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History Lives Here Text




The Iris Town


With the Tulip Festival under way to the north, and Blossomtimebecoming an institution to the south, Saugatuck began casting around for itsown flower in 1937 and settled on the iris.


The local garden club promoted extensive plantings on public groundsand on the approaches to the village and encouraged homeowners to plant iris intheir front yards. That first year it was estimated that 12,000 rhizomes (likea root) were added to the village decor. "All with the laudable purpose ofmaking the town still more attractive," according to the March, 1937 issueof the Horticultural News.


The followingyear a small Iris Festival was scheduled for celebration in June, 1938.


The iris was a natural. It was a favorite project of Eric E."Ed" Nies who had been born in Saugatuck in1884, one of 13 children born to John and Johanna (Kruisenga)Nies. Following his discharge from the Union army in1864 the elder Nies had opened a hardware store inSaugatuck. In 1894 he sold his sharein the business to his partner, John Koning, andmoved to Hollandwhere he and his sons began a hardware store.


John and Johanna Nies and family


Ed Nies worked in the hardware store as ayoung man but went to Michigan State College where he was an outstandingpitcher for the baseball team and studied botany. He was married in 1908 to Grace Perry of Charlotteand five years later the family moved to Californiawhere Ed took additional work in botany and education at the University of Southern California.


He became a landscape architect and was known for his use of flowerbeds, especially the bearded iris. One kind of iris, the Spuria,became his absorbing interest and he developed many new varieties. One of hisnew plants was known as the "Michigan State" iris afterhis alma mater, another was named "Saugatuck" after his birthplace.


Whenthe Iris Festival was founded, and later in the early 1950's when iris growing in Saugatuck met with a revival, a specialeffort was made to grow the Saugatuck Iris which had to be ordered from a fewwestern nurseries where they were propagated. The Saugatuck Iris was a fairlylarge lavender iris with gray overtones. It was first introduced in 1941 by theMilliken Gardensof Arcadia, California and was carried in their catalogsfor 25 years.

When the California nursery was contacted in 1976 they wrote that the iris named for the village was no longeravailable, but the Saugatuck, along with the Bronspur,Lark Song, Pastoral, and Michigan State had "by thistime been greatly surpassed by its progeny." Later varieties developed inthe Nies family of spuriasinclude Color Guard and Cherokee Chief.


Mrs. Marion R. Walker of the American Iris Society, wrote, "TheAmerican Iris Society has established the Eric NiesAward for the best spuria produced each year in theworld. Some of the Nies progeny have won thisaward." -- KL

Prentice Correspondence

Willard Prentice of Timonium, Maryland, who grew up in Douglas whilehis father was head of the Saugatuck Fruit Exchange, sends excerpts from acouple of letters his grandfather wrote to his nephew, Warren Prentice Rathbun and family in Connecticut. Willard writes, "Iwas fortunate to obtain the letters from the Rathbunfamily, who were savers in the true New Englandfashion." The writer, Warren Prentice, was born in Connecticutin 1827 and died in Allegan County in 1916.


Douglas Feb. 6, '07

To Warren, Wife and Family.


Well I think I have put it off long enough, so will try to make a fewcrow tracks and call it a letter.. .

Well we are jogging along after the old fashion. Betsey is pretty wellmost of the time. Eva is here most half the time. They get up at 4 o'clock gettheir breakfast and she gets over here a little after sunrise and do a big days work here and then go home and do another one.You ought to see the basket of apples she fetched over here. They would makethem that you got like small taters for they hung on the trees till they gottheir growth and colour of crimson and gold ...

Theycommenced last fall to put thru that electric road from Douglasto South Haven.

They got abouttwo miles done and stopped for want of iron. Perhaps they will go with it againin the spring I don't know. If they

get the road throughit will be easy to get here, come to Kalamazooand then to South Haven and then to Douglas...


"Betsey" is Betsey (Burdick) Prentice (1839-1921), Warren's wife."Eva" (1879-1944) was Warren and Betsey's daughter. She marriedGeorge Pshea and lived several miles from the Prentice farm. She pronounced Eva with a short "e"as in bed. Parts of another letter to the same nephew and wife about threeyears later follow:

Jan. 19, 1910


... Joe waselected Treasurer for this Township and that requires a great amount of writingand figuring especially where there is so much non resident land. He had to bein Douglas part of the time and in Saugatuck part of the time and there was agreat many came here to pay their taxes and between the tax payers and othervisitors it has kept things on a whirl most of the time. Well there was many thingscame here for Christmas. . . icould not remember them all ... but I remember the knit shauland allso Warrenspicture. Thank you very much as they are both appreciated. .. Betsey is sickand under the Doctors care for the last week.

Betseyand Ida send love.

Warren Prentice


Joseph Prentice (1877-1961) was Warren'sson. He was Saugatuck Township Treasurer in1909 and 1910. Later he served as Township Supervisor and in other positions.He lived on the Prentice farm which was located onwhat is now called the Blue Star Highway, one and a half miles south of Douglas. In 1919 the Prenticefamily, moved to Douglas and the following year bought the large white housethat had been built by D. C. Putnam and still stands behind the Douglas Municipal Building.Joseph Prentice was president of the Village of Douglas 1929 to 1931."Ida" was the wife of Joseph Prentice.


Joseph and Ida Prentice had only one child, Willard Jenison Prentice,who became an engineer and worked 40 years for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. He was an observant resident of Douglasfrom 1919 until he left for college about 1927 and a frequent visitorthereafter.



by Bill Kemperman


Archive contributions have slowed down a little, but it's nice to havea breather with the exhibit work in progress.

One recent contribution was a full uncut sheet of original SingaporeBank money with the four unsigned bills of $1, $2, $3, and $S denominationsprinted together on a single sheet.

Theyare in mint condition and will need to be encapsulated in some manner forpreservation. The have been in the safekeeping of a member and are a truly raregift. We hope to display this sheet for all to enjoy in the permanent exhibitspace in the South Gallery this summer.



Singapore Bank bills