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Door County Wisconsin

Door County administrative offices are located at 421 Nebraska Street, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235; phone: 920-743-5511.


Humans have inhabited the Door Peninsula for approximately 11,500 years. The area now known as Door County was first visited or settled by numerous Indian tribes, including the Menominee, Winnebago, Outagamie, Iroquois, Sauk, Ottowa, Illinois, Chippewa, and Pottawatomie. These Native American peoples lived in the area, fished the waters, and hunted in the woodlands for centuries before European settlers visited or migrated into the Great Lakes region. Door County's name is derived from Native Americans' description of the dangerous six-mile wide passage between Lake Michigan and Green Bay: The French translated the Native American phrase for the passage to "La Porte des Morts;" literally, in English, "The Door of Death" (now most often called Death's Door).

The earliest recorded history for the area begins with French explorer Jean Nicolet landing on Door County islands in 1634, with the first permanent white settlers arriving in the 1830s. Between 1860 and 1870, the population of the county increased from 2,948 to 4,919 people. Lumbering, fishing, and shipbuilding were the predominant businesses during the last half of the 19th century. Due to its rocky soil, the county's land was generally not suitable for farming crops, but it was good for growing fruit trees, such as apple and cherry. Tourism also became an important economic activity, with early tourists arriving primarily by steamboat and motorized vehicles. Door County has remained an attractive tourist destination, with tourism comprising a significant portion of the county's economic activity.

The waters of Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and Sturgeon Bay surrounding the Door Peninsula have provided transportation and trade routes and food supplies for centuries. Native Americans originally fished and hunted these waters for beaver, whitefish, and trout, later using the waters to establish a fur trade with people living in what is now Canada. French explorers and fur traders followed, opening more trade routes between Door County and Canada and replacing small canoes with large ships. In the 1850s, the shipping industry in the county thrived due to demand from the outside world for pine logs, lime, cedar, cord wood, telephone poles, railroad ties, hemlock bark, and, later, stone and potatoes. Door County's commercial fishing and shipbuilding industries also got their start in the 1850s. By 1882, there were roughly sixty shipping piers located around the county.

  1. Door County Comprehensive Plan 2030, Volume II, Resource Report, Chapter 3: Historical and Cultural Resources,, accessed June, 2011.
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