Door County Compass
emagazine covering Door Co
Find A Grave
listing of the county's cemetery and partial burials
The Political Graveyard
where politicians are known to have been buried 
Government statistics
agriculture, population, demographics, and more
Rootsweb's Door County Resources
genealogy sites and stats
The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871
the worst forest fire in North American history
Cyndi's List
genealogy sites on the internet covering Door county
The Wisconsin Mosaic (1848-1905) chronology based on the Frautschi letters
Wisconsin Stories Wisconsin history one town at a time
Door RickNet Door county's ISP
Door County Maritime Museum nautical history of Door county
Egg Harbor Business Association visitor center Door county Chamber of Commerce official website



Door County's first permanent white settler was Increase Claflin who settled at Little Sturgeon in May, 1835. He was a trapper and Indian trader. Soon after him came the fishermen, settling first on Rock Island and Washington Island and gradually spreading farther south.


In those days the waters of Green Bay seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of whitefish and hundreds of fishermen were busy with their capture. The price of fish at that time was very small, two cents per pound by the ton being all that was paid after it was delivered in Marinette, Menominee or other distant ports.


These first pioneers esteemed the land of little or no value and it was not until after 1850 that anyone settled in the county with the purpose of making a living by agriculture. The first of these were the Norwegian Moravians at Ephraim and Sturgeon Bay. In 1855 and 1856 large numbers of Belgians settled in the deep woods of Union, Brussels and  Gardner and began to clear farms.


The work of making farms was very slow, however, and there was very little agriculture until about 1870. The population of the county in 1860 was 2,948; and in 1870 it numbered 4,919. Most of these were connected with timber operations and fishing.


About 1850 a number of timber operators saw the possibilities in Door County’s abundant forests of pine and cedar. Mills were built in Sturgeon Bay and other places and many larger piers were built around the shores of the peninsula for the shipping of telegraph poles, ties, dimension timber, lumber and cordwood. Until 1890 lumbering and the shipping of cedar was the principal industry of the county.


Many of these shipping points, now almost forgotten, were then busy centers of trade where husky woodsmen gathered, wondering dismally what would become of the county when the timber was all cut. Among these defunct villages of Door County may be mentioned Little Sturgeon, Fascaro, Clay Banks, Horns Pier, Podunk, Whitefish Bay, Rowleys, North Bay and Hedge Hog Harbor. Almost every original entry of land in Door County was for lumber exploitation.


When the best of the timber was cut the land was usually sold for taxes to a woodchopper who would keep it for a year or two whereupon it would again be sold for taxes. The early files of the county papers each year show lists of thousands of tracts of land advertised for sale for taxes.


In the meantime a few persistent pioneers here and there stuck to their claims laboriously clearing the land and grubbing the stumps. They eked out a precarious living by helping at fishing, shaving shingles or cutting cordwood or railroad ties. There was, however, extremely small returns for forest products and a large share of the timber was rolled together and burned on the ground. The following price list advertised by Horn & Joseph at Sherman Bay shows how little was paid for forest products as late as 1880:


Maplewood per cord. . . . . . . . sawed $2.1255
Birch wood, sawed, per cord. . . . . . . . $1.62 ½
Split and 4-inch round cedar posts, 7½ feet long  $0.02
3-inch round cedar posts, 7 ½ feet long. . . . . $.02 ¾
9-inch round cedar posts, 7 ½ feet long. . . . . . . $.04 ½
Cedar ties, 6 in. x6 in. x 8 ft . . . . . . . . . . . $0.13
Hemlock ties, 6 in. x 6 in. x 8 f t . . . . . . . . $0.11
Cedar poles, 25 feet long, 6-inch top. . . . . . . . $0.37 ½
Cedar poles, 25 feet long 4-inch top. . . . . . . $0.25
Hemlock bark, per cord. . . . . . . . . . . . $3.00


The hemlock logs after they were peeled were usuallv left to rot in the woods. Many of the settlers, in hewing a farm from the forest, had to "eat it as they went." That is, when they cut a tree, they worked it up into shingles, shaved out by hand, or split it into bolts, barrel staves, or some other marketable product.

The marketing or hauling was generally done on rude carts, drawn by cows and oxen and, when closely pinched, by man and wife. The little jag or load was traded for groceries and supplies, which were carted home and sustained life while more trees mere felled and worked into marketables.

