The Michigan Alliance for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage has selected the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society and Museum for our first Heritage Guardian award in 2004. This volunteer organization of over 500 members has invested thousands of dollars to create a Tech Center devoted to the collection, preservation, archiving and reproduction of paper and photographic materials relating to the area’s history and geography. This effort began in 1996, with the acquisition of over 3000 negatives of daily life in Saugatuck taken by local photographer, newspaper editor and artist Bill Simmons from 1941 to 1960. In 2001, volunteers identified and archived the negatives, and scanned about 1/3 of them. The images were used to create the book,”Off the Record: The Unpublished Photographs of Bill Simmons”. The text provides well-researched historical context for the photos. This book, written and designed by volunteers, won a Michigan Historical Society Book of the Year award, and a gold “Quest for Excellence” graphic design award from the Michigan Museums Association. The Society also created a CD with a selection of images from the book, as well as a museum exhibit featuring the photographs.
These projects are only part of a varied program that has included production of the Saugatuck-Douglas Building Survey (electronic database of over 600 structures with images and documentation) used by the city council, historic district commission, and planning commission. They have published 8 books on historical topics, seven of which have won awards. Their museum features exhibits on the same topics, an efficient use of research time! The society also has a Heritage Awards program that recognizes preservation, renovation and new construction projects that promote or enhance the area’s historic character. The society has taken heritage education out of the museum and created the Harborfront Outdoor Learning Stations. These are a series of five permanent panels that illustrate and interprete the history of the harbor. They also organized a heritage festival in 2002, and in 2003, began a stewardship fund for donation of development easements as another tool to preserve the historic character of the community. In short, the conservation efforts, which we would like to recognize are part of a comprehensive effort to guard and interpret the cultural heritage of the Saugatuck-Douglas community.
The award committee was impressed not only with the Society’s efforts to physically preserve their area’s documents and photographs, but also their devotion to effectively presenting the collections so effectively to the community. These efforts give the community the opportunity of incorporating these documents of the past into the community’s sense of identity and meaning.