Blurring of the Lines


There has not been a time in my 80 years as a resident of Door County when people have not been enamored with their differences, real or imagined. 

In the early years, there was a real geographic division: the bay of Sturgeon Bay. Before the railroad bridge/car toll bridge, Sawyer was on one side and Sturgeon Bay on the other. The industries were on the Sturgeon Bay side. The people who were employed in these industries were drawn to Sturgeon Bay for convenience. This made Sturgeon Bay larger and more prosperous. Sawyer was the underdog. This was a true division, both geographically and politically. 

After the steel bridge was constructed, the geographic division was eliminated. The emotional division continued. Well into the 1950s, people still used the name Sawyer to refer to the south/west side of Sturgeon Bay. Also in the ’50s, the industrial park was developed and continues to grow. These two developments have essentially eliminated the differences, but some still cling to the emotional division. 

Door County has had many differences that are geographically localized in terms of ethnicity, industry and school districts. 

Ethnically, there are Belgians south of Sturgeon Bay, Scandinavians north of Sturgeon Bay and a mixture in Sturgeon Bay. These ethnicities and others exist to some extent throughout the county. The ideas, preferences and talents from each area have tended to be handed down through the generations. Dilution has obviously occurred, but remnants remain. 

The starkest downside of these differences was during World War I, when proportionally most draftees came from the small group of Belgians in the southern part of the county. This resulted in a significant disproportion of wounded and deaths of Door County residents coming from this group. I have heard stories about the consternation that occurred in the 1880s when my grandmother, Anna Halstead from Jacksonport, married a Belgian, Raphael Herlache, from Southern Door.

Over time, the populations have become diluted, resulting in recognition and acceptance of the differences.

In the beginning, there was first lumbering and farming throughout the county. Later, manufacturing of boats and shipping became centralized in Sturgeon Bay, followed by the expansion of manufacturing. This resulted in differences of ideas, preferences and talents between Sturgeon Bay and those who lived in the northern and southern parts of the county. 

By the early 1900s, tourism began to grow in the northern areas. Agriculture was prominent in the south, manufacturing in Sturgeon Bay and agriculture/tourism in the north. These areas of geographic differences of ideas, preferences and talents at times have resulted in political battles. With the development of tourism in Sturgeon Bay and along the southern Door County shores, Green Bay and the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur, these lines are becoming somewhat blurred. 

The school districts have distinct geographic boundaries. They are drawn from east to west, with one district in the south, one in Sturgeon Bay, two in the north, and the island. They each have distinct populations. They compete in many ways: school choice, athletics, music, art, forensics and more. They don’t compete for funding, however, making the competition purer and more productive. 

When all is said and done, we are each an individual, with our own unique ideas, preferences and talents. These are primarily passed down through the environments that we grow up in and our genetics. Because of this, every group is diverse far beyond the color or shape of their skin. 

Every idea needs to be heard and considered. Every preference should be recognized and considered. Every talent should be encouraged to be developed in a way that benefits all and/or doesn’t harm others. Civility is the answer. Groupthink divides us. 

We have a great county made up of a diverse population that can make each of us better, whichever side of the line we are on.