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History Lives Here Text

Early Days in Douglas


(About 1930 William A. May, the grandson of Douglasfounder, William F. Dutcher wrote this summary of early Douglas history whichwas published in an Allegan newspaper. Its title is probably prompted by Early Memories ofSaugatuck by May Francis Heath, which had just been published and includedsome question about the origin of the name of the Village of Douglas.)


Thebeginning of the story of the founding and settlement of the village of Douglas,is across the sea, more than two hundred years ago, and concerns the history ofthe three families, all of English, Holland, or English-Holland origins,namely, May, Dietrich and Dutcher.

In 1688,when William of Orange crossed the waters to England, leading English andHolland troops with him were some men named May, who afterwards becameprominent and influential in Devonshire, England, and there, abut 1790, wasborn Edmund May, who later located at Douglas, Isle of Man, (midway betweenEngland, Ireland and Scotland in the Irish sea) became the father of FredricHenry May, Later while engaged in constructing the Kalamazoo, Allegan and GrandRapids Railroad, resided in Allegan and known as Colonel Fred H. May, who indue time gave to the village of Douglas its name.

Some time in1838 this May family came to America, locating at Milford, Pike county,Pennsylvania. In that section of the state, at or near lackawaxen was a familynamed Dietrich of "Pennsylvania Dutch" stock. One of the daughterswas named Lucinda. Came a young man from out of the western New York by thename of Dutcher. He was of Holland descent, the ones who had occupied NieuwAmsterdam under the Patroons. This man, William Fuller Dutcher, married LucindaDietrich. Their oldest daughter, Mary Anne, married young Frederic Henry May inthe year 1848, and their oldest son, William Augustus May, was the original boyof Douglas, Michigan, as the Dutcher and May families, going to Chicago about1853, found lodgement in 1855 on the present site of Douglas village. Mr.Dutcher having purchased from Jonathan Wade the land contained in the squarebounded by Centre street from the riverside west to the corner where stands theMasonic hall, and hence north an a line leading straight to Kalamazoo lake, fromthere on the lake and river shore to the place of beginning.

At a pointnear the present swing bridge where was the big saw mill, Mr. Wade had built asmall mill containing one "muley" saw, which is an uprightarrangement and very slow and hard to operate, turning out but a few hundredfeet of lumber in a day. This small building was enlarged and remodeled,equipped with circular saws and other up to date machinery for making lumber,and operated by steam, was considered a modern plant. The locality was called"Mill Point.

Near themill was a grove of natural forest trees, (most of them are there now) andclose to the grove was a small story and half cottage erected by Mr. Wade andwhich formed the nucleus of the long, low additions to the large two-story colonial-fronthouse built for Dutcher, the most of which is, after more than seventy-fiveyears, still in use as a good and comfortable home. It was in this big housefacing the grove, that the early mill workmen were housed, because there was noother place for them. The mill building, blacksmith shop, a very old house onthe river bank, and the "big" house constituted the settlement andwere the only buildings in sight, the Wade home and the Dibble house over theKenter way, not being visible owing to the large forest trees occupyingeverything in sight.

The mill wasafter a time fitted for making lath, shingles, and turned wood articles, towhich was added a grist-mill, the nearest grinding facilities being atPiercove.

It was 1855when the Dutcher family crossed lake Michigan from Chicago and their lumberingoperations began. With them were Mrs. Marianne May and the little boy William,mother and son of Frederic H. May, Mr. May's wife having died in Chicago in thefall of 1854. Then came Martin Dietrich, brother of Mrs. Dutcher, with hiswife, and twins Emma and Emmett. They first occupied the old gray house on theriver bank just alluded to. Later arrived Mrs. Maria Graham, sister of Mrs.Dutcher, her son, Hugh E. Graham, her son-in-law Jonas S. Crouse and his wifeElizabeth, and some time later another son, Charles Graham and family. Thesepeople. constituted the first real settlers of "Mill Point,"afterward locally called "Dutcherville," until formally and legallynamed "Douglas," the mill hands being counted as transient people andnot real settlers.

