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History Lives Here Text


Bald? Not recently, but when I first saw "Mt. Baldy" in thesummer of 1930, a seemingly endless slope of pure golden sand, sandwichedbetween green forests on each side and towering over them, it was beyond bald;it was naked,. To me, a child, it was the most glorious, the mosttremendous sandpile in the world, and a challenge Icouldn't ignore. Setting out to get to the top, I took giant steps, I crawled,scrambled, and inched my way. As every step forward slipped back at least halfthe distance, a strange cry could be heard underfoot, the kind of soundproduced on a beginner's violin. It was this half squeak, half musical notethat gave Saugatuck a name that means (according to some local lore) "thesinging sands." Associated with untouched and untraveledplaces, the magical sound is only rarely experienced today.


Baldheadtopside ca 1910

Once standing on the wind-smoothed dome, I felt like the first humanbeing to set foot on unexplored territory; there was no footprint other thanmine. On both sides, and below where I stood, the leafy treetops of theforested hills swayed and fluttered. The steep, almost glassy slope I hadclimbed held a few toilers less than half way up, and the meandering river atits base was bordered by a miniature village. To the west, Lake Michigan was dark blue, flecked with random bits of white. Thelake side of the great dune had been scoured concave where the swooping windsconstantly carried sand granules up to rest on the top, displacing others whichslid gently down the front. The process was almost unnoticeable, except thatevery surface was smooth and unmarked.

The exciting descent from this commanding height was even morememorable, especially to an active child. Leaping, sliding, and a few momentsof actual flying brought me all too speedily to the bottom,contributing, all unaware of course, to the glacier-like slippage andinexorable forward movement of the dune.

The "city fathers" of the 30's decade must have beenfearless, farseeing, and strong: they planned and implemented a number of huge,costly projects which had far-reaching effects. Of these, the problem of Mt. Baldhead'smarch to the river was the most urgent, as it constituted a dangerous threat tothe whole community. Measures to remove sand from the lower levels of the duneproved insufficient to halt its encroachment on the park at its base, anddrastic action was demanded.

Dramatic changes rarely take place speedily, but it was only one shortyear later, the following summer, when I found, to my great disappointment andserious displeasure, that the golden giant was now shackled and fettered likeGulliver among the Lilliputians. A wooden stairway (367 steps?) marched up thecenter, and staked bush and plantings webbed what had been a glistening,unblemished slide. The wide wind channel on the lake side had not been spared.Only a narrow service trail was left midway. Running down the sand ordisturbing it in any way was forbidden, except on a specially designated route.

Climbing the long stairway had already become and remained for manyyears an important resort activity. Paris had its Eiffel Tower, Saugatuck had Mt. Baldhead.Efforts were often made to count the steps, but a definitive total was rarelyachieved as people simply lost count on the trek up. A wooden observationplatform decorated (and additionally pinned down) the dome, where weary buttriumphant climbers could sit to rest and admire the view. Although thestructure was new in the summer of 1931, many visitors had already incisedtheir initials and the date of the ascent on the railings and benches.

That the project pleased tourists was fortunate, but of course thepoint of it all was that the dune should be effectively stopped in its tracks,and it was. The massive conservation effort paid off. Mt. Baldhead no longerstands out from its wooded neighbors, nor even towers over them much. No onepicnicking in the park at its foot today could even imagine that it was oncenot only bald but dangerous, tamed by the determined townspeople of a littlemore than sixty years ago.

--Helen Gage DeSoto



[Featuringpublications on area history both present day and in the past. Offered as aguide and inspiration for those who peruse used book stores.]


History of Allegan and BarryCounties, Michigan,with illustrations and Biographical Sketches o f Their Prominent Men andPioneers (D. W. Ensign & Co.: Philadelphia)1880. 521 pp. 9 x 12, hardbound with leather spine. Also issued in fullleather, and many copies have been rebound over the years in a variety ofstyles.

The county history, tracing a countyusually from its very beginnings to "today" was a stock promotion forpublishing companies, from about 1870 to 1920. They often asked local people towrite the general history pages and financed the publication with the sale ofsubscription biographies. The individual or family was charged a certain amountfor a written biography, more if a portrait was included and an additional feeif the portrait was engraved.

The aim was to be complete. This bookincludes a nice, color-tinted map of the counties involved, a general statehistory, a color-tinted Michigangeological map, an account of "Indians during Pioneer Days," andvarious lists of doctors, newspapers, lawyers, etc. The county participation inthe Civil War is included with lists of veterans and their regiments and shortregimental histories.

The most important historical part was thetownship-by-township history, usually including a list of first land holders inthe township, anecdotes of pioneer history, and anything the local editorthought might be interesting.

The Allegan and Barry Countyhistory was written while many of the early settlers were still living andcontains many first hand accounts of the earliest days. There are some factualerrors, the Saugatuck post office was opened in 1835, for example, and manylater writers repeated them.

The original publication lacked an indexand, because the arrangement is not consistent some of the bigger librariesthere are supplemental indexes created by a county DARchapter. A facsimile reprint of the title was sponsored in 1975 by the Allegan Countyand Barry County Historical Societies with 117pages of index added.

Originaleditions of the History o f Allegan and Barry Counties,Michigan, surfacefrequently in used bookshops. The four I have seen in the last year were pricedbetween $125 and $200. The reprint is even more difficult to find. --KL

Lake Street Bordello

Even the little community of Saugatuck wasoccasionally visited by some of the "ladies" who were so common inthe lumbering towns to the north. The LakeShore Commercial records one such incident, and the community's response:


Last Tuesday night a party of neighbors entered the "House"on Lake Streetoccupied by [an Allegan man] and the vile woman he brought with him fromAllegan last fall, and as a warning to the notorious pair to clear out, theymoved what meager household effects they found into the street. Nothingdaunted, the pair moved back the goods and at present all is quiet on the Kalamazoo.

It seems incredible that such flagrant lawlessness should go so long inour village unrebuked by the authorities. All winterthis woman who was expelled from Allegan for similar practices, has plied hershameful traffic on our streets, numbering among her victims many boys of from12 to 15 years.

The action of the people who engaged in the "moving" lastTuesday night is entirely justifiable. It is not the first time that [the man]has brought a lewd woman to this place and established her in the neighborhood,and if the people endure it another day they are deserving of all the shamethat attaches to such association.


Seeing no results from their first warningthe neighbors paid a second "housecleaning" visit a week later withbetter results.


The "ranch" on Lake Street was quite suddenly vacated by the inmateslast Thursday night, their decision to quit being promoted somewhat by a callfrom a party of "housecleaners." As is usual in such cases theevictors of the unsavory pair did not stop short of the demolition of someproperty in order to insure the neighborhood a riddance of them. ... The womanwas sent to the County House in Allegan and ayoung boy of 8 or 10 staying with her there to the state school in Coldwater.-- BK