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Door County’s Islands

Door County, this spit of the Niagara Escarpment, is truly a dynamic bit of land – in history, in culture, in nature. I’ve spent a large chunk of my life traversing and exploring this peninsula, noticing here and there the dots of land on the horizon:  Adventure Island, Horseshoe Island, Detroit Island. I might stop by one or two on a boating venture, swim and drink a beer with little thought to the island itself. After all, it’s just a bit of land.

Then I did a little research and a little more and then much more. I read about nomadic Native Americans, early white explorers, a cholera outbreak, too many shipwrecks to count, friendly ghosts, brave lighthouse keepers, suicidal lighthouse keepers, and birds, lots and lots of birds, all on the islands that surround Door County.

“These islands are very much a part of Door County history,” notes Paul Burton, co-author of the book Door County’s Islands. Written with his wife Frances Burton, each chapter of the book focuses on a specific island. “There is so much wonderful history up here,” Frances said. “You just start digging and, my gosh, it’s really interesting.”

The couple also wrote Ephraim Stories, Door County Stories, and More Door County Stories. “So what was left?” Frances said. “Islands.”

“We were surprised by the number of islands,” Paul said.

“We thought 10 or 12,” admits Frances. “It was really fun to learn all this stuff. We discovered islands we had no idea existed.”

There are 27 islands surrounding Door County – the couple flew over each and every one.

“Some are owned by the government, some are privately owned, and some are inaccessible – like the Sister Islands, you can go there but you don’t want to. They are covered with bird guano and lots of birds and stinging nettle,” Frances said. “It wouldn’t be a pleasant visit.”

The couple spoke to friends and strangers, visited Door County museums and libraries, collected stories and information. “History preservation in Door County is growing and growing,” Frances said. “There wasn’t much preservation of history when we started writing books, but now it’s expanded.”

Though they agree that “Washington Islanders have a huge sense of their history. They are very interested in preserving it, documenting it,” Frances said.

“Most of them are very proud to be Islanders and to be outliers as it is,” Paul said.

Door County history boasts its fair share of outliers – even today – on the mainland and off, a slew of characters who make this community what it is today.

This peninsula and surrounding islands would not be one without the other.

The primary resource for this information is Door County’s Islands and an interview with its authors Paul and Frances Burton, though other books and sources contributed greatly:  Horseshoe Island:  The Folda Years by Stanford H. Sholem; Door County:  Wisconsin’s Peninsular Jewel by Bruce Thomas; Door County Maritime Museum, and Door County Visitor Bureau.

Chambers Island

Len Villano

One of the largest of Door County’s islands, Chambers has its own inland lake and several homes. Photo by Len Villano.

Size and Location:  

3,200 acres, five miles west of the Door Peninsula. It is second largest of the Door County islands (after Washington Island).

History Highlights:

