Digest>Archives> September 2001

Singapore To Holland

Jerry Biggs


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Kalamazoo River Light. The area near the river ...

In the southeastern corner of Lake Michigan, third largest of the Great Lakes, there was once a community named Singapore. Don’t look for it on the map; it vanished into the sands of time. The site is near the resort town of Saugatuck. Singapore was initially a logging community as were many shoreline cities surrounding the Great Lakes in the lumbering era. After the timber had been clear-cut in the southwestern Michigan region, an entrepreneur dubbed the dunes North America’s “Singapore” and began developing the site as “a paradise.”

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Kalamazoo River Light, Saugatuck, MI. This ...
Photo by: Jerry Biggs

The namesake Singapore is an island off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Singapore, the capital, is a port on Singapore Strait, a channel connecting the South China Sea with the Strait of Malacca. Perhaps the real estate promoter visualized Lake Michigan, the world’s sixth largest freshwater lake, as an equal to the South China Sea.

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Kalamazoo River Light, Pat Biggs Collection.

And what does Singapore, Michigan have to do with lighthouses? The site popped up in relation to what a publication referred to as the “Kalamazoo Lighthouse.” How could there be a U.S. Lighthouse Service lighthouse in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is 25 miles inland from Lake Michigan? Further research clarified the name and site: Kalamazoo River Light, located at the mouth of a river that connected Lake Michigan to Kalamazoo Lake. The lake is 40 miles west of the city of Kalamazoo. The lighthouse station was established in 1839 for lumber hooker boats. The accompanying photos are of the light constructed in 1859. It was demolished by a tornado in 1956.

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Holland Harbor from an antique postcard. Courtesy ...

The earliest photo shows the lighthouse and related outbuildings in their prime. A later photo shows a topless lantern room support and old wharf pilings. The contemporary photo shows the results of the private owner’s replicating efforts; lumber from the wrecked lighthouse was used in the rebuilding. The site is adjacent to Saugatuck Dunes.

The South Haven Light is 10 miles south of the Kalamazoo River mouth that is now narrowed by the shifting, drifting dunes. Ten miles to the north is Holland, settled by Netherlanders. The Holland Harbor (South Pierhead) Light is located there on Lake Michigan. To old-timers the beacon is known as the Lake Macatawa Entrance Light or the Black Lake Light and to the general public as “Big Red.” Black Lake connects Lake Michigan to Holland. As visitors tiptoe through the tulips in that American/Dutch city, they will come across the huge DeZwann windmill. Windmills served as daymarks in the Netherlands for fishermen seeking their home ports. The varied colored windmills had their own distinctive daymarks as do lighthouses. The windmill’s sails indicated wind direction for mariners and the set of the sails, or their decorations, were a form of coded communication as were the flags flown from landfall lighthouses.

Big Red, one of the most photographed lighthouses, started out as white, before she had a makeover and a henna coloring. The existing lantern room was added in 1936 to the Dutch-style residence (double gables). Then the station was clad in metal and painted red. The accompanying vintage photo pictures the white structure at the far end of the wooden catwalk, then under construction. The tall, skeletal tower in front of the lighthouse appears to be a range light. The wooden tower in the left foreground is equipped with a bell, facing land, which indicates it was a U.S. Life Saving Service lookout tower. There was a USLSS station at the south entrance to Lake Macatawa. The Holland Harbor Light is off limits except for one day a year because its neighbors do not encourage visitors. A remote controlled fog signal was installed that was to be activated by boaters but the horn had a mind of its own. It activated like an auto security alarm that wouldn’t shut off.

Whatever happened to Singapore? When the trees were clear-cut, erosion was set into force. The dunes began to clog the mouth of the Kalamazoo River and invade the houses. When the first floors became filled with sand, the occupants moved up to the second floor, then the third and the fourth. When the chimneys were encroached by the dunes the dwellers left. Singapore is now a city under the sands.

This story appeared in the September 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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