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History Lives Here Text

Just Passing Through

Today I read a prize-winning story a man wrote about his boyhood. Hetells how he and his pals often visited the hobo camp near the railroad tracksin his home town. There was never any problem with the hobos and the parentsdidn't object to the visits. The boys knew most of the hobos by their nicknameslike Cookie, Joker and Preacher.

This reminded me of the hobo camp that I remember in Douglas.It was located close to the river. To get there from the old business sectionof town you went east on Center Street to the end of the paving, then continuedeast down the hill on an unpaved road nearly to the river. Then turning rightyou followed the river for a block or two. The camp consisted of a one-roombuilding hardly big enough to hold a Model T Ford. I don't know who owned thebuilding or who paid the rent, if any.

The camp was occupied (summer only) by three or four hobos -- usuallythe same ones who came very year. They found jobs picking berries or fruit,from strawberries to winter apples, then closed the camp and moved on. Therewas never any trouble or disturbance that I can recall. Farmers were glad toget extra help at harvest time and gladly paid the going wage -- S 1 a day pluslunch. There was no deduction for Social Security, health insurance, orretirement benefits, and no green cards, or other identification was requiredin the 1920's.

Can anyone come up with a picture of the shack or tell us the names ofsome of the occupants?

-- WilliardJ. Prentice



(The drawing above indicating the location of the hobo camp was made byMr. Prentice in 1970.)

Anotherkind of itinerant visitor received n chillier welcome. Bands of gypsies,apparently the same Romania-area natives who have roamed Europefor centuries, would sometimes come into town. Then the local populace wouldhasten to lock up both their daughters and their chickens.


As I remember each spring the gypsies came to town just at noon whenthe town children went home to eat. We were all afraid of the

gypsies and when the news spread we all ran likemad. Doors locked.

They came withold horses and covered wagons for a number of years.

One of theplaces they always had to go was the feed mill, for hay for the horses and tosee

if they could not geta pocket book.

Most of the time my father would be at the farm working, so my motherlocked us in the house.

The gypsies would like it when Mr. John Kraemer was there. They triedhard to get a purse but he was up to their tricks.

After a few years they got old cars and telephone service wasestablished. Each town notified the next that the gypsies were coming. Cityofficials would meet them at the town limits and shoo them on.

They got acouple of nice purses in Saugatuck.

I remember hearing about one of the gypsies dying, so it must have beenaround 1906. The John Kraemer family moved into Douglasfrom the farm that year. They bought the grist mill and the home on the fourlots from a Mr. Hamlin.


-- Mrs. Elsie (Kraemer) Weiss


Modernpeople don't understand about all the mystery and fears surrounding gypsies inearlier days. A Douglas man born in 1901explains:


When I was about six, I had been told there were gypsies around andthat they were after little kids. I had a little wagon which I propelled withone leg while kneeling on the other knee in the wagon. Whenever I got adistance from home I would think about the gypsies and would pedal with greatspeed for home. Once the wagon tipped over and a penny I had in the wagon waslost. I looked a long time for the penny (but did not find it) and was at thesame time watching for gypsies.


-- Arthur L. Lane Sr.




[Reprinted from the August 17,1859, issue of the

Grand Haven News]


On Saturday last some one hundred andthirty Muskegonites, and about thirty citizens ofGrand Haven, left this port at 11:15 A. M. per steamer Huron for the mouth of the Kalamazoo. The morning was as beautiful asthe most devoted lover of pleasure excursions could desire, which added to thewell known politeness of Capt. Morgan and his crew, promised to the company a season of recreation and enjoyment.The scenery along the route was of course not of the most interestingcharacter; for a glance over the broad expanse of water which. was the only thing to be seen on the west, was al1 that wasnecessary to reveal all the beauties it had to present. The sand hills, however, afforded a little more of thought forcolloquial discussion. At about one o'clock we met the schooner Wm. Tell, the only vessel that we sawwhile outward bound, except a small sloop. We had expected to give ourneighbors at Hollanda passing call, but time forbade.

At about two o'clock we arrived at themouth of the Kalamazoo.Its entrance is very narrow -- only thrice or four times the width of the Huron -- but it soon widens out to abouttwenty rods wide. It continues this width up as far as Newark, with only a little variation. On theleft at the mouth stands the old stone house, once connected with thelighthouse, which blew down about a year ago, and two other small buildings. Onthe opposite side there are seven little houses, which I judge belong tofishermen. Soon after entering the river it winds around northward, thensouthward, forming an "ox bow" on the left hand side of which,between the river and lake, there is a low ridge of sand hills, and on theopposite side, within the bow, a small bayou and a high hill covered withscrubby pines and small hushes. At the bottom of the bow there are two steammills and four or five houses. This clump of buildings withthose at the mouth constitute Singapore. From the mouth to Newark, some four miles,the sand hills, covered with shrubbery, come down nearly to, and rise veryabruptly from the bank.



Singapore in the distance as seen from Shriversbend ca 1870


Newark is a town, as I was told, more than twentyyears old. It now contains about fifty dwelling houses, less than half of whichare painted, three stores, one hotel,three mills, and one school-house. Upon inquiring of a citizen whether they hada church in their village, I was answered, "no; but we have a plenty ofwhiskey shops." "City lots" I was informed were selling "not at all" but were valued at about fiftydollars per lot for the best ones; the poorest ones I did not price. The hotelis very well kept -- I judge by the way its landlord got up the dinner; my onlyquery in regard to the matter was, how does he manage to live'. To say nothingof other things, I think one thing indicates a large per centime of old fogyism to be present in the composition of the inhabitants,that is, the cemetery is situated in the midst of the village, on the corner ofone of the business streets, and fenced with an old Virginia rail fence. Iwould like to suggest to our Newarkfriends that one of those spare blocks, back on the hill, would be a much moresuitable place for a cemetery. Here we had the pleasure of seeing the eighthwonder -- seven having been known in ancient times. It consisted of a smallboat, about twenty feet long, propelled by steam. I suppose it might safely carrya dozen passengers, provided they all should sit still. The man "at thehelm" was sitting on a stool, with a small wheel, less in circumferencethan many of the ladies' hats, between his knees. The paddle wheels were aboutthe size of a common carriage wheel, with engine to match. On the whole it wasthe most unique and curious craft that I have yet seen.



The little steamer may have looked like this.


At 5:30 we started for home. Just before usthe Ellen Pike was towed out into the lake for Chicago,and at Singaporewe left the Sea Star, loading with lumber. In about twenty minutes from thetime we started we were once more on the broad bosom of Lake Michigan, runningdue north and bound for the Haven and Muskegon.We arrived at the Haven at nine o'clock, all considerably fatigued, but wellpleased with the excursion. The "good nights" to our Muskegon friends and Capt. Morgan, were notforgotten of course, and wishing them a pleasant ride the remainder of the tripwe departed from them and welcomed again our homes in the sand, with which wewere all better satisfied than when we left them.


[In 1859 the cemetery was located on Butler Street where the Village Hall waslater built. The boat described was either a steam-driven ferry, or the writermisunderstood how the chain ferry worked. The pleasure excursion was apparentlyplanned to advertise regular service to the Kalamazoo by the Huron which was begun in1859. The settlement of Newarkwas renamed Saugatuck in 1868.]