Long before Howard Park was formed as South Bend’s first and oldest park, the grounds belonged to the indigenous tribes, more specifically, the Potawatomi tribe. Howard Park sat along the St. Joseph River, serving as an essential trade avenue. Because of this, European settlers eventually called the location their home.

Howard Park is South Bend’s first and oldest park. The ground was named in honor of Judge Timothy Howard (1837-1916), who had a long and varied career in state and local politics serving as a city council member, state senator, and chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. Howard went on it become president of the Northern Indiana Historical Society and wrote a comprehensive history of St. Joseph County.

The land being considered for the park was unlikely location. It was then a flood plain that paralleled the St. Joseph River, acting as a kind of sponge that absorbed excess water during periods of flooding. It was thought of as nothing more than “an overflowed swamp waste,” and extended from Jefferson Street to the footbridge at the southern end of the park. Because it was regarded as a breeding place for malarial insects, people mistakenly viewed it as a health hazard, and the city decided to eliminate it. From 1878 to 1895, this land was slowly filled in with refuse from the city. In some places, this fill is from ten to fifteen feet deep. In the summer of 1895, the seawall and sidewalk were completed. The park was officially dedicated on Friday evening, August 18, 1899.

The history of Howard Park helped inform the designs for its 2019 redevelopment. Read more about the historical influences on the park’s design in this article written by Aaron Perri.

Ice Cutting & Skating

Prior to 1878, much of the area now comprising Howard Park was a flood plain, absorbing excess flowage during times of high water. It was also used by area residents for winter activities. When frozen, this area near the river was used for ice skating. Judge Howard pointed out that part of the ground was scooped out deeper to make an ice pond for the cutting and storing of ice in the odd season. Winter activities continue in the park today. In 1958, the ice skating rink was built, along with the warming house, concessions, and toilet facilities and the senior center. The opening of the rink drew a crowd of 4,000 skaters and spectators and several hundred had to be turned away.

Protecting the “Fair St. Joseph”

This postcard from 1918 shows one of three cannons that were formerly in Howard Park along the St. Joseph River. The cannons, placed along the bank in the summer of 1895, were used in the Civil War and donated by the Grand Army of the Republic to honor South Bend veterans. Judge Howard stated, in the flowery language of the time, that the cannons were poised on the riverbank “as if on guard against any possible enemy that might appear upon the placid bosom of the fair St. Joseph.” After a couple of decades, the cannon’s supporting platforms decayed, and the guns were taken to the city’s storage yard. In 1928, a new armory was built in South Bend (the former Newman Center), where the cannons became part of a nation-wide collection and sent by rail to the Gary, Indiana steel mills, where they were melted down to aid the war effort.

The Electric Fountain

July 21, 1906 was a special day for Howard Park and the City of South Bend. A new and elaborate fountain was donated to the city by John M. Studebaker, president of Studebaker manufacturing corporation. It was made of bronze and stood about twenty feet tall. The top of the fountain was encircled with colored electric lights—a novelty in 1906. Water cascaded down from the upper and middle basins and sprayed out in streams from the mouths of turtles positioned in the large, bottom basin. But time took its toll on the fountain. After thirty-five years it became dilapidated and had to be dismantled. It was moved to a golf driving range, formerly found on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Eddy Streets in South Bend. After being in private ownership for many years, the old fountain is now being restored. It will be placed in an area park, to be enjoyed once again.


In 1958, Howard Park once again began another transformative period when officials broke ground on the ice-skating rink and community center. The community building served as a center for senior programming and other community events. The skating rink was a winter attraction for decades lasting until 2016. Additionally, Howard Park housed the maintenance facility for the parks department during this period before the headquarters were relocated to High Street.

Bridge Remains, Standpipe Gone

The first structure to span the river at Jefferson Street was a frail, wooden bridge. It was erected sometime after 1875. In 1881, It was destroyed by an ice floe and carried downstream. Later that year, an iron truss bridge was constructed as a replacement. The iron bridge was moved to Ironwood Drive and a Melan Bridge took its place. The Melan Bridge uses arches made of steel ribbing buried in concrete. It was opened for public use in 1906 and continues to be used today.