History and heritage attractions on the Peninsula are scattered over the landscape like twinkling lights on a Christmas tree. Some are bright and last throughout the year while others might light up the sky for only a few days or can only be seen by observant eyes. While other destinations might profile skills and assets at one location, the County’s historic assets and stories are scattered over dozens of communities and 300 miles of shoreline.
1. Door County Maritime Museum & Springtime Ships Sailing
In World War II, the tiny hamlet of Sturgeon Bay doubled in population as its shipyards roared to life to support the war effort, churning out new Naval ships every few days for four years. At the museum you’ll learn this history of the war effort, the story behind Death’s Door, and the many wrecks off our shores. Tour the Tug John Purves, and learn about Leathem Smith, the man who invented both the self-unloading carrier ship and the shipping container.
And if you’re lucky enough to visit in spring, when ice conditions are safe for departing ships, you can see thousand-foot ore carriers depart from their winter layover in Sturgeon Bay. They have to squeak through raised bridges with inches to spare and sometimes have to break the ice as they go.
2. Parks: Old Stone Quarry County Park & Peninsula State Park
If you live in a turn of the century Brownstone in Chicago or Milwaukee, chances are the stone came from a quarry that is now a park like Door County’s Old Stone Quarry County Park. Bring your fishing poles as some of the County’s most formidable sport fish inhabit the ore dock.
One of Wisconsin’s largest and most beautiful state parks, Peninsula State Park is historic in its own right. It hosts a vintage golf course, a Depression-era observation tower (currently closed for restoration this season), a historic cemetery where the tombstones of early settlers sit quietly off a bike trail, the stunning Eagle Terrace overlooking historic Ephraim and Eagle Bluff Lighthouse.
3. Cherry Blossoms and Cherry Harvest
For much of the last century the tart cherry industry in Door County was so huge that visitors came just to see the blossoms in the spring and purchase cherries and pies from the harvest in mid-July. Today, in a good year, more than ten million pounds of cherries are harvested by three remaining producers.
Blossom time is usually just before Memorial Weekend. The best viewing is just outside of the village of Egg Harbor and North of Ellison Bay. Over much of the 20th century the Eames orchard in Egg Harbor was operated by Mildred and Spence Eames and was one of the County’s largest producers of Cherries and apples. Here a local inventor, Harvey Haen, built the first “Cherry Shaker” in response to the shortage of workers to pick Cherries. A cherry festival is hosted by the Jacksonport Historical Society in early August.
4. Door County Historical Museum
The museum houses Pioneer Fire Trucks, ship building displays, video histories, photographs and many other artifacts. Located at the corner of fourth and Michigan in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Open May through October.
5. Ephraim Historical Foundation and Anderson Dock
Ephraim’s historical campus is the envy of history buffs throughout the county. Tourism came to Door County before roads and cruising schooners would call at ports established at most area villages, including Ephraim’s historic Anderson Dock, one of the few that remains. Now home to the Hardy Gallery, its painted walls have been one of the most-photographed buildings in the County for years.
6. Thordarson Boathouse
Deemed one of the most historically significant buildings in the state, it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, perhaps the best part of this historic site is getting there. Take the ferry to Washington Island, than another ferry, the Karfi, to Rock Island, where the boathouse will appear on the horizon and enrapture you as you near.
7. Corner of the Past Museum Campus, Sister Bay
Sister Bay historians have attempted to compress the areas logging, agriculture and tourism heritage into one museum campus. The “one stop” museum also offers a farmers market on Saturdays throughout the summer, complete with historic demonstrations and displays.
8. Cottage Row, Fish Creek
As early as the turn of the last century, the wealthy summered at shorefront “cottage” communities at various places throughout the Peninsula. Millionaires Row, on Cottage Row just south of Fish Creek, was once home to Curly Lambeau in retirement, and remains a place where some families still enjoy cottage life. The grandeur of these homes is best seen on a shoreline boat cruise.
9. Alexander Noble House Museum, Fish Creek
Alexander Noble House was built in 1875 as an authentic Greek revival farmhouse. Enjoy a tour of the 10-room home and experience a portrayal of domestic life in Door County at the turn of the century. View the many furnishings and artifacts original to the home and Noble Family.
10. Skyway Drive-in Movie Theatre, Fish Creek
When television displaced most of the 1950s outdoor movie theaters, one in Fish Creek didn’t get the memo. Take the kids to a current movie, and step back in time as you enjoy the vintage PopCorn, Soda and Dogs at ridiculously low prices.
11. The Clearing Folk School
Many individuals of regional or national historical significance found solitude in Door County. One such person was Jens Jensen, the visionary behind the great Chicago park system and creator of landscapes for the homes of the superrich of the early twentieth century. Jensen founded the Clearing as a place where urban people could reconnect with nature --to renew their contract with the “soil” as a basis for live values.
12. Cana Island Lighthouse
There are more than a few places on the Peninsula where you can see a working lighthouse up close but only one where you wind down a rustic road through old-growth forest, then cross a causeway for a chance to capture one of Door County’s most iconic photographs.
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