About 1860it was decided to lay out the Dutcher property into village lots, and Mr.butcher's son-in-law, Fredric H. May, was commissioned to survey, plat andrecord the same. He accepted on condition of being permitted to name the town,which he called Douglas, after his birth-town in the Isle of Man. A copy of hismap of Douglas was a few years ago, at least, hanging in the office of GeorgeL. Dutcher (son of Thomas B. Dutcher) in Fennville, and doubtless is in thepossession of his family now. The name Douglas in the Manx tongue is from"Dhoo" (dark) and "Glass" (gray), "dark gray"from two rivers of those names which united near the city of Douglas, Isle ofMan. When one remembers the colors of the Kalamazoo it is to find an additionalreason for naming the Michigan village "Douglas."

Mr. Dutcherhad with him his elder son, George N., and wife Eliza; his second son, ThomasBenton (better known as "Bent") Dutcher, and a younger daughter,Elizabeth who later became the wife of Lewis A. Upson, a lake captain ofsailing craft. The men were all Democrats in politics, and in the campaign of1860, being supporters of Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic nominee forpresident in opposition to Abraham Lincoln, Repubican nominee for president,many people got the idea that the town had been named in honor of Mr. Douglas,but that is not true, for Mr. May was in politics a rabid Republican and havingthe right to name the town would never have consented to call it after theDemocratic nominee. Party feeling ran too high in those days for such a thingto be possible.

Before thetown site was laid out, efforts were made to secure the co-operation of Mr.Wade who could thus make possible the creation of a larger town site, but hewould have none of it, and proceeded to plat a townsite of his own calling it"Dudleyville" after a brother who later came into the neighborhoodwith his large family, but the name did not please and in a few years thedesignation "Douglas" was applied to the whole section and additionsto the village were entered as "Additions to the Village of Douglas."

The firstday-school in Douglas was kept in a small dwelling then on the ground nowcalled the "square" (where baseball games are played), a Mrs. Whipplebeing the teacher. This lady afterward became Mrs. Robert MacDonald. Then aschoolhouse was built on what is now the corner diagonally opposite where theMasonic hall stands and the building is now the same as when first put upexcept for a small extension added to its front. When erected, the schoolhousewas at the top of a short steep hill, sandy in summer and dreadfully slipperyin winter. This sharp grade has since been cut down to the presentinconspicuous level. The hill was a fine place for coasting in wintertime.

For a longtime there were no church services, but after the little schoolhouse was readyfar use, preaching was quite regularly had, the people undergoing muchinconvenience by having to sit on the low and cramped places provided for thechildren at school. "Father Bliss" a Methodist circuit preacher, wasthe man who ministered to the community and by and by money was raised and theunion meeting house was built. In this building was held our first Sabbathschool. Hugh E. Graham was the superintendent, the house is now the I.O.O.F.hall, the Methodist organization having disbanded. The village grew in many newhouses, new people and new industries. A new sawmill, the Marsh mill, was putinto operation. This brought a new general store. The Gerber tannery was builtand did a fine business. A Mr. Hayes started a tannery for curing deerskins,furs and fancy soft leathers. Mr. Wade built a large hotel calling it theDouglas House. Mr. Kibby was a landlord for years. A fine two-story schoolhousewas built. A drug store, a harness shop, butcher shop and a basket factory wereadded to the town. Many people were engaged in these industries. From spring tofall especially, the place was hustling from morn to night, and sometimes allnight when the lumber mills were rushed with orders. There was a goodpopulation of excellent people. Douglas became a postoffice. Sailing and steamcraft plied regularly between Douglas and Chicago and on the Kalamazoo riverwere steamers to Allegan.

The Masonichall is on the site of the original cemetery of Douglas,, all interred therebeing removed to a large and better location and the sharp hill was cut down toits present level, greatly improving the street and the town. This hall fromits inception became the recreation centre of the community.

Finememories cluster around the village. its young people have ever been of thebest. Its amusements, possibly simple, but always clean, its habits perfectlyregular, its ideals high. Its joys and its sorrows are community joys andsorrows; we share them, one and all. Do not regret the smallness of the presenttown, or the passing of its departed activities, or its quietness and peace inwinter. The town, with Saugatuck has became a favorite summer resort forChicago people and such quietness and winter peacefulness make for true rest,not dullness ...


