History of Gibralter, Door County, Wisconsin
From: History of Door County, Wisconsin
The County Beautiful
By: Hjalmar R. Holand, M. A.
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago 1917


Fish Creek was so named by Increase Claffin who settled there, as has been stated, in 1842. For a few years he and his family lived here in solitude, the only one on the peninsula north of Sturgeon Bay. In 1847 he was joined by Van Renssalaer Marshall who with his two sons, William and Van Renssalaer Marshall, moved up from the Bay Settlement near Green Bay in 1847. The elder Marshall froze to death in November, 1862. He was returning from Ephraim to Fish Creek by boat and as night drew on he for some unknown reason anchored at Eagle Island which was then deserted. He wrapped up in his sail and laid down in his boat to sleep. During the night it turned very cold and the old man did not again wake up. There were no other settlers until Asa Thorp came a few years later and opened up the country by his pier.

Among the earliest to join the little settlement at Fish Creek, mostly as wood choppers, were John and Stephen Norton. They came in 1857. In those days no saws were used in making cordwood. Yet some of these woodchoppers were able to put up three to four cords of wood per day with an axe. John and Steve Norton were great choppers, one winter putting up no less than 400 cords between them. The same year also came John Brown, the later sage of Fish Creek, Horace Poppleton, Michael F Kalmbach and John Torrey. The latter had a house on the hill east of Fish Creek later known as the Barringer farm. He was a cooper. So were also Poppleton and Brown.

A greater sage than old John Brown was old Myron H. Stevens who came in 1856 and for a time lived at the "gorge." He had a gift for law and wit and became a famous pettifogger. In this he was more prompted by a desire to outwit his opponent than to unravel legal intricacies and a good time was usually looked for and realized when old Myron Stevens took a case. When he had anything he was very charitable and when he hadn't he expected others to be. Many stories are told of his curious mannerisms and witty sayings One day he came into a neighbor's house and said: "Say, neighbor, can you let me borrow a piece of bacon? I'll bring it back when I have cooked my beans 1" Another time in winter he was riding along, blue with cold, his teeth visibly chattering, behind a slow horse. A passerby called out to him, "Say, Myron, why don't you get off and walk and get warm?" "No," replied Stevens in chilly dignity, "I would rather sit and freeze like a man than trot behind like a dog."

In 1856 a man by the name of Sweezey Burr came up from Sheboygan County to look for cheap farm lands for himself and his neighbor, David Graham. About 1 1/2 miles south of Fish Creek, on one of the highest elevations of the peninsula he found three forties which the surveyor by some mistake had listed as swamp lands. He therefore got this land for 50 cents per acre. Early the next spring his son, Enos Burr, moved up with his family and household goods and were landed at Baileys Harbor. There was no pier there then so they bad to throw the oxen and cow into the water and swim them ashore. It was thereupon necessary for Burr to cut a meandering road across the peninsula for more than ten miles until he reached his claim where the Burr family has since resided.

December 5th of this year, 1857, the county board set aside all that part of the Door County peninsula lying north of the Sevastopol line into a separate town. This town was about forty miles long and of the width of the peninsula The following spring the woodehoppers of Fish Creek and Egg Harbor, the cedar workers of North Bay and Baileys Harbor, and the fishermen of Ephraim and down the shore made their way along blazed trails and devious paths to Asa Thorp's house. Here the first town meeting was held and officers elected. John S. Torrey was elected chairman. Solomon Beery of Baileys Harbor was elected clerk and Rev. A. M. Iverson of Ephraim superintendent of schools. The name of Gibraltar was given to the new town at the suggestion of Solomon Beery because Gibraltar was the official name of Baileys Harbor, up to this time the county seat of Door County, which was included within the borders of the new town.

