Culture Club: Heritage Village Offers a Step Back in Time
by Amy Frank, Executive Director, Door County Historical Society
If you’re looking for a fun, educational and family-friendly experience, look no further than the Door County Historical Society’s Heritage Village at Big Creek. This historical village at the corner of Michigan Street and Highway 42/57 in Sturgeon Bay allows visitors to experience life in Door County more than a hundred years ago.
Members of the Door County Historical Society had the idea to create such a village in 1991 after a group of eighth-grade students gave a presentation about their stay at the Old Victoria mining village in Upper Michigan. Their enthusiasm was so contagious that it inspired several society members to develop plans to create a special place locally where historical programs for young people could be offered.
Heritage Village is a collection of historical buildings, each of which reflects a specific contribution to Door County’s development from 1852 to 1910. Together, these simple structures provide a glimpse into the lives of the peninsula’s early European settlers and an understanding of community.
Through self-guided tours, visitors can explore a general store, schoolhouse, chapel, fish house, granary and more, but Heritage Village is not just a static display of buildings – it is a living history museum.
Several days a week, the village comes alive with demonstrations, reenactments and traditional hands-on activities – including wood carving and butter churning – that allow visitors to engage with the past in a meaningful way. Witnessing the skills, craftsmanship and way of life of Door County’s early European settlers is an enriching and engaging experience for history enthusiasts, families and students alike.
In 2001, the Door County Historical Society celebrated its 75th anniversary with the construction of the Village Chapel: a three-fourths model of the first Protestant church building in Door County, the Ephraim Moravian Church, founded by Pastor Andrew M. Iverson in 1853. The altar and pastor’s chair are copies of originals built by Pastor Iverson and recreated by Dr. Ted Attril. The chapel is available for small weddings and private gatherings.
The schoolhouse at Heritage Village was built in the 1890s by the Norwegian community of Vignes and located in the Southern Door town of Clay Banks. In 1994, the Door County Historical Society acquired the building and moved it to Heritage Village. The schoolhouse’s roof had to be removed to avoid power lines on the journey. Today, the Vignes Schoolhouse is a testament to the dedication of Door County pioneers to support education and encourage learning.
The Peterson Granary at Heritage Village features a working blacksmith shop and live blacksmith demonstrations. Visitors can watch these skilled artisans perform their craft to create intricate works from simple pieces of iron, and the curtain rods, brackets, door handles and other items they make are used in the buildings at Heritage Village.
Items made by the blacksmiths are also available for purchase in the Greene Store, Heritage Village’s general store, which is named after Harry Greene and his son, Stanley, who were both store owners in Sturgeon Bay.
In 1880-1910, general stores were a central hub in every crossroads community. Storekeepers purchased surplus items from local farmers to sell in their stores, and in return, farmers received credit that they could use to buy staples and things they couldn’t make themselves. Today, the Greene Store features artifacts donated by members, and it sells souvenirs and items such as locally made jewelry, books about local history, vintage Door County postcards, classic board games and much more.
The Madden Tool Museum is unlike any other in Wisconsin. Housed in a reconstructed barn, it displays a collection of tools the Madden family has acquired over many years and from community donations. Exhibits include a working hay fork. The loft showcases more tools, a kitchen-tool display room and complete toolbox collections.
Heritage Village at Big Creek is an exciting destination that offers visitors a chance to explore Door County’s rich history while having fun. Whether touring historical buildings, participating in interactive exhibits or shopping for unusual souvenirs or gifts, there is something for everyone. Admission is free. Learn more at doorcountyhistoricalsociety.org.
Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes Culture Club, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.