While the land was very cheap and material for a humble log house could be had for the cutting, it was a far bigger problem to get water. Owing to the great expense of drilling a well through a layer of stone 200 feet thick there were very few wells drilled the first thirty years. Shallow but unsanitary rain water cisterns were common, but these had to be supplemented with much carting and hauling of water.

The wood wagons creaking their way over rough roads to Sturgeon Bay were usually surmounted by a water barrel for the return home. The cattle roamed at large finding their water in ditches and swamps and in winter they licked snow.

In 1847 the Steamer Michigan began to run between Chicago and Buffalo and for sixteen years visited Door County points, these being Washington Harbor, Fish Creek and Sturgeon Bay. Later Baileys Harbor also became a regular stopping place. The Michigan was commanded first by Captain John and later by his nephew, Capt. Albert Stewart. As good natured messengers from the great world outside these men grew into the affections of the people.

There were also a number of nondescript hookers which plied along the shore, buying forest products and fish and returning with sundry necessities of life.

Owing to the lack of highways and railroads for transportation, the few stores in the county usually were short in stock, which often caused much inconvenience. Sometimes the vessels bringing provisions in the fall would freeze up and people suffered much hardship during the winter.


In the fall of 1866 the sudden arrival of cold weather prevented several vessels laden with provisions for the winter from reaching any Door County point. The Steamer Ogontz had on a cargo of supplies for the settlement at Sturgeon Bay but when within sight of the village it was obliged to back up out of the ice and land the freight at Egg Harbor.


It was necessary for the whole population to turn out and cut a road through the virgin timber to Egg Harbor and bring the bulky freight overland. Throughout the settlements and lumber camps around the county much suffering resulted, as most people had only potatoes and molasses to subsist upon. That winter a man was rated, not by his money, but by his stock of potatoes.

The following year, 1867, a nation-wide panic completely put a stop to the lumbering industry and almost put the fishermen out of business for the several years.

Then followed the war, during which time there was very little immigration and business at home stagnated for want of help. After the war followed a few years of prosperity which, however, came to an abrupt end in 1871 in the southern half of the county.

October 9th of that year occurred that terrible forest fire which destroyed the timber, the homes, the cattle and in many cases the lives of the settlers and workers of the towns of Union, Brussels, Gardner, Forestville and Nasewaupee. For many years the survivors struggled desperately to overcome the desolation brought by nature on that terrible Sunday.

In 1873 began another period of financial depression. Prices went down so low that very few things could be sold at any profit. Lumber cargoes did not pay for the freight. One man in 1875 shipped a cargo of telegraph poles to Chicago and was out $60 after paying the freight.


In this year grasshoppers also devastated the fields of the farmers. In 1877 the times were so hard it was almost impossible to collect the taxes. The total assessed valuation of the county in that pear was $724,000, being reduced about 20 per cent from the preceding year. Yet in spite of these tribulations and hard times most of the old pioneers were of good courage.


They found that the soil when freed from stumps and stones in normal years bore wonderful crops, and while there were very small returns for anything they sold because of low prices and the high cost of transportation, they had abundance for man and beast. Having but slight individual means the settlers were more dependent upon each other which made for greater neighborliness and sociability. With prosperity people become largely independent of each other, selfishness is developed and neighborly courtesies are neglected.


Not so in the pioneer days. Then each was largely dependent upon his neighbor which encouraged an intimate companionship which is now sorely missed by those who recall the old days.


The winter season especially in the rural districts was the pleasantest time in the year. Corn huskings, paring-bees, quilting frolics, candy-pullings, spelling schools, sleighing parties, and many other excuses for frequent assemblages of young and old folks, made the long evenings pass merrily away, the pleasures of the time being rather increased by the antecedent labors which were the primary reason for many of these gatherings.


The making of a quilt was in those days a matter in which the whole neighborhood manifested a lively interest. For a quilt was not merely a thing of "shreds and patches," but it was a little history in mosaic. Every rag-bag in the neighborhood sent its tribute, and when completed its owner could tell you whose "gown" every separate block represented.