The preceding fall a man with a small trading vessel had put into the harbor so late that when he woke up the next morning he found the bay frozen over. His name was Jacob St. Ores. Being obliged to winter there he found the few pioneers who were settled there such good company that he decided to make Fish Creek his home. Moreover he made a trip back to Ozaukee County, his former home, to tell his relatives about this delightful place he had discovered. As a result his brother in law, Martin Minor, with his family, including his sons, Edward S. and Augustine A. Minor, moved up in 1858. Martin Minor built a house near the Gorge where he accumulated a great deal of land and had many woodchoppers at work for him. His son, Edward S., was persuaded to join the Fish Creek colony for the purpose of becoming its first schoolteacher. However, it was little tempting for an adventurous youth to sit in a little log schoolhouse in the wilderness as schoolmaster and he preferred to roam abroad as a sailor. Later he became a merchant in Fish Creek and finally went to Washington as congressman.

The early woodchoppers who first laid low our splendid virgin timber were generally of the opinion that Door County was too far north to grow anything but grass. Asa Thorp had hopes, however. The first year in which he ventured into agriculture he cautiously planted potatoes. They grew and yielded amazingly. The next year he planted flint corn of the hardiest variety known. This, too, succeeded. After that he sowed and reaped all manner of things until he finally grew peaches which won premiums at great national expositions.

Encouraged by this success others soon began to grub out the stumps and dig out the stones that generously covered all the surrounding land. Among the earliest of these in Northern Door County were old Isaac J. Jarman who with his sons, Thomas. Joshua and Charles, settled in Fish Creek in 1858. Thomas and Joshua Jarman and Horace Poppleton lost their lives in a storm off Chambers Island the following year. Charles and his father, Isaac, pre-empted a tract of land about three miles east of Fish Creek which became the well known homestead of the Jarman family. Being misled by the large timber the Jarman were unfortunate in selecting one of the stoniest tracts of land in the town while only a mile to the south lay very choice farming land which was not taken up until fifteen years later. Undismayed by this, however, Charles Jarman every morning at sunrise trudged through the swamps and underbrush on his way from Fish Creek to toil all day in his nest of stones; and being a paragon for hard work he soon had a respectable farm to show.

Enos Burr, Chas. Jarman. John and Stephen Norton are among the first men tc take up farming for a living in Northern Door County. The Moravian colonists around Ephraim began to till the soil a few years before them but with them it was more of a side line as they occupied only small lots. These men all came in the '50s and were the only ones to try farming in Gibraltar until after the Civil war. In the meantime a number of fishermen came, among them being Ingham Kinsey, Geo. Jones, Charles Gessler and Charles Jeffcott. In 1861 came John Hogan and C. P. Fairchild. The hitter bought considerable land near the "Gorge" where he was busy for some years cutting cordwood. In 1862 came Stephen Mapes, a friend of Enos Burr. from Shebogan County. He had fourteen children and toted them all and all his other possessions through the timber for 200 miles on a two wheeled cart drawn by two oxen. When he came to Sturgeon Bay he built a raft and managed to get the oxen and all on board. Standing in front of the oxen feeding them corn to keep them quiet so that the fourteen babies would not be spilled out he ferried them across to the promised land where riches and happiness were soon expected but which, alas, were never realized.

Dan L. Fish and Josiah Judd came in 1863. That winter many people were on the point of starvation in the north country. In Baileys Harbor the provisions first ran out. A crew of men cut a road across the peninsula to Fish Creek, where the people divided provisions with the people of Baileys Harbor. Soon the people of Fish Creek were also in need when it became necessary to carry what was needed from Green Bay.

Due to being the first stopping place and fuel station on the peninsula Fish Creek early assumed an importance which for a time almost rivaled Sturgeon Bay. In the later '60s there were two stores in the village doing a lively business. One was owned by E. S. Minor and Frantz Blakefield (the latter came from a distinguished family in Norway where his name was spelled Blichfeldt). The other store was owned by W. H. Sellick and David McCummings. Sellick also operated a sawmill There were also two large piers, one owned by Asa Thorp, the other by McCummings. David McCummings came to Fish Creek in 1865. He had three sons whom he named De Witt, De Hart and De Los. He also had a daughter who was named De Ette. When another daughter came his supply of names beginning with the French prefix De was exhausted. He was therefore obliged, very unwillingly, to christen her with a name in which the de came in the second syllable Adelaide.

