Aug 30, 2006

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Bath house crowd poses ca 1900

The Affinity  cruising past the
ferry landing ca 1915

Basin area ca 1915

The Georgie R  with a load between
the piers ca 1910

The Wolverine  probably headed
into Macatawa ca 1916

The Douglas  overloaded ca 1910


Today easy trips to the beach are taken for granted. Imagine that once the Lake Michigan shore required a ferry ride and a long walk through woods. Or a horse and buggy ride across the bridge and through the country side to the Douglas beach. Just getting there cut way down on the beach time!

But by the early 1900s local boat operators were offering a better way. Making this possible was the development of the marine gasoline engine. These little engines the first were four horsepower - made possible the beach boats and created a new way to go swimming. The beach launches followed a regular schedule, usually four trips a day, operating from the Saugatuck and Douglas waterfront docks to the piers. The fare was two-bits round trip. Before the new cut was complete the beach was in the same location as today. Starting in 1906 the popular beach became the "basin" a duned wide spot in the river just inside the new piers.

The beach boats were practical and simple craft 35 to 50 feet in length carrying up to 50 passengers. Basically they were water-borne busses, crafted by Saugatuck boat builders and owned by local businessmen. In those days there were few governmental regulations so an entrepreneur could get into the business with a boat, a dock and a sign! In addition to the beach ferry trade, the boats were rented for private parties, and made trips to New Richmond and Holland. Pictured here are a few of the memorable craft of those years. The era of the beach boats lasted until 1936 when the road to the Oval was built and the family roadster became the way to head to the beach.    by Jack Sheridan

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