  • Evidence such as Native American burial mounds, decorated pottery, and copper knives suggest natives were present on Chambers Island as early as 800 A.D.
  • The island received its name in 1861 when Colonel John Miller, in command of an exploratory expedition, named it in honor of one of his officers, Captain Talbot Chambers. Historians aren’t sure why Miller found his officer worthy since Chambers was known for his erratic and domineering behavior
  • In 1849, the first known white settler arrived, a Quaker named Stephen Hoag, who began harvesting lumber. Settlers from Britain and the eastern U.S. soon joined him, including brothers John and Lewis Williams, who together with Hoag, set up a shipbuilding business. Lewis Williams later became the island’s first lighthouse keeper.
  • By 1860, Chambers Island hosted a thriving village of 250 people with a post office, school, sawmill and small shipyard. In 1858, settlers petitioned the Door County board to recognize Chambers Island as a town, which was done in 1859. For the next 10 years regular elections took place. In 1869, the county board made the island part of the Township of Gibraltar, and it remains so today.
  • In 1886, John Leathem and Thomas Smith of Sturgeon Bay purchased a large part of the island and established a lumber camp.
  • In 1898, Fred Dennett bought up almost all of Chambers Island. As president of Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, he kept a lumbering crew busy harvesting. He established a farm and built many buildings along the north shore of Lake Mackaysee. The Dennett family spent every summer on the island in luxury, along with numerous guests. Even a staff of servants was in residence. In addition to the lodge and guest cottages, the establishment included boathouses, bathhouses, barns, poultry houses, a machine shop, a power shop and more. Dennett also had deer moved out to the island and handed out 18 permits a year. “They also got 18 deer because they were so tame,” Frances said. “So they would go out there and blast them.”
  • When Fred Dennett died in 1922, his daughter E.J. Barrett inherited the island and for four years she and her husband operated an upscale girls camp, Camp Kewahdin, using many of her father’s buildings. The campers took part in activities such as archery, canoeing, swimming, crafts and even riding horses that were transported to the island for the summer. “It was a really fancy girls camp,” Frances said. “It couldn’t support itself.”
  • In 1926, the family sold the island to a group of Chicago investors who circulated brochures titled Since 1816, A Romance of Chambers Island. Written by W.C. Jenkins of the Chicago Evening Post, the brochures were designed to stir up interest in a proposed development. The plans included a golf course, yacht harbor, swimming beach, 1,000-acre game preserve, clubhouse with dinning room, bridle paths, shops and stores. Development began with the construction of a few homes, the clearing of an airfield and transportation of topsoil for the golf course from Egg Harbor. The backers of the project fell victim to the Great Depression. By 1932, the elaborate scheme was abandoned.
  • Chambers Island came close to not being in Door County – or even Wisconsin. About 100 years ago, the State of Michigan decided to claim Chambers Island, and it pushed its claim all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1926 and 1935.
  • Lumbering is still taking place on Chambers Island. Late in the 1940s, a great deal of the island was sold for delinquent taxes. A major buyer was the Algoma Lumber Company, which still owns more than 500 acres of timber. “They logged it extensively one winter in the ’40s with a crew of horses,” Paul said. “They piled the logs on the beach and skidded the logs over the ice. In the spring they would push ’em out, link ’em together with chains, and push ’em to the lumber mill.”
  • A 1947 fire destroyed many of the island’s buildings.
  • Currently, there are no permanent residents on Chambers Island, just seasonal visitors who maintain summer homes and travel around the island primarily on ATVs.

Distinctive Features:

  • Chambers Island is “an island in a lake with its own lake with an island,” Paul said. (Say that 10 times fast.) Chambers is home to Lake Mackaysee and a smaller lake variously known as Little Lake, Lost Lake, and Lake Nakomis.

Fun Facts:

  • A lover of Shakespeare, John Dennett had the walls of his dining room decorated with scenes of Shakespeare’s plays and he named his 44-foot personal yacht, As You Like It.
  • Chambers Island Lighthouse Park was established in 1976 under the care of Joel and Mary Ann Blahnik. They keep the lighthouse open for visitors and conduct guided tours, co-existing peacefully with the lighthouse’s resident ghost. “[Joel] would hear footsteps coming down the stairs from the light – thump, thump, thump – and the door would open and close,” Paul said. “Finally a nun decided to do something about it. She placed her hands on the wall and spoke out to the ghost to desert this building forever.”

“She gave him release from what was bothering him, she removed his unhappiness so he could be at peace,” Frances added.

“She exorcised the lighthouse, I guess,” Paul siad.

Accessibility:

Chambers Island is accessible by boat, though public transportation and access is not available.

“It’s big and divided up and there are lots of people who own cottages out there, so you know, you don’t go trampling around in their yards,” laughs Frances, adding, “The people who live out there are a real hardy bunch and they’re real proud of living out there.”

Strawberry Islands

Len Villano

Size and Location:  

The Strawberry Islands include Pirate Island (.19 acres), Jack Island (six acres), Little Strawberry Island (10 acres), and Adventure Island (44 acres). The islands increase in size from north to south and lay between the western shore of Peninsula State Park and the eastern shore of Chambers Island.

History Highlights:

  • Increase Claflin, Door County’s first white settler, likely named the Strawberry Islands for the wild strawberries he found growing there in abundance.
  • Jack Island bounced between owners from the first recorded purchase in 1859 to 1903, when Johanna Weborg bought the island for $200. A 40-year-old single woman, Weborg was unlike many other women of her time. She received an education, traveled, and became a schoolteacher. She owned the island for 20 years.
  • In 1925, Arthur Eberlein bought Little Strawberry Island, which he christened “Mishe-Nahma Island,” which meant “King of the Fishes.” He hired builder Frank Oldenburg to construct a home from a dismantled cedar barn.
  • Adventure Island – previously known as Big Strawberry Island – was named by Charles A. Kinney, aka “Skipper,” who bought the island in 1924 with the intention of using the land as an unconventional boys camp.

“It was a tremendously unusual camp. Skipper Kinney wanted to bring out the potential in each boy and to do that he gave them ultimate responsibility and ultimate freedom,” Frances said.