The Forest

it was manyyears before the natural forest trees of oak, sugar maple, whitewood, wildcherry, beech, basswood, sycamore, hemlock, ironwood, ash, hickory, black walnut,butternut, soft maple, pine, etc., disappeared..

From HogPoint all the way to Allegan along the river; in the big ravine just south ofthe village; an the ground near Aretas Bennett's home and east and south ofHugh Graham']s place and every foot of land west and south of the Wiley groundalong the road to lake Michigan; the corner called Spencer's corner, and theinterior of the country north, east and south and all the way to Allegan formany miles inland, stood giant trees of all kinds which in the passage of timewere utilized for lumber, timber, tanbark, firewood, etc. or destroyed to clearground for farming purposes.



Fax grapes,thornapples, wild Indian apples, wild cherries, mandrakes, blackberries, redand black raspberries, wild plums, wild strawberries, sand-hill cherries,wintergreen bevies, and leaves, sassafras root, blue berries, love apples, andother natural fruits and herbs grew in abundance in the openings and otherplaces. Wild flowers were plentiful and beautiful, it was a great pleasure toseek these things.


Game wasplentiful. Deer, squirrels, (red, black and gray), woodchucks, hedgehogs(porcupines), raccoons, wild ducks, wild geese, blackbirds, quail, grouse andcountless flocks of wild pigeons all contributed to the pleasure and support ofthe community.

Fur bearinganimals such as muskrat, otter and skunk, wildcats and others were abundant;also owls of all kinds, whippoorwills, robins and many feathered songsters werefound.


The Pigeon

Every springfrom the south, and every fall from the north, came immense flocks of wildpigeons, so dense as to darken the sky, and so numerous as to be several daysin passing a given paint. They often flew so low as to be readily knocked downwith an ordinary pole. People shot and caught then in great quantities, in thefall putting the plucked pigeons carcasses down in jars of lard to resurrectand cook them when wanted during the winter. Pigeon pat pie was great stuff inthose days.



Kalamazoolake and river teemed with fish which were much sought and formed aconsiderable part of the fresh food supply. Black bass, small rock bass,calico bass or bream, sunfish, yellow perch, pike, pickerel, catfish, bullheads, muskellunge (big fellows, these), were most plentiful. Down at the mouthof the Kalamazoo the lake fishermen would supply whitefish, lake trout, andwhite perch. In both waters the sturgeon came every spring in large numbers.The Douglas mill men would take a farm wagon and go to the lake shore at threeo'clock in the morning, armed only with a pike pole fitted with a plain hook,and as the sturgeon came to shore to spawn at daylight would draw them one byone upon the beach, dispatch them and take until they had secured a wagon load,when they would return home with the trophies of the expedition. It was purewaste, for little could be done with so many large fish, some of them weighingan hundred pounds, and the flesh made fit for eating had to be speciallytreated. The boys would make fine elastic bounding balls of the end of thesturgeon's nose and of the spinal corn, which resembled a huge muscle. Therewere dog fish, avaricious things, always taking bait or biting lines, and garfish, long scaly and useless, fine big frogs, land turtles, mud turtles and bigmusky snapping turtles. These last were fine eating, sweet and delicate, andsuckers speared at night in the springtime from boats carrying lighted"jacks" at the prows, a great sport for some people.


The physicaland natural beauty of the land and surrounding of both Saugatuck and Douglashave never been properly exploited nor understood. If considered so attractivein those days, one may, after reading the foregoing, get a fleeting glimpse ofa natural physical beauty that when carefully looked at and studied became moreand more appealing to the senses as a picture will grown upon one's vision andopen new attractions as they unfold to new points of view. It is no wonderthen, that the easy people of Douglas drank in unconsciously the surrounding glory of theforest, the lake and river, the little hills and bluffs, the rolling ground andall nature's attractive goodness, learning to love and to remember after manydays , the time of sojourn in a strange land. Some day a genius will come alongand develop what others have neglected, and make more beautiful that whichalready is, and for these many years has been one of Nature's Jewels.

Were those the happy days? Most decidedly yes!