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History Lives Here Text

Recollectionsof Ray Nies

Ray Dies,the son of Jan lilies who returned from the Civil Near to begin a hardwarestore in Saugatuck, later wrote his memories of Saugatuck in the late 1800s.


(Continued from Page 428)


6. TheHardware Store


Keeping storein those long ago years was different from the way it is today. The store soldcut iron nails, plain iron cook stoves and heaters, most of them for burningwood. There were no plumbing goods except hand water pumps and some pipe, asall the plumbing in the village was of primitive "out door" type. Itsold wooden wash tubs and water pails, tin and copper wash boilers and tinwarewhich was made in our small back room tin shop; axes and saws for which therewas a large demand to clear the land and to make fire wood; oil lamps andlanterns, and now and then a candle mold; gun powder and shot; rough cast ironpots and pans; house carpen­ter's tools, and tools for ship builders. These aresome of the items that I can just remember.


Once in awhile a farmer would come in who needed a stove or other merchandise, and hewould be short of money. In such cases Dad would often take in payment quarterof beef or half a hog; perhaps a load of fire wood, ajar of butter or someeggs. Our large family could usually use those articles in the house, butMother would be quite disappointed in the quality of the supplies obtained inthis way, when the meat was poor and tough, and the butter strong as sometimeswas the case. And sometimes a poor, struggling farmer would bring in some ofhis scanty produce, which he had in vain tried to find a buyer for, and Father,knowing his circumstances and taking pity, would buy the produce, and if itwere good enough give it to some poor person he knows would have use for it.


There was littletime spent in widow displays, windows being considered useful mostly forletting in the daylight, and no special attempt was made to arrange the stockin the store in an orderly, systematic way. The goods were placed mostlywherever space could be found, and if a customer stumbled over something hewould sometimes buy it. Any spare time when not attending customers, was spentin the small tin shop making up tin pails, wash boilers and other tin ware tosupply future demand.


The Dutchcolony on the north was within a few miles of our village, and many of thosepeople, who knew Father came and traded with him. He did not forget how tospeak to them in their language. We had had Yankees in our village from"down east" also people from "York State",and enough sprinkling of foreign nationalities to make it interesting. If aFrench Canadian ship builder came in, Father could converse with him and getalong, but he always called that sort of French speech, privately,"Bastard French." It was not the real French he had learned at schoolin old Holland.He talked to the Germans too, who came in to trade, in their native tongue.This knowledge of languages helped him to make a comfortable living, asnaturally, people liked to deal with a man who could speak their own language,and who understood their wants and preferences. Some of these people comingfrom so many distant places were bound to have ways that seemed a bit queer tous.


About thistime the store got in its first hard coal heaters. Vile had sold only woodburning stoves up to this time. Most of the external castings, highly nickelplated, were attached to the main body of the stove by small bolts, and wereremovable for shipping or delivery.


The wife ofone of our leading citizens came in one day to look over one of the newarrivals that burned hard coal, and that would throw out heat all night. Andkeep going if you only kept the magazine full of fuel. Some even had a tinyoven built in to the rear. She stopped in front of one of the stoves, looked itover, but would not decide about buying it. Father tried his best to make thesale, but she would not say that she would take it. She would not say much ofanything. Father finally said, "What is the matter with it? What is it youdo not like about the stove, Madam?"


"I likethe idea of having a heater that will do all you say it will do, but I don'tlike all the nickel. It is too much trouble to keep it clean and shiny, andbesides I just don't like it."


"Why,if that is all, that is easily overcome," Father said with a smile."I'll take the nickel off, and sell you the stove without the trimmings,and for less money too."


"Allright," said the lady. "Take the stuff off and maybe I'll take thestove."


So Fathergot a screw driver and pliers, and began removing the nickel pieces, pilingthem up on the floor beside the stove. After he had removed a few of the largerpieces the lady, watching this suddenly said, "You have gone far enough,put those pieces right back where they belong on the stove. I'll take it as itwas."


Father knewvery well before he started to remove one piece of nickel, that the lady wouldnever buy the stove without it. It looked too naked. Most people wanted a lotof shiny nickel plate on their new, hard coal stoves. The more the better. Itwas the "style." A stove was no good without it.