Immediately after purchasing the island, Kinney recruited boys and men to build a 36-foot replica of the historic Norwegian Viking ship in Winnetka, Illinois.

In early July of 1925, Skipper and the crew set off on the 200-mile trip to Adventure Island and so began a 27-year venture that many former campers look upon as some of the greatest days of their lives.

“It was a fabulous, fabulous camp,” Frances said. “In the morning they would have what they would call ‘council’ and all the boys would sit around Skipper and tell him what they wanted to do that day – each one individually. Unless it was dangerous, he would say, ‘Fine.’ One of them built a kayak, a couple of them dug a pond behind their cabin and filled it up with little fish and frogs. It was fabulous.”

“Needless to say, the kids who went to these camps were usually from very well-to-do families,” Paul added.

  • In 1952 a fierce storm washed away Adventure Island’s dock and harbor, a cost the camp could not cover. The damage forced the beloved camp to close.
  • Charles and Virginia Karels bought Adventure Island in 1964, when they also owned the neighboring Little Strawberry Island. They restored the island, which immediate and extended family continues to visit and enjoy to this day.

Distinctive Feature:

  • Pirate Island varies in size depending on the lake levels – it can be a completely submerged reef or an above-water gravel bar large enough to attract a colony of birds. The island was at one time larger, but an ice shove in 1979 leveled off its top.

Fun Facts:

  • The hundreds of Herring Gulls of Jack Island finally won out over those trying to inhabit and rent houses on the island in the 1940s. The island is now home to Herring Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants, which were classified as endangered species in the ’50s, but are very destructive birds whose toxic droppings kill foliage.
  • Dave and Betty Chomeau, owners of Little Strawberry Island from 1968 – 1994, waged war on the invading Cormorants. They did all they could to wipe out the birds, including transporting raccoons to the island, which did nothing for the cause. The birds influenced the couple’s decision to sell the island.
  • Campers on Adventure Island were free to bring their dogs along for the summer.
  • Adventure Island’s Norwegian ship, called the Serpent of the Sails, sailed to Ephraim’s annual regatta for many years – a major highlight of the event.

“People loved to see the Viking ship come in,” Frances said. “People standing around on the dock were just entranced, what a sight! I think Adventure Island was so well known because of that Viking ship. It was a big, big deal.”

Accessibility:

Each island is privately owned.

H.O.E., Idyll Wood, Basin (Snake) and Squaw Islands

Size and Location:

Heaven On Earth (H.O.E) Island (1/3 acre) and Idyll Wood Island  (three acres) lie just offshore in Sawyer Harbor; Basin (Snake) Island (27 acres) and Squaw Island (11 acres) are located near Little Sturgeon Bay.

History Highlights:

  • “There aren’t many stories connected to these islands,” Frances said. Though the changes in name entertained both Frances and Paul. “The realtors renamed Snake Island because they are trying to sell it and who wanted to buy ‘Snake Island’,” Frances said. “So it’s Basin Island.”
  • H.O.E. Island, owned by Fred Wittig since 1968, was once called Bug Island. He renamed the island Heaven On Earth and began living there year round in 1991. He and his wife Dawn continue to live on the island to this day.

Underwater cables provide electricity to the island and Wittig has solar panels on the roof. “In the winter they go across the ice, in the summertime, they canoe,” Paul said.

Distinctive Features:

  • The 3,700-plus square-foot house on Basin (Snake) Island is octagonal to ensure that every room has a view.

Fun Facts:

  • Dawn and Fred Wittig tried raising chickens on H.O.E Island, but predators wiped them out.

Accessibility:

These islands are privately owned, though cottages are for rent on Idyll Wood Island.

Detroit Island

Len Villano

Detroit Island in the distance. Photo by Len Villano.

Size and Location:

637 acres, south of Washington Island

History Highlights:

  • Written records of Detroit Island began in the 1600s, indicating that Native Americans spent time on the island long before white settlers arrived in Door County. Archeological evidence suggests there were two main Native American camps on the island.
  • In 1834, a couple of fishermen arrived and built a log cabin. They fished and hunted, paying little attention to the Native American village, for it appeared deserted. But the following summer a band of Native Americans arrived on the scene and found the fishermen living near their cemeteries and cornfields. They attacked the fishermen, killing one before the other hailed a government boat and survived.
  • About 1900, Fred Richter purchased the northwest “peninsula” of the island. He built a number of buildings and established a successful fishing operation.

