The School House Project

Preserving the Douglas Union School

Creating a Discovery Center where the Entire Community Can Learn and Grow


OUR GOAL: To renew a premier historic place as an exciting new educational center where children and adults can meet to explore the area’s remarkable history, architecture, culture, and environment—using our history to shape our future, protect our environment, and preserve our quality of life.


The Douglas Union School and its expansive lawn have tremendous untapped potential as a site for providing unique experiences utilizing the latest technology and the Society’s resources to provide sustained benefit to the community. As possible functions that could fulfill this potential, we propose the following, although we acknowledge that in the spirit of good planning and the established relationships among our community, schools and library, some of the ‘function’ of the Old School House will be invented by its many users. We fully expect that this fresh and dynamic resource will encourage unforeseen forms of interaction with our history and geography.


“Back in Time” Experience | In partnership with area schools and the library, using a variety of curricular projects in a century-old classroom setting to bring the past alive, we want to provide a place for students to use history and the growing body of environmental information to make a better community. Located in the West Room, this could combine flat-screen video and "artifact boxes" with bench seating available for presentations and viewing digital programs.

The Creation Station Project | A workshop and exhibition “factory” where individuals and groups of all ages can enjoy opportunities via School and Historical society leadership to develop their own exhibits, which then would be shown at the Pump House Museum during the off-season, here at the Old School House, at our public schools or elsewhere. Planned for the north end of our West Room, this facility would include worktables and wall cabinets.

The Discovery Room | An active learning place where kids of all ages and adults can­ see, hear, read and talk about our history and environment, whether as part of a school or special project or just browsing. One aspect of this could be an on-going History Study Group program whereby adults participate in research/writing/presenting local history topics. Located in the East Room, it would enjoy easy access to the Center's library, study tables, computers and historical materials, including the Saugatuck/Douglas Library's local history collection and "Ancestry Plus" genealogical resource.

Knowing Our Ancestors Project | A place to research a family genealogical tree, find photos of family members from the past, or study and discover the many people who have lived in our community — both the “heroes” and the “just plain folks” — learning how their contributions have made our community what it is today. Also located in the East Room, this will interface with our ever-expanding genealogy database of local people.

The Tourism Center | Boosting heritage tourism by providing a place where local residents and visitors can get information on all the historic sites in the area through the Society’s Saugatuck Walking Tour and the Douglas Heritage Preservation Committee’s Douglas Walking Tour.  Prominently located to welcome visitors at the front (south end) of the East Room, the Center will display and sell the Society's continuing series of award-winning historical books, local artwork, maps and gift items, and provide public computer-terminal access to our interactive history programs.  A private Administrator's office will occupy a small area behind the north end of the East Room.

An Historic Garden, An Environmental Learning Center, and An Open-Air Exhibition Space | Extending the learning and exhibition programs out-of-doors to the spacious grounds surrounding the Old School House would provide a place to study historic plant materials and the lakeshore area’s unique ecology overlooking the Saugatuck-Douglas Harbor.  At some future point, this area also could contain a permanent display of the Society's rare 1850s Francis Lifeboat, recently restored by member-volunteers.  [planned for later stage]

Lower (Basement) Level

The Skills Learning Center | A work-life program allowing High School students to gain experience in archiving, digital photo reproduction, historic building survey work, researching, and museum management. These functions would access both the archives and document storage housed in the West Room and the Technical Center facilities in the East Room.

Technical Center and Archival Storage

The Old School House will bring together, for the first time in one location, the substantial print, photographic (5,000+ images), and 3D archives of the Society, which have always been widely dispersed wherever space was available, thus not readily accessible.  Having these priceless resources "down the hall" from Tech Center staff and equipment (currently housed "down the street" in Dutcher Lodge) also will facilitate the Center's digitizing, retrieval and creative activities, enhancing their availability to all.


Second Floor


The upper level will remain available for rental as professional/commercial office space, providing income to help support Discovery Center operation and activities.  A central elevator will provide access to all three floors, in addition to front entry and exterior rear deck stairs.

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