This year's new exhibit at the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society's Pumphouse Museum looks behind the annual excitement of summer in our beachtown community to reveal the "normal" side of life during the so-called quiet months. The museum is now open daily from noon to 4pm though Labor Day and then on weekends through October.
Titled "A Village Patchwork: Everyday Life in Saugatuck and Douglas", the exhibit pulls together an array of photographs, artifacts and stories to depict the cross-currents of daily working and living that characterized our formative years from 1890 to 1950, setting precedents for today's off-season, small-town lifestyle.
"It's natural to want to display the summertime attractions that draw so many visitors here," said Kit Lane, exhibit curator and one of West Michigan's best-known historian/authors. "This area is a delight when the water is sparkling and the sand is warm, but there are another nine months of the year. Summer visitors have often asked us what happens in Saugatuck in the wintertime. Our 2011 exhibit presents a partial answer to that question."
The exhibit, designed by Society volunteers Judy Hillman and Sally Winthers, celebrates a variety of fall, spring and wintertime snow-related activities that do so much to reinvigorate personal relationships and preserve community traditions, including the fun of cheering our almost-championship High School football team of 2010. Highlighting the exhibit is a centerpiece curved wall presenting drawn birds-eye views of both Saugatuck and Douglas, detailing streets and structures as they existed in 1907. Among the exhibit's historical curiosities are a large soup tureen that was brought to Singapore in the 1850s, a block and tackle from an early boatbuilding operation, and a leather lumberman's apron from our logging era.
On view outside of the museum, courtesy of the Saugatuck Township Fire Department, is a fire hose cart used to fight fires by the Saugatuck Village Fire Department as early as 1902. It was taken to fires by horsepower (sometimes manpower), and the hose drew water from the river or one of the town cisterns.
Augmenting the Society's exhibit is a wall display created by the Saugatuck High School students of art teacher Christa Wise, who were invited to choose an artifact from the Historical Society archives and create their personal response to it in the "art box" style of Joseph Cornell.
Cornell, born in 1903, was a self-taught artist who isolated himself in his own fantasy world, never did much drawing or painting but became fascinated with juxtaposing images and objects to create dreamlike or surreal environments framed in small boxes. He considered them a combination of "diary journal, picture gallery, museum and clearing house for dreams and vision", and once wrote "...my boxes should be regarded as a journey that carries viewers beyond the subject and into time and space". His work remained obscure through most of his 69-year life, gaining attention only in his final decade. The students' displays following in his footsteps are accompanied by brief essays expressing their thoughts about what they created.
A rare dugout canoe hewn from a single log in 1844, recently acquired by the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society, joined the new 2011 exhibit shortly after its season opening. According to its first known owner, a backwoods hunter-trapper named Lou Hamlin, the canoe was made by "Indian Joe" Shashaguay, who lived near the Kalamazoo River east of Saugatuck. Hamlin sold it for $3 in 1898 to Morgan J. Edgcomb, Sr., son of early settler W.G. Edgcomb, who used it for hunting and trapping until the 1920s, when he became a Great Lakes sailor, eventually rising to the rank of captain on the Georgian Bay Line.
The old dugout languished under Edgcomb's porch until his son, Morgan J. Edgcomb, Jr., returned from the Korean War, refurbished the century-old vessel and put it back in the water. An early 1950s photo and brief story accompanies the Museum display, showing Morgan Jr. paddling the canoe on Saugatuck's Kalamazoo Lake. Morgan Jr., a Saugatuck fireman, died in 2004, and a new Fire Department rescue boat was named the Morgan J. in his honor. In May of this year, the Edgcomb family donated his old canoe to the Historical Society.