Karen and Shawn Peterson

We both wanted to return to Door County,” Karen Peterson said. “It’s a great place to work”…and a great place to live.

Karen Carlson and Shawn Peterson grew up in Sturgeon Bay but did not become a couple until after college at University of Wisconsin – Stout. When they decided to put down roots in Northern Door, they grafted their lives onto the sturdy rootstock of those who had gone before them.

Karen Peterson and her daughter Anika.

They chose an Egg Harbor building dating from 1885 that was originally the LaRouche General Store for their new business, Maxwell’s House. And they purchased for their home the Teidke farmstead also built during the late 1800s.

The roots have taken hold in the peninsula’s soil. Karen Peterson teaches Sunday school and serves as president of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; participates in the Egg Harbor Business Association; and runs with a group that meets at the Northern Door YMCA for workouts in Peninsula State Park.

Shawn Peterson finds hunting on the peninsula to be a way of life; however, not only does he bag deer and turkeys, ducks and geese, but he captures wildlife in oil paintings that are featured in the store. “I think he knows every tree in Door County!” his wife laughed.

The Petersons share their farmstead with their 12-year-old daughter Anika, as well as a menagerie of cats and dogs, chickens and rabbits. They grow fruits and vegetables and “lots of flowers” Karen said. “We provide frost-to-frost flowers for our church, a small token of our gratitude for being able to live here.” From time to time they informally offer flowers for weddings and other occasions.

As Anika is active in sports and music at Gibraltar School, the Petersons enjoy attending her sporting events and music recitals.

Photo by Len Villano.

And they are kept busy with their store, Maxwell’s House, which opened in 1994 after the couple purchased the building from the last grocery store owner. A tin ceiling that was once part of the original Catholic Church in Egg Harbor adds to the character of the historic structure.

“We thought of a coffee house” for our business, Karen said, “but we couldn’t use that name for one.” Rather than lattes and cappuccinos, the shop features home furnishings. “We haven’t gotten in trouble with the coffee people.”

Merchandise includes upholstered and leather furniture, rugs, lamps, accent pieces, wall art, and one-of-a-kind items intended to entertain and amuse. “Colorful, eclectic, and quirky” are the words that the Petersons use to characterize the store’s inventory.

For example, the shop offers lampshades printed with vintage Door County village post cards. One wall of the store is dominated by Shawn’s large-scale painting of a Pileated Woodpecker, a bird whose raspy call is familiar to peninsula birdwatchers.

Photo by Len Villano.

Village life in Egg Harbor is more than the people who enter Maxwell’s House. “It’s important to be a part of the business community,” she said. “We’re like classmates or co-workers in this small community. People watch out for each other, and may squabble sometimes, but it’s like a family discussion.”

Erin Bosman of the Patricia Shoppe is one of her business neighbors. “Karen has been a mentor for me,” Bosman said, “someone I aspire to be. She is a great retailer with a distinctive style; she is a great community member, a great mom, athlete and church member. I’m amazed at Karen.”

The “gentleman’s farm” where the Peterson family lives allows them to get away from the business, giving the store “an appropriate amount of our time,” Karen said.

Len Villano
Photo by Len Villano.

At first the couple had lived in Egg Harbor. “Back in 1995 my husband and I had just gotten married,” she said, “and had the store. On a cold November I was planting a thousand daffodils, the ground was freezing and I was all done but for about 30. Then Shawn wanted me to look at something that was on Junction Road.

“It was a forlorn place but with a beautiful barn. My husband remembered an ancient man who had once sat on the porch of the house,” but had since passed away. They bought the place, which included ten acres of land, and found “a ton of work!”

August Teidke, who lived to be 90, was the man on the porch, the last of a family of German immigrants who had owned the property since the late 19th century. He had lamented to the mail carrier that people would tear the buildings down when he died.

“Once we decided to buy it,” she said, “I planted the last of the bulbs next to his house.” A photo of the Tiedke family rests on their mantel, and just as August Teidke had chickens, so do the Petersons.

Photo by Len Villano.

Renovating the property has given the couple an appreciation “for the struggle people had back then.” They discovered that the kitchen walls had been insulated with old corncobs and miscellaneous items.

“You can open yourself up to so many possibilities,” Karen said of living in Northern Door. “You are free to shape your life, to do what you want, so much happiness to be found. You can have your own business, pursue your interests, and contribute to your community.

“No one up here would say, ‘You can’t do that!’ It’s kind of amazing, a gift not to be limited, not to be pigeon-holed.”

The roots of the Peterson family are running deep in this community that “encourages people to try different things,” and the fullness of her life is “one of my greatest joys,” said Karen. “If you get bored” in Door County,” she laughed, “it’s your own damned fault!”

Photography by Len Villano.