7. Yankees


I remember afamily of down east Yankees living on a nearby farm. They were good, honestpeople but I thought their ways a bit odd and amusing. The father was a small,dried up, slow talking, slow moving, old looking man. They managed a livingsomehow, but never possessed much of this world's goods. He never worked toohard and took plenty of time. They had children - Edwin, Edna, George, Alfredand lastly Theodore. If he wanted the youngest member of the family, Theodore,he would call Edwin, the oldest, to him and would relay the message thusly, inhis slow drawl;' "Naow-w-w, Edw-ii-i-n, you-u-u go and tel-lGeorge totel-l A-afred to tel-l Edna to tel-l The-e-e-odore to come ri-i-i-ght up to thehouse. Te-l-l him I w-a-n-t him immed-i-atelyl m" Nothing like keepingthem all busy.


Then therewas the village dray man, Tobias, another one of your slow-talking, drawling, realYankees. He was a good fellow, but he did not have much schooling. For years hedrove his old one-horse dray around the village with word "DRAW"rudely painted on each side in large, red letters. This was Toby's idea of theproper way to spell dray. And he never changed it. He probably figured that a"draw" was a "dray" or perhaps the other way around. What'sthe difference?


His sonOliver was growing up, beginning to help Toby a bit with the draying or"drawing." Ollie had a drawl in his speech similar to that of hisfather. The "head board" and "tail board" of the old draywere a trouble to him. These parts of the dray, while they looked about alike                                             differedslightly, and one would not quite fit in where the other belonged. Ollie wouldput them in where he could, whether the boards fitted the place or not. Half ofthe time he would have them in wrong, and never seemed to learn just which waswhich.


One day, oldToby exasperated over Ollie's troubles gets his pot of red paint, and paints agreat, big capital letter "B" on each board. Then he calls Ollie overto him, and says, "N-a-o-w, 0l-l-l-ie you-u 1-o-o-k at tha-a-t thereboa-r-d. I painted-e-e-d a "B" on in. It stan-a-a-nds for Behind, andyo-u-u se-e- that other bo•a-r-d-d? I pal-n-t-e-d a "B" o-on itst-a-an-ds for Before. Na-o-w darn you, go get them mixed u-u-up aga-i-n willyou."


The villagehad quite a bad fire one midnight, when several of the houses burned down. Thedrayman's cottage caught fire, and the houses around were burning furiously.Amid all the noise and glare young Ollie was asleep up stairs. Toby called fromthe foot of the stairway in his long, slowing drawl;"0-0-0-0-l-l-i-e." No answer.


And then thedrawling answer came, "Wh-a-a-a-t Pa?"


"0-0-0-l-l-i-e, darn yer soul,get up and put on y-a-u-r pa-a-n-t-s, the house is on afi-i-i-re!" Young0llie said "What else must I do, Pa?"

"Comedown stairs," said Toby, and Ollie got up and came down. I don't rememberwhether with his pants on or off.


Tim'sfaithful old "draw" horse was a caricature of a horse. You could hangyour hat on some of the projecting bones of his angular frame. The best hecould do was to drag the dray at snail's pace through the village. You wouldmarvel that he could pull even a light load, or the small dray without a load.He had a wonderful hollow or sway back, like sometimes when growing up hisround back had been grossly overloaded. The small shed, but little larger andlonger than the horse it contained, was similarly affected One was compelled towonder by what miracle the owner was able to get his horse in and out of theshed past that low place unless the horse got down and crawled past it on hisknees. But once well in its shed the horse's sunken back must have neatly andclosely coincided with the sunken roof.


When Tobygot up in the morning, and went to the stable to hitch up his horse, it wasalways with a dark, gloomy foreboding in his mind that the old horse had passedon in the night, and was no more. Toby's heavy mental load was lifted when he foundthe horse still alive, and he was happy when he finally got him on his feet andharnessed to the dray. And the horse had taken a few, feeble, halting steps ontrial, for old Toby reasoned well that if he could get the old horse up on hisfeet in the morning, and a start made, if of only of a few, first steps, morewould be taken and yet more and he would be all right, and could pull throughfor at least that one day longer. And so it was another day, and yet anotherday into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years, each day of whichmight have been the nag's last day, and yet Toby's faithful old horse keptmoving, if you could call it that. But the day did at last come, as last strawsand last days do come, when Toby's fears were realized, and on the gloomy daywhen he went out to hitch up his horse, he could not get him up on his feet northe one first step taken. The horse was no more. In these latter days anautomobile of five years old, that has had much use is thought to have seen itsbest days, not good for much more, but in those days a horse of that age wasconsidered to be at his best, and not until he was around twenty years of agewas he spoken of as getting old. Toby's horse was much older than that.


8. A GhostStory


When Ollie wasjust about grown up the mischief loving village boys, knowing well hispeculiarities played jokes on him as often as they could think one up. Hismother sent him for groceriesone evening to the village store. There he found quite a crowd of boys, some ofthem more or less of the kind mentioned about When they saw Ollie enter thetalk was swung around with evil intent to the subject of ghosts.


One bravelysaid, "I don't believe in no ghosts!" Another said, "Well, Idunno. I ain't never saw one, but old Doc Hay says he saw one again just theother night when he was walking home late past the Episcopal church. Saw it inwhite just as plain as could be, right where he always sees it. But he is suchan old liar you can't hardly believe him."


"I don'tknow about old Hay" said Toad, "but old Bandle is no liar, and hesure saw one right in the same place. You got to believe him."


The talkwent on back and forth getting more exciting all the time with believersgetting the better of the debate. At last, it now being after dark, Olliethought he'd had better be on his way home, and not delay overmuch on the wayas it led past the Episcopal church where the ghost had been seen so often.Toad closely watch him leave and then dashed out of the side door, andunperceived by Ollie circled around him, ran quickly home near the church,dashed into the house, grabbed a sheet, and ran into the church yard, wherebehind a bush he wrapped the sheet around him and lay in wait in the dark forOllie.


Soon herecame Ollie walking pretty fast and repeating to himself , "No sir! I don'tbelieve in no ghost - No sir I don't believe in what old Hay said. He is a liaretc. etc.," but his remarks as to his own non belief were suddenly brokenoff when Toad, all in white as suddenly appeared in front of him. One glanceand Ollie was paralyzed, but only for an instant. The ghost moved forward astep, Ollie gave a terrified scream, dropped his groceries, jumped around pastthe ghost, and ran for home faster than he ever before ran, with the ghostgetting closer until, almost exhausted, a thought flashed through his mind,"It's no use! No matter how fast I run any ghost can surely runfaster" and so gave up. Done. Collapsed.


But justthen the ghost happened to glance around and beheld approaching him thro' thedark another and larger ghost., When ghost number one saw this he turned, andnow the tired pursuer became the pursued, who could not understand at all whyany ghost number two should be there. So the best thing he could do was to putout of there, which he did, followed a short distance by number two, who thenturned off and returned to where he came from, where ever that was.


Ghost numberone was never exactly certain in his mind about ghost number two. Sometime hethought it might have been old Doc Hay in the sheet, and again sometimes he wasnot sure.


9. The Endof Singapore


The site ofSingapore was chosen because it was so close to the mouth of the river. Thelogs would drift easily down the many miles of river to this place, be sawn upinto lumber, and ships loaded with the lumber had only a short distance to goto get onto the open water of the Big Lake and then, too, its founders had thehigh hope that their settlement would soon develop into a metropolis on accountof its navigational advantages; and they had good reason for this hope, for inearly days the great bulk of the nation's commerce was carried the easiest way-- on water, which was the cause of our first great cities being built wherethey were -- on the water's edge. If you could look at a certain map I once hadof the most thickly inhabited portion of the country, published way back in the1820's, you would find every one of the larger cities located on waternavigable, at least, to some extent; and you would notice a vast network ofcanals on this map, a few in operation, the rest projected, and not onerailroad.


So, withexpectations they started their proposed metropolitan city here, and soonwaterfront, or business lots, were selling for fabulous prices from speculatorto speculator. But the site chosen with its navigation possibilities, and theforests up the river back of it, was not sufficient to cause it ever to growlarge in size, or even to become permanent.


Singaporewas partly surrounded by large, steep hills covered by many trees, mostlyhardwoods.. The forests on the plains up the river were cut down first, itbeing far easier to roll the logs into the river, and let them float downstream by its current the many miles to the mills, than to haul them the mileor two over those nearby hills, and too, they were the much-wanted pine. Butgradually the nearby timber was also cut, leaving some of the hills bare, whichfor centuries had been covered by a forest growth. There were also fires whichdestroyed the grasses and underbrush, And these big hills were composed solidlyof pure, loose sand, and when the binding forest covering was gone, the loosesand began to drift, and to make trouble.


