THE FOUNDING OF THE VILLAGES OF DOOR COUNTY

Most of our villages today were established between 1848 and 1868. 

BAILEYS HARBOR ON LAKE MICHIGAN – Captain Justice Bailey first visited it in 1848 when he encountered a violent storm on Lake Michigan on a trip from Racine, WI to Detroit, MI.  Captain Bailey pulled into the harbor looking for safety.  Captain Bailey told his employer that he found timber and limestone.  The next year his employer, Alanson Sweet opened a stone quarry.  He also cut a road through the woods heading west to the Green Bay shoreline which is now County Trunk F.  Baileys Harbor is the oldest village in Door County.  It was part of the Gibraltar Township until 1861.  Lumber was the main business of Baileys Harbor until the forests were depleted and replaced by shipping.

CARLSVILLE INLAND NORTH OF STURGEON BAY – The area was first settled in 1860 by settlers of Irish descent, but eventually out numbered by people of German descent.  The new settlers gave the village the name of Karlsville because there were a lot of men in the community that had the name Karl.  Karlesville was  eventually changed to the English spelling of Carlesville.  Prior to 1930, Karlesville actually had a lake which disappeared sometime in the 1930’s about the same time as dynamiting for the construction of Hwy. 42 began.  Many believed blasting opened up caverns that helped the water escape.  

EGG HARBOR ON GREEN BAY – The village was first settled in 1855 by Jacob and Levi Thorp who were relatives of Asa Thorpe who founded Fish Creek.  Both men began lumber operations and built the first dock in Egg Harbor.  Levi eventually bought out Jacob and expanded his business to include farming and orchards.  Egg Harbor also started as part of the Township of Gibraltar but became a separate village in 1861.  In 1865 French-Canadian families arrived establishing saloons, hotels and the first Catholic Church.  Egg Harbor is said to get it’s name by Increase Claflin.  He named it Egg Harbor after finding a nest full of duck eggs when he was trying a get a horse shoe out of the harbor. 

EPHRAIM ON GREEN BAY –  The village was the first religious settlement in Door County.  In February of 1853, Rev. Andrew Iverson and three of his followers walked from Green Bay across the ice to Eagle Harbor where they met Ole Larsen on Horseshoe Island.  They walked from the island to the shore and found their site to begin a community.  They named it Ephriam which is an Old Testament word meaning “doubly fruitful”.  In 1853, forty Norwegian/Moravian’s established the first church and first school in Door County.  

FISH CREEK ON GREEN BAY – Asa Thorpe who founded Fish Creek who moved to the community in 1853 with his relatives Jacob and Levi Thorpe.  By 1855, Asa built a dock in Fish Creek establishing the only place between Green Bay and Rock Island that steamships could refuel which helped the village thrive.  In. 1858 the Township of Gibraltar consisted of Fish Creek, Juddville and Maple Grove.

JACKSON PORT ON LAKE MICHIGAN –  The village was first settled in 1848 by fisherman and farmer Neil Blair.  A dock was built in 1861 by Perry Hibbard who was in the lumbering and shipping business.  Jacksonport was established in 1869 and was named after Andrew Jackson who was not the President.  In 1867, C.L. Harris and John Reynolds bought Hibbard’s pier and started an unsuccessful lumber business.  In the 1870’s and 1880’s, many French Canadians from Quebec settled in followed by German and Austrian families.  Commercial fishing and lumbering were the important industries back in the day.  By 1890, due to the diminishing trees, Jacksonport was almost all agricultural.  

LIBERTY GROVE TOWNSHIP – An unhappy citizen of Ephraim, Jasper Morefield, decided he wanted to run his own town.  In 1859, he asked that the area north of Ephraim be setup as a township.  Today the township includes Ellison Bay, Gills Rock and Newport.

ELLISON BAY ON GREEN BAY – In 1848, Danish born Johan Elliason bought a mile of shoreline advertised in Europe and Scandinavia.  In 1866, Ellison Bay was established and got it’s name when the U.S. Land Office left out the “a” in his name and the reason it’s spelled Ellison Bay.

GILLS ROCK ON THE TIP OF THE NORTHERN PENINSULA – Gills Rock was originally known as “Hedgehog Harbor”.  In 1855, Amos Lovejoy anchored his boat in the cove for the winter.  When he launched his ship the next spring, he didn’t realize that a family of porcupines (a/k/a hedgehogs) had decided to live in his ship over the winter.   They chewed holes in the hull and the ship began taking on water so Lovejoy was forced to abandon his ship and come to shore.  The cove changed it’s name to Gills Rock in 1870 in honor of Elias Gill, a prominent lumberman.  Gills Rock is still one of the most active commercial fishing communities in Door County.

SISTER BAY ON GREEN BAY – Increase Clafin name the two small islands that sit outside the harbor in the bay of Green Bay “The Sisters”.   The harbor was soon called Sister Bay and the early settlers adopted the name for their new community.  In 1857, Norwegian John Thoreson, who built the wharf in Little Sister Bay to the south, and Norwegian Ingebret Torgeson who settled permanently to the north in Big Sister Bay were considered the Town of Liberty Grove until they merged into the Village of Sister Bay in 1912.  In the early days, Sister Bay’s economy was built on the lumber industry.

SOUTHERN DOOR – Belgians from mostly the Wallonia region of Belgium arrived south of Sturgeon Bay in 1853.  They established the villages of Namur and Brussels in 1858.  Freeland Gardner came to the area in 1864 and employed over 400 Belgian men in his lumber and shipbuilding operations.  In 1865, the settlement of Union followed, named after the way the residents handled their public matters.  Today, Brussels and Namur are the home to the largest concentration of Belgians in the United States.  In 1858 in the center of southern Door, British, German and Canadian settlers established Maplewood and Forestville.

STURGEON BAY –  In 1835, a hermit by the name of Peter Rowley came to the area after Increase Claflin landed in Little Sturgeon Bay.  Peter Rowley moved north to what is now Rowley’s Bay shortly after the second settler, Peter Sherwood moved in the following year.  New settlers started arriving in the 1850’s, establishing a town called Otumba in 1857.  In 1861, when the town became a city, the residents asked to change the name to Sturgeon Bay.  They wanted the name because of the large sturgeons that filled the bay.  The city’s first industries was lumber, fishing and farming until it became a busy port.  In 1882, the Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal was opened, linking Green Bay and Lake Michigan.  It saved ship lots of time entering Sturgeon Bay.

WASHINGTON ISLAND –  In 1850, the Town of Washington was founded on the smaller Rock Island.  The new town included the three islands of Washington, Rock and Detroit.  In 1867, a schoolhouse and church were built at Washington Harbor on Washington Island.  Thereafter, most of the residents moved there.  The island is supposedly named after a ship called the Washington that visited the island in 1816.  W.F. Wickman from Denmark persuaded four bachelors in 1870 to move from Iceland to the island.  Today, Washington Island is the second oldest Icelandic community in the United States.  The island’s early settlers were fishermen but lumber, stone and agriculture that included potatoes, cheese and maple syrup were also important.  

 

 

 

 

 

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