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Rock Island: Door County, Wisconsin’s Ghost Town

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Rock Island: Door County, Wisconsin’s Ghost Town
Updated on September 26, 2012 Don A. Hoglund moreContact Author I worked at Rock Island, Illinois but I was unaware of this Rock Island until I ran across it in a e book Ghost stone island sweatshirt dark blue Towns of Wisconsin, by William E. Stark. For the big half after we think of ghost towns we think of the boomtowns of the gold rush in the western states. Those are the ones which are promoted the most, but there are ghost towns throughout the country.

Wisconsin’s Door County as described by Stark is a”…rugged seventy-mile lengthy peninsula which juts into the cold waters of Lake Michigan.” Rock Island is a half-mile from the north shore of Washington Island, which in flip is a forty-minute ferry ride from the tip of the Door County peninsula.

Like most things, geography has much to do with the history of this island, which is now a state park. Stark’s book describes it as “ essential stepping stone between Mackinac, Green Bay and the areas south and west.”

Moon Wisconsin’s Door County (Travel Guide) Buy Now Rock Island Origins
Archeological findings show that Indians lived on Rock Island as early as 600 B.C. In the mid-1600’s Indians from the Huron tribe or Ontario came to the island and settledthere. Aboutfifty years later the Potawatomi dominated the island and built a palisade village, that is, a village surrounded by stakes driven into the ground for defense.

Explorers and missionaries from Europe used it as a stop along the Grand Traverse route, which was between Upper Michigan and Wisconsin. The first permanent European settlement in the Door Peninsula was small fishing village on the eastern shore of the island. These settlers later moved to nearby Washington Island and abandoned the original village. There are still some grave markers of some of the original settlers and Lilac bushes planted by the original settlers still bloom near what remains of the old homes.

From the 1830’s until the 1860’s a hundred people of so lived here, but before these white fishing villagers there was population on Rock Island. Frenchman Jean Nicolet went to Canada in 1618 and grew to become an Indian interpreter under Samuel de Champlain. He was commissioned by the French government to explore the west in 1634 when he was thirty-six years old. It is unknown whether he really visited Rock Island however he was actually close to it.

In August of that 12 months he, together with a number of Indians, left Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay in a canoe. They passed and presumably stopped at Rock Island on the method to Green Bay they landed about ten miles north of the present city of Green Bay.

There are each archeological and documentary indications that French explorer Cavalier de La Salle’s males spent the winter of 1678 there whereas their ship, which was the first on the good Lakes, was lost. In recent years wood plank from the original Potawatomi palisade and some buttons from a French officer’s army greatcoat and British clay pipes have been found in recent times.

As the fur commerce grew to become much less essential in Wisconsin in the 19th Century the French had been no longer there and after the Battle of 1812 the British left as well. There was still an Indian village on the island in the primary part of the nineteenth century however not many whites visited or lived on the island. In 1830 the territory had a population of about forty,000 Indians and about 3,000 whites.

Ships, lighthouse and commerce on the great Lakes
By 1832 thirty completely different homeowners and captains of vessels on the northern Great Lakes petitioned the United States Congress for a lighthouse on the Isle of Pou or Pottawattamine Island (names for what is now often called Rock Island) at the entrance of Inexperienced Bay in Lake Michigan.

A government crew came to the island four years later and built a forty-foot light tower. A house for the keeper was built as effectively. It was the first lighthouse in Wisconsin. It was 1836 and Wisconsin grew to become Wisconsin Territory.

When the primary census was taken the only white residents of Rock Island were Louis Labute and his wife. With the completion of the lighthouse some summer residents settled there permanently. They were mostly fisherman and a few trappers. Apart from Green Bay it was the first settlement in northeastern Wisconsin.

Tensions and resolution
In response to stark in his book, the whites and Indians were getting along Ok if not close. Then a near outbreak of hostilities occurred over a children’s squabble.

Some Indian boys were teasing the son of a widowed nurse about having to peel potatoes. The boy became annoyed on the Indian boys outdoors his window and threw a potato at them. As the potato flew through the glass window glass splinters caught the seven-12 months-old son of a chief in the eyes.

A leader of the colony took the mom of the boy who threw the potato to go to the Indian chief. He explained to the chief what had occurred. The nurse mom helped the Indian boy to relieve pain. The Indian boy did lose sight in that one eye, but a serious confrontation was avoided. Relations between the Whites and the Indians actually improved after the incident

Decline of Rock Island
The island was declining in mid-century. The main elements of Door County were starting to be extra populated. There was an absence of good harbors and isolation tended to make life on the island less attractive and progressively the settlers went to Washington Island or the mainland.

In 1863 a log schoolhouse was built nevertheless it was a bit late as there have been solely seven families left on the Island withthat had school age children. The leader of the community, John Boon, died and the last of the resident fishermen left the island in 1890. For the next decade only the lighthouse keeper was a everlasting resident.

Chester Thordarson
An inventor and manufacturer Thordarson and his spouse got here to go to the Icelandic colony of Washington Island, as his father had been an immigrant from Iceland. They were very impressed with the Green Bay islands and bought all of Rock Island except for the lighthouse reservation. It was 1910 and they purchased about 80 acres for slightly over $5000.

He had an previous frame house rebuilt in the fishing village, which was now deserted. He also had a stone water tower built. A boathouse and great hall price a quarter or 1,000,000 dollars and resembles an ancient Viking hall. Twenty masons took three years to build it.

