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History Lives Here Text

A Bit ofSaugatuck on a Northern Shore

(Sometimes bits of Saugatuck area history turn up inthe strangest places. Area artist Kathy Van Tubbergen palmed an interestingartifact on the beach near Ludington and inquired about its origin. Shereceived this reply from Alan V Wernette of the Department of Natural Resources

interpretivestaff which linked the bit of wood and metal to a boat built in Saugatuck)

 

Kathy VanTubbergen's painting of the wreck of the Foster.

Ludington State Park lies on Michigan's Lake Michiganshare roughly 1 ?5 miles north-northeast of Chicago. The park offers miles ofswimming beach backed by sand dunes and the magnificent Big Sable PointLighthouse, one of 121 lighthouses in Michigan the lighthouse lies near thenorthern end of the park and is open to the public during the summer months.there is no public parking at the lighthouse and access is gained by walking 1'/2 miles from the main parking lot, either along the beach or a two-track roadbehind the dunes. the latter is frequently used by bicyclists. The mostinteresting (or at least attractive) route is along the beach. About halfwayalong the beach between the parking lot and the lighthouse, lie the barelyvisible wooden remains of a shipwreck. During times of normal water, levels thewreckage lies in the surf. In the spring of 200 and with near-record low waterlevels, it lay well above and behind the waterline.

 

The regularization of public visitation to thelighthouse in 2002 following its transfer to the State of Michigan, greatlyincreased foot traffic past the wreck. In the summer of 2003, the Office ofEducation and Outreach, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, applied forfunding through the coastal Management program for, among other activities thecreation of an education interpretive panel for the wreck.

At that timethe identity of the wrecked vessel was unknown and the Office of the StateArchaeologist, Michigan Historical Center, volunteered its assistance inexposing and, hopefully, identifying the wreck. On April 19, staff members fromthe Office of the State Archaeologist, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuaryand Underwater Preserve (Pat Labadie, a former curator of the S. S. Keewatin)and Ludington State Park spend the day digging, pumping, and sketching andproduced enough information to identify the wreck as the George F. Foster to ahigh level of certainty.

 

George F.Foster was a two-malted schooner built at Newark (now Saugatuck), Michigan in1852. Headed from Grand Haven to Chicago, the ship with its load of lumber wasblown off course and wrecked at Big Sable Point in October of 1872.

 

Armed withthat information, department interpreter Earl Wolf quickly put together theinterpretive panel (which cost only $90 to fabricate) and placed it just to theside of the wreck. Annually approximately 35,000 visitors pass by the wreck andits interpretive panel. According to Earl, the walk up the beach to thelighthouse is usually done by family groups rather than individuals. AlanWernette, who does the interpreter-led hikes along the beach reports that thereis an audible hum of excitement when the youngsters are told that they will beseeing a shipwreck. Disney-fueled expectations of a large wooded vessel withtattered sails inevitably succumb to disappointment when confronted by thereality of the humble remains. Nevertheless, it is not long after having someof the subtler aspects of the site pointed out that interest returns.

 

The wreckpoking out of the sand evokes a sense of discovery and a range of questions,not all of which can be answered by the limited information on the panel. theywant to know more about its history, what became of the crew, what will happento it when the lake returns to its normal levels. It is the immediacy of thepresence of physical remains that excites the curiosity. It is unlikely that asimilarly positive response would be evoked by a panel that presented onlygeneralities about the known or probable presence of unseen submerged wrecks.The investment of a relatively small amount of time and money appears to havehad a major impact on the public's appreciate of this beached wreck.

(Accordingto, Built on the Banks of the Kalamazoo, a compendium of boatsconstructed along the Kalamazoo River: The schooner George F. Foster, (registrynumber 10195) was built by James Randall, possibly near the mouth of the river.One insurance listing gives the place of construction as Kalamazoo (theoriginal name for Saugatuck), another notes that it was built at Newark (thename used by Saugatuck Township from 183b to 1861 ). She was first registeredat Chicago May 27, at 123.9 tons with the owner listed as F. Meadowcraft, andthe master as G. McIntosh. In 1865 she had a close call north ofLudington and was first thought to be a total loss, but she was later put backin service. There was no loss of life, but cargo valued at $5,000 was lost, andthe vessel was badly damaged. In 1868 she was rated at 93.05 tons andregistered at Chicago.)