Apr 20, 2005

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Buffalo House ca 1958

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Miller Robinson and wife Anna ca 1920

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Ca 1902 Miller Robinson, wife Abby and daughter Irene in front of his shop located on the west side of Butler Street on the Village Square.


The photo of the house at 526 Butler Street (upper left), was found in the Society's Simmons collection. The house - known for years as "the Buffalo House" - has a story that goes with it.

I heard the Buffalo House story from Peggy Boyce who lived in the house with her husband Jim for eight years soon after they were married. The story goes something like this: the house was once the Saugatuck Post Office, and one day when a circus had come to town, a buffalo escaped and charged down Butler Street and made a visit to the Post Office. Inside the building, it "frightened everyone considerably". Peggy guesses that this may have been in the late 1800s. She knows that her husband's grandfather, Elmer Bauhahn, lived in an apartment upstairs when it was being used as the post office. At that time, Elmer and his new bride were fresh German immigrants.

We know that Saugatuck has had 22 postmasters since a post office was established in 1835 - but who knows where all the post offices were located?

Back to the story. In his book Saugatuck Through the Years, Jim Sheridan adds a bit of additional context. He writes that the said circus was staging a parade along Butler Street to advertise its arrival in town, and the buffalo had broken loose from its tender - rushed through the front door of the post office "creating a local version of the 'bull in the china shop'". Sheridan ends the story by noting that it was "a never-to-be-forgotten event worth of a place in the community history".

The photographer, Bill Simmons was, as some may recall, The Time-Life writer and photographer who ran the Commercial Record in the 1940s and 1950s, and during that time he took thousands of photographs of the Saugatuck area. This is one of the images that did not make it into the book, Off the Record, (2002) a photographic history of the Saugatuck area based on his photographs. Simmons was aware of the buffalo legend because he wrote "Buffalo House" on the envelope that holds the negative - and it is possible that the photo was taken at the time the house was being prepared for removal in 1958. On its site was built a new home for Cornelia Koning - and is now the home of Bill Galligan. The present Water Street Gallery can be seen to the right in the photo.

Peggy tells us that the house, which had been the home of her grand father, Miller Robinson, (photo below) a local watchmaker, was cold as heck because it had been crudely constructed out of irregular sized pieces of scrap lumber from nearby mills - and hence full of holes.

In 1958, Peggy tried mightily to save the old building but her efforts were for naught. She knows however that her brother used some of the salvaged lumber and the old window glass in a house he owned on Wall Street in Douglas.  By Jim Schmiechen

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