Several stone cottages and a lodge built of logs were also built. Thordarson entertained a number of celebrities on the island.

The University of Wisconsin, in 1929, awarded him an honorary degree in architecture.
Rock Island State Park

The island is now a state park. Tourists can sightsee, hike on trails, swim or visit the lighthouse and boathouse.

For the more rugged there is camping available but the park is primitive. There are not any amenities on the campground comparable to showers, flush toilets or stores. No vehicles are allowed so campers must carry their gear about 1/3 mile to the campground from the boathouse landing. Flush toilets are available at the state park offices at Jackson Harbor.

Carry your own water, food, ice and anything you need. Campfire wood could be bought from the park.

Campsites should be reserved either on-line or by phone. The state park office number is 920-847-2235.

Allow time. It is a two-hour drive from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Unless you may have your individual boat the one approach to get there is on the Washington Island Ferry Line.

Rock Island, WI – Rock Island, Washington, WI, USA get directions
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sendingAuthorDon A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids
anniebetty, thanks for adding your information about Rock Island, Wisconsin. The identify attracted my attention because I used to work at Rock Island, Illinois. I hope you proceed to enjoy the island.

anniebetty four years in the past from Pennsylvania
We spend all of July on Washington Island, Wisconsin, every year and have spent countless hours on Rock Island. It’s funny, I’ve never considered it a ghost town, but I discover your HUB interesting. We mostly hike on Rock Island, however we have also spent great time on the sandy beach. Unfortunately, lake levels are so low now that one can pretty much walk to Rock Island. We were capable of take our little fishing boat over final July, however I am not sure what this July will bring. Anyway, thanks for this properly organized, acurate and informative HUB!

Ghost towns, I think, mirror something of the culture and history of a location. As such, they might differ in places.Typically they had been short-term to start with, such as mining towns. Thanks to your comment.

Anaya M. Baker 5 years ago from North Carolina
Fascinating history! I was able to visit a ghost town in New Mexico a few months in the past, which was fairly an fascinating experience, although probably fairly totally different from the town you describe!

cabmgmnt, thanks for reading my hub and commenting. There are a lot of interesting things in our past.
Corey 5 years in the past from Northfield, MA

Very informatiove hub. I liked the tid bit in regards to the boy throwing the potato out the window and his mother helping the Indian boy. charming hub!

AuthorDon A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids
Hi Peggy,

Thanks for coming back and sharing.
Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Don,
Got here again so that I might hit the SHARE with my followers so that extra people can learn of this island through your writing.

I’m glad I could give you some information you didn’t have.Wisconsin is my adopted state although I’ve lived most of my life in neighboring states.

Thanks for the remark.Sorry I did not answer sooner however I missed the notification. I am glad you loved the hub.

beckyz 6 years ago
Thanks for the interesting history lesson. I have worked as a volunteer tour guide at the Pottawatomie lighthouse on Rock Island, which was rebuilt in 1858. It is nice to have extra info in regards to the Indians and the Stone Island Clothes UK fishing village. I’m aware that some lighthouse keeper’s wives taught school at the lighthouse, but hadn’t heard about a log schoolhouse on the island. Thanks again for an interesting article.

Door county is a popular place in Wisconsin for visitors.Thanks for commenting.
Carolina 6 years ago from Switzerland

I heard about Rock Island. It was from a e-book that i read or a film that i saw. The place must be very beautiful. Thanks for sharing about this Island.

Glad you enjoyed it.Thanks for commenting.
toddwertz 6 years ago

I am really enjoyed this hub, thanks for sharing “dahoglund”
Door county is a very popular place for visitors. I think you’d enjoy it. Thanks for commenting.

sharmanlow 6 years ago
oh, i would like to visit rock island.

I’ve even been in door county many times without realizing Rock Island was there.Having worked on another Rock Island for many years I felt compelled to jot down about it. Thanks for reading it, kittythederamer.

Nicole Canfield 6 years in the past from the Ether
Wow, I had no idea this place even existed! It looks as if a good looking place to visit. Voted up and beautiful, dahoglund!

Thanks for taking the time to read it and comment.
Sa`ge 6 years in the past from Barefoot Island

so much to study so much to see if one can. thank you for showing all this to us who can’t. 🙂 hugs to you and yours 🙂

That’s right.Since a person wants time to look around it is best to go early.Thanks for additional commenting.

Yes, I’d imagine so simply because it’s an island and probably the scheduling again and forth is not that frequent…or is already fully booked.

Ironically now we have been up in that area more than once but time elements didn’t lend themselves to going that far. It does take some scheduling.Thanks for commenting and voting.

Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas
What a wonderful review about the history of Rock Island in Wisconsin. Can be a fantastic place to go to sometime. Voted helpful and up. Thanks!

I appreciate the remark.I’m glad you enjoyed it.
prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

This was so lovely hub. I like something about lovely place. You describe this effectively and you make it in detail. Full with the historical past. I got new knowledge from this hub. Thanks for writing and share with us. You got my VOTE. God bless you!

AuthorDon A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Thanks for reading and commenting. There may be a difference in terminology between the United States and the UK. Rock Island is a state park as opposed to a nationwide park. It’s the state of Wisconsin that that helps and maintains it.

CASE1WORKER 6 years in the past from UNITED KINGDOM
Stone Island Polo Shirt In Dark Green 2015sounds an amazing place- of course there are uninhabited islands in Scotland, but for this to be used as a nationwide park is great, particularly with entry by boat.

Thanks for an illuminating historical past and outline of the island

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