Distinctive Feature:

  • Detroit Island contains an unusual plant community:  Baltic Rush, Silverweed, Bird’s-eye Primrose, Low Calamint, White Camass, Indian Paint Brush, Seneca Snakeroot, sedges, March Fern, Tufted Hairgrass, Alvar Violet, Brook Lobelia, Frost Aster, and St. John’s Wort. The state of Wisconsin designated an area featuring all these wildflowers as the Detroit Harbor State Natural Area.

Fun Facts:

  • The northeast portion of Detroit Island became known as “Rabbit Point” because at one time it was infested with rabbits.

Accessibility:

The island is privately owned. The best way to see Detroit Island is by riding the Washington Island Ferry.

Hat Island

Len Villano

 

Size and Location:  

Eight acres, three miles west of the mainland between Egg Harbor and Fish Creek

History Highlights:

  • Hat Island was purchased in 1857 by Levia D. Thorp of Egg Harbor from the U.S. government for $150.
  • Harold Wilson, Ephraim realtor and well known bird-bander, often banded gulls on Hat Island. Circa 1980, Wilson and a friend were dive bombed by angry gulls – an experience covered by the Milwaukee-Journal.

Distinctive Feature:

  • Hat Island is home to an overabundance of birds, especially Cormorants, Gulls and Pelicans.

Fun Facts:

  • Hat Island received its name because a large rock on the island resembles the top of a bowler hat as seen from shore.

Accessibility:

Hat Island is privately owned.

Cana Island

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Cana Island is home to one of the most-photographed sites on the peninsula, the Cana Island Lighthouse. Photo by Len Villano.

Size and Location:

8.7 acres, near Baileys Harbor

History Highlights:

  • Construction of Cana Island Lighthouse began in 1869, 14 years after the “birdcage lighthouse” was erected on a small point of land near Baileys Harbor. The “birdcage” was soon found to be inadequate at marking the harbor and the coastline.

“Cana Island is very important because there were no lighthouses along the eastern shore of Door County,” notes Paul. “Once you left there, you didn’t hit anything until you got to Pilot Island.”

  • William Jackson was appointed the first keeper of the lighthouse; his wife, Carol, assistant keeper. During the first year of the lighthouse’s use, Jackson noted that 4,862 ships passed by the island during the daytime.
  • Cana Island made headlines in 1928 when the freighter M. J. Bartelme ran aground in heavy fog. “That big steamer floundered and broke in half,” explains Paul. “It was a big tourist attraction for many years.”

The wreckage rusted away for two years not far from the island before a tug arrived to strip the ship of anything of value. Five years after the wreck, another team arrived to ultimately remove the ship, cutting the hull in strips and shipping them on barges to Cleveland, Ohio.

  • For 19 summers, from 1977 to 1995, the Jandas of Green Bay lived on Cana Island. The couple and their five children spent summers bringing the island back to life – landscaping, repairing, cleaning, and maintaining the island and the lighthouse.

Distinctive Feature:

  • The 89-foot white lighthouse tower is no doubt Cana Island’s most prominent feature.

Fun Facts:

  • In the late 1800s, the keeper’s two sons found a fawn, which they brought back to the lighthouse as a pet. The deer, named Billy, loved the indoors. He disliked thunderstorms.

When Billy destroyed doors and windows in a panic during a particularly frightening thunderstorm, the family decided to offer him to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

  • When lake levels are low, a rocky 60-foot cobblestone causeway appears between the mainland and Cana Island. When that happens, Cana Island is not technically an “island,” but a peninsula.

Accessibility:

Cana Island Lighthouse is accessible by walking across the causeway (when the water is not too high). Visitors have the option to visit the lighthouse daily, 10 am – 5 pm, from May through October. The island has no docks and a shallow, rocky shore. Boaters beware of scraping the bottom of your hull and sinking like the M. J. Bartelme.

Plum & Pilot Island

Len Villano

 

“One of the most interesting islands to me is Pilot,” Paul said. “It’s way out there, it’s barely above lake level, and has a very interesting history. It has three schooner wrecks on that island at one time and it’s so far out, it’s sort of the gateway island to Death’s Door and it claimed a lot of ships because it’s shallow around the island.”

Size and Location:  

Plum Island is 300 acres, 1.8 miles from the tip of the Door Peninsula and Pilot Island is 3.8 acres, just south of the southeastern tip of Detroit Island.

