Saugatuck-Douglas Selected as a Distinctive Destination

Saugatuck area chills for winter

Detroit Free Press By James Prichard February 15, 2009

Award for 2009

The Saugatuck-Douglas area’s reputation as a special place to visit received a boost in January when the National Trust for Historic Preservation selected it as one of its dozen distinctive destinations for 2009.

Each year since 2000, the organization has chosen communities from across the United States that offer cultural and recreational experiences different from the typical vacation destinations. Selections were based on such qualities as architecture, downtown vitality, cultural diversity and commitment to historic preservation.

Saugatuck has a population of about 1,100 and Douglas about 1,200 people. Both towns boast some fine examples of 19th-Century architecture, and the area’s old-fashioned small town feel is an important part of its considerable appeal. That’s what I like about Saugatuck, Harrier says. It looks like a little small town out of time.

The mayors of both towns own local businesses that might appeal to visitors during any season. Saugatuck Mayor Barry Johnson operates the Saugatuck Brewing Co. in Douglas, with its 100-seat tavern section dubbed the Lucky Stone Club. Also in Douglas is the Everyday People Café, owned by Mayor Matt Balmer, who went to culinary school and is the executive chef.

Portraits of a town

The area has long been known as an art community. Artist-owned galleries in Saugatuck and Douglas offer paintings, sculptures, pottery and glass creations.

At James Brandess’ art gallery, it’s not unusual to see him painting portraits in his front-window studio, although he’s just as likely to be outside somewhere painting a landscape. It’s beautiful and peaceful, Brandess says of the area.

It’s a peaceful respite from the big city. The walls of his gallery are filled with small, colorful portraits, most about the size of a postcard, that he has created since about 1993 in his attempt to paint every Saugatuck resident who is willing to sit for him. He estimates that he has completed between 200 and 300 of them so far.

Each small portrait takes him two to three hours to complete. In return for their time, he gives each subject a dozen greeting cards with the portraits printed on them.

Winter gives me ample opportunity to work on this project Brandess says.

Getting there: From Detroit, take I-96 west toward Lansing and Grand Rapids. Take Exit 46 and merge onto Michigan 6 toward Holland. Merge onto I-196 toward Chicago, go past the Holland exists. Take Ext 41 to Saugatuck/Douglas. About 180 miles or 3 hours.

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