In a littlemore than a generation the best lumber was gone, and there being no otherindustry to keep up the place, the inhabitants of Singapore moved away until itwas deserted, and it stayed that way, a ghost of a town, while the farms andneighboring villages which had other industries that were of a more permanentnature, absorbed the population of Singapore -- and the sand kept drifting, andfinally covered most of it and buried it.


"Tailboard"Jim was a humble fisherman in the newer neighboring, fishing village of"Fishtown," a village of shacks inhabited by fishermen. Having losthis shack by fire or flood, or some other way, he got the idea of taking up hisresidence in the nearby long-deserted town of Singapore, which had long sincebeen a "no man's land." Accordingly, he moved with his family into whathad been the very best house, the big three-story one, which had been thehotel. He might as well have the best as the meanest as it did not cost him anymore. But Tailboard didn't reckon with one thing, or perhaps his nature was asshiftless as was the shifting nature of the sand dunes, which now wereengulfing the abandoned town, and he did not care, for it was not long beforethe sand began to creep into the first floor of his newly acquired home throughthe doors and windows.


Now, if ithad been a flood of water that was slowly rising about Tailboard Jim's newhome, and was coming into it, it would have been more in Tailboard's line, andperhaps he would have done something about it. Water could be pumped or bailed,or you could take a chance and let your house float on it as a boat, - but,just sand! Either Tailboard Jim considered it beneath the dignity of hiscalling to do any shoveling, or he was too lazy or indifferent as to botherabout what was going on, or perhaps he had a bright idea we are not giving himsufficient credit for. At any rate, he did just nothing, except that when thefirst floor filled up too much for getting around with ease, he simply moved upto the next floor, and. just let the first floor fill up, and now got into andout of his house through a more or less convenient window.


It was notlong however, before the sand began to come into the second floor, and thenTailboard moved again, not out, Oh no, not out, not our smart Jim, but up, upto the third story, and when the sand began to encroach on the third floor,then Tailboard Jim simply moved out, and back to one of the Fishtown shacksthat had become vacant, where he had come from.


Why was hecall Tailboard? It was in this way. When Jim first appeared from the back countrywhere he was raised, and got employment for one of the old fishermen, he wasentirely ignorant of everything that pertained to fishing or sailing.


One of thefirst things he learned about in his new work was the centerboard, necessary toa light draft, sailing craft for tacking or beating against the wind. Thecenter board could be conveniently raised or lowered into the water asrequired, and was located well in the center of the boat.


It sohappened that he was at his new work several months when he wanted to tell theowner something about the "tailboard in the water," at the tail endor stern of the boats, used to steer it with, by moving it sideways. He found,to his great surprise, that this board was not called the "tailboard"as he supposed all the time it should be called, but was commonly called therudder. And so he was called "Tailboard Jim" to the end of his life.


10. A WarmEnding


If theshingle roof of the big, three-story house ever becomes uncovered, and exposedto human view, most of it will be found to have burned away, and I will explainwhy.


The sanddunes finally covered all that was left of the village of Singapore, even thethird story of the hotel, except the roof ridge, and part of the roof which wasstanding out above the sand. The roof stood in this condition year after year,and one could only see the dried-up, wooden peak of the old building stickingup through the top of a sand dune to show that there had been once, a house ortown there. So it stood, weathering year after year until early, on one cold,winter day in the late nineties, on a holiday, my brother-in-law, Fred, theeditor one, [Fred Wade, editor of theSaugatuck newspapers and I walked through the place on our way to"De Stadt," the largest village in the Dutch colony, some fourteenmiles to the north, to visit our family.


We took thissomewhat round about, and longer route because it led to the beach of LakeMichigan, which was frozen hard and smooth, and made eight miles of wonderfulwalking. When we reached the mouth of the "little lake" (LakeMacatawa) in those days called Black Lake, we could put on our ice skates forthe remaining six miles to the Dutch village at its head. We did this, andarrived at our destination in time for the wonderful New Year's dinner that wasawaiting us.


The dinnerfinished, we hurried on our way back. The fourteen weary miles to Singaporewere at last covered. The sun had gone down, and it was bitterly cold. We wereexhausted, and we, reaching the point where that old, dried-up, shingled roofstuck out of the sand dune, we sat down to rest, half frozen.


