Oct 19, 2005

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Arthur of Chicago ca 1908
Load of sightseers

A.R. Heath cruising with a load
ca 1905

Alice Purdy, one of the most successful riverboats was launced 1881
burned in Saugatuck in 1887

Loading fruit at
New Richmond
ca 1900


As a realtor says: “location, location, location”. In 1837 Richmond was born because of its location on the Kalamazoo River and got new life twenty four years later as New Richmond–because of location and the new railroad. New Richmond lies about seven miles upriver from Saugatuck and Douglas. With good conditions a riverboat could make the scenic and smooth trip in less than two hours – a preferred route compared to a lurching wagon or stagecoach ride of the same duration. Riverboat cargo varied from sightseers to shingles with agricultural produce being of major importance in the fall. For fruit shipping, the connection with the railroad was an especially important factor.

Sounds good – but there was a fly in the ointment – which was the fickle water level in the less than mighty upriver Kalamazoo. Even though the draft of most riverboats was less than twenty inches, boom or bust profit still hinged on water level. Between 1840 and 1910 the historical record (Kit Lane chronicles many in her book “The Dustless Road to Happyland” – Pavilion Press 1995) is rich with stories and photos of the boats that plied their trade on the Saugatuck-New Richmond route.      by Jack Sheridan

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