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Saugatuck / Douglas Historical Photo
         
 

History

Experience the historical architecture and culture of pre-and post-civil war, as well as early 20th Century America.


Historical Society Website

Allegan County Heritage Trail Tour

Ox Bow Summer School of Art

 

 

Saugatuck/Douglas are as unusual among Midwest frontier towns in that it did not experience either the destruction of the fires that hit most towns in the mid to late 1800's or the railroad that brought modernization and urban growth. Because of this, the villages of Saugatuck and Douglas provide a rare opportunity to observe pre- and post-Civil War, Greek Revival and Italianate architecture, together with later structures in the Arts & Crafts and Colonial Revival manner.

Both villages retain their essential traditional character and quaint charm, having been spared the suburbanization, chain store, and "mall" invasion that makes most other places look almost identical to each other. At the same time, the villages offer much in terms of first class lodging, restaurants, recreation, shopping and cultural opportunities.

Key to the area's history and popularity is its natural environment. Saugatuck and Douglas are nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River and are defined by steep, rolling dunes to the west and lush orchard country and farmland to the east. The climate is blessed by the moderating effects of Lake Michigan, which provides cool breezes on warm summer days and plenty of winter snow.

It was to this setting that urbanites from Chicago and as far away as St. Louis started escaping in the early 1900's, although the settlement of the area began in the 1830's by lumber barons who founded a nearby village that is now known as the lost village of Singapore.. For many years the villages supported a thriving mix of sawmills, barrel factories, and other wood product firms - the area contributed much of the lumber used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.

When the trees were gone, so were the lumberman. But Saugatuck and Douglas thrived, turning to shipping and fruit growing as a source of income in the latter part of the 1800's. Peaches from the area were called "Michigan Gold" and were shipped by large steamships to the Chicago market. Hundreds of ships of various types were built in Saugatuck shipyards and the town was a haven for ship captains.

A resort, tourist, and "cottage" culture emerged in the 1880's and took a propitious turn in 1910 when a group of Chicago artists established the Summer School of Paintings on Ox-Bow Lagoon, and when a huge dance hall, called the Big Pavilion, was built on the waterfront. The resulting influx of well-known artists and big name Chicago architects resulted in a wave of building in the Arts & Crafts and Colonial Revival manner. The seed planted at Ox-Bow has continued to flourish over the years, with the area is now known as the Art Coast of Michigan. Today, Ox-Bow continues to be affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago.

The area's many historical buildings, fine art galleries, and famous chain ferry, together with the art of recreation, the art of learning, and the art of nature are all aspects of the area's history. They are all part of the art of being Saugatuck and Douglas.

 
         
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Photography by Felicia Fairchild - All Rights Reserved