Fish Creek was after the war the chief fishing center in the county and D. W. Ranney removed his fish buying station from Washington Harbor to Fish Creek. With him came Levi orous who for some years had been his manager. At this time also came Samuel Churches and Alexander Noble - two political antagonists who for years seesawed for the chairmanship of the Town of Gibraltar. Sam Churches was a precise and well informed official but rather crabbed. Alexander Noble was also efficient but infinitely more cross grained with a caustic wit which was the dread and admiration of all.

At the close of the war there settled in Fish Creek a queer individual who for many years figured prominently in the county news. This was Dr. E. M. Thorpe, the first dentist in the county. He was also an amateur lawyer and when not giving legal advice to others was busy in pushing suits of his own. He seems to have been drawn to Fish Creek because of the beauty of the scenery. He bought Strawberry Island which he entirely cleared of timber with the exception of a fringe around the shore. He also built a first class two story house, constructed a dock, dug a well and a cistern, laid sidewalks around the house and to the dock and made an excellent driveway around the island, making a road of about 154 miles in length. A large part of the island - about twenty acres he planted to grapes. He also kept about six hundred hens. All the improvements he made were such that they with stood the wear and tear of the weather and the ice and for twenty years later Strawberry Island was reckoned the most beautiful spot in the county.

Two other prominent citizens of the county, whose families have since moved away, also settled in Fish Creek at the close of the war. These were L. P. Hill and L. M. Griswold. L P Hill came from Beaver Island, the famous Mormon island kingdom in Lake Michigan in the '50s where he won his wife from the household of King James Strang in a most romantic manner. L. P. Hill's sons, in the '90s organized a steamship company and for many years operated passenger boats on Green Bay with headquarters at Fish Creek. They later moved to Kenosha, where they are now operating a line of boats between Chicago and Racine.

L. M. Griswold operated a sawmill and other business and was a prominent man in Fish Creek in his day. His wife was the chief agent in securing for Fish Creek the little Episcopal Church which nestles in the center of the village as pretty as any picture. This was originally the unfinished dwelling of a fisherman by the name of Charles Gessler. Mrs. Griswold and old Mrs. Sarah Jeffcutt interested friends in the East in the needs of the village of a church and the dwelling was remodeled. For a time a resident rector conducted regular services here. The Episcopalian worship seems, however, to lack that element of dogmatic doctrine which seems to be a need of a husky pioneer community. This was found a few years later when a zealous Seventh Day Adventist arrived and held stirring revival services centering on the saving grace of Saturday. His labors were amply rewarded and on May I, 1876, while the harbor was still half full of ice, thirty four grown persons were baptized by immersion amid the bobbing ice cakes.

Fish Creek has always been a fairly orderly and well behaved village and it is many years since any saloon has been permitted in the village or the town. In the early days, however, a saloon was in operation where the village loafers would meet to swap fish stories over a glass of stale beer. This came to an abrupt and dramatic ending through the energy of a resolute lady of the village, the forerunner of the famous Carrie Nation, who became disgusted at the waywardness of her worthy spouse. One Sunday evening as he and other village notables were dozing over a game of penny ante the door suddenly opened and his irate wife appeared in the door with her apron full of brickbats. She wasted no time in words but let fly a cobble stone which instantly smashed the smoky lamp. Thereafter darkness and pandemonium ruled the room. The lords of the card table forgot their dignity and dived head first under the billiard table while stones and curses flew around the room. A door finally opened to the barkeeper's kitchen, when, seeing this avenue of escape, the men stood not upon the order of their going but flung out all in a heap, leaving the doughty woman a defiant victor.