Thetemptation was too much, and with a few matches we soon had one of the mostcheerful, blazing, comfortable fires before which I had ever sat, and it lastedquite a while too. We sat watching the sparks being carried upwards, and thewood shingles curling up and burning as we were getting thawed out and rested;but neither one mentioned that this was the very end and finish of that oldendeavor of mankind known as Singapore, at least all of it above the sand.


As we sat wetalked about some of the incidents that had happened there, of which Fred knew,and I didn't, he being many years my senior, things that had happened before Iwas born.


11. TheStrange Tale of Captain Thompson's Schooner


He told meabout Captain Thompson's schooner, which left the harbor of Singapore late inthe fall, bound across Lake Michigan, loaded with lumber. He said, when theboat got out into the big lake it began to snow, and the snowfall was thickerand heavier than any that these sailors had ever known. So thick it was, thecaptains afterward declared, you could not see your hand held in front of yourface in mid day, and then their compass went out of order so that they had noway of knowing in what direction they were moving. They just drifted aroundsomewhere out in the great lake for a week, and the snow kept falling soheavily that they could scarcely tell night from day, and there was quite aheavy sea on.


They werecompletely lost, and about out of provisions. They did not know what to do whensuddenly the waves subsided, and one of the men, up forward, cried out,"Captains I just felt a branch of a tree."


Everybody jumped.The captain thought that maybe the man had gone crazy with all the bad weatherfrom which they had suffered, for he knew there were no trees growing out inLake Michigan. He went quickly forward through the darkness and falling snow,and felt far himself the branch of the tree. Wondering greatly, he ordered theanchor down at once, and they stayed there until it finally cleared and grewlight. To their amazement, and great relief they found themselves right back safe in the very harbor they had leftthe few days before, and it wasone of the narrowest harbors on all Lake Michigan. They had anchored two yardsfrom the bank, under the branches of a tree.


Ourconversation turned on Fred's quaint, old friend, Captain Upham who hadfollowed the Great Lakes all his life,but was now retired and living out his old age in our village, and whospun many a yarn of the old days of sail.


It seemsthat the captain, at one time years before, when Singapore was a flourishing,saw mill town, was carrying a ship-load of lumber from that place to Buffalo, along trip for a sailing vessel, up to the head of Lake Michigan, through theStraits of Mackinaw to Lake Huron, down Lake Huron to Lake St Clair, andthrough the strait at Detroit, and into Lake Erie.


Before leaving on the long trip, Cap had gone into thevillage store for supplies, and amongst other things asked the clerk for some"good, strong, stinking butter."


"No, but I have some damn, poor, stinking butter," said George, the clerk.


Says Cap, "I'll have a pound; maybe a half poundwill do."


"But, tell me Cap, why on earth do you want thatkind of butter?"


"Why,George, a man as old as you ought to know better than ask such a question asthat. I'm starting on a trip to the Buffalo, a long, long trip, and you oughtto know that a stinking butter will last my crew much longer than fresh, sweetbutter. Let me have a pound."


While Georgewas putting up the butter and other supplies, and for some time before, a well-to­do farmer, who was of a verypenurious nature, was busy, very busy, with the other clerk trying to negotiatethe purchase of a piece of strong rope, perhaps three yards long, to hold hisbull. After may long questions as to the smallest, cheapest size of rope thatwould be strong enough to hold the animal securely, and as many more questionsas to its very lowest price, and whether three yards were not altogether toomuch, the penurious farmer at last arrived at a decision, and bought his bullrope, taking a large size, and starting off with it. As he was walking awaywith it at last, old Cap; who had been watching the rope transaction, remarked,"Well George, if it will hold his bull it will hold my boat, cut me off ahundred feet." He got his strong butter and his strong rope aboard, andthe voyage began up the Great Lakes.


By the timethis story was finished, so was Singapore. It was the finish of all that smallpart not yet covered over by the sand dunes, and as the ire had been a long,hot one, we were by now well warmed, and some rested, needing mostly food fromwhich we were now only three miles distant. However, those last three miles areamongst the longest miles I ever walked.


No, Fred andI did not see the beginning of Singapore, but, you might say, we surely did seethe very end of it, being on the spot when it came, and a hot end it was.


Today, thetown nearby has become a thriving, summer resort town, and to get still morevisitors to stop, some of the towns people have been talking about erecting alarge sign on the trunk highway that now passes by, inviting the passingtourists to "Stop and see the buried village," but the question wasraised, "How can anyone see anything if it is buried?" so the signwas never put up.