The Story of Singapore – A City Under the Sand

In the 1870’s, Singapore – sited down river from present-day Saugatuck – was booming, just like it’s namesake city-state in Asia. The devastating Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 fueled a huge demand for lumber, and Michigan’s Singapore, surrounded by forested land, was eager to provide. An October 1871 issue of the Saugatuck Commercial Record reported that the harbor shipped 3.2 million feet of board lumber, 252,000 cords of wood, 2,169 railroad ties, and 20,000-barrel headers. That’s a lot of wood – and economic prosperity for the workers of Singapore.

However, this prosperity came a at a price: by 1875, the mills consumed most of the easily-accessible pine forests of the area. Local lumberman even stripped the dune that separated Singapore from Lake Michigan of what little tree covering it had, in an attempt to keep their business thriving. Without vegetation to stabilize the sand, the dune gradually blew inland on the prevailing west wind and encroached on Singapore.

As the sand piled up, the once vibrant town began to fade. The mills were dismantled and shipped to virgin forested lands up north. Whole houses were put on sleds, pulled by horses down the frozen river and placed on new foundations in Saugatuck – where they continue to serve as residences and shops. Other buildings were dismantled and recycled.

But the largest structure in town, a boarding house that served as the community’s commercial and social center, proved too large to move. Residents sarcastically called the structure “The Astor House,” because its quality and amenities were a far cry from the luxury New York hotel of the same name.

During Singapore’s final decade, a fisherman named James Nichols inhabited the Astor House. As the ground floor gradually filled with sand, he moved to the second floor. When the sand level reached the second-floor windows, he moved to the top floor. However, when the sand began blowing down the chimney, nature forced Nichols to surrender, and he left the house for good.

Singapore is one of the best-known ghost towns in Michigan. In the late 1950’s, a Michigan Historical Marker was placed near Singapore’s original sight to commemorate the town. The marker can be found on the front lawn of the Saugatuck Village Hall.

A special thanks to the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center for this story. For more information about Singapore or other interesting facts and stories about the Saugatuck/Douglas region, visit mysdhistory.orgor stop by the Saugatuck/Douglas Welcome Center to pick up a copy of the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Chronicle.

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