A jolly good town is old Fish Creek,
The best on the pike, I know;
With its back to the rock and its face to the sea
Where the rollicking breezes blow.
As snug as a bug in an old woolen rug
It lies there embowered in green;
You may go where you like, on any old pike
No cosier village is seen.

When old Father Claflin discovered "old Door,"
Some four score years ago,
With Indians and black bear it was galore
And sturgeon-a wonderful show !
He roamed the timber and cruised the shore
Delighted with all he did see.
But when he saw Fish Creek he roamed no more;
But said: "My home here shall be

Do you know the folks of Fish Creek town?
A merry stout lot are they.
Their wives are sure some famous cooks-
Just look at their men, I say!
Why nearly every man in town
Has a waistband of forty or more.
With a happy old chuckle around they go,
Grand boosters to the core.

At the same time as Fish Creek received the above settlers a number of Scandinavian fishermen came and settled on the shore north of Fish Creek, now known as Blossomburg, where Peter Weborg and Even Nelson had settled in the early '50s. Among these were Carl Lundberg, Gjert Anderson, Ole Sorenson, Sven Anderson and Ole Nilson Klungeland. Eventually the whole Peninsula Park area became peopled with Scandinavians, about thirty five families. Ole Sorenson was a famous strong man of his community. Once on a bet he carried a barrel of salt pork, weighing 260 pounds, on his back from Peterson's store in Ephraim to his home, a distance of three miles over the ice. Sven Anderson was a very gentle minded old bachelor and retired sailor who settled here because of the transcendent beauty of the scenery. He built his house high up on top of "Sunset Cliff," also known as "Sven's Bluff," where he could enjoy one of the finest views in America. His house (still standing) was a mecca for all the children of the neighborhood, because he always treated them so courteously and generously. Although a bachelor he always had a petticoat hanging on the wall, "so as to make the house look a little more homelike."

Back in the woods, a half mile, still stands Ole Klungeland's old log shanty. Ole Klungeland is said to have given the name to this locality. In his early days, when Ole Klungeland was a man of many affairs he frequently traveled from Fish Creek to Ephraim by boat In rounding Eagle Bluff he often encountered contrary winds, and therefore called the more exposed shore north of Fish Creek "Blaasenberg" (the windy mountain). This name later became Blossomburg.

Because of his many notorious lawsuits and numerous eccentricities Ole Klungeland is remembered far and wide as a famous pioneer clown. Numerous stories are told of him, all of which border on the ridiculous. Ole Klungeland, however, took himself very seriously and no one can recall having seen him smile. When he first arrived from the old country he appeared to be a man of some consequence as he dazzled the little community by appearing in a tall silk hat and toggery to match. He also seemed to have plenty of means and bought much land. It was very difficult in those days to obtain perfect titles owing to the fact that nearly all lands had lapsed for taxes; but Ole Klungeland dauntlessly entered suit after suit. He was often victorious but as the lawyers and pettifoggers got the spoils, there was finally nothing left to Ole but one forty and a wealth of experience. His former glory had departed, including his money and his silk hat. So he settled down in his little cabin, satiated with lawyers and suspicious of the world, brooding over an old volume of law which was practically his only surviving possession, hoping therein to find the means to outwit his enemies and open the door to restitution and renown. Unlike his neighbor, Sven Anderson, whose house was as neat as an old maid's Ole Klungeland gradually slipped into the depths of slothfulness. His time was taken up with the study of his lawbook and he had none to spare for housekeeping. When he needed a fire he would go into the woods and find a dry pole which he gradually pushed through the stove as it burned up. Beneath the stove was a convenient hole in the floor through which the ashes fell. Cooking was done once a week, a kettle of pork and a kettle of potatoes, which stood on the table until they were emptied. Occasionally he baked bread which was a source of great annoyance. As he was kneading his dough, deeply pondering a legal problem he would often forget himself and run his hand through his hair as was a habit of his. A little dough would usually stick to his bushy locks. When he had gone to bed, impudent rats would come and nibble at these clumps of dough in his hair to Ole's great pain and disturbance.

