The Town of Jacksonport might just as easily have been known as Harrisport or Reynoldsport, according to the venerable Door County historian Hjalmar R. Holand.
In his 1917 account History of Door County, Wisconsin: The County Beautiful, Holand writes that in 1867 three men – Colonel C.L. Harris, John Reynolds and Andrew B. Jackson – set their sights on exploiting the natural resources of the “nameless lakeside forest” that eventually became Jacksonport by purchasing 2,000 acres for a lumber operation.
Col. Harris had been commander of the 11th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War.
Reynolds was a native of Ireland who had moved to Madison, where he became a “real estate operator.” The rest of his family from Ireland joined him in Madison, including brother Thomas, who would eventually work for his brother as a teamster in Jacksonport before buying his own plot of land, marrying another Irish transplant and having 10 children, one of whom, John, went on to become Wisconsin’s attorney general (1927 – 1933). His son, John Reynolds Jr., served as state attorney general (1959 – 1963) and then as the state’s 36th governor (1963 – 1965). In October 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Reynolds to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and he served as chief judge from 1971 until 1986. In 1976 he ordered the desegregation of Milwaukee’s public schools.
Jackson was born in the east but moved to the Wisconsin territory as a young man and represented Racine County in the Wisconsin Territorial House of Representatives in 1846. In 1861 he was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as register of the U.S. government land office in Menasha.
The conversations that led the men to name their venture Jacksonport Lumbering Co. is lost to history, as is how that business name came to be the name for the town once it was formally established in 1869 (making it the last municipality organized in the county).
Interestingly, Jackson was the first of the group to exit the business. He pulled up stakes and relocated to Evanston, Illinois, in 1869.
Just a few years later, in 1872, the original principals were heavily in debt and the U.S. District Court sold their property. The buyer was Reynolds’ brother, Charles, who became a successful merchant in the growing community, served as postmaster for 20 years, and was sent to the state Legislature twice, in 1892 and 1894.
“The first white men came here for the cordwood and they stayed for the sake of the clover and corn,” Holand writes in his Door County history.
As the accompanying photographs illustrate, Jacksonport and West Jacksonport were once bustling agricultural communities. By 1885 there were 862 people living in Jacksonport, and five years later this original businesses of lumber and fishing had mostly been replaced by agriculture. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that Jacksonport started attracting summer vacationers. The first motor stage brought vacationers to the community in 1911. And the rest is history.