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History Lives Here Text


Summetime Cover
Hear the WGVU radio show on the Museum Exhibit


This year's new exhibit at the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society Museum celebrates the origins and evolution of the lakeside recreation culture that has made this community a summertime vacation destination with growing nationwide attraction. Although conceived more than a year in advance, the new exhibit's theme resonates with the National Trust for Historic Preservation's more-recent naming of Saugatuck-Douglas as one of it's "Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2009".

Titled "Summertime ... A Century of Leisure at the Lake Michigan Shore", the new exhibit is arguably the most ambitious in recent memory, combining digitized home movies and photos with artifacts and scale models. Says exhibit curator and writer Jim Schmiechen, "we're focusing on ten thematic stories to represent the unfolding history of our vacation economy, told from the viewpoints of both the visitors drawn here to enjoy our environment and the local folks who work to ensure their satisfaction."

"Those stories," he notes, "are based on real-life people sharing memories of their experiences here in times past, ranging back to the early 1900s. Each story reflects their impressions of one of our area's main attractions, including swimming at Oval Beach, roaming Mount Baldhead and the dunes, dancing at The Big Pavilion, cottage and cabin living, nature camps, boating, fishing, artistic pursuits, and of course the broad nightlife diversity of bars and restaurants that peaked in the tumultuous 1950s."

The Museum's design and technology team, headed by resident artist/designer Judy Hillman, has invented a variety of formats in telling these stories, woven around a centerpiece walk-through structure that in abstract form honors the 100th anniversary of the Big Pavilion's opening in 1909. This display features a video documenting the rise and fall of the Pavilion and houses a detailed model built by Historical Society member Arnie Shafer. Also highlighted nearby is a 1/8" : 1' scale model of the Chris Craft cruisers produced near here in the 1930s, built by Chris Smith, grandson of the boatmaking company's founder.

On the forward exterior side of the central structure, positioned to greet arriving visitors, is a compartmented wall displaying contributed artifacts that compose a historical montage of summertime activities. On the opposite side of the structure, a large flat-screen display surrounded by memorabilia of Saugatuck's "Star Light Drive-In Theatre" (now extinct) continuously shows a compilation of newly found vacation "home movies" from the 1910-1955 era, including early footage of moving the Keewatin steamer to its present exhibition site facing the Blue Star Highway. Also appearing are approximately 100 similar-period photos extending up into the 1980s.

Complementing the Society's "Summertime" exhibit is a display mounted by the Saugatuck High School students of art teacher Christa Wise, featuring imaginative works based on souvenir postcards.

Continuing the Museum's tradition of producing special books to accompany exhibits, this year's exhibit will offer an updated and expanded edition of the Society's Big Pavilion book, written by Kit Lane, one of West Michigan's best-known historian/authors, and designed by Historical Society member by Ken Carls.