Saugatuck, Michigan

Saugatuck is a small city situated in the Allegan County of Michigan, United States. The city covers a total area of 3.81 sq. km, of which 0.75 sq. km is occupied by water and 3.06 sq. km is occupied by land. Nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan and Kalamazoo River, defined by steep dunes to the west, lush orchard country, and farmland to the east, Saugatuck is a city that captures the natural beauty and is a popular destination for artists and architecture enthusiasts. 

Population Of Saugatuck

The Kalamazoo River running through Saugatuck, Michigan.
The Kalamazoo River runs through Saugatuck, Michigan.

As per the 2010 census, about 925 people live in the city of Saugatuck. The city's population has decreased from the 2000 census, which showed that the city was home to 1,065 people. The city has a population density of 302.7 inhabitants per sq km. The largest ethnic group in Saugatuck are non-Hispanic White, representing 95.6% of the city' population, followed by the Hispanic White at 3.8%, two or more races at 1.8%, other races at 0.9%, Asians at 0.4%, Native Americans, and African Americans at 0.6%. The median age is 53.3 years, and all residents of Saugatuck are US citizens. There are 513 households, 243 families, and 942 housing units in the city. 

Economy Of Saugatuck

Shops and galleries in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Shops and galleries line Butler Street in Saugatuck, Michigan. Editorial credit: Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock.com

At present, tourism is Saugatuck’s primary industry. The median household income in Saugatuck is $68,063, and the most prominent industries are Health Care & Social Assistance, Accommodation & Food Services, and Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services. While the income inequality in Michigan is 0.475 (measured using the Gini index), which is lower than the national average, males in Saugatuck tend to earn more than females as their average income is 1.37 higher than the average income of females. The highest paying industries in Saugatuck are Information ($245,417), followed by Finance & Insurance ($147,500) and Manufacturing ($92,708).

A resort and “cottage” culture emerged in the 1880s and grew majorly in 1910 when a group of artists from Chicago established the Summer School of Paintings on OX-Bow Lagoon, and a huge dance hall was built in 2009. Saugatuck became a notable artistic hub and tourist destination, especially in the summer. Tourists enjoy the hiking trails in Saugatuck Dune State Park in the summer, and it’s famous for cross-country skiing and Nordic walking in winter. Tourists also enjoy climbing, to the top of Mount Baldhead, cruising the Kalamazoo River on Saugatuck Chain Ferry, and visiting the Saugatuck Tasting Room, which provides a wide selection of wines produced at the nearby Fenn Valley Vineyards.

History Of Saugatuck

The Star of Saugatuck offers daily river and lake tours
The Star of Saugatuck, an old-fashioned sternwheeler, offers daily river and lake tours in Saugatuck, Michigan. Editorial credit: Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock.com

The area, currently known as Saugatuck, served as a summer retreat for the Pottawatomie Indians before the 19th century. People started fur trading in the early 1800s, and permanent settlement began in 1830. William Butler and his wife arrived in the area and laid out a village on the flats near the mouth of the Kalamazoo River. Local villagers used the abundant natural resources to support their economy and built sawmills, barrel factories, and other wood product firms. They played a significant role and provided much of the lumber which was used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871. Villagers heavily relied on the lumber, and by the late 1800s, Michigan’s famous white pines were nearly unavailable. This shifted the economy to shipping and fruit growing, and people built shipyards where hundreds of ships were built, turning Saugatuck town into a haven for ship captains. Saugatuck did not suffer any destruction from the fires that hit most towns among the Midwest frontier in the mid to late 1800s. As a result, the city stands as an exciting spot where people can observe pre-and post-Civil War Greek Revival and Italianate architecture together with later structures in the Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival styles. Lumbering, shipbuilding, and fruit farming industries shaped Saugatuck’s character, and now, it is best known as a resort community with a solid appeal to artists and artisans.

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