Mich. village’s dead-end downtown has roots in railroad

Brady Linick
The Herald-Palladium

Baroda — This Berrien County village’s downtown is on a dead-end street, and there’s quite a story behind that oddity.

Just ask local history buff and author Kathleen Shafer, who wrote a book about it.

Shafer, the author of “Baroda: The Story of a Small Place,” explained that the town was built around a rail line in the late 1800s.

Michael Houser, often considered the founder of Baroda, owned the land and cut a deal with the Indiana and Lake Michigan Railway Company to build a train station on his land. The railroad ran between South Bend and St. Joseph.

The railroad offered a means to ship goods and workers in and out of the area, Shafer said. The village was primarily a farming community. However, some small businesses thrived, including a pickle factory, canning factory, cement block factory and a flower mill.

According to Shafer, farmers would ship their crops along the railway to the St. Joseph port, then across Lake Michigan to Chicago to be sold in markets.

“I don’t think it’s that odd the town is built around a dead-end road,” Shafer said. “A lot of towns grew up with crossroads. This one just grew up with a railroad.”

Baroda’s downtown is situated along 1st Street, which ends at the south edge of town.

Baroda’s first post office was built in 1890 and the community earned village status in 1907.

Bob Myers, curator of the History Center at Courthouse Square in Berrien Springs, shared his speculation about the town’s founding.

“I would suppose since Baroda was built around the railroad, and a fair distance from other towns, no one really cared much about the road because they used the rail to get in and out of town,” Myers said. “They would be much more interested in how to easily access the railroad.”

Unfortunately, the Indiana and Lake Michigan Railway was not long for this world. With the invention of the automobile, ridership on the line rapidly decreased and eventually it was abandoned. Portions of the line’s steel track were sold to the government in the 1940s as part of the effort to ramp up weapons production during World War II.

Incidentally, the village’s unique name also has ties to the railroad.

In 2008 a newspaper, The Times of India, did a story on the U.S. version of Baroda, as Baroda also is the name of a thriving city in India. Here is how Baroda, Michigan, native Neal Nitz, who was then the 78th District state representative, described the name selection in the article:

“It was earlier going to be named Pomona, but another village in Manistee County had already been given that name. So, he (founder Michael Houser) asked people for suggestions. CH Pindar, a conductor on the railroad, suggested Baroda as a name, as he was born in the Indian Baroda.”

So Baroda owes much of what it is to the railroad — which ceased to exist long ago.