ORIGINS AND MEANINGS OF DOOR COUNTY'S VILLAGE, TOWN, TOWNSHIP, CITY AND OTHER PLACE NAMES -- IMPORTANT DATES AND INTERESTING BITS OF INFORMATION ABOUT EACH.
How many days did it take a mailman
to walk across the ice to Green Bay?
Click for answer
Door County: Traditions of a Rugged Pioneer Past©
Following is a sample of the historical content found in this hour-long DVD (still also available in regular video format).
Traditions contains both historic images and contemporary color footage of all the places described here...it is Door County's only complete visual history.
The five Door County islands are part of a chain, in recent history called The Grand Traverse Islands, and formerly called Potowatomi Islands. They line up across the stretch of water between Wisconsin and Michigan like stepping stones. Originally, all belonged to the Northwest Territory. When that huge territory was broken into four states, Michigan received all but Washington, Plum, Detroit, Pilot, and Rock
Islands and the bigger but not separately named island that contains the county's most populated towns and villages...from Sturgeon Bay on up. This island is rather incorrectly, most often referred to as a peninsula, or the Door Peninsula,, though it is clearly an island...connected to North America only by bridges in Sturgeon Bay. For only a small time in Earth's history, this large island was temporarily connected to the mainland in one area by silt that clogged space at the Lake Michigan end of what is now the Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal. That mass was dredged out in the late 1800s, returning the land back to island...but it was never given a name of its own. The islands became part of Wisconsin when the state was founded in 1849, and, later, all 5 plus a large land area on the mainland officially became Door County. There are many tiny islands just off both the lake and bay shores with only a few having ever been inhabited, or having a house or two on them in present day.
It took Washington Island's first mailman, Henry Miner, 6 days to walk across the ice to Green Bay to get the mail in winter...and 6 days to return (a little less when the wind was at his back). When the ice was thick enough he could take a horse and sled, sometimes a passenger.
DEATH'S DOOR: Everyone's favorite question about Door County (next to "What do people here do in winter?!") is "Why do you call it 'Death's Door'?" Washington Island and the large island are separated by a rowdy stretch of water known as Death's Door, also called Porte des Mortes (Door of the Dead). This name has two origins -- it was named either by Potowatomi Indians after a deadly battle with a rival tribe, many braves killed trying to cross the water in canoes -- or by early French seamen and voyageurs because of the many ships sunk in this area where the water is treacherous, unpredictable, and often violent. Countless wrecks lie deep below the surface...and some so close to the surface they can be seen from above. First recorded English use of the name was in 1817. Ferry boats carry passengers, vehicles, and large equipment back and forth across Death's Door year round.
FIRST LIGHTHOUSE: The first lighthouse on the Great Lakes was built on Rock Island in 1836; first lighthouse keeper was David Corbin.
The islands and the mainland portion of the county are often referred to as Northern Door & Southern Door but it is all one county.
DOOR COUNTY TOWNS AND VILLAGES -- IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
In Wisconsin, local governments work according to whether they are a city, village, or part of a township -- for example, a place may be called The Village of Sister Bay and Sister Bay is part of Liberty Grove Township. The year in which each was officially recognized by the state as an entity appears in bold type. Some consider themselves founded well before the official date, however such considerations sometimes actually refer just to the first known visit to an area by someone who was there briefly but did not stay to live there, thus not actually founding a settlement. The dates here are as officially recorded by the State of Wisconsin. Thus is the difference between "discovered" or "settled," meaning first people settling to live, and "founded" being the year a place was officially recorded by the state as a legal entity.
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