Industrial Ruins of South Bend, Indiana

South Bend, Indiana once thrived as a major industrial city. Since the 1960s, manufacturing jobs have steadily disappeared, leaving the Rust Belt city riddled with abandoned factories and homes.

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

After stopping in Buchanan, Michigan to see the ruins of Clark Equipment Company, I headed to South Bend, Indiana to wrap up another exciting day of my Rust Belt exploration road trip.

Abandoned building in South Bend Indiana

My first stop was an abandoned fire station. I'd never been inside one before and could hardly wait to see what it was like.

This particular fire house was built in 1894 and was originally designated as South Bend Station Two. In 1922 the building was remodeled and became Station Four. It closed in 1975 and now stands vacant and boarded up with much of its roof missing.

The garage door was propped open, leaving a gap through which I could see the tires of a vehicle parked inside. As I approached, I heard music blaring and the sound of someone moving around. Despite my curiosity, I thought it best to turn around and leave the old fire station and its occupant in peace.

Abandoned Firehouse in South Bend Indiana

I made my way to the abandoned factory building once occupied by Southbend Escan Corporation. The first floor windows were covered with weathered plywood panels, but many on the second and third floors were wide open, allowing the fading daylight to seep into the factory's dark interior.

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Beside the main building lies the ruins of another structure, mostly destroyed. All that remains are crumbling brick walls and a concrete floor covered in heaps of brick, wooden pallets and other detritus.

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

The company was founded in 1898 as Malleable Steel Range Manufacturing Company, a producer of coal and wood burning kitchen stoves. The factory moved to the now-abandoned location in 1908. In the 1930s, the company shifted its focus to larger-scale ranges for hotels and restaurants. It also produced cooking equipment for the armed forces during World War II.

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

The company changed its name to Southbend Escan Corporation in 1982, when it merged with Escan Metal Canada. The following year, all manufacturing operations moved to facilities in North Carolina.

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

Another of South Bend's many abandoned industrial spaces is the Wilson Brothers Shirt Company compound.

Abandoned Wilson Brothers Factory in South Bend Indiana

Founded in 1864 in Chicago, Wilson Brothers produced shirts, underwear, socks, pajamas, and neckties.The company moved to South Bend in 1883, allegedly to employ the wives of the men who worked in the nearby Studebaker plant.

Abandoned Wilson Brothers Factory in South Bend Indiana

Wilson Brothers flourished in the early 1900s, employing about 2,200 workers by 1930. During World War II, they contributed to the war effort by producing approximately 3.5 million pieces of clothing for the US armed forces.

Abandoned Wilson Brothers Factory in South Bend Indiana

Financial hardship in the '50s led to a merger with the Kentucky-based Enro Shirt Company in 1957. Unfortunately profitability continued to suffer and the South Bend factory closed in 1975.

The old industrial complex was bought by local Bill Anksorus in 2007. Rather than demolishing the buildings, Anksorus is having them carefully deconstructed so that the unique materials, including old growth wood beams and rare varieties of brick, can be reclaimed and repurposed. The University of Notre Dame has already bought tens of thousands of yellow bricks from the old structures to use for maintenance of its own buildings.

Materials reclaimed from the Wilson Brothers facility can be purchased via this website: http://www.southendreclaimed.com/south-bend-indiana-reclamation/

Abandoned Wilson Brothers Factory in South Bend Indiana

South Bend has many other abandoned industrial and residential structures, which I did not have time to visit.

A redevelopment effort is currently underway, breathing new life into some of the old buildings, while others are being demolished to make way for new construction. Of the more than 1,300 abandoned homes that existed in South Bend in 2013, over 800 have been demolished or repaired.

The grounds of the old Studebaker plant were recently transformed into Ignition Park, a technology park intended to draw new industries to the city.

Old Scottish Kilt Sign in South Bend Indiana

As the sun set on another day of exploring, I said goodbye to South Bend and continued east into Ohio to see more ruins of the Rust Belt, which I'll tell you all about next time.

Abandoned Wilson Brothers Factory in South Bend Indiana

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Abandoned Escan Corporation Factory in South Bend Indiana

The Old Clark Equipment Plant in Buchanan, Michigan

Clark Equipment Company of Buchanan, Michigan produced industrial and construction equipment for most of the 20th century and was a major contributor to the US wartime industry during WWII. After the plant closed in the '80s, nature and the elements have slowly eaten away at the deserted structures.


Guardhouse of Clark Equipment Company Plant in Buchanan, Michigan

After stopping in Niles, Michigan to see the endangered Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam, I spent the afternoon in Buchanan, MI, home of the ruins of Clark Equipment Company.

