Michigan, known for its vibrant cities, lush northern wilderness, and the majestic Great Lakes, holds a secret in its sands – the ghost town of Singapore. This once-bustling lumber town, now buried and almost forgotten, offers a fascinating glimpse into the state’s rich history.
The Rise of Singapore
In the mid-19th century, as America’s population expanded westward, the demand for lumber skyrocketed. Positioned on the northern bend of the Kalamazoo River, near the thriving artsy town of Saugatuck, Singapore emerged as a hub for shipbuilding and lumber.
Singapore’s story began in 1831 when Oshea Wilder, a pioneer from Massachusetts, visited the Kalamazoo River Valley. He aimed to establish a port town to rival Chicago and Milwaukee.
By 1837, his vision materialized, and Singapore was established. It quickly grew into a famous lumbering and shipbuilding boom town, complete with streets, mills, a bank, and a population of approximately 200 people.
At its peak, Singapore boasted three mills, two hotels, several general stores, a bank, and Michigan’s first schoolhouse, with a total of 23 buildings and two sawmills.
Singapore’s economy boomed with several mills cutting building materials, wooden shingles, and more. It even had its own bank, becoming a cornerstone in Michigan’s lumber industry. Ships frequently docked, loading up with timber to build the growing Midwest.
Interesting Facts About Singapore’s “Golden Days”
Singapore was more than just a lumber town; it was a central hub of commerce for Michigan for two decades. Its strategic location helped it rival Milwaukee and Chicago as a primary shipping and lumber port on the Great Lakes.
In 1838, Singapore was involved in a bank scandal. The town’s bank, along with the Bank of Allegan, issued their own banknotes without sufficient hard currency to back them. This led to their dissolution after the Civil War when they couldn’t produce the required specie to support their notes.
The 40-Day Blizzard of 1842 nearly devastated Singapore. The town’s survival during this period was aided by the shipwreck of the Milwaukie, which provided the residents with barrelled flour.
Oshea Wilder left Singapore in 1846, and James Carter of New York bought his interest. Carter later sold the town to his brother, Artemas, and Francis B. Stockbridge. Under their ownership, the first three-masted schooner on Lake Michigan, the Octavia, was built to carry lumber from Singapore to Chicago.
The Town’s Pivotal Role and Downfall
The town was a bustling center for lumber, with an average of three million feet of lumber passing through its mills annually to support other communities along the lakes.
The Great Fire of 1871, which devastated Chicago and other cities, brought unexpected prosperity to Singapore. The town played a crucial role in rebuilding efforts, shipping off lumber to the fire-ravaged regions. By 1873, Singapore’s lumber export had doubled to six million feet yearly. However, this rapid deforestation led to the town’s downfall.
However, this boom was short-lived. By 1875, Singapore’s timber resources were depleted, leading to the dismantling of its main mill and the eventual exodus of its population.
The town’s timber, crucial for rebuilding Chicago, led to clear-cutting the white pine forests that protected Singapore from the west winds off Lake Michigan. The topsoil was blown away, revealing the underlying sand dunes. By the late 19th century, these dunes were reported to move up to ten feet per year, slowly engulfing the town.
With the town deserted, the once-protected sand dunes began to shift, gradually engulfing Singapore. The relentless movement of the sands, devoid of vegetation or dune grass, buried the town, leaving it to become a subject of local fascination and legend.
By the early 1900s, remnants of Singapore, like house roofs, were still visible above the sand. However, by the 1920s, it became Michigan’s version of Pompeii, a city buried under dunes. Over time, artifacts such as building materials, tools, and household goods have been unearthed, further validating Singapore’s existence.
As late as the 1970s, reports suggested that the roof of Singapore’s three-story hotel was still visible from the highest dune peak.
Singapore Today: A Legacy Preserved
While the physical town of Singapore has long vanished under the sands, its legacy endures in nearby Saugatuck.
Several original structures from Singapore were transported across the frozen Lake Michigan in the 1870s to downtown Saugatuck. Among these were the Singapore Bank (now a bookstore and art gallery on Butler Street) and the Jenkins-Mulder Singapore House, now located at 333 Lucy Street. These buildings stand as a testament to the town’s once-thriving community and its dramatic end.
The Singapore Yacht Club and other local landmarks pay homage to this lost city. There is a Michigan Historical Site marker in front of the Saugatuck Village Hall, commemorating the famous ghost town.
A Michigan Town Buried Beneath the Sands of Time
Singapore, Michigan, serves as a poignant reminder of the transient nature of human endeavors and the relentless force of nature. Its story, from a thriving lumber town to a buried ghost town, is a unique and integral part of Michigan’s diverse tapestry, capturing the imagination of visitors and locals alike. The legacy of Singapore remains a hidden yet integral part of Michigan’s history, nestled quietly beneath the shifting sands.