By Helen Gage DeSoto
On theforested side of Park Street,a short distance south of the road that led to Camp Gray,there stood empty two tall, family type cottages. In the late 1940s anenterprising retired Chicagopoliceman managed to purchase the property, remodeling these houses far abusiness venture which was not very pleasing to many of the neighboring summerresidents. With jerry-builtextensions and massive repartitioning, suddenly identified as Harding's Hotel,the resulting structure could now accommodate a large number of vacationers.
The firstHarding Hotel on the west side of Park Street
Ads appeared in the Chicagopapers offering two weeks in Saugatuck at an attractive flat rate whichincluded a room, two meals per day, and round-trip bus transportation between Chicago and the hotel. Itwas astonishing (and a little scary) to see a huge Greyhound bus making its waydown Park. Street to disgorge a new crop of merrymakers and pick up thedeparting group.
View from theHarding Hotel yard on the east side of Park Street
The people whowere attracted to this arrangement were, in general, not the usual Saugatuckvisitor, at least not on the cottage side of the Kalamazoo River.The village was, of course, known to some as a "party town," but asthe hotel guests had to catch the last Ferry before they were throughcelebrating, they had a tendency to continue the festivities when they got backto what had always been the quieter side. Radios blared from many rooms and thecommon room, where food was served at almost any hour for a punch on the mealticket, was in an almost constant uproar. Cottagers in that part of the forestdid not have restful nights during the seasons when Harding's Hotel wasfunctioning.
It ceased to exist, however, onesnowy winter night when it burned to the ground. Fortunately, little damage wascaused to the surroundings, perhaps thanks to the snow. Its owners were soundaunted by the loss that curious questions were asked, but they seemed tohave been satisfactorily answered as the insurance claim was speedily settled.
With the money received, theowner built a new and improved Harding's Hotel on a large empty lot in Douglas,just south of the Terrace Park Resort across from West ShoreGolf Course. The new building resembled a long, low airplane hangar. Smallrooms lined the outer walls, while the center was given over to a dance floorwith food service at one end and a bar at the others. Plans included a swimmingpool and other outdoor entertainment facilities, but only the main building wasever completed. The owner was notified that the liquor license, without whichthe grandiose operation could not succeed, would not be granted. The originalhotel had generated an unsavory reputation and the Douglasvillage fathers clearly did not wish to see this kind of thing duplicatedwithin their jurisdiction.
The secondHarding Hotel at the corner of Center and Ferry Streets
Harding'sHotel had existed for only a few seasons, but a feeling of never-again was strongamong local people and summer residents who had been exposed to it. The unusedhotel building stood empty for many years, an ugly landmark to a bad idea.
In 1960 five local men attempted to convertthe building into The Harbor Club. See membership
letter onnext page, with a diagram of building plans.) The project never really got offthe ground
because ofinsufficient enrollments and other problems. In 1966 the property was purchasedby R.
E. Peterson and son, R. J. Peterson, who thefollowing year converted it into a factory to build
steel-hulledRiver Queen houseboats. After the factory closed the building was used byPeterson
Boatworks andTower Marina, also owned by the Petersons, for a variety of purposes, butlater sold.In
1997 it was razed anticipating ashopping mall development that never materialized.