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History Lives Here Text

The above letter is from the George B. TisdaleCollection in the Society's archives. Tisdale was a Great Lakes sailor and mostof the letters of the collection are related to employment on various vessels,mostly lumber hookers. He retired from the Lakes and took over running the WestShore as a ferry between downtown Saugatuck, Douglas and the west side ofKalamazoo Lake during the last illness of the boat's owner, John Campbell.


ca 1943 TheIsabel at the ferry landing foot of Butler Street

In 1927 Tisdale built the Isabel(named for his daughter), from a Bay City company's pre-cut kit. When the late Robert Wolbrink was a youngster he used to like to sit withCaptain Tisdale on a bench at the end of the dock near the Tisdale house (nowthe Deer Creek Bed and Breakfast) on the southwest shore of Kalamazoo Lake.From there they could see the semaphore signals at the foot of Butler Street, andnear the old swing bridge into Douglas thatmeant that there was a customer waiting. Wolbrinksaid that Tisdale once told him that he had given up sailing on the Great Lakesbecause it was making a drunkard of him, since whiskey was the only possibleway to keep warm on a drafty lumber boat. According to Wolbrink,Tisdale also had a large red nose that made his story even more believable.


The cause ofprohibition was an active one in West Michigan.Several Red Ribbon clubs were organized in the wake of a visit by Susan B.Anthony in 1879. (Those who pledged to give up liquor wore a red ribbon intheir lapel.) In 1894 a county-wide vote passed local option, making itpossible for each local township or incorporated settlement to decide forthemselves the advisability of selling spirituous beverages. At a second voteheld in 1896 local option was roundly defeated in Saugatuck, 311 to 140. Thelocal newspaper explained:


"The election occurred at themost disadvantageous time for the temperance side. The farmers, who weredepended on to furnish the votes to defend and uphold the law, were at theirbusiest and they neglected to attend the pools. Then again the floating vote islarger at this season of the year than at any other, and ninetenthsof the floating vote was against prohibition."


It is not known whether Tisdale attended the caucuses.Some of the candidates elected were probably not teetotalers, let aloneprohibitionists. The local newspaper lists the major issues in the race in 1900as:


l. Electriclights [This dream was not to be realized until 1912]


2. A bridgeacross the river to the parklands [Although it has often been talked about abridge between downtown Saugatuck and Mt. Baldheadhas not existed since the 1850s]


3. "Theneed to settle the disputed title to lands which should be owned by thevillage." [The major problem here concerned lands in the Mt. Baldheadarea. Some had been deeded to prospective railroad projects that had nevermaterialized.]


Despite a mass Temperance Rally held on March 30 at Saugatuck, a moveto make the township dry last at the annual township meeting in April. More than 500 citizens attended themeeting, too many for the building so the meeting had to be moved out of doors,a chilly prospect in Michiganin early April.


The letterreprinted here is also interesting historically because of its form. It iswritten in carefully executed handwriting with purple ink on rough paper andappears to be an early form of duplicated letter. The electric pen, a predecessor of the mimeograph machine, was inventedby Thomas A. Edison in 1877. After a few improvements thousands were sold commercially.



The electric pen, used a battery for power and punched tiny holes in thepaper along the path of the written words. This paper was then used as a matrixto make duplicates of the letter. When ink was spread on the back it oozedthrough the holes forming a continuous line. The number of letters that couldbe duplicated from a single paper matrix was limited, in the early versions toless than a dozen, but it was still an improvement over writing out all of theletters by hand.