2018 : Saugatuck Celebrates 150th Anniversary

July 4, 2018 all-day

From the outside, one wouldn’t suspect a bookstore building in downtown Saugatuck was built in 1838, floated down the Kalamazoo River to its current location, and is one of a few remaining buildings from an abandoned 1800s town.

Judy Hallisy has owned the Singapore Bank Bookstore for 31 years and currently operates a bookstore from its second level. An art gallery operates on the first level of the building.

The building was originally constructed in 1838 in Saugatuck’s then-neighboring town of Singapore.

The building served as a wildcat bank — a bank chartered under state law and had little federal oversight — in the lumbering town of Singapore before it was brought to its current location in Saugatuck.

“The easiest way to have brought it would have been to float it down the river,” Hallisy said. “They were smart in those days and didn’t cart uphill if they didn’t need to.”

Jack Sheridan, a volunteer with the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center for the past 18 years, confirmed the building came from Singapore.

As Saugatuck celebrates its 150th year of existence, its history is intertwined with the history of Singapore.

Saugatuck was first settled in 1830 by William Butler, although it was not originally called Saugatuck. About three to four years later, Singapore was settled nearby at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River.

The only business that was really ever there was a sawmill, from about 1834 to about 1875 in Singapore there were about three or four sawmills,” Sheridan said. “The actual population of Singapore was between 100-200 people and most of them worked at the sawmill. There was also a school and a wildcat bank there.”

Singapore was a logging town that ran out of logs, which lead to its demise.

“There was a huge demand for lumber to rebuild Chicago after the fire in 1871,” Sheridan said. “What happened was there wasn’t enough lumber so they dismantled the remaining sawmill in 1875 and moved it to St. Ignace. There were a lot more trees up there.”

When the remaining sawmill left, there was basically no reason for people to live in Singapore anymore, Sheridan said. As many as 10 buildings in Saugatuck today are documented to have come from Singapore.
“The way they moved them was on the ice during the winter,” Sheridan said. “They get a building and put it on skids then bring it up the river on the ice.”

Whatever was left of Singapore was eventually buried under the sand dunes as erosion pushed the sand around. Although, Sheridan said the demise of Singapore is not as dramatic as some locals say.

“There may have been some semi-complete buildings or wreckage there covered by the sand, but no one really knows unless you dig it up,” Sheridan said. “I don’t think there was much there when the sand covered the town.”

The decline of Singapore did not necessarily lead to the rise or development of Saugatuck as many believe, Sheridan said.

“Saugatuck didn’t grow because Singapore closed,” he said. “Saugatuck was a pretty interesting place already, there was a sawmill there and a lot of boats were being built there on the banks of the river.”

In 1868 something was done by the townspeople to legally codify Saugatuck with the state of Michigan, although Sheridan is not entirely sure what that was.

“Maybe it was something they had to file with the state,” Sheridan said.” “Something legal was done to codify this was Saugatuck. It may have established a post office.”

Stories of the “ghost town” of Singapore have a presence in Saugatuck today. Located directly outside of Saugatuck City Hall is a historical marker, which tells the story of the founding and demise of Singapore.

The story of Singapore can be heard at local tourists spots in town as well. Guides on the Star of Saugatuck Boat Cruises and the Saugatuck Dune Rides tell of the town buried under the sand.

The city celebrated its 150th anniversary of existence on the Fourth of July this year. A banner was made for the annual parade and the Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club held an event to further celebrate the anniversary afterwards.

“You don’t realize what you have sometimes until it’s gone,” City Manager Kirk Harrier said. “That’s why it is important to kind of look back on 150 years and remember what Saugatuck was like to celebrate some of those things.”

Source : Jake Allan, “Saugatuck celebrates 150 years of unique history“, Holland Sentinel, August 5, 2018.