Clark Equipment Company Factory in Buchanan, Michigan

The story of Clark Equipment Company began in 1903 when its precursor, the George R. Rich Manufacturing Company, was founded in Chicago by executives of the Illinois Steel Company. Rich Manufacturing relocated to Buchanan, Michigan in 1904. 

In 1906 the company was renamed Celfor Tool, after its product the Celfor Drill. In 1916, Celfor Tool merged with Buchanan Electric Steel Company. The new entity was named Clark Equipment Company after Eugene B. Clark, the executive who organized the merger.  

Clark Equipment Company in Buchanan, Michigan

The first half of the century was a prosperous time for the company as it continued to grow and acquire other businesses. 

By the 1960s, Clark Equipment was among America's 100 largest companies. The Buchanan plant alone employed over 3,500 people. By the end of the '60s, several divisions were sold off to allow the company to focus on its core products, which included forklifts, loaders, scrapers, and its expanded line of Bobcat equipment.

Clark Equipment Company Factory in Buchanan, Michigan

The recession in the 1980s brought decreased profitability. Several factories were closed as a result, including the Buchanan plant in 1983.

Clark Equipment Company Factory in Buchanan, Michigan

There isn't much left of the old industrial complex. Many of the structures have been repurposed or demolished.

Clark Equipment Company Factory in Buchanan, Michigan

Clark Equipment Company in Buchanan, Michigan

The grounds of the old plant are not open to the public, but there is a nice walking trail from which you can get some decent views of the old property.

I walked around town a bit and enjoyed lunch at Bucktown Tap, a great little bar and restaurant. I would like to recommend stopping for a bite and a drink if you're ever in the area, but I'm disappointed to report that Bucktown Tap has closed since my visit.

Clark Equipment Company Gate in Buchanan, Michigan

I took in a few more of Buchanan's historic buildings and then headed to the city of South Bend, to see its many abandoned factories.

Historic building in Buchanan, Michigan
A historical building in Buchanan, Michigan.

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Clark Equipment Company grounds in Buchanan, Michigan

The Old Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

On the outskirts of Niles, Michigan, an aging hydroelectric dam straddles the Dowagiac River. After nearly 70 years of producing electricity for the city, the turbines of Pucker Street Dam ground to a stop. The old structure will soon face demolition.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

After exploring the incredible ruins of the Kinsgsbury Ordnance Plant, I crossed into Michigan and made my way to the city of Niles. A rural road led me past sprawling farm fields and the lush clumps of forest that hug the banks of the Dowagiac River.

I stopped at a lonely intersection where an isolated two story brick building sat abandoned. Above the sagging porch roof hung a rusty sign with faded lettering that read "Groceries - Cold Meats".

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Mindful of the "Keep Out" sign on the front door, I kept a respectful distance as I snapped a few shots of the old grocery store. I was not able to find any history on this neat old place. If you have any information, please leave a comment at the end of this article.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

A few miles down the road, I came to the Pucker Street Dam. A few other cars were parked along the dirt loop that marks the small public park. Half a dozen people sat along the river bank, casting fishing lines near the base of the dam. A popular spot for salmon fishing, I was surprised the sunny weather had not drawn a larger crowd. The sloping green hillside that overlooks the dam is a perfect spot for a picnic.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

The powerhouse is sealed up and inaccessible so it was not possible to get a look at its inner workings.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Pucker Street Dam has a long history, extending back almost 200 years. In 1828 a log dam was built at the site to power a grist mill. In 1891 it was converted into a hydroelectric dam. The City of Niles purchased the property three years later.

In 1928 the log dam was replaced by the concrete hydroelectric dam, which went on to provide power to the city for 67 years. Due to costly maintenance problems Pucker Street Dam stopped producing electricity in 1995.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

A private company has expressed interest in restoring the dam to working order, but the city remains unconvinced of the economic viability of such a project.

Faced with liability concerns and the increasing cost of maintaining the old structure, the City of Niles has drawn up plans to remove Pucker Street Dam and restore the natural flow of Dowagiac River.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Habitat fragmentation is a major factor in the decision. Located about three miles from the intersection of the Dowagiac and St. Joseph Rivers, the Niles dam blocks the migratory route of many species of salmon and other fish, preventing them from populating 159 miles of the watershed.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

In addition to restoring the ecology of the Dowagiac River system and expanding the fishery, removal of the dam will open the waterway to recreational activities including kayaking, canoeing, and tubing.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Grateful for the opportunity to see Pucker Street Dam before it is demolished, I left Niles and continued my journey through the Rust Belt. Next stop: Buchanan, Michigan, home of a major abandoned industrial site.

Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan
Vacant building across the road from Pucker Street Dam

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Pucker Street Hydroelectric Dam in Niles, Michigan

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant - An Incredible Abandoned WWII Era Ammunition Factory

Across a sprawling 13,000-acre stretch of land lies the scattered remains of a World War II era Ammunition factory. The crumbling industrial buildings and subterranean bunkers of Kingsbury Ordnance Plant punctuate grids of cracked pavement surrounded by farm fields and forestland. The gears of the wartime industry that lifted America from the Great Depression and fueled the Allied victory over the Axis have long since ground to a halt.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

After an incredible day in Gary, Indiana exploring the abandoned Palace Theater, City Methodist Church and other awesome abandoned places, I set out to see the ruins of Kingsbury Ordnance Plant.

I stopped at a gas station just outside the city of La Porte. In an icy tone, the cashier asked for my credit card and drivers license to hold while I pumped my gas. I was surprised, but shrugged it off and filled up my tank. When I came back in, she was all smiles and explained that she was being extra careful because she'd never seen me before. The other cashier asked why I was visiting La Porte of all places and then started dancing around behind the counter. We shared a laugh and I got back on the road.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

The remains of Kingsbury Ordnance Plant are spread out over a huge rural area with a small population, so I doubted I would run into anyone during my visit. I was very wrong.

Some of the old buildings have been sold to private companies.  A security guard working for a chemical company approached me to make sure I wasn't snapping photos of the plant. I assured him I was only there to look at the historic buildings and he seemed satisfied. Still I decided to leave the area so I wouldn't cause undue concern.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Navigating the old ammunition factory was challenging because there are no signs to indicate what or where anything is. I relied mostly on satellite images.

I found an area where dozens of identical bunkers lay spaced out in rows like houses in a subdivision. Grass covered the sloped roofs and trees grew atop many of them. They seemed to be empty, but I couldn't be sure. It would have taken a very long time to peek inside each of them to find out.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Some of Kingsbury's old structures were fenced off or sealed up.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Others had collapsed to little more than foundations with rows of bare concrete walls.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

I wandered around, occasionally managing to get a peek inside.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

A few buildings still contained relics left behind when the plant closed.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

As I made my way back to the car, a man in a white pickup pulled over and asked if I was parked nearby. He told me that a guy who was leasing the property had called the cops because he didn't recognize my car. 

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Police had already arrived at my car by the time I got there. I told them I was only there to take pictures of the old buildings and didn't mean to cause any trouble. Apparently I had driven past a No Trespassing sign without realizing it. After running my license and seeing that I had a clean record, the police said I was free to go. I apologized for the inconvenience and headed back out on the road.

Needless to say, if you're thinking about exploring Kingsbury Ordnance plant, keep an eye out for No Trespassing signs. It's also be a good idea to contact local law enforcement and ask which areas are okay to explore. They will appreciate it.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

After France fell to Hitler's forces in 1940, the US began gearing up for war. The Department of War commissioned the construction of 73 ammunition manufacturing facilities across the United States.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

LaPorte County, Indiana was deemed a prime location because the land was relatively flat and had plentiful well water. It was far enough inland to avoid enemy attacks, but well positioned near highways and railroads so that product could be easily transported to the East and West coasts. The area was also far enough from any major city that an accidental explosion was unlikely to cause much harm.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Buildings were spaced apart so that if an explosion did occur, the surrounding structures would not be damaged. Fortunately, there were never any major accidents.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Two hundred and fifty families had to relocate to make room for the ordnance plant. They were given 30 days notice and paid what was deemed fair value for their land.

The government purchased a total of 13,454 acres and quickly began construction.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Workers were recruited from the surrounding areas. Many came from the city of Gary because Kingsbury offered higher wages than workers typically earned at US Steel.
To accommodate an expected 10,000 workers in a community that only had a population of 16,000, The War Department built thousands of homes, trailers and dormitories just outside the factory. The new settlement was dubbed Kingsford Heights.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

By May of 1942, employment at Kingsbury Ordnance Plant had swelled to a high of 20,785, about half of whom were women. For many it was their first job outside of the home.Inspired by Rosie the Riveter, the plant adopted "Tillie the TNT Girl" as a mascot.

Kingsbury closed at the end of World War II, but reopened in 1951 after the US entered the Korean War. It ceased operations permanently in 1959.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

A portion of the land has been converted into Kingsbury State Fish and Wildlife Area and another segment is now Kingsbury Industrial Park.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

Redevelopment of the area has been slow due to the fact that waste from the ammunition plant still exists on the land and cleanup is expensive.

Future plans include a new rail yard, the restoration of old railroad tracks and extension of existing lines. The railway will connect Kingsbury with facilities in Florida and across the Midwest, facilitating the distribution of produce and other farm goods. In March 2017, the LaPorte County government took control of the project with the hope of bringing in new developers.

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana

From Kingsbury, I made my way to Niles, Michigan to see an old hydroelectric dam that wouldn't be around for much longer.

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Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Abandoned Ammunition Factory in La Porte Indiana