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Sturgeon Bay City

Sturgeon Bay City Hall is located at 421 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235; phone: 920-746-2900.

Beginnings [1]

The lands currently comprising the City of Sturgeon Bay provided a relatively short portage route between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, thus the location was frequented by numerous Native American tribes including the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Outagamie, Iroquois, Sauk, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi. Early Jesuit missionaries referred to this portage route as 'La Portage des Esturgeons,' which is attributed to the proliferation of sturgeons in the area. It is believed the construction of the ship canal in 1882 changed the aquatic habitat and, consequently, reduced the number of sturgeons in later years.

Door County's first permanent European settler was New York state native, Increase Claflin (born in 1795). Claflin settled at Little Sturgeon Bay (approximately five miles west of the current city) in 1835. Oliver Perry Graham settled in the Sturgeon Bay area in 1848, and the first house built in what is now the City of Sturgeon Bay was constructed on the waterfront in 1850, on what is now Pennsylvania Avenue. The first sawmill was built in 1853 and Robert Graham platted the settlement in 1855. By 1862 the settlement's population had grown to over two hundred, served by a public school. Originally known as Graham, and later as Otumba, the county board renamed the settlement Sturgeon Bay in 1860. Sturgeon Bay was organized as a village in 1874 and incorporated as a city in 1883, with Charles Scofield as the first mayor. The City of Sturgeon Bay absorbed the Village of Sawyer on the west side of the bay in 1891.

In 1857, roads were cut through the forests connecting the settlement to Egg Harbor and the City of Green Bay. Ferry service across the bay began in 1860, followed by a primitive steamboat known as "the Ark" in 1870. Another steamship, called the Robert Noble, began ferry service in 1885. The first wooden bridge over the bay was constructed in 1895, and the current steel truss Michigan Street Bridge was built in 1930, providing a link between upper and lower Door County. The streets of the main business blocks were paved by 1928, and the city completed a water and sewer system in 1940.

The turning point in the history of Sturgeon Bay was the completion of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal in 1882. The canal utilized the Native American portage route to connect Green Bay to Lake Michigan. The canal cut 150 miles off trips from the City of Green Bay to Milwaukee and Chicago, while also sparing vessels a trip through the treacherous 'Death's Door' at the mouth of Green Bay. The canal greatly eased lumber shipment to other Great Lakes ports. First advocated by Joseph Harris in 1860 with construction commencing in 1872, the canal is over a mile long and is 160 feet wide. The federal government widened and deepened the entry into the canal in the 1940's, allowing the passage of larger ships that had previously been forced to circumvent the peninsula due to lowered water levels in Lake Michigan.

  1. City of Sturgeon Bay, Comprehensive Plan Update, 2010, www.sturgeonbaywi.org, accessed June, 2011.
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