These nightly attacks by the rats were the greatest trial Ole had ever encountered. They were worse than the pettifoggers who had fleeced him of his patrimony. They disturbed his quiet cogitations before slumber overtook him, they turned his sleep into a bedlam of nightmares, they made him an object of ridicule among the young people after he had thoughtlessly confided his grief to a visitor. Long he pondered how to stop this nightly torture. Finally he hit upon a most promising plan.

Ole Sorenson had a wolf trap - a trap with a powerful steel spring with a long chain attached to it. He borrowed this trap and baited it with a tempting bit of bacon. He then placed the trap on his pillow and carefully laid down beside it. Now he felt prepared to meet the meanest rat on earth.

But Ole Klungeland had other enemies in bed besides rats. As he laid there chafing and rubbing the trap slid farther and farther down into the bed until it rested in a pocket in the middle of it. Finally, in his sleep, Ole rolled over and settled squarely on top of it. The trap snapped and caught him with a fiendish grip in a fleshly portion of his posterior region. With a howl of agony Ole jumped out of bed. He pulled and pressed, trying to get the thing loose, but in his awkward position he could not seem to master the mechanism. Finally in despairing torture he started down the trail, his trousers in one hand, the chain in the other, and got Sven Anderson out of bed to liberate him. 1

Among the queer characters who have lived in Fish Creek was also a "Doctor" Hale who for a time made things lively in the village. He and his wife were traveling members of the Kickapoo Indian Remedy Co. which was a cross between a circus and a patent medicine agency. He made a trade with L. L. Hill whereby be in the '90s acquired a farm in the east end of the village now owned by Doctor Welcher. His wife had been an equestrienne, or performer on bareback horses, and profoundly impressed the populace by dashing about on horseback in all manner of perilous postures. Not less were they impressed by "Doctor" Hale who carried in his pocket a $1,000 bill, whether bogus or genuine is still debatable. This $1,000 bill was remarkably efficacious in winning respect or securing credit in any transaction.

When E. S. Minor opened his campaign for the office of congressman, "Doctor" Hale let it be known that he had been Senator Gallinger's private secretary and had practically made the senator. He offered to give to Mr. Minor the accumulated wealth of his vast political experience and guaranteed his election if he were given free hands as campaign manager. Mr. Minor's friends in the village now felt that the entire election hinged on Mr. Hale's co-operation and beseeched Mr. Minor not to commit political suicide by refusing to engage Mr. Hale. Mr. Minor, however, stolidly refused the potent aid of the $1,000 bill and went about getting elected just the same. It later developed that while Doctor Hale had come from the same state as Senator Gallinger, he had had no connection with the latter.

Doctor Hale now got political aspirations of his own and ran for town chairman. His opponent was L. L. Hill and there also existed between the two quite a business tangle. It is said that Hill and Hale had a h--l of a time but Hill finally won out both in business and politics and Hale took his $1,000 bill to new fields of enterprise.

South of Fish Creek about three miles lies Juddville, now chiefly settled by Norwegian community that settled there in the '80s. Juddville is so called because Josiah Judd for a time was the only settler there. Nicolai Kihl joined him in 1869. A few years later the Scandinavians came and took possession of this excessively stony tract. Among the earliest was Otto Anderson. He had seventeen children, of which twelve are still living.

