The moving of freight—produce,
commercial goods, and passengers—was an essential need to the early
settlers of Saugatuck and Douglas. The existing rivers and Lake Michigan
provided the necessary waterways for transportation; and the materials for
building strong ships was already here in abundance—sturdy oaks, maple,
and pine trees. What they really needed was shipbuilders to design and
build seaworthy ships.
Fortunately shipbuilders heard the call and came from all over. They came
from England, Canada, Maine, Ohio, and other states. The first freighters
built were sailing schooners designed to carry lumber and occasionally
passengers. As technology improved, ships became bigger and steam-powered.
A recent History Channel episode describes the first colossal
freighter ever built. Around 200 BC, the reigning king of the Greek state
Syracuse wanted a fleet of super freighters built to control shipping on
the Mediterranean Sea. He called on his resident genius, Archimedes, to
design such a vessel. The result was the Syracusia, a 3-masted 200’
long freighter with 3 decks, 142 passenger cabins, a gymnasium, stables
for 100 horses, and a cargo hold that would carry 5,000 tons of cargo. On
its maiden voyage it carried enough grain to feed the entire population of
Athens for a year.
The ship’s designer, Archimedes, also left a legacy that revolutionized
shipping 2,000 years later. A British inventor, Francis Smith, designed a
ship propeller based on the Archimedean screw and launched the aptly named
Archimedes in 1839. The screw propeller was readily adopted by
shipbuilders and created bigger, faster ships to replace antiquated
Two local industries that required the need of freighters were the
Singapore lumber mills and area fruit growers. Singapore’s lumber mills
shipped lumber to various Great Lakes ports. Fruit growers shipped apples
and peaches from here to Chicago and often carried passengers on the same
run from Saugatuck and Douglas.
When lake shipping was king, Saugatuck demonstrated that it could run with
the best. As railroads and trucking developed in the early 1900’s,
Saugatuck moved on to its next chapter.
by Rob Carey
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