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Washington Island's Icelandic Heritage


Across Death’s Door, a different culture lives on in the community of Washington Island.

“People kind of take a step back in time when they come here to Washington Island,” says Jeannie Hutchins of the island’s Jacobsen Museum.

Embodied by toughness, independence, and a staunch work ethic, the people of Washington Island are as proud as you’ll meet.

Irish and German immigrants were the first to settle there, but in 1870 a group of four Icelandic men settled on the island, seeking to take advantage of the fishing and farming opportunities on the island.

In this month’s edition of Our Door County we explore the island’s Icelandic Heritage – from the first four Icelandic men who called it home, to the new wealth brought to the community by Chester Thordarson in the 1930s, and on to the influence today. That Icelandic influence is still felt in the architecture, museums, names, and thick skin of the Islanders who call it home.

“If you spend a little time to learn about the cultural background, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful spots, unusual cultural facilities,” says Dick Purinton. “It takes some work, takes some time to get there.”

 Descendants from the four original Icelandic settlers still call the Island home, and the names of those pioneers adorn roads, buildings, and ferries that you’ll be enamored with when you visit the other side of Death’s Door. 

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