11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Saugatuck Dunes

Year Listed: 2010
Location: Saugatuck, Michigan
Threat: Development

Significance

It is an area of striking beauty. Along the shores of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, the 2,500 acres that comprise the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Area boast a sparsely-developed landscape of spectacular beach, rare freshwater dunes, water, woods and wetlands; habitat to several endangered species; and home to a large number of significant historic and archeological sites.

Nestled into the rolling dunes are the 100-year old Ox-Bow School of Art (part of the Chicago Art Institute), several 19th century summer camps and cottage communities, America's oldest operational hand-cranked chain ferry, and one of only a handful of remaining dune rides. In addition to Native American grounds and trails, an old lighthouse cottage and century-old pilings from an early fishing village, the area contains "Michigan's Pompeii," the buried remains of Singapore, an early 19th century mill town and port.

Saugatuck Township has worked hard to preserve its heritage and in 2006 established the Lakeshore Open Space Zoned District. The zoning allows for limited residential development but prohibits commercial development, marinas, and retail and specifically calls for site protection of the community's numerous historic and natural areas. 

In 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Saugatuck and the nearby town of Douglas to its annual list of America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations. For 60 years State and Federal agencies have tried to link the area's parks into more expansive publicly-protected open space. The area is commonly referred to as the "Art Coast of Michigan" and the community's artistic heritage endures through the Ox-Bow School of the Arts, where students have been inspired by the surrounding historic and natural landscape for more than a century. Even with its many attractions, Saugatuck has managed to maintain an authentic small town feeling, rare among resort communities today.