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History Lives Here Text

The Last Resident of Singapore
by Ben Van Eyck

One source of written history in recentyears has been the creative writing classes offered by many community educationand Elderhostel groups. This piece, on the last days of Singapore,reads like one these efforts, just before the professor reads the paper andsays, "Don't try to use fancy words and images. Just write it! " However, the source is more complicated than that. Peter Moerdyk worked for the Netherlands Information Agency, anarchive gathering branch of the old NetherlandsMuseum in Holland in a special program during theDepression and continued this work for many years. This one-sheet descriptionof the last days of Singaporewas found in a collection of items concerning area history that he uncovered.Many of the items that he added to the archives were translated from the Dutchand this might have been one of them, cps indicated from the one "untranslatable " word. (One Dutch dictionarytranslates "muiberlenrommel " as 'junk collected that relates to the task at hand.") William O. Van Eyck was an active historianin the Hollandarea. The only Ben Van Eyck who can be easily foundin the records was a carpenter who was recorded in a 1920 Holland city directory.

Singapore, atthe mouth of the Kalamazoo River, was once a place of great activity. The rich,fertile, vast Kalamazooriver basin constituted its hinterland. Lake Michigan,the second largest of the Great Lakes, and among the largest bodies of freshwater on the globe, played at its door. The rediscovered paradise of Michigan extended as theHorn of Cornucopia from up out of the boundless West. Pressure ofover-population in Europe brought floods ofnew-comers, seeking homes and opportunities. And Singapore flourished. But Singapore hadyet to reckon with the winds and the shifting sands. And these two have todaycompletely covered the once thriving metropolis. Not a shednor a shred - only a memory: as a dream in the drama of human aspiration, remains.

Finally asingle solitary three storied apartment, unoccupied, abandoned, still clung tothe side of the encroaching avalanche of sand. And into theeasily accessible ground floor of this building shifted shiftless Jim Nickols,the fisherman. Jim owned a sloop. Its bowsprit was hickory, battered andloose. Its spar was a "natural," and could bend as Jim could bend --there was no cross grain in either.

But the windmarched the hill. Into the building it entered. Jim had to move upstairs, and Jim bent with the winds' decree. Stool andbench and truck and "muiberlenrommel,"hooks and traps and tools and boat repairs, well, they were his own, and withone's own a bachelor can do what he wants.

But the windsnever rest for long. In time this second story retreat of the lone fishermancame in turn of invasion. So Jim picked up his pack and baggage and again hemoved upstairs. Grand was the view, but tedious was the ascent, and exertionwas not to be commended, according to the philosophy of life of hermithood. Eventually the third loft was as easily invadedas the first, and the shovel remained coated with rust. Again Jim Nickols, as his counterpart, his boat mast, bowed to theinexorable and bent with the wind. And now his home is buried completely; andof the fisherman there is only this legend.

Cappy Brittain's
Recollections of Singapore

Collected by Yale Human


Ca 1910 Cappy Brittainwith daughter Florence


Singapore's economic foundation was the hemlocktree. A lumber mill, operated by Dunning and Hopkins, was the core industry. In 1857 aneconomic panic made them insolvent and the firm was taken over by Johnson andStockbridge.

Stockbridgeoperated a lumber yard in Chicago, and the partnersestablished a tannery on the lakeshore south of Douglas.This created a two-way payload for the sailing ships -- lumber to Chicago, and tan hides back to Singapore, where the lumber mill'sby-product hemlock bark or tanbark) was stockpiled.

A fleetformed: Schooners 100 to 150 feet long. Among them were the Johnson, theStockbridge and the L.B. Coates.

Singapore thrived. There was a big company store andtwo saloons. These in turn produced a cemetery located 100 or less yardsnorthwest of the present foundations where Cook's caretaker's house stood.

Stockbridge'sson was buried in Singaporecemetery. Later Stockbridge moved to Kalamazooand then on to Washingtonas a United States Senator. After his death Mrs. Stockbridge caused the son'sbody to be exhumed and removed to the Kalamazoocemetery. She may have foreseen what the future held for Singapore. By1890 all the residents were gone, and the few remaining buildings were yieldingto the winds and shifting sands.

As Shelley said, "...boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away."



Leonard S. "Cappy" Brittain,was the son of Lakes Captain R. C Brittain ofSaugatuck. The son earned his own captain's papers and for several years sailedon the Great Lakes before taking overoperation of the Saugatuck Chain Ferry from his father-in-law, Jay Myers. Thisbrief account of an interview with Cappy was found inhis papers by Mrs. Carl "Dolly" Bird, who cared for him in his lateryears.