More than a century ago, Door County was founded first on fishing and then on lumbering.  The logging industry originally consisted of farmers and their families clearing the land in hopes of starting a new life.  That would soon change, once the enterprising lumber barons learned of the thick forests in Door County.

In 1853, Belgian immigrants began the difficult job of clearing the heavily woods one tree at a time.  Later in the 1850s, small lumber companies began appearing in Little Sturgeon, Rowleys Bay, Fish Creek and Egg Harbor.  The industry exploded at the end of the Civil War.  

Courtesy:  Door County Maritime Museum and Lighthouse Preservation Society

The lumber mills produced wood planks and shingles for homes and ships.  Cordwood was used as steamships fuel for sailing the Great Lakes.  At one point there were sixty piers around the county that shipped nothing but wood products.  The county was once covered by thick forests of maple, white pine and cedar.  The easy access to water made it an ideal location for sawmills.  Water was the only way to move mass quantities of wood long distances.  

Courtesy:  Door County Maritime Museum and Lighthouse Preservation Society

Door County was the perfect place for shipping, but the work was very hard.  Loggers had to deal with thick forests and trees.  Harvesting began with an axe until the first power tools appeared in the 1880s.  The two-man saw wasn’t available either.  It was tough and dangerous work.  Many tragic accidents occurred with limbs or trees crashing down on a fellow loggers. 

Winter was prime season for logging.  It was much easier for horses and mules to pull these large loads of trees to the sawmills.  Loggers would often water down the roads to create ice which made the sledding much quicker.

Courtesy:  Wisconsinhistory.org

In 1865, an outbreak of diphtheria occurred due to a ship carrying an entire sick crew pulled into the logging town of Little Sister Harbor.  All would die from the disease except for one because the medicine in the camps were very primitive.  The dead were buried in a makeshift cemetery not far from what is now Pebble Beach.  The community abandoned the area after the disease and the village of Sister Bay would soon move two miles up the shoreline to the north.  

The loggers of 1875, worked long days.  The camps were packed and had no running water or bathroom facilities.  On top of it, pay wasn’t very good either.  I can only imagine what they would think of accommodations today in Door County! 

Loggers came from the Eastern states, but many were immigrants from Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Norway hoping to find a new life in the states.  For many, the sawmill was the only opportunity to make money to built their home.  Settlers working for the sawmill would take out what amounted to a mortgage from their employer.  A settler would get supplies from the sawmill’s general store on credit, and at the end of the year would be paid the difference for their purchases.   This was great for the lumber company, as it provided a loyal workforce.   

By the 1890s the forests had been cleared and the lumber industry faded.  The former loggers began building barns and planting crops.  Orchards throughout the peninsula became a defining symbol for Door County.  Some of the old logging camps turned into resorts and cottages.

Many trees over the years were harvested, however, you can view some trees that were left behind at Toft’s Point in Baileys Harbor.  The Toft family left 740 acres which includes one of the largest stretches of old-growth white pines on the shore of Lake Michigan.  You can find out more information on the 740 acres at The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor.  

Posted By:  Jill









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