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History Lives Here Text

Rural Community Study of Saugatuck, Michigan

This paper was written by Regna Randolph, daughter ofLoring E. and Nell (VanLeeuwen) Randolph, for a University of Michiganclass in 1941. She was not an expert in sociology, but merely a student, andsome of her conclusions might be argued, and some of her dates might bequestioned, but it provides an interesting insight into a young person 's viewof the Village of Saugatuck, the people who lived there, and how it got thatway.


"A rural community is that form of associationmaintained between the people and their institutions, in a local area in whichthey live on dispersed farmsteads and in a village which is the center of theircommon activities." Saugatuck is such a community.

Saugatuck is a village of 650 people, incorporated in 1868,at the inner bend of the Kalamazoo river about a mile upstream of where theriver empties into Lake Michigan on the Eastern shore. The people comprisingthis village are of Dutch (Holland)descent. They are either fruit farmers, fishermen, boat builders or commercialenterprisers and, of course, there is a plumber, a mason, a painter, acarpenter and one blacksmith. The people very seldom leave the communitypermanently.

The age pyramid would correspond quite closely to anynatural group. There are many "old maids," but these are balanced bya like number of bachelors. These groups reside here because, admittedly,"It is cheap." Children frequently go away to school but the majorityreturn to the community. Saugatuck's early population (1872) was 500. Today ithas expanded by only 150 people.

The village is 12 miles from Holland, Michigan,which is northeast of Saugatuck Twenty-five miles straight east is Allegan, thecounty seat, and on the south are small country towns. An interurban was putinto service in 1903 between Saugatuck and Holland. However, when the state roads camein, and automobiles were within reach of the public, the interurban becameextinct (19207. A bus line is now the only mode of commercial transportationinto Saugatuck.

Saugatuck has a modern telephone system reaching and servingvillage and farm people alike. Its newspaper the Commercial Record, has a goodvolume of weekly sales (800) and finds little competition from the Chicago and Detroitdaily papers. The Saugatuck community wants to know about Saugatuck.

Economically, the people depend in a major way upon theresort trade. The farmers have given up their dependency upon fruit trees, andhave transferred to growing produce saleable to the resorters and, within thelast three years, to poultry raising. The great timberlands that once were hereare now depleted. Dependence is upon natural resources, that is, Saugatucksells its beauty and natural facilities such as swimming, beaches, and favorableclimate to the summer resident.

The town has one industry, a twisting factory, and twocrafts: there is one expert boat builder, Carl Bird, and another of the youngtown boys for the last five years has turned out bowls, bracelets, buttons,lamps, etc, out of wood still to be found along the lake dunes.

Saugatuck has one lawyer, two doctors (one old, one young)and one banker. Of these, the banker is the only man who has much authorityor leadership. He is a leader because he wields immense control over thefinancial conditions of the populace because many of the farmers must borrowmoney in the spring, which must be paid back when they harvest in thefall. The banker himself does not act superior, but his wife, and hisdaughter under the mother's influence, are the only "snobs" in thevillage.

Saugatuck itself gives reason for a community survey merelybecause it is a well-organized rural community. However, a more importantreason is because it is a farm-non-farm area which shows no signs of conflict.On the contrary, friendly relations are proudly recognized.


The friendly relations are easily observed by anyone whoknows the community. The farmers supply all the produce for the village that ispossible, the storekeepers buy neighboring farmers' commodities in preferenceto outsiders. Too, when the farmer sells door-to-door in the village he is notmade to feel inferior, but is made to feel to be a friendly cooperator. Manyfarmers have modernized their homes to "catch" the traveling publicfor short stops. This has given the farmer a feeling of equality, for often afarm home is as nice, or nicer, than a non-farm home. The village also approvesof this, for it helps to hold business for the village entrepreneurs. Farmersand villagers both connive to encourage the resort business. The sign at thevillage limits: "Village of Saugatuck, SummerPopulation 10,000, Winter Population, 650," indicates that it is a resorttown. Both the non-farmer and the farmer must make enough in three months tosupport themselves for the other nine and they recognize this fact. Thisrelationship however, carries more than mere economical impetus. These peopleenjoy working together for the pleasurable feeling of success, a goal reached.

The resorters offered another opportunity for amiableinterchange between farmer and non-farmer. The resort traveler gave rise to anantique area. There are, in the summer, about seven antique shops in operation.The dealers hold old fashioned Dutch Kaffee Klatches with farm women. The farmwomen can go into neighbor's homes to buy antiques reasonably and they thensell them or trade them to the dealers. Prices are monopolized at theseafternoon coffees. Some of the non-farm women are not mere procurers, but are,themselves, sellers. This relationship too, has done much toward equanimity.

