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History Lives Here Text

Archivist's Corner byBill Kemperman

 

Our societyhas recently received a unique old American flag. It measures 24 x 30 incheswith seven red and six gray stripes. Its blue field has 13 five pointed stars.There are also two grommets for attaching it to a pole or spar. It was found inthe late 1930's or early 1940's in the old house that once stood near thecorner of Mason and Griffith Streets, the present site of Shoreline Bank. Thehouse was built about 1850 by lumberman O. R. Johnson and bought about 1877 byCaptain R. C. Brittain who owned a fleet of boats,the RedBottomed line, and ran a boat buildingoperation on the banks of the Kalamazoo.

 

Because of itssize, and its presence in the home of a Lakes captain, inquiry was made to Ken Pott, curator of the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven,who shared the following:

First, it isprobably a very old flag, [American flags began to have 15 stars and stripes in1795]. However, there is some possibility that it is a reproduction of a veryold flag.

 

If it was ofnautical origin it could have been used on commercial vessels when a ship wasat anchor and/or shown underway while passing or saluting other vessels,lighthouses, or signal stations, or upon entering a harbor. It would have beenflown from a taffrail staff while at anchor.

 

The flag was rescued by Fred A.Davis, from the basement of the Brittain house priorto the sale of the house after Mrs. Brittain died.

 

 

The Brittainhouse, left center with the cupola, was torn down in 1969 to make way for a newbank parking lot.

 

Davis latermoved to California but sent the flag, with several other artifacts, back tothe Saugatuck Douglas area about 1975 for use in the old Saugatuck Historical Museum on Lake Street.

 

Another recentdonation to the society is an old jigsaw-type puzzle. The completed product wasdesigned to look like a checkerboard. It was a promotional gift from the BigPavilion management and was donated by Dale and Edie Winter of Saugatuck.

 

WHY SOME RECORDS ARE UNFINDABLE

 

Many timeswhen researching old city records, or foraging through files of old newspapers,one finds his path of search thwarted due to the destructions of the records byfire.

The Lake Shore Commercial for December 27,1878, gives an account of one such fire which happened on Mason Street, Saugatuck, in the earlyhours of Christmas eve, 1878.

 

"Thejustice office and shoe shop of R. B. Newnham wasburned on Monday night last, together with all its contents. The fire was seenat about 12:30 a.m. by some persons coming out of a saloon nearby, whoimmediately gave the alarm, but before the fire engine could be put to work thebuilding was past all help.

 

"Amongthe contests of the building were the records of the Village and also those ofthe Odd Fellows Building & Leasing Co. of Saugatuck, besides all theJustice books and accounts of Mr. Newnham.The Odd Fellows building on the east [the southwest corner of Mason and Butler Streets] and theCommercial office on the west [the small building now east of the brick store]very narrowly escaped the same fate. The fire is supposed to have originatedfrom a defective chimney. Loss is about $500. It was insured for $300."

 

Fortunatelythe engine house was nearby, around the corner on Butler Street, so those discovering thefire could ring the engine house bell, summoning the fire company which savedthe recently constructed Odd Fellows building, and the newspaper office.

 

Justice Newnham moved his office to the Nichols Building.To partially replace the village records the clerk copied into a new councilbook all the minutes from early village council meetings that had beenpublished in the Commercial, but thedetails and many of the other Village papers are forever gone. How manyhistorical questions they could have answered we will never know.

-BK