History Highlights:

  • Plum Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1849.
  • The first Pilot Island Lighthouse was built in 1858. During the first 30 years of operation, 14 of 16 keepers and assistant keepers resigned. “Imagine the life of the lighthouse keeper,” Paul said. “Pilot Island is this little island way in the middle of nowhere. No internet. No reception. No TV. No nothing.”
  • Since fog was often a problem in the Pilot Island area, in 1860 a fog bell was installed to warn ships. Ship captains often had trouble hearing it, so they constructed a wooden fog signal house with a foghorn blown by steam from a steam boiler fueled with wood in 1864.
  • In 1891, Pilot Island Lighthouse keeper Martin Knudsen realized that life-saving capabilities were badly needed in the Death’s Door area, particularly during the grounding of Newsboy, a 152-foot, three-masted schooner that he said, “twisted like a corkscrew within 24 hours of stranding” on Fisherman’s Shoal in a storm.

The government responded to his observations by establishing a U.S. Lifesaving Station on Plum Island and providing funds to construct range lights, houses for personnel and their families, fog horns and more.

Knudsen was relieved of his duties at Pilot Island to oversee construction of Plum Island’s new station.

  • Between 1897 and the mid-1940s, Plum Island was a navigational and lifesaving hub, with its light manned and operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week from May through November. After Word War II, the Coast Guard took over operation of the Plum Island Station. Eventually the range lights were automated and many non-essential buildings were removed.

Distinctive Feature:

  • Plum Island is home to the last remaining Duluth-style Lifesaving Station on the Great Lakes.

Fun Facts:

  • No plums grow on Plum Island. It received its name because it is “plumb in the middle” of the strait between Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
  • Pilot Island was not well liked by many of its keepers – one called it a “prison” and another committed suicide.

Accessibility:

Private tours are sometimes available. Jon Jarosh of the Door County Visitor Bureau hopes that in the coming years both islands will be easily accessible to the public.

Spider & Gravel Island

Size and Location:  

Gravel Island is four acres, 1/4 mile from Newport State Park. Spider Island is 23 acres, 2/3 mile from Newport State Park.

History Highlights:

  • Today, Spider Island features mostly low bushes and grasses, but on July 1, 1905, botanists from the Milwaukee Public Museum found remains of a boreal forest dominated by White Cedar, Tamarack and White Birch.
  • In 1913, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated Gravel and Spiders Islands the Gravel Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Distinctive Feature(s):

  • The designation mainly pertains to bird life, wildlife other than birds is rare. Both islands are nesting places for Herring Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. Black-backed Gulls, Caspian Terns, Mallards, Black Ducks, and Canadian Geese have also used the islands for nesting.

Fun Facts:

  • There is little gravel to be found on Gravel Island; it’s a barely emergent slab of dolomite rock.

Accessibility:

These small islands are “for the birds,” literally. Unless you love bird dung and scraping the bottom of your boat, stay a safe distance away.

Fish, Fisherman’s Shoal, & Hog Island

Size and Location:  

These three little islands are very small; their area depends on the lake level.

  • Fish Island is 1.5 acres, two miles from Rock Island.
  • Fisherman’s Shoal is 1 acre, about 3.5 miles from Washington Island’s eastern shore.
  • Hog Island is 1.87 acres, 2/3 mile from Washington Island’s eastern shore.

History Highlights:

  • Fish Island and Fisherman’s Shoal were known as navigational hazards to many ships sailing in stormy weather. A Washington Island fisherman, Jake Ellefson, reported that in 1902 his father saw nine masts sticking up around Fisherman’s Shoal from stranded schooners.
  • In 1912, Hog Island was designated a preserve and breeding ground for native and migratory birds. The refuge is managed by the staff at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge as part of the Wisconsin Islands Wilderness Area.

Distinctive Feature:

Fun Facts:

  • Fish Island and Fisherman’s Shoal were named because of the abundance of fish caught in the area, especially trout. H.R. Holand wrote that in the spring of 1862 a 14-year-old boy caught two trout on Fisherman’s Shoal:  one weighing 58 pounds and the other 65 pounds. It was not uncommon to catch 100 or more fish there in a single day.

Accessibility:

All three islands are owned by the U.S. government.

Sister Islands

Size and Location:

The islands encompass about two acres, a mile from the shore of northern Sister Bay.

History Highlights:

  • Increase Claflin, the first white settler of Door County, likely named the islands and the village that was named after them because they looked so much alike from the shore.
  • Ephraim resident Harold Wilson spent a lot of time wandering the island and banding birds throughout the 20th century. His banded birds became a part of a large study to determine the migration patterns of Herring Gulls. He banded approximately 60,000 of them in his lifetime. Some of the birds migrated as far north as Hudson’s Bay and as far south as Central America.