Both, too, provide recreation for the resorter. The farmershelp, manually, if not pecuniarily, to see that shuffleboards, sailboat raceprizes, baseball diamonds, swimming facilities, and all the other amusementsare furnished.

However, upon isolating the community from the resortinfluence, we find this brotherly relation is not broken, but is bound eventighter than an economic cause could bind. Many clubs exist in Saugatuck: theWoman's Club, the Tuesday Club, The Methodist Ladies Aid, the Past MatronsClub, the Book-Knit Club, the Busy Bee Club, the Kaffee Klatch, the Music Club,the Music History Club, the Eastern Star and the Rebekah Lodge.

The Woman's Club is considered the most select. Hence, ifthere were an differentiation or feeling of superiority on the part of thevillage women, this club would have very few farm women, for membership is byinvitation. Of 68 permanent resident members, 24 are farm women. Theother clubs, too, have a large proportion of non-village women. Due to this,there are no farm clubs. There is no Grange, no cooperatives. The village clubssatisfy this need.

For the farm men, too, this is true. The men come into theMasonic Lodge, and the American Legion and the Pokagon Club which holds adulteducational classes after Wednesday night dinners.

Saturday night finds the barbershop, the grocery and thestreet corners crowded with farm and village men, hobnobbing while the women shop.

The village too, offers something cultural to the farmwoman. Musicales, plays, book reviews are given regularly. The social calendaris well-organized. Each week is planned and there are no weeks in whichsomething is not happening. The clubs, of course, meet regularly, theout-of-the-ordinary affairs are planned for Saturday and Sunday when all canattend without deserting their own special group. The club attendance does notnoticeably fluctuate with the seasons. In the winter they go to clubs for recreation,in the summer they go to further their plans to make Saugatuck a successthrough the resort season. All the clubs cooperate together during the summeron bazaars, card parties, art fetes and exhibits, parades and dinners. This wayno one has to neglect one of his clubs for another and bigger results arepossible. The Woman's Club owns their own building and often loans theauditorium to other clubs.

The churches of course sponsor the Ladies Aids which in theminds of the people are "clubs." There are four churches: the FirstCongregational, the Methodist, the Christian Scientist, and the All SaintsEpiscopal. It is noticeable that there is no Catholic church. These is entirelydue to the stable, unchanging Dutch population. The churches, together, have326 members, the majority (93) attending the Methodist Church.Sunday night and weekday services are held together, alternating from onechurch to another.

Of the membership of the four churches 37 percent are farmpeople. One sign of the churches' farm membership is the fact that there are NOsurrounding rural churches. A community will erect a church whether they canafford it or not, if the need is felt, but evidently this need was not felt inthis rural area.

The farm population also figure greatly in the high schoolcensus. Of 222 school children, the majority (120) are farm children this is tohe explained in that the farmers have more children as a rule and also in thatthe type of farming is not one for which to keep children at home to help, and,too, because the farm people encourage "schooling" up to graduation.

Out of this area 18 young men and women of which eight arefarm children are at present attending colleges. The school is on a Universityaccredited list. Twelve of these attend the University of Michigan.The others attend Michigan State because of thelower cost. The farm children, while in High School, receive equal newspapernotice and are as prominent as non-farm students. The basketball team iscomprised of five boys from one farm family, three other farm boys and twovillage boys.

There is no P.T.A. One was established a year ago but died anatural death. No need was felt for it A system of adult education sponsoredby the Kellogg Foundation is given at the high school. On the school boar are abanker, a drug store proprietor, a Justice of the Peace and two farmers.

Excellent library facilities are offered in the way of 3,000books and a large study room. The books are available to farm women and overduefines are waived for them. Books are more circulated o the villagepeople. However, once a book is in the hands of a farm woman it may be loanedarid reloaned by her, before it is returned to the library.

The farm and non-farm groups work together to furnishrecreation and to sponsor community events. The harbor is kept open forvisiting vessels, a beach, tennis and shuffleboard courts, Venetian Nights(decorated boat parades) , a dance pavilion, sailing races, model boatbuilding, baseball diamonds, the Sea Scouts, an annual Christmas tree in theVillage Square, a week long Art Pageant, the planting of many Iris - all backedby the community. The fire department, too, is a community enterprise. It is avolunteer organization. when the bell rings all the men close-by in the village"hop on." The department will answer any call, village or farm.


The village of Singapore qave rise toSaugatuck. The plat of Singapore was laid in 1839 on the north bank of theriver at the horseshoe bend in section 4 on the shore of lake Michigan and wasabout a half mile wide.

Here at the mouth of the river was an ideal place forsettlement. There were good pine stands all about and into the interior. therewas a fast moving stream for booming the logs down from the interior and such aplace would make a convenient, easily accessible shipping cart. Then, too, thetopography resembled the Zuider Zee, thehomeland of these immigrant people. As lumberers began to cluster here, many ofDutch descent, there was a necessity for certain things so that these peoplemight interact.