The best portion of Gibraltar by far is the southeastern quarter of the town. For some reason this land was not pre-empted until in the '70s when it was settled by a sturdy class of Germans. The first of these was George Reinhard who seattied there in 1870. Shortly after him came Henry Pleck, Polzin Franke and Reh. The Town of Baileys Harbor has always looked with avaricious eyes upon this fair corner of Gibraltar. In the '70s the county board was induced to transfer this portion of Gibraltar to Baileys Harbor. Gibraltar refused to recognize the validity of the transfer as it had less than thirty six sections of land. Both towns sent their assessors into the disputed territory but as the freeholders refused to pay taxes to Baileys Harbor the latter town was finally obliged to relinquish her claim. Again in 1917 an attempt was made to transfer the taxes from this part of the town to Baileys Harbor for high school purposes. The residents however remained loyal to Gibraltar and Baileys Harbor again lost out. The people of Gibraltar have now practically unanimously voted ample funds to build and equip a high school which is expected to be completed in the summer of 1918. This will be the first high school in the county outside of Sturgeon Bay.

The fishing industry has now practically ceased in Fish Creek and it has become instead one of the chief summer resort centers of the county. This had its beginning in 1894. In that year Mr. Legler (then secretary of schools in Milwaukee, late librarian of the Chicago public library) found his way to Fish Creek. He bought some lots now owned by Mr. Geo. M. Clark. In 1895 he returned with Mr. Edward Risman, principal of the Milwaukee South Side High School. He also purchased lots. The Crundons of St. Louis and others also came to Fish Creek this year and E. C. Thorp was obliged to enlarge his house to accommodate them. Through Mr. Risman Dr. Herman Welcker was induced to come to Fish Creek. In 1896 Doctor Welcker contracted to buy from Asa Thorp his hotel, 32 lots, one mile of shore front, and a farm of 500 acres for $5,000. The doctor started to farm with trotting horses and was not successful. The contract was therefore annulled. Mr. Thorp then offered him one mile of shore front for $200. This land is now assessed at about $35,000. E. C. Thorp and Dr. H. Welcker are now the largest summer hotel operators in the county, each catering to about one hundred and fifty guests.

The saddest memory in the history of Fish Creek is the wreck of the steamer E. L. Hackley whereby eleven persons were drowned. On October 3, 1904, the steamer left Marinette for Egg Harbor. A high wind from the southwest had been blowing all day but at 5:45 P. M. Captain Vorous set out. In the vicinity of Green Island a squall came from the southwest which caught the steamer on. the starboard side and threw her to the port, a position from which she was unable to recover. In a few moments the cabin was wrenched off the boat and thrown into the sea. Immediately afterward the hull filled with water and sank. The drowned were Capt. Joseph Vorous, Carl Paehlke, Hugh Miller, Henry Robertoy, Lawrence Barringer, Edna Barringer, Geo. Le Clair, Nels Nelson, Edna Vincent, Ethel Vincent and Freeman Thorp.

When the boat was filling with water a number of persons jumped for the floating cabin and managed to cling to it through the long, savage hours of the following night. Some finally, were unable to hold on any longer and were washed off and drowned. About 8 o'clock the following morning the steamer Sheboygan spied the wreckage then floating near the Door County shore and rescued the survivors who were still clinging to the cabin. The rescued were Orin Rowin, Blain McSweeney, Milton Hanson, John Haltug, F. Mathiesen, Martin Olson, Milton Olson and F C Blakefield. Nearly all of the persons on the steamer were from Fish Creek.

The E. R. Hackley was seventy nine feet long, with a capacity of fifty seven tons. She was not considered very seaworthy and Government inspectors were blamed for permitting her to carry passengers.

1 In the Door County Advocate of January 8, 1880, is the following note on Ole Klungeland:
"Many of our citizens have no doubt lost all track of Ole Nelson, better known as 'Klingland' who years ago figured in every term of court, either as plaintiff or defendant. In fact he lawed it so much that he was reduced from well to do to abject poverty, and a few years ago buried himself in the wilderness of the Town of Gibraltar, near the Eagle Bluff lighthouse, where he lives in perfect seclusion in filth and squalor. Those who have visited his den say it is the dirtiest hole they ever put foot into, and hardly fit for an animal to live in.''

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