Upon the eventful day the quilting bars were brought down from the garret, the quilt properly fastened thereto, the pattern laid with more or less art, and then the ladies threaded their needles, and quilted and discussed the new minister's wife, and told one another how to make cookies without eggs, biscuits without shortening and the best remedies for influenza, "rheumatiz," fever-sores, croup, cat-boils and convulsions.


From time to time the bars were rolled up as the work progressed; the ladies hitched their chairs close together, growing more confidential as they did so, and all talking sweetly together at the rate of about seventy-five miles an hour, including stoppages. It was delightful to see them quilt, and talk, and wipe their spectacles, and take snuff. But such enjoyment could not last forever.

The final stitch taken and the room "ridded up" tea was announced, and amid the clattering of china, the incense of young hyson, and the generous cheer of country fare, the ladies found ample consolation for the labors of the afternoon.

The evening was given up to the young folks, who came betimes, and hunted the slipper, and spun the plate, and told fortunes, and paid forfeits, and danced to the music of a wheezy clarinet and a squeaky fiddle, and had such a jolly time as only good-natured lads and buxom lassies know how to enjoy; winding up with a ride home by moonlight, the sleighbells ringing a pleasing accompaniment to the laughter and the song of the party as it sped swiftly along through the frosty night.

These were the fathers and grandfathers of the present generation. Rude in their speech, homely in their ways, and unrefined in their amusements, they were no doubt; yet they some how managed to browse along through the world in comfortable fashion, and lead useful, happy lives. We would laugh at their homespun clothing and their coarse boots were they to come among us today.


Nevertheless, it may be as well to make a note of the fact that in spite of their often rough exterior, there were generous, honest souls within. They came bravely into the wilderness to take up battle with a hard, stubborn nature in order that their children might profit. While their own lot was one of almost unceasing toil, worry and self-denial, their sons and daughters are now able to meet the problems of life in ease and comfort.


With the opening of the Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Canal in 1880 the village of Sturgeon Bay experienced quite a boom. This was reflected throughout the county in a greater demand for land. A few years later the railroad from Green Bay to Sturgeon Bay was completed and this perhaps more than anything else helped to build up the county.


A means of transportation for the products and people of the county was at last opened up and people no longer felt that they lived in an inaccessible desert. The county might have had a railroad long before this but a number of men, directly and indirectly interested in various small vessels plying on the bay, had managed to foster a hostile sentiment against railroads.


During the last twenty years, Door County has made very rapid strides toward prosperity. Aside from the patient development of our fertile farming lands which has been the chief cause of this prosperity, three other important factors have greatly helped. These are the fruit growing, summer resort business and the good roads movement.


In 1892 the first scientific horticulturists began to demonstrate that Door County was peculiarly favored by nature for the production of extra choice apples, cherries, strawberries and plums. This has brought a great many men of ability and means into the county and much of our land is now cultivated and cared for like a garden. In 1895 our superb scenery began to attract the attention of discriminating people and summer resorters have since then each year gathered here by the thousands, greatly enriching the county.


Much of our formerly valueless land along the Green Bay Shore has been bought by them at high prices and is being rapidly and beautifully improved. Finally, in 1906, began our new system of highway improvement which has distinguished Door County as the foremost road builder of the state. The county is now spending more for good roads per capita than any other county in the state, but it is a tax which is most cheerfully paid, as it, with the help of the automobile, has annihilated distance and knit the most distant parts of the county together in a new unity and fellowship.


Door County has now an assessed valuation of more than $20,000,000. Most of the farms and homes are free from mortgages. There is also on deposit in the local banks more than $2,000,000. More than 90 per cent of this wealth has been created within the last twenty years.


In view of the obstacles that had to be overcome, Door County has achieved splendid success. Most of its settlers came into this land of timber, stumps and stones empty handed. Farm products in early days were exceedingly low, butter sometimes selling for eight cents a pound and eggs for four cents a dozen. When rains softened the roads, the farmer had to stay at home. Mail was delivered once a week if nothing interfered. When a doctor was needed a thirty-mile trip was often necessary to get him.


Now as the old pioneer looks about him, he sees a region as well tilled and fruitful as any in the state. His mail is daily delivered at his door. Telephones are at any man's command. Automobiles now buzz over macadam roads where formerly the oxen toiled through the mud. Comfortable homes line every road. The future looks bright.


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