History: Mason County’s highways, US 31.

July 29, 2019

The intersection of US 31 and US 10 in Scottville, 1920s.

History: Mason County’s highways, US 31.

MC History Spotlight is a weekly history column brought to you by Ludington Woods Living and Memory Care. Each week this column features a story from our county’s past.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

#MasonCountyHistory

Three highways run through Mason County: US 31, north and south, US 10, east and west, and M-116 north and south. Today’s article will discuss US 31.

US 31 begins its northerly route in Spanish Fort, Alabama and ends in Mackinaw City. In Michigan, the highway runs from the Michigan-Indiana border up the state’s western coast, along Lake Michigan, until it meets I-75 at the tip of the Lower Peninsula (just west of the end of US 23), connecting several towns including Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, Holland, Muskegon, Ludington, Scottville, Manistee, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Mackinaw City. About 40% of the highway is a freeway with at least additional freeway segments proposed for the next decade, according to the website MichiganHighways.org.

The West Michigan Lake Shore Highway Association was founded on Jan. 10, 1912 and then reorganized in May 1913 as the West Michigan Pike Association. The groups auto trail consisted of 8-feet tall concrete markers along a 400 mile long roadway from the Indiana state line northward to Mackinaw City.

The highway was also part of the Western Mainline of the Dixie Highway in Michigan, which was another auto trail that began construction in 1915. The northern junction between the West Michigan Pike and the East Michigan Pike, which served as the connection for the two mainlines of the Dixie Highway in Michigan, met in Mackinaw City and was marked with a stone monument at the intersection of Central Avenue and Huron Street.

By 1921, the western branch of the auto trail used about 413 miles of roadways along Michigan’s western shoreline.

In 1913, the State Trunkline Highway System was created by an act of the Michigan Legislature. Division 5 of the system followed a course from Niles northward, along the Lake Michigan shoreline, to Mackinaw City. In 1919, the Michigan State High Department (Now Michigan Department of Transportation) signposted the highway system. The future US 31 corridor was assigned two numbers: M-58, from a connection with Indiana SR-1 at the state line south of Niles to M-11 (later US 12) in St. Joseph; and M-11 from St. Joseph up the western shore of the Lower Peninsula ending with M-10 (later US 23) in downtown Mackinaw City. The highways basically were routes created utilizing local roads. They were rarely straight paths from point A to point B. In 1926, those two designations were combined into US 31. The highway names M-11 and M-58 are used elsewhere in the state.

The American Association of State Highway Officials approved the United States Numbered Highway System on Nov. 11, 1926, designating US 31 in Michigan. As a result the US 31 designation is chosen over US 23 designation to run across the state highway ferries at the Straits of Mackinac. US 31 at that time continued an additional nine miles north of St. Ignace to end at US 2 in Rogers Park. US 31 is one of only three route designations to ever cross the Straits, the others were US 27 (1957-1960) and I-75 (beginning in 1960).

The highway was routed east-west in two locations, on US 12 near Benton Harbor-St. Joseph and on US 10 between Ludington and Scottville. Today, only the route between the US 31 expressway eastbound offramp at US 10 east to the Scottville bypass has dual designation as US 10/31.

Those of us over 40 remember a time when the freeway did not run into Mason County, and only ran through part of Oceana County. I know those of you who are more “mature” will remember a time when there was no freeway in this part of the state. Modern US 31 looks much different now than it did years ago. For the remainder of the article, we’ll feature some of the highway’s history and routes in Mason County:

As stated above the modern US 31 looks much different than it does today. Until October 1980, US 31 freeway ended at the Mason-Oceana counties line. Throughout the ‘70s the freeway made its way north through Oceana County. The highway then merged into modern Pere Marquette Highway until it reached US 10, then east on US 10/31 into Scottville, north on Scottville’s Main Street to the Manistee County line.

That particular route was changed a few times over the years.

  • 1937, A series of 90-degree turns are changed in Pere Marquette Township. Entering from the Oceana County line, US 31 (now Pere Marquette Highway) travelled straight north from Chauvez Road into what is now Meyers Road (technically Pere Marquette Highway south of Chauvez Road is Meyers Road), then turned west on Hesslund Road and north on Lenz Road, then crossing the Pere Marquette River. The route was changed to its modern course of curving northwest at Meyers Road and continuing east of Lenz Road.
  • 1931, A bypass east of Ludington is built from modern Sixth Street to US 10. From the south, US 31 turned west at Sixth Street and entered the Ludington city limits, then north on Madison Street, west on Second Street and north on Washington Avenue to US 10/Ludington Avenue. Then US 10/31 ran from the intersection of Washington and Ludington avenues east into Scottville and then divided at the main intersection in Scottville (Main Street as US 31 and State Street as US 10). The bypass was a one mile extension of modern Pere Marquette Highway from Sixth Street north to modern US 10 and Pere Marquette Highway intersection, was completed and designated as US 31-A, providing an easterly bypass of Ludington.
  • 1937, US 31-A becomes re-designated as US 31 and the former US 31 route into Ludington, mentioned in the previous paragraph, is designated temporarily as M-116 until it is transferred to local control in September of that year.
  • 1960, US 31 in Grant Township turns west on modern Hoague Road and then north on LaSalle Road to the Manistee County line. A new curve was completed slightly northwest from Hoague Road to the county line.
  • 1975, US 31 freeway enters Oceana County and ends at M-20/Stoney Lake Road near New Era.(construction of the US 31 freeway on the southern terminus began in the early 1960s. Until this point, the freeway ended at Fruitvale Road near Montague in Muskegon County).
  • 1976, Freeway is extended to Polk Road west of Hart in Oceana County.
  • 1978, Freeway is extended to Monroe Road near Pentwater.
  • 1980, Freeway is extended to the Mason County line.
  • 1989, Freeway enters Mason County to modern Pere Marquette Highway in Pere Marquette Township.
  • 1990, Freeway construction to US 10 is completed ending the US 31 northern freeway. US 10/31 is widened from two lanes to five between Pere Marquette Highway and Scottville.
  • 1991, A bypass is built west of Scottville.

Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care, 502 N. Sherman St., Ludington, MI 49431; 231-845-6100; www.ludingtonwoods.com.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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