SOUTH HAVEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The lost city of Singapore has long been spoken about, with many ghost stories and lore attached to the once prosperous milling town.
From prosperity to poverty, the lakeshore community stood on the shores of Lake Michigan for only about 40 years. In the end, it was greed that did this community in.
“This is Michigan’s Pompeii,” said Eric Gollannek, executive director at the Saugatuck Douglas History Center. “Singapore is probably one of the best known and most complicated sites in the Saugatuck area.”
Wood was the city’s main commodity. In its heyday, several sawmills, a bank, a three story building and about a dozen other buildings lined the dunes of Lake Michigan. The settlement was established in 1837. On average, three million feet of lumber a year came through those mills to help build other communities along the lakes.
“This dune was absolutely covered in white pine, a very valuable lumber,” said Nate Holley, a Saugatuck Dune Ride guide who brings riders up and along the rolling dunes of Lake Michigan.
“The earliest settlers figured that out pretty quick and they started cutting it down here and there, not too big of a deal. Everything changed, though, in 1871 with the Great Chicago Fire.”
The Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 turned this prosperous and responsible milling town to avarice.
“Singapore is really in a strong position being so close to Chicago,” Gollannek said. “The mills are booming and they’re positioned to cut a lot of building materials right as this major metropolis is destroyed by fire.”
By 1873, Singapore exported six million feet of lumber yearly, but within two years there were no trees left to mill.
“The topsoil blew away with the wind and exposed the sand,” Holley said. “That’s when they lost control of these dunes.”
By the late 19th century, there are reports of the dunes moving up to ten feet per year. The city of Singapore is slowly buried while its community moved on. “This is the lost city that vanished without a trace, under Lake Michigan dunes,” Gollannek said.
Several original Singapore structures were transported across frozen Lake Michigan in the 1870s and are now located in downtown Saugatuck, including the Jenkins-Mulder Singapore House that now stands at 333 Lucy Street.
According to the Saugatuck Dune Ride tour, Holley said that as late as the 1970s, there were reports that the roof of Singapore’s third-story hotel was still visible from the highest peak.
“There’s lots of accounts of buildings that have emerged and disappeared and reemerged, Gollannek said. “One of the fascinating things about the dunes: They continue to move. So as the winds blow and we see trees, sometimes that are completely buried beneath the dune and suddenly, they reemerge.”