US Highway 31 was one of the original routes as planned in the Joint Board on Interstate Highways plan of 1925, and subsequently commissioned by the American Association of State Highway Officials (today’s AASHTO) in 1926.
The highway that would become a mighty boulevard connecting northern, midwestern, and southern American states began its long journey at an intersection with US Highway 2 near St. Ignace, Michigan. Along with US Highway 23, another prominent north-south route, US 31 crossed the Strait of Mackinac and entered Mackinaw City, Michigan. In the late 1950s, US 31’s northern terminus was moved to an interchange with the newly completed Interstate 75, just south of Mackinaw City. Today, from there it begins its journey southward along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
At Ludington, US 31 crosses what’s left of US Highway 10, that once ran between Detroit and Seattle. It continues on through Muskegon, where it had an intersection with the now-decommissioned US Highway 16. US 31 veers slightly inland to pass through Holland, and then returns to the shoreline long enough to pass through Benton Harbor. After Benton Harbor, US 31 returns to an inland route and crosses into Indiana.
Just across the state line, US 31 enters South Bend. It leaves South Bend and, now upgraded to four-lane expressway status, makes an almost straight-line run into Indiana’s capital city, Indianapolis. US 31 retains its four-lane configuration through Columbus, reverting back to a standard two-lane highway after leaving the city. The route continues to Sellersburg, where until 1967 there was a split in the route: US Highway 31W, and US Highway 31E. At that time, both highways left Sellersburg and crossed the Ohio River into Louisville, Kentucky: US 31E via the K and I Bridge, and US 31W via the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge.
After the completion of Interstate 65, the K and I Bridge was demolished, and the US 31E – US 31W split was moved from Sellersburg to the Kentucky side of the Clark bridge (which also carries Interstate 65). Today, US 31E and US 31W wind their way through downtown Louisville and on through southwestern Kentucky.
US 31W exits Louisville as the Dixie Highway, passing through Fort Knox, where the United States’ gold bullion reserves are stored. It continues on to Elizabethtown, and turns slightly to pass through the cave country of Kentucky, and near Mammoth Cave National Park. At Bowling Green, once the capital of Confederate Kentucky, the traveler may choose to follow mainline US 31W through the city, or veer slightly around on US 31W Bypass. The Bypass will also take the traveler near the Corvette Museum before rejoining US 31W.
After Bowling Green, US 31W’s final call in Kentucky comes at Franklin, named for Benjamin Franklin and site of the African American Heritage Center. In less than ten miles, the route enters Tennessee, heading toward a junction with US Highway 41. The two highways continue on to Tennessee’s capital, Nashville.
US 31E heads south from Louisville to the historic old city of Bardstown, where the traveler may visit the house now known as “My Old Kentucky Home”, and see where Stephen Foster wrote the famous song in 1852. Bardstown is also home to the old Talbott Tavern, in existence since the late 1700s and still serving food and drink to weary visitors. Local legend has it that Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, and the exiled King Louis Philippe of France were among its guests.
Leaving Bardstown, US 31E wanders down to Glasgow, a city that celebrates its Scottish heritage each year when it hosts the Glasgow Highland Games. The last Kentucky stop for US 31E is at Scottsville, home of the giant Dollar General Corporation. A few more miles and US 31E enters Tennessee, also heading to Nashville.
In downtown Nashville, the center of Country Music, US 31W leaves US 41 and reunites with US 31E . Once again known as US 31, the route leaves Nashville and calls next at Columbia, birthplace of James K. Polk, eleventh president of the United States. Just before leaving Tennessee, US 31 passes through Pulaski and soon becomes part of Interstate 65.
Once in Alabama, US 31 leaves Interstate 65, crosses Wheeler Lake and enters Decatur, with its over 100 acres of Victorian-era neighborhoods. Next along the road is Cullman, where the traveler may visit St. Bernard Abbey and see the famous Ave Maria Grotto. The Grotto consists of over 125 miniature reproductions of well-known religious shrines and buildings. It was constructed, entirely by hand, by Brother Joseph Zoetti.
US 31, still following Interstate 65, continues its southward trek to Birmingham, and Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. Leaving Montgomery, the route turns slightly to the southwest and heads to the very tip of Alabama, narrowly missing a corner of the Florida panhandle. It comes to rest at a junction with US Highways 90 and 98 near Spanish Fort, just east of Mobile. At this point, US 31’s southern terminus, the route totals some 1280 miles.
Droz, Robert V., "Sequential List of US Highways", US Highways From US 1 to US 830. July 2003. <http://www.us-highways.com/us1830.htm> (August - September 2005)
The Ave Maria Grotto website, <http://www.avemariagrotto.com/Default.htm>
Sanderson, Dale. "Highway Ends", End of US Highway 31. 1999-2005. <http://www.geocities.com/usend3039/End031/end031.htm>. (August - September 2005).