Saratoga, Michigan? - Well, almost...

By Robert Reed

In 1836 an advertisement appeared in an Ann Arbor newspaper, and probably in papers in New York and Boston, offering 125 even numbered lots in the new village of Saratoga for sale at the subscription office in Detroit. 

Saratoga was the dream, or scheme, of an “eccentric” land speculator named Gardner R. Lillibridge who had found a spring with metallic or mineral tasting water near the south end of Portage Lake.  This was enough for Lillibridge to develop a vision of a town similar to Saratoga Springs, New York, which was famous for curative mineral waters and resort hotels.

He bought the land from the U.S. Government on July 10, 1832 between Portage Lake and Prospect Hill, now called Peach Mountain; platted a village with streets named for literary and musical notaries such as Shakespeare, Mozart, etc. and began marketing the property.  The advertisement described a hotel, to open in 1838, and an observatory, or lookout, on top of Prospect Hill from which “the view of the surrounding country is sublime.” A map of Michigan published in 1846 by S. Augustus Mitchell of Philadelphia, shows the town of Saratoga right at Portage Lake.

There was also an excursion steamboat on Portage Lake, which would take passengers on a 30 to 40 mile trip up the Huron River through numerous lakes with “the most beautiful scenery in the land.”  Lithographs of the hotel, observatory and steamboat were included in a brochure which reassured potential buyers that a sawmill was located just a half-mile from Saratoga and that a large number of prosperous farms in the area were ready to furnish supplies to the village.

To add credibility, Lillibridge claimed to have sold the odd numbered lots to Edwin Forrest, a nationally famous actor, for $15,000 and that Forrest had pledged an additional $15,000 to build the hotel and make other improvements.  In spite of these efforts there were no buyers and Saratoga disappeared into the history books.  Although everything in Saratoga existed only in Lillibridge’s imagination, Samuel Dexter, the founder of Dexter, and Issac Pomeroy had built the sawmill in 1832 at a site on the Huron River, just downstream from Portage Lake called Dover. In 1846 the Dover Grist Mill was also established there. During this period the Base Line Lake Post Office alternated its location between Dover and Hudson Mills, a small hamlet that developed at Dover Mills.  The Dover Mills closed sometime in the late 1800’s and Dover Mills disappeared.

Although urban development didn’t happen on the chain of lakes, within a few years after Dover’s demise, residents from Detroit and other towns began building summer homes and cottages on the lakes as a different type of development took over.