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Our History

Even though the most recent permanent Native American and European settlers came to Door County in the past few centuries, the peninsula and islands have actually seen residents for thousands of years. Door County was home to early nomadic residents more than 12,000 years ago, and archaeological evidence suggests it has been continuously inhabited by humans since 10,000 BC. Early permanent settlements date back 2,000 years. The dominant Native American tribe in the region were the Potawatomi. Other influential tribes include the Winnebago (or Ho-Chunk), the Ojibwe, the Sauk, the Menominee and the Ottawa.

Peninsula

In the 1600s, the peninsula saw French explorers such as Jean Nicolet and Father Marquette pass through. Robert de LaSalle's ship Griffin, loaded with valuable furs, disappeared in the Great Lakes on its way back east in 1679.

Peninsula map

The British claimed the territory from the French, and in 1783 the United States claimed it from the British.

Under the United States government, the peninsula was first designated part of the Northwest Territory. As populations grew and shifted, the land was considered part of Indiana Territory, Illinois Territory, Michigan Territory, and Wisconsin Territory. In 1848, when Wisconsin became a state, the peninsula was designated part of Brown County.

Increase and Mary Clafflin

The county's first permanent white settlers were Increase and Mary Clafflin who established themselves in the Little Sturgeon Bay area, and then moved in 1844 to the area now known as Weborg Point in Peninsula State Park. Entrepreneur Asa Thorp built the dock at Fish Creek in 1855, establishing the only place between Fort Howard (Green Bay) and Rock Island for ships to refuel on cordwood, and the village naturally thrived.

Logs

In 1848, Captain Justice Bailey sought a safe harbor for his ship during a storm. Discovering timber suitable for cordwood, Bailey informed his supervisor, and by 1850 nearly 2,500 cords of wood were being shipped out of Bailey's Harbor annually.

Settlers House
In 1851, Door County had finally acquired enough settlers to be established as a county all its own. For one year, Door County included present-day Kewaunee County, until the 1852 legislature re-determined the boundaries.
Ephraim City

The Reverend Andrew Iverson and three followers set out from Green Bay on a cold February day in 1853, and walked on the ice to Eagle Harbor, where they met Ole Larsen at his home on Horseshoe (Eagle) Island. Crossing the ice to the opposite shore, they found the site for their congregation to establish a community, which they named Ephraim.

Early Settlers

Early settlers of the county made their living largely through the harvest of timber and fish. By 1900, over-harvesting of these resources, combined with improved transportation — including a regular schedule of passenger steamers to the villages — led to the rise of the tourism industry. And although the land had never been suitable for farming crops such as wheat, it was discovered that fruit trees would flourish.

Sun Bath

By 1920, roads were improved to the degree that more people came to visit the county by automobile than by boat. Motorists were warned to come prepared: the trip to northern Door would require at least three spare tires.

Peninsula map

The British claimed the territory from the French, and in 1783 the United States claimed it from the British.

Under the United States government, the peninsula was first designated part of the Northwest Territory. As populations grew and shifted, the land was considered part of Indiana Territory, Illinois Territory, Michigan Territory, and Wisconsin Territory. In 1848, when Wisconsin became a state, the peninsula was designated part of Brown County.

Logs

In 1848, Captain Justice Bailey sought a safe harbor for his ship during a storm. Discovering timber suitable for cordwood, Bailey informed his supervisor, and by 1850 nearly 2,500 cords of wood were being shipped out of Bailey's Harbor annually.

Ephraim City

The Reverend Andrew Iverson and three followers set out from Green Bay on a cold February day in 1853, and walked on the ice to Eagle Harbor, where they met Ole Larsen at his home on Horseshoe (Eagle) Island. Crossing the ice to the opposite shore, they found the site for their congregation to establish a community, which they named Ephraim.

Sun Bath

By 1920, roads were improved to the degree that more people came to visit the county by automobile than by boat. Motorists were warned to come prepared: the trip to northern Door would require at least three spare tires.

Today, Door County's heritage can be experienced through our many museums, lighthouses, tours, and historic sites, as well as our people. From the Belgians in the south to the Scandinavians in the north, from trippe to fish boils, from maritime to farm museums, Door County honors its past by preserving the best of its traditions, foods, buildings and artifacts. For more information, check out the 72-Hour Door County History Itinerary or contact the Door County Visitor Bureau at (920) 743-4456.


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