coquillard.  Published by the Northern Indiana Historical Society, South Bend, Indiana, April 1931.

“A History of St. Joseph County Indiana” by Timothy Edward Howard.  The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, New York, 1907.

“Major Street Report for South Bend, Indiana, 1924” by Harland Bartholomew.

The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County.


[1] Schuyler Colfax Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.
[2] “Through the Years”, South Bend Tribune, August 23, 1998.
[3] South Bend was considered at Washington as being Allen County, although St. Joseph County was organized by act of legislature on January 29, 1830.
[4] Harland Bartholomew, “Major Street Report for South Bend, Indiana, 1924.”  page 11.



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