Editor’s note: Landscope is an occasional series about Michigan land use changes documented in the aerial imagery archive at Michigan State University’s Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems center.
Buried under huge, rolling sand dunes on Michigan’s southwest coast lies a town once called Singapore.
Until about 130 years ago, this Lake Michigan port town was near what is now Saugatuck.
Founded in 1836, it was made up of 23 buildings and around 100 people, according to Kit Lane, author of “Buried Singapore: Michigan’s imaginary Pompeii.”
It was surrounded by dense forests then. But they were cut to help rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871 nearly destroyed that city almost 100 miles away.
Little did Singapore residents know that by deforesting the area the dunes were being brought to life. Without the trees, the sand began to bury the city, and it was soon vacated and abandoned.
Eventually, only the dunes remained.
“If an archaeological dig was done they would find traces of the settlement right where it was located,” said Jack Sheridan, a member of the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society.
An estimated 10 buildings were moved to downtown Saugatuck. Anything that was left has either been buried by the dunes or scavenged for lumber and firewood.
Over the years, the area has seen many changes.
The western shore of neighboring Goshorn Lake used to move up to three feet a year. Now, it is covered in vegetation and stays relatively still, but the lake’s shape has changed since the late 19th century.
In 1954, Ron Jousma purchased some of the land to offer dune buggy rides. Since then the Saugatuck dune rides have gone through a few different owners, but the dune ride business has remained, leaving tracks across the landscape.
These images from the aerial imagery library at Michigan State University document the evolution of the landscape: