Mar 15, 2006

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Some 27 years ago, a new fall festival was inaugurated in Saugatuck, and it got off to a splashing good start. It was called the Indian Summer Fest and featured a tug of war across the Kalamazoo river, canoe races, Native Indian festivities, a muzzle loader display, and an outdoor fish fry.

The August 30, 1979 issue Commercial Record reported on the upcoming festival: “A new event, the Saugatuck-Douglas Indian Fest will be held Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29 and 30. The tug of war will be across the Kalamazoo river splitting Saugatuck against Douglas. Norm Archer, chairman, called the Indian Fest ‘a true all-outdoor fall program. ‘Fun for everyone, young and old alike’.”

A surprising number of teams were recruited and trained (more or less) to participate in the grueling tug of war across the river. Eight-man teams were positioned at the east and west ferry landings grasping the 3 inch hawser rope that spanned the river, and digging in as best they could before the tug began. The winner of the tug-of-war was decided by pulling your opponent’s lead person into the river.

Published results listed Wilson Electric the winner over the Boathouse in a tug-off.

Winning time for the canoe race was an hour and fifteen minutes paddling from New Richmond to Wicks Park in Saugatuck. Third place finishers were Mark Erlandson and Joe Siska. Winners in the Indian costume contest were Kit and Eric Lane of Douglas, Angela Holmes, and Cindy Riem.

The inaugural Indian Summer Festival was such a big hit that a second annual festival was held in September, 1980 with some brand new events. In addition to the tug of war, there was a boat demolition derby (participants must wear life jackets), a fishing contest, and—new in Saugatuck—a beer tent.

And in the tug of war events, there was an equal-opportunity new women’s division. Women’s teams scheduled to compete were: Naughtin’s Marina, Loaf & Mug Deli, the Interurban Cowgirls, and Century 21 Real Estate. Men’s teams included the Sandbar Saloon, Embassy Tuggers, Queen of Saugatuck, Douglas Building Center, Wilson Electric Wire Nuts, Billie’s Boathouse Bulls, Left Bank Bombers, What Not Inn Weekend Warriors, and the Woodshed.

The festival took place again the next year, but then disappeared into the sunset. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted.                    by Rob Carey

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