MAY 11, 2009 -- This year's new exhibit at the
Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society Museum, opening for the season
on Memorial Day weekend, Sunday, May 24, surveys the origins and
evolution of the lakeside recreation culture that has made this
community a summertime vacation destination with growing nationwide
attraction. Although conceived a year or more ago, the new exhibit's
theme resonates with the National Trust for Historic Preservation's
recent naming of Saugatuck-Douglas one of it's "Dozen Distinctive
Destinations for 2009".
Titled "Summertime: A Century of Leisure at the
Lake Michigan Shore", the new exhibit is arguably the most ambitious
in recent memory, combining digitized home movies and photos with
artifacts and scale models. Says exhibit curator and writer Jim
Schmiechen, "We're focusing on ten thematic stories to represent the
unfolding history of our vacation economy, told from the viewpoints
of both the visitors drawn here to enjoy our environment and the
local folks who work to ensure their satisfaction".
"Those stories," he notes, "are based on
real-life people sharing memories of their experiences here in times
past, ranging back to the early 1900s. Each story reflects their
impressions of one of our area's main attractions, including
swimming at Oval Beach, roaming Mount Baldhead and the dunes,
dancing at The Big Pavilion, cottage and cabin living, nature camps,
boating, fishing, artistic pursuits, and of course the broad
nightlife diversity of bars and restaurants that peaked in the
The Museum's design and technology team, headed
by resident artist/designer Judy Hillman, have invented a variety of
formats in telling these stories, woven around a centerpiece
walk-through structure that in abstract form celebrates the 100th
anniversary of the Big Pavilion's opening in 1909. This display
features a video documenting the rise and fall of the Pavilion and
houses a detailed model built by Historical Society member Arnie
Shafer. Also highlighted there is a 1":1' scale model of the Chris
Craft cruisers produced near here in the 1930s, built by Chris
Smith, grandson of the boatmaking company's founder.
On one side of the central structure, a large
flat-screen display continuously shows a combination of newly found
vacation "home movies" from the 1910-1955 era, including early
footage of moving the Keewatin steamer to its present exhibition
site, and approximately 100 similar-period photos extending up into
Complementing the Society's "Summertime" exhibit
is a display mounted by the Saugatuck High School students of art
teacher Christa Wise, featuring imaginative works based on souvenir
postcards, and accompanied by a "create your own vacation postcard"
station for free use by both youngsters and adults.
Continuing the Museum's tradition of producing
special books to accompany exhibits, this year’s exhibit will offer
an updated and expanded edition of the Society's Big Pavilion book,
written by Kit Lane, one of West Michigan's best-known
historian/authors, and designed by Historical Society member Ken
---SuperMap Debuts ---
New this year in the Museum's south gallery is "SuperMap"
-- a 6-foot high, 12-foot wide illustrated color wall map of the
Saugatuck-Douglas area with an interactive computer display to
provide a virtual tour through these historic villages, highlighting
significant people, places and events of both past and present. Map
artwork, created by Holland artist-cartographer Mark Cook based on
Historical Society research, recalls the entertaining
illustration/poster maps of the 1940-50 era, combining street
layouts with stylized sketches and notes.
More than three years in development, made
possible by gifts from Douglas Dunes Resort and Macatawa Bank
totaling $20,000 with matching funds from the Historical Society,
SuperMap is the centerpiece of a permanent exhibit that will offer
thousands of annual Museum visitors an engaging way to soak up the
story of the Saugatuck-Douglas area. As many as 70 map-highlighted
references will be keyed by number to let visitors select and learn
about sites of interest by calling up information, narratives and
images using several video/interactive touch-screen terminals near
the map. The screens also will offer topical "interactive programs"
such as History of Hotels/Boarding Houses; History of
Boatbuilding and Boat Builders; Buildings and Architecture; Artists
and Painting; Local Biographies; History of Saugatuck-Douglas
Schools; 13 Tales of the Villages and A Video History of
Saugatuck and Douglas.
In addition, the computers will allow public
access to the Historical Society's digitized archives of historical
photos, pages of The Commercial Record dating back to 1868, the
Saugatuck-Douglas Building Survey and more.
--- First Old School House Exhibit ---
Also open during Memorial Day weekend at the
Historical Society's Old School House Discovery Center, 130 Center
Street in Douglas, is that emerging facility's first public exhibit,
designed to complement the Museum's new exhibit with a different
perspective. Conceived by Saugatuck Middle School 6th grade language
arts teacher Wendy Colsen and Jim Schmiechen, this exhibit gave
Colsen's students the theme "Summertime Fun" and invited them to
plan, design, research and produce displays that tell stories about
how, when and why various kinds of summer recreation have come to
characterize our area.
"Working on a collaborative project with the
Historical Society is always such an exciting process for the kids,"
Colsen says. "They learn so many invaluable skills that apply to a
real world setting, and the public presentation steps up the
expectations for them. My favorite part is watching them get excited
to do research each day and also the look of pride on their faces
when they are showing their work to the public."
The Old School House exhibit will offer a public
preview one weekend in advance, May 16 and 17, Noon to 3pm both
days, then will reopen during the same three-hour period daily from
Friday, May 22 through May 24.
Founded in 1992, the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical
Society Museum occupies the historic Saugatuck Pump House at 735
Park Street, along the west shore of the Kalamazoo River at Mt.
Baldhead Park, a short walk north from the Saugatuck Chain Ferry
landing. The Museum is open Noon to 4pm daily from Memorial Day (May
24) through August, then Saturdays/Sundays in September and October.
Admission and parking are free. Tel: (269) 857-7900. See more
information about the Historical Society, its Museum and its Old
School House Discovery Center at
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