735 Park Street, Saugatuck, MI 49453
On the west bank of the Kalamazoo River at the foot of Mt. Baldhead Park.
Closed for the season. Open weekends, Saturday-Sunday Noon-4:00, Labor Day through October.
The Saugatuck-Douglas History Museum is one of Michigan's best-known and most-visited small-town museums, annually drawing nearly 10,000 visitors to its exhibits and more than 40,000 visitors to its outdoor garden and harbor-front walkway at historic Mt. Baldhead and just steps from the iconic Saugatuck Chain Ferry.
Walkway to the Museum
Approaching the Museum
Museum Riverfront Patio
Museum Pavilion Entrance
Pavilion from below
Museum Store inside the South Gallery
SuperMap engages tourists and residents
Harbor Learning Station
View down river
Kalamazoo River Learning Station
Pump House Learning Station
Museum South Wall
From dancing, shipwrecks, the history of summer fun, artists, gangsters and just plain folks, the main gallery features changing exhibitions created by a team of professional writers and designers, making this museum a "must-see" part of the Saugatuck experience. Never an admission charge; donations are gratefully accepted.
Founded in 1992, the Museum occupies the historic Saugatuck Pump House at 735 Park Street, along the west shore of the Kalamazoo River at Mt. Baldhead Park, a short walk north from the Saugatuck Chain Ferry landing. Staffed by Saugatuck-Douglas History Center volunteers, it's open from Memorial Day through August, noon to 4:00pm daily, then Saturday/Sunday only through September and October. Parking and admission are free (donations are welcomed).
The Museum building, a simple structure in the prairie-craftsman style, was originally built as the village of Saugatuck's first water pumping station, completed in 1904. It was designed by John Alvord, better known as the principal engineer of the Chicago Water System. Another summer resident, Harry Bird, designed the water delivery system. Water drawn from several large wells at the foot of Mt. Baldhead was pumped by large gasoline engines in the Pump House up to a 100,000-gallon reservoir at the top of Lone Pine Dune (north of Mt. Baldhead), from which it flowed by gravity through pipes crossing beneath the river to buildings and street hydrants in the village.
In 1910, the building was enlarged to also serve as the village's first electric generating station. By the 1950s, water pumping and electrical generating functions had been moved to larger locations and the building fell into disrepair. By 1970, the building's heavy slate roof had pushed out the walls and broken the interior tie rods. A portion of the west wall had fallen in, exposing the interior to the elements, and the east wall footings needed replacement. Windows and door were in bad shape and much of the brickwork needed repair.
Thanks to the research and documentation undertaken by History Center volunteers, the Saugatuck Pump House building has now been designated as a Michigan Historical Site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the early 1970's, the building was slated for demolition when a Chicago physician, Dr. William Shorey, offered to lease the pump house from the village as a summer cottage in return for restoring the building. Mrs. Shorey was an artist with ties to the nearby Ox-Bow School, and the Shoreys became one of the first Douglas lakeshore cottage families. In 1993, following Dr. Shorey's death, the City of Saugatuck agreed to lease the building to the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, which undertook further restoration in adapting the building to serve as the community's first historical museum. The Entrance Pavilion, a gift from the family of History Center member Stan Wilson, was added in 2001.
Inside the Museum, History Center volunteers design and mount new, immersive exhibits on a regular basis, often in collaboration with Saugatuck middle and high-school students and accompanied by special publications. Exhibit costs typically range from $12,000 to $18,000, funded by History Center member dues, sponsorships, grants and visitor donations. In the spirit of making history and learning accessible to all, admission is never charged at this facility.
A small shore within the Museum's South Gallery offers a variety of History Center publications, artworks, maps, photos and postcards relevant to local history, along with locally created Saugatuck-Douglas souvenir items.
A popular exhibit in the South Gallery is "SuperMap", a 6-foot high, 12-foot wide illustrated color wall map of the Saugatuck-Douglas area integrated with an interactive computer display to provide a virtual tour through the historic villages, highlighting significant people, places and current of both past and present.
Map artwork, created by Holland artist-cartographer Mark Cook based on History Center research, recalls the entertaining illustration/poster maps of the 1940-50 era, combining street layouts with stylized sketches and notes. More than three years in development, this project has been made possible by gifts from Douglas Dunes Resort and Macatawa Bank totaling $20,000, with matching funds raised by History Center members and friends.
Over 100 map-highlighted references are keyed by number to let visitors select and learn about sites of interest to them by calling up information, narratives and historical photographs on an interactive computer terminal near the map.
Surrounding the Museum, accessed either by stair steps from the entry Pavilion or along a gradually inclined paved "switchback" walkway providing universal-access, is a 1,500 sq. ft. riverfront garden featuring six "learning stations". At each station, a story board provides historical and ecological information about the view from that outlook.
Initiated immediately after the walkway was built, the garden originally was designed to showcase indigenous plants, but the local deer population found them irresistible. Re-imagined between 1999 and 2001, the area now features a stunning tree-shaded diversity of perennial flowering plants, shrubs and groundcover, most prominently rhododendrons, roses, myrtle and several varieties of daisies, all lovingly cared for by a team of volunteers headed by a Master Gardener. Beds of various flowering annuals have been added to highlight the perennials and make the garden more colorful and fragrant throughout spring, summer and fall.
The Riverfront Patio in front of the Museum's main entrance is a popular stop for tourists throughout all seasons, even when the museum is closed, and offers a beautiful view of the Kalamazoo River and downtown Saugatuck. Most of the garden development reflects the dedication, countless hours of donated time and the private funding of volunteers Karen and Herb Tews, plus support from the Lugers Family Foundation.
Today and beyond, our History Museum offers the visitor an enjoyable way to become acquainted with the Saugatuck-Douglas community, its heritage and traditions, and its significance in the history of Michigan's west coast landscape ... or just to relax in the garden and savor the Saugatuck waterfront.