Site No.17: The City of the Village of Douglas

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Douglas was settled in the 1850’s as a lumber mill town.   Although never as booming as Saugatuck, it was a thriving place.  In 1871, a visitor to the area wrote, “In Douglas there are two stores, two sawmills, one grist mill, one tannery, one planing mill, carpenter shops, one wagon shop, one paint shop, two meat markets, three millinery and dressmaking shops, one church, one school and one hotel.”

Prior to the village being incorporated in 1870, there had been a little battle between two families over the name of the town. Half of the village had been platted by William F. Dutcher who named the plat Douglas after his son-in-law’s birthplace on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. The other half was platted by Jonathan Wade, who built the first sawmill in Singapore and the first house in the village. He named his plat Dudleyville in honor of his brother who had just moved here from Canada. But Douglas carried the day.

By the late 1870’s most of the area’s white pines had been cut down, bringing the lumbering era to a close.  At this point, Douglas, together with much of the surrounding land within several miles of Lake Michigan, became a major producer of peaches.

Douglas

By 1884, there were 134,812 trees under cultivation in this area, producing nearly a quarter of all the peaches grown in Michigan.   Michigan peaches were known as “Michigan Gold” in Chicago.   But soon after the turn of the century, the peach business too was in decline.

At about the same time, wealthy families from Oak Park, Illinois and later St. Louis, Cincinnati, and other distant points discovered the beauty of the area’s lakeshore.  These new summer residents built both small and grand cottages on the Douglas lakeshore, most of which still exist today.  

On December 13, 2004, residents voted to adopt a charter changing the status of the village into a city form of government. Under Michigan law, cities are independent entities whereas villages are part of the township.  Because residents did not want to lose the goodwill of the Village of Douglas name, the decision was made to officially adopt the name the City of the Village of Douglas.

Today, the agricultural background of Douglas can still be felt as one walks around town.   A number of barns remain, and many houses sit on large lots, one still on the entire square block that was the site of the town’s first peach orchard.  Indeed, the best way to experience Douglas and relive its history is on foot.  So we recommend stopping and taking the self-guided walking tour that will lead you to many historic sites and homes within this charming community.  A copy of the walking tour brochure can be found in the mailbox in front of Dutcher Lodge, which is also the Village Hall.   There are also interesting shops and restaurants in Douglas for you to enjoy.

Charles McVea

 

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