Maritime vessels are nothing new. Heck, lately, I’ve learned that mercantile ships, those sailing from the Black sea into the Mediteranean, were responsible for bringing the Black Plague into Europe. That was in the fall of 1347, and boats were already old hat. What’s my point? Nothing, except that, for over centuries, I beg your pardon, probably millenniums, ships of all shapes and sizes have vastly influenced human life. And while none of their effects were as catastrophic as the Black Plague, maritime vessels have definitely shaped, and I mean that quite literally, a Wisconsin Peninsula known as Door County. One particular Door County city, known as Sturgeon Bay, harbors testaments to that maritime lore.
Door County, by name alone, suggests a rich maritime history. The name was translated from the French title ‘Port de Mortes’, which means ‘Death’s Door’. This was used to describe a harrowing passage, a stretch of water between Washington Island and the peninsula’s tip, where many Great Lakes ships succumbed to treacherous waters.
So, a museum celebrating Door County’s maritime history is definitely in order. And there happens to be one: The Door County Maritime Museum. This two story museum rests on the southeastern bank of a man made canal. Sitting just beyond that, a steel draw bridge, which was finished in 1931, stretches over this historic passage of water. While the canal was latter 19th century, and the bridge opened during the great depression, they both were substantial engineering feats for their time.
Inside this quaintly modern structure, you’ll find two floors, and they feature five main exhibit rooms.
On the first floor, I found information on early shipbuilding in the county. This included canoes built by the Native Americans in the area. However, starting in 1836, Americans of European ancestry tried their hands at shipbuidling. By the early to mid 20th century, the shipbuilding industry dominated the Sturgeon Bay landscape.
And there’s a bit of testimony here. From the canal and bridges,
including this original drawbridge control panel,
to Navy contractors
and tools of the trade.
there are fun factoids abounding.
Across the hall, you’ll find an engine room,
and, of course, a wide array of lake venturing powerplants.
There are large engines,
there are small motors
and some propulsion devices in between.
Upstairs, where one comes across a virtual helm,
you’ll get a good dose of shipbuilding accomplishments of yacht builders
heavy hauler builders,
those that built tugs
and one that even tried their hand at ferry building.
Among all these scale model replicas, you’ll find a little local artwork. These are artistically crafted wood carvings of classic great lakes ships.
Finally, as if there hadn’t been enough, one can’t tell of Door County maritime lore, at least one can’t in my mind, without featuring its dozen or so lighthouses.
And even more, if you’re willing to pay a bit extra, the museum features a 45 minute tug boat tour.
And last but not least, you can climb this ten story tower, with its own exhibits, and surmise a small Great Lakes city.
Today, Door County’s maritime significance still remains. Form leisure to industrial endeavors, this Lake Michigan town still entertains Great Lakes enthusiasts. I don’t see an end to that any time soon. So, if your in the area, check out this fun and enlightening museum set in a blue collar town.