May 24, 2006

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Culver Street Saugatuck 1904

Roger Reed was a feed and grain merchant, a liveryman and one of the last operators of the stage line to Allegan. Built on the site of the old Union House Hotel, this was an “exchange stable,” which meant that one could rent a horse with buggy at this location and drop it off at another location. As the trade was overtaken by the automobile Reed began to phase out the business. By 1914 he had moved into auto repair.


ca. 1904 Culver and Griffith Streets Saugatuck Changing environments, changing generations.

Children at play in front of Roger Reed’s new feed and livery store, constructed of modern concrete block and with concrete sidewalks—being watched by an old man across the street in front of Roger’s father’s store, with its old fashioned wood front and wood sidewalk.

IN THEIR TIME the Reed family was one of Saugatuck’s best known family of entrepreneurs. In 1905 Roger Reed’s new livery building rose up on the site of the old Union House Hotel (for a time known as the Sherwood Hotel) which had been built in the early 1860s by Michael Spencer, the owner of Saugatuck’s first steam saw mill, as boarding house for his mill workers. We cannot find a photograph of the old hotel but it is often referred to as an unpleasant and rowdy drinking and dance establishment. As most of our readers know, fire took out many buildings in days past, and this one went that way in October of 1897—presumably to the delight of many. In its place rose up one of the busiest and modern buildings in the village of Saugatuck: Reed’s Feed, Livery and Stage Coach Station. It was the last of the village’s stage coach lines—a victim, of course, of the new fangled automobile.

One of the most interesting but little facts of daily life a century or so ago, is how people got around—that is, around town and to and from Allegan County and west Michigan. One of the 1905 issues of the 

Commercial Record mentions a rather well-known (at the time) “livery war”—meaning intense competition between livery service businessmen in the villages. Although many people owned their own horse and buggy, some did not and even those who did often kept them at the local livery barn—of which there were several in the middle of the village. Very often there would be a livery service connected to a hotel for the use of travelers. The system had built into it a clever drop off rental service somewhat like the car rental services today. Besides this array of services, the livery people provided stage (passenger) and cart transportation on a scheduled basis to Allegan (the county seat), Grand Rapids, meeting travelers coming off the steamships, and so forth. The Historical Society archives has a good number of photographs of livery service people (the most famous was Jimmie Davis) hauling household goods and people from place to place in the villages—and the Society’s book “Snapshots” includes some of these photos.

The Reed family had several livery stations—and Roger’s was one of them. Roger’s father was Sam Reed (S.C.) and had his own feed and livery business across the street (see photo)—and lived next door in the house that is now the Newnham Inn. Roger’s building later became a factory for making roller skates and then the beginning of American Twisting Company in Saugatuck. It was also an Eskimo Pie factory. In recent memory, it was the Saugatuck Village Barn, police station, fire department and engine house (1950s), and jail. Recently restored by the owners, Ellen and David Heyer, and now shops, offices, and the Toulouse Restaurant. An excellent example of how recycling of historic structures adds value to the townscape—and act as a way to read our history. Recently nominated to the Michigan Register of Historic Places.
                                             by Jim Schmiechen

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