DuBail Avenue: Probably the only local road named after a French barber

Pierre DuBail was born in Paris, France, in 1834, removed by 70 years and 4,000 miles from the South Bend street that would eventually carry his family’s name.  The way that he got there was curious enough, and so was the decision to make him the street’s eponym. While most of South Bend’s streets were named after early politicians, notable lawyers and Civil War veterans, Pierre DuBail was none of those things.

He was a barber.

Aaron Helman

DuBail immigrated to the United States at the age of 18, settled in New York, and a few years later, married a German woman named Julia. They had seven children, six of whom survived into adulthood. The family left New York for West Virginia, and when the conflicts of the Civil War moved uncomfortably close to home, they up and moved all over again, this time for good. The DuBails landed in South Bend in 1863.

Pierre DuBail, who by this point had started to go by Peter, set up shop as the first white barber in the city, but was much more than a skilled haircutter. He was also a shrewd real estate mogul, gobbling up cheap land on the outskirts of the city, then subdividing and selling off plots when South Bend’s rapid growth required an ever-larger footprint. His largest holdings were exactly where you would expect – half-a-mile southeast of what used to be the edge of downtown South Bend, near what is today Riley High School, and right along the road that would become DuBail Avenue.

The man did well for himself, but it would be a mistake to assume that DuBail’s life was kissed by fortune. He succeeded in spite of his hardships, and a scan of old newspapers shows plenty of them. He feuded with rival barbers who refused to play by the rules, even successfully taking one man to court for the scandalous crime of shaving a man on a Sunday:

South Bend Tribune, January 11, 1877.

Six months later, the man’s yard was raided by chicken thieves who managed to snatch away eight of his prized egg-layers. There were the usual run-of-the-mill chicken thieves who might have been suspects in the case, but there were also more than a few vengeful barbers who’d run afoul of DuBail’s strict adherence to fair play in the local haircutting business.

Over the next several years, lines were drawn, and alliances were formed. A coalition of 14 Sabbath-keeping barbers took an ad out in the papers, informing the public of their commitment to remain closed on Sundays and threatening to prosecute the non-compliant to the full extent of the law. The threat seemed to work and remains the reason I do not trim my beard on Sundays.

The coming years would only deliver more drama for DuBail and his booming barbery. In 1881, a devastating fire tore through a full South Bend city block, reducing DuBail’s barber shop to ash and rubble. A few months later, burglars alighted upon the man’s home to steal his pants:

South Bend Tribune, July 25, 1881.

The next year, his reconstructed barber shop was flooded and ruined by several inches of sewer water. The flooding repeated itself in 1884, and in 1885 a loose electrical wire fell against the metal staircase that led to his shop, “electrocuting a large number of men, boys, and dogs.” In 1889, Peter and his wife were visited by another set of burglars; but this time they chloroformed the couple before raiding their cash and jewelry. Once again, the burglars also stole DuBail’s pants.

During his later years, the venerable Pierre DuBail found himself overshadowed by the successes of his children. One joined the family business, taking over the barber shop from his father. Another purchased and operated a popular grocery store in town. Another became a trading agent for a London investment outfit and the manager of one of South Bend’s top baseball teams. Another son became a champion distance ice skater.

For a long time after 1889, the paper only mentioned the DuBail name to tout the impressive accomplishments of the DuBail children. And then came 1903, when Pierre DuBail’s bad luck visited him all over again.

His house exploded.

South Bend Tribune, February 21, 1903.

Amazingly, the explosion didn’t kill the man, but kidney failure would catch up with him a few months later. Pierre DuBail died on July 20, 1903; the news of his passing nudged off the first and second pages of the papers because Pope Leo XIII died the same day.

DuBail’s children would continue to carry his legacy, but future generations were not long for Midwest. So far as I can tell, none of the man’s descendants are local to South Bend.

Peter DuBail is buried in the Cedar Grove Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame.

Aaron Helman is an author, adventurer and historian from South Bend. His newest project is a limited-run podcast about each of South Bend’s mayors. His books are available at