In 1837 a hotel, the Astor House, was built and wasconsidered the finest hotel in the state. A bank which issued its own money wasestablished in 1838; a general store, Carters, came into hems. . Then asthe forest was cut over and as (dams were built upstream for paper mills andlighting plants it became harder to get the available trees downstream. Singapore soonfound itself with a surplus of labor. . . Natural changes came about so thatthe fine sand of the beach began blowing and drifting, penetrating the houses,clogging the mill machinery and covering the town. In 18709 Mr. Moore, decidedto move the milling cooperation behind a range of hills which would furnishnatural protection from the sand and also enable the establishment of the millon the river again. Under his leadership the town packed up, left their housesto be completely covered by the sand and moved inland and founded Saugatuck (anIndian word meaning "mouth of the river" )


After this grouped moved to Saugatuck it became apparentthat tine ills would no longer afford support for the entire population. Mr.Candle, a lawyer, saw this surplus of labor and the possibility that wereopening op for the fruit farmer arid he set out many acres of peach saplings.The rest of the community were soon to follow. The people split into twogroups: those who ere to farm and those who would offer services to thesepeople the business men. Being of Dutch descent these people lived in town ,going cut to harm their land each day.

The mill ran until 1884 and by this time the orchards wereproducing. The fruit business required transportation. . . Water transport wasthe answer. One of the captain of the fruit boats, Captain McVea, was botheredby the waste of coming hack without any carqo. The solution was to bringpassengers back on the return trip. Soon others imitated. This answered theneed of the middle class in Chicagofor vacationing. Saugatuck was accessible pecuniarily and transportationally.As this resort business began to overlap the fruit farming, the soil wasbecoming exhausted, the farmers were not replenishing the fertility of theground, and the fruit business was tapering off as motor transportation wasenlarged. .

The state road, M-11, when built in 1917 wiped out all boattransportation. Now other farmers inland could compete in the markets which,with road transportation they were closer too, and to which they couldconsequently offer their produce cheaper.

At this time the fruit business lost all except the harderworking farmers. The nature state was erode, the timber was gone, the fieldswere infertile. The smart farmers began fertilizing the soil rotating grasscrops; the other farmers mortgaged their land, harvesting subsistence crops.

Cap Wilson had stoppedoperating his Chicagoboat and had a surplus of money. In 1928 he invested this money in the firstindustry in Saugatuck. He set up a twisting factory, a concern which twistsfine paper into twine. Detroit, Chicago and errand Rapids furnished themarkets.

M-11 was changed to US. 31 in 1924 and carried traveldirectly through Saugatuck. As transportation and roads were improved Saugatuckexperienced a resort boom. A great dance pavilion was built, beaches werecommercialized and advertised, hotels, tourist rooms, everything, responded tothis resort wave trade.

Since about 1935 the art colonies have begun to replace thestrictly resort atmosphere. Four fine schools, the Greason, the AlfredKrehbiel, Taylor,and Ox-Bow Inn call many people each year. The scenery offers wide and diversechoice and it is a pleasant calm place to study. The summer trade now is amixture or strictly resorters, strictly artists, and resorting artists.

U. S . 31 was rerouted two years ago and now outs offSaugatuck. Since then the town has rallied to reorganize around the resort-artistcombinations. A fine harbor is offered to yachts, swimming accommodations withone of the finest beaches (The Oval), free shuffleboard and tennis courts, artexhibits, pageants, dances musicales - all these things are offered to attractthe traveler.

Saugatuck has gone from a pioneer lumber town throughgradual growth to modern industry. Only one occupation has remained constant:the fishing industry and the associated boat building.

Through all of these stages the farm and non-farm peoplehave been affected, yet each had adjusted to the other and kept friendlyrelationships.


As can be seen from the history, much of this wellintegrated ecology is a result of the two groups arising out of the sameculture. The parents of each of these groups were originally from Singapore. Asthese groups advanced they separated, yet held like cultures. They grew proudof their new town, Saugatuck. Each man felt he had a share in itssuccess. They were proud to have overcome their problems and to have rousedSaugatuck from a sleepy lumber town to a lively village. . Because many of thefarmers lived in town and farmed land outside, farmer brother and non-farmersister might be living next door to each others. Too, because of these, therewas intermarriage to a great degree making a complex pattern of totemic relationship. . .

The group was a compact group broadly speaking, and a commonresponsibility was felt. Here was not a clash of interests but rather one bodyof interest all aimed at success, of making this settlement a harmoniouspermanent community. The occupational and economical interest were all aimed atthis one larger goal. The people were fighting for the same things and helpingeach other get there.