Distinctive Feature:

  • Only two or three feet above lake level, the islands are a home for birds, since they are preserved by the state as bird sanctuaries.

Fun Fact:

  • Regular Door County Living contributor and well-known nature writer Roy Lukes joined Wilson on several bird-banding excursions to the Sister Islands. About 1963, the pair were forced to contend with piles of dead alewives.

“I remember wading along thigh-deep in dead alewives,” Lukes told the Burtons. “The stench was terrible.”

Accessibility:

The islands are owned by the state.

Horseshoe Island

Len Villano

Horseshoe Island is a favorite spot for kayakers to paddle to from Nicolet Bay in Peninsula State Park.

Size and Location:

38.2 acres, 1.5 miles from Ephraim, less than half a mile from Peninsula State Park.

History Highlights:

  • Renowned French explorer Jean Nicolet might have camped at Horseshoe Island in 1634 or at least paddled past in his birch bark canoe.
  • A Norwegian immigrant named Ole Larsen moved his family to the island in 1852. They built a dock, a log house and made a living logging the island. “The first person to live out there was a squatter,” Paul said. “He didn’t own that land but he cut down trees and sold them to steamships going past.”
  • Larsen encouraged his friend, Norwegian missionary Rev. Andrew Iverson, to visit and scope out the place as a potential settlement for his Moravian congregation. Three months after a successful visit in February 1853, Iverson and his small congregation established a new settlement across Eagle Harbor. They called it Ephraim.
  • Larsen also invited Norwegian settlers to join him on the island. Seven families arrived and brought cholera with them; seven died and were hastily buried under mounds of stone. For years the island cemetery lay forgotten, but in 1976 the Ephraim Men’s Club located the probable burial spot and placed a bronze tablet on it.
  • By 1850, Larsen had logged off all the timber on Horseshoe Island. He moved to the shore of Nicolet Bay.
  • Ownership of the island switched hands many times throughout the 1800s. When Frank Folda, a Czechoslovakian immigrant and wealthy banker, bought the island in 1888 a new era began. He died just a few years after the purchase, therefore his son Engelbert (called E.F.) and daughter Martha inherited the island, where they planned to build a summer retreat named Engelmar – for Engelbert and Martha.

Engelmar began to take shape in 1910. Well-known builder Sam Erickson of Sister Bay oversaw the project. By 1912, the elaborate and large lodge was complete, along with the dock, a terrace and rambling path around the perimeter of the island.

Between 1915 and 1920, Erickson built a frame house for domestic workers, a caretaker’s cottage, an ice house and a pump house.

The Foldas liked to throw formal parties on the island including dinner parties, afternoon teas, luncheons and birthday parties.

  • The end of Engelmar began in 1933 when the Great Depression combined with the Dust Bowl and other tragedies led to the near total collapse of E.F.’s banking empire and ultimately the loss of his personal fortune and home. In July of 1937, the Ephraim Town Hall hosted a “garage sale” featuring the remains of Folda’s years on Horseshoe Island. In 1945, Engelmar was salvaged – few physical traces remain today.

Distinctive Features:

  • Horseshoe Island (originally called Eagle Island by Door County’s first white settler, Increase Caflin) is now, obviously, named for its shape.

Fun Facts:

  • Hans and Andrea Hanson and their six children settled on the island from Norway. When Hans died of cholera, Andrea and her six children relocated to Ephraim. “Two of the children married really prominent Ephraim people,” explains Frances. “When Andrea got old she apparently wanted to go back and find her husband on the island. So she put rocks in her pockets and walked out toward the island and drowned.”
  • E.F. Folda owned a small cannon he would fire when the steamship Carolina rounded Welcker’s Point on her way from Chicago to Ephraim. The ship’s captain reciprocated with three blasts.
  • Sometime between 1946 and 1949, the island was the site of a huge party of 20-somethings that included a fish boil and an upright piano (that stayed on the island for years, rotting away).

Accessibility:

  • Now part of Peninsula State Park, the island is open to day-trippers (no overnight camping) who can tie their boats to the dock or anchor in the deep harbor.

Little Susie, Big Susie, & Snake Islands

Due to limited space and information, three islands are not highlighted:  Little Susie Island, Big Susie Island, and Snake Island. We encourage you to stop by a Door County library or museum to learn more!

Photography by Len Villano.

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