THE BEACH BOATS
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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