It is November 15, 1871 and you are one of the lucky ones who survived the horror of the Chicago Fire that destroyed two-thirds of the city. Your wooden shanty on the south-side was vaporized by the firestorm or your pleasant north-side home was reduced to ashes once the fire jumped the north branch of the Chicago River.
Rebuilding starts almost immediately with the construction of small shelters about the size of a modern detached garage, often put on the lots where homes once stood.
The lumber has to come from somewhere, and fortunately, there is a great supply just across Lake Michigan, and a vanished town there, Singapore, Michigan, a mill town, is the jumping off point for shipping that lumber to Chicago.
Singapore, Michigan, was founded in 1836 by a speculator who hoped the town would rival the now destroyed city of Chicago as a Great Lakes port. Singapore existed close to where the town of Saguatuck is now, which was then called “The Flats.”
Little did Singapore, Michigan, know that its role in helping to rebuild Chicago would lead to its disappearance. Today there is only a memorial sign.
On October 08, 1871, not only did Chicago burn but also Port Huron and Holland, in Michigan, and Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Large swaths of forests burned in Michigan and at least 1000 people were killed in the Peshtigo fire. What trees that did not burn in the Michigan fires were logged to reconstruct Chicago. Massive erosion follows, and that is what contributed — that and lack of lumber for a mill town– to the demise of Singapore.
Singapore is gone. It is now buried under the dunes that shifted and swallowed the town. It was vacated by 1875. Rumor was the last stubborn resident was forced to use the second floor of his house to enter and exit before the sand swallowed it..
Chicago was destroyed by fire. Singapore was destroyed by fire too, though it was not in the path of the flames.
Today’s headlines are about the wildfires in California but in the Nineteenth Century major cities, such as Chicago and Cleveland and others worried about destruction by fire because they were entirely built from the easiest and least expensive resource, wood. The Great Chicago Fire was the catalyst for the modern brick and steel construction and fire codes that make a city-wide fire all but impossible today.
Had Singapore, Michigan, survived perhaps there would be skyscrapers and a huge metropolis instead of shifting sand.