735 Park Street, Saugatuck
On the west bank of the Kalamazoo River at the foot of Mt. Baldhead Park.
Open daily noon-4, June-July-August. Weekends, September-October.
The Saugatuck-Douglas History Museum is one of Michigan's best-known and most-visited small-town museums, annually drawing nearly 10,000 visitors to its exhibits and more than 40,000 visitors to its outdoor garden and harbor-front walkway at historic Mt. Baldhead and just steps from the Saugatuck Chain Ferry.
Walkway to the Museum
Approaching the Museum
Museum Pavilion Entrance
Pavilion from below
Small Shop Inside the South Gallery
Harbor Learning Station
View down river
Kalamazoo River Learning Station
Pump House Learning Station
Museum South Wall
From dancing, shipwrecks, the history of summer fun, artists, gangsters and just plain folks, the Main gallery features changing exhibitions by a team of professional writers and designers, making this museum a "must-see" experience. No admission charge; donations are gratefully accepted.
Founded in 1992, the Museum occupies the historic Saugatuck Pump House at 735 Park Street, along the west shore of the Kalamazoo River at Mt. Baldhead Park, a short walk north from the Saugatuck Chain Ferry landing. Staffed by Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society volunteers, it's open from Memorial Day through August, noon to 4:00pm daily, then Saturday/Sunday only through September and October. Parking and admission are free (donations are welcomed).
The Museum's building, a simple "prairie-craftsman style" structure, was originally built as the City of Saugatuck's first water pumping station, completed in 1904. It was designed by John Alvord, the principal engineer of the Chicago Water System. Another summer resident, Harry Bird, designed the water delivery system. Water drawn from several large wells at the foot of Mt. Baldhead was pumped by large gasoline engines in the Pump House up to a 100,000-gallon reservoir at the top of Lone Pine Dune (north of Mt. Baldhead), from which it flowed by gravity through pipes crossing beneath the river to buildings and street hydrants in the village.
In 1910, the building was enlarged to also serve as the village's first electric generating station. By the 1950s, water pumping and electrical generating functions had been moved to larger locations and the building fell into disrepair. By 1970, the building's heavy slate roof had pushed out the walls and broken the interior tie rods. A portion of the west wall had fallen in, exposing the interior to the elements, and the east wall footings needed replacement. Windows and door were in bad shape and much of the brickwork needed repair.
Thanks to the research and documentation undertaken by History Center volunteers, the Saugatuck Pump House building has been designated as a Michigan Historical Site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the early 1970's, the building was slated for demolition when a Chicago physician, Dr. William Shorey, offered to lease the pump house from the village as a summer cottage in return for restoring the building. Mrs. Shorey was an artist with ties to the nearby Ox-Bow School, and the Shoreys became one of the first Douglas lakeshore cottage families. In 1993, following Dr. Shorey's death, the City of Saugatuck agreed to lease the building to the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society, which undertook further restoration in adapting the building to serve as the community's first historical museum. The Entrance Pavilion, a gift from the family of Society member Stan Wilson, was added in 2001.
Inside the Museum, Historical Society volunteers design and mount a new exhibit every year focusing on local history, often in collaboration with Saugatuck middle and high-school students and accompanied by special publications. Exhibit costs typically range from $12,000 to $18,000, funded by Society member dues, Society fund-raising activities, grants and visitor donations. Watch here for information about the 2009 exhibit, coming soon.
A small shop within the Museum's South Gallery offers a variety of Historical Society publications, artworks, maps, photos and postcards relevant to local history, along with locally created souvenir items.
New this year along one wall of the shop is "SuperMap", a 6-foot high, 12-foot wide illustrated color wall map of the Saugatuck-Douglas area integrated with an interactive computer display to provide a virtual tour through these historic villages, highlighting significant people, places and current of both past and present.
Map artwork, created by Holland artist-cartographer Mark Cook based on Historical Society research, recalls the entertaining illustration/poster maps of the 1940-50 era, combining street layouts with stylized sketches and notes. More than three years in development, this project has been made possible by gifts from Douglas Dunes Resort and Macatawa Bank totaling $20,000, with matching funds from the Saugatuck/Douglas Historical Society.
As many as 70 map-highlighted references are keyed by number to let visitors select and learn about sites of interest to them by calling up information, narratives and images on a videointeractive computer terminal near the map.
The terminal also offers topical "interactive programs" such as History of Hotels/Boarding Houses; History of Boatbuilding and Boat Builders; Buildings and Architecture; Artists and Painting; Local Biographies; History of Saugatuck-Douglas Schools; and 13 Tales of the Villages. Also retrievable are local history videos: The Story of the Big Pavilion; and A Video History of Saugatuck and Douglas.
In addition, the computer will allow public access to the Historical Society's digitized archives of historical photos, pages of The Commercial Record dating back to 1868, the Saugatuck-Douglas Building Survey and more.
Alongside SuperMap is a special "Summertime Post Office" station, inspired by the Museum's 2009 "Summertime" exhibit, where both youngsters and adults are invited to create their own vacation postcards.
Surrounding the Museum, accessed either by stair steps from the entry Pavilion or along a gradually inclined paved "switchback" walkway, designed in 1995 by Society volunteers to provide universal access, is a 1,500 sq. ft. riverfront garden and outdoor learning center featuring six "story stops". At each stop, a plaque provides historical and ecological information about the view from that outlook.
Initiated immediately after the walkway was built, the garden originally was designed to showcase indigenous plants, but the local deer population found them irresistible. Re-engineered between 1999 and 2001, the area now features a stunning tree-shaded diversity of perennial flowering plants, shrubs and groundcover, most prominently rhododendrons, roses, myrtle and several varieties of daisies, all lovingly cared for by a team of volunteers headed by a Master Gardener. Beds of various flowering annuals have been added to highlight the perennials and make the garden more colorful and fragrant throughout spring, summer and fall.
Along with this recent garden restoration, a riverfront retaining wall and black iron fencing were added to define the garden area, while the waterfront below the retaining wall was left natural to the river's edge. Protective posts were installed at roadside. The initial small patio outside the Museum's east-facing main door was doubled in size to accommodate May opening parties and other Society current, and an underground sprinkling system was set in place. Most of the restoration reflects the dedication, countless hours of donated time and the private funding of volunteers Karen and Herb Tews, plus support from the Lugers Family Foundation.
Today and beyond, our Historical Museum offers the visitor an enjoyable way to become acquainted with the Saugatuck-Douglas community, its heritage and traditions, and its significance in the history of Michigan's west coast environment ... or just to relax in the garden and savor the Saugatuck waterfront.