History of Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin (Part 2)
From: History of Door County, Wisconsin
The County Beautiful
By: Hjalmar R. Holand, M. A.
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago 1917

[Continued from History of Washington Island Part 1.]

In the latter '60s, shortly after the coming of the Danes the first Government mail service was installed. This took effect the second Tuesday of November and the mail was carried from Ephraim or Ellison Bay to Washington Island on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month in winter and once a week in summer. Mr. H. D. Miner was the first postmaster and received a salary of $10 for the first year in which he held office. The service was gradually improved until finally in 1900 a. daily mail service was established and the long isolation of the island ceased.

Washington Island enjoys the distinction of having sent more soldiers to the war than any other town in the county. An idea of the large proportion of old soldiers that once lived on the island may be gained from the list of owners of a certain piece of land on the island known as Indian Point. This was originally pre-empted in 1853 by Henry D. Miner, who served nearly two years in Battery G 2, of the Regular Illinois Light Artillery. In 1855 the Point was bought by John Beam who served in a Wisconsin regiment. He was killed in one of the big battles with more than fifteen hundred dollars on his person. He served as banker for his comrades and used to charge 2 and 3 per cent per month. In 1858 Marsden Craw bought the Point. He joined the army in 1862 with his three sons. Mr. Craw and his oldest son were both badly wounded in the battle of Chicamauga. In 1865 the Point was bought by J. N. Harrison who was a veteran from the Mexican war. In the early '70s his widow sold the Point to Wm. Betts, the present owner, who served as sergeant in a Wisconsin regiment for four years during the war. This piece of land has therefore never been owned by any except old soldiers since it was purchased from the Government more than sixty years ago.

Among other old soldiers on Washington Island may be mentioned Henry Gould, Henry Gardner, David Haines, Hugh L. McFadden, Archie Lochray, Alexis Ward and Win. D. Lee who all died on the southern battle fields. James and Richard Roe, John Wagner, Rufus M. Wright were among those who were more or less wounded. Joseph Cornell, Ed Richmond, Wm. W. Bradshaw, Wm. Shurtleff, Ira Westbrook, Abraham Grover, Hiram Kinney, V. E. Rohn, James Fuller, David Kaquetosh, Wm. Smith, Benare Leque, William and Jacob Stall, Warren Scriver, Lance Alden, Jesse Betts, John Mansean, Joseph Monossa and James Fletcher were also in active service for a considerable length of time but most of these escaped unhurt.

After the arrival of L. P. Ottosen and his party in 1868 there was quite a steady influx of Scandinavians who nearly all began to clear land and till the soil. Among the earliest were August Berg, Louis Johnson, Christian Olson, Andrew Bommen, Ole P. Olson and Capt. Knut O. Schelswick - all Norwegians - and Nils Fries, Mads Hanson, Carl Thompson, Iver P. Hanson and Wm. Frederick Wickmann - all Danes. These all came in 1869 and 1870. The Danes now number about one half of the entire population of the island. The last mentioned, Mr. W. F. Wickmann, deserves particular mention because he was instrumental in bringing thousands of pioneers of a new people - the Icelanders - to America. Washington Island is the place where they first settled in America and there are still about two hundred Icelanders on the island - about one fifth of the total population. The following account of their coming is prepared for this history by Arni Gudmundsson, one of the first Icelandic settlers on the island:

"The Icelandic immigration to North America began in 1870, when four young men went from Eyrarbakki, Iceland. They were bound for Milwaukee, where they met Wm. Wickmann, a Danish gentleman, who had for several years been employed at a mercantile establishment, from where these young men came, and who, by corresponding with his former employer had given his view of the New World or rather that part of it where he had made his home since 1865, and rather induced people to come West and seek their fortunes under the Stars and Stripes.

"Mr. Wickmann, expecting the young men to come in 1870, had previously been looking over Door County in order to find a suitable place for an Icelandic colony and going to Washington Island, it seems that he was taken with the place, and concluded to take the expected immigrants there and thus start a settlement. The four young men, whose names were John (Jon) Gislason, Gudmunden Gudmundsson, Arni Gudmundsson and John (Jon) Einarsson, after some stay in Milwaukee went to the island with Mr. Wickmann, and two of them, G. Gudmundsson and Arni Gudmundsson, are still living here, while John Einarsson died many years ago in Milwaukee, and John Gislason was called in September, 1912. I said that the immigration to this country had begun in 1870, although a few Icelanders went to Utah, several years before that time, but after 1870 the influx began in earnest, though (the) most of the people went to Canada.

"In 1871, or possibly 1872, Johannes Magnusson with wife and daughter arrived, they stayed here for several years but went to Minnesota some thirty years ago, and took up a homestead claim of 160 acres. The old pair are both dead but their daughter, Ellen, is living in Minnesota. The same year Einar Bjarnason and his son, August, arrived. Mr. Bjarnason stayed here a couple of years at that time, but joined his family in Milwaukee and lived there for several years but again came to the island and bought a small farm. He was the father of a family of fifteen children, most of them coming to the island for shorter or longer stays. Bjarnason died here some thirty years ago, but his widow is still living here, and three of their children.

"In June, 1872, a party of fifteen persons left Eyrarbakki for Milwaukee and most of this flock came to the island in the fall, three of them being here yet, to wit: Mrs. G. Gudmundsson, Arni Gudmimdsson and Olafen Hannesson. Several young men of this party were pretty well educated, having frequented the Latin school of Reykjavik and one being a graduate of that institution; his name was Paul (Pall) Thorlaksson. Others that may be mentioned were Hans Thorgroinsen, A. Sveinbjornsson, Stephen Stephensen, etc. Mr. Thorlaksson was the only one that never came here to stay, but visited the island once. He went to St. Louis to read (study) theology. When crossing from Liverpool to Quebec, our interpreter, a Norwegian seaman, asked us to give him a recommendation as to his ability as a guide and companion for emigrants. Mr. Thorlaksson complied with his request, by giving him his attest in English, Danish, German, French, Latin and Greek, just for the fun of it and to the great pleasure of the interpreter. But this does not really belong to the history of Washington Island, just a little detour.'

"The winter of 1872 to 1873 was a very severe one, much like the present winter. Several of the young fellows who came this year had scarcely done a day's hard work at home, so it taxed their energy, to make their living through the winter months, by chopping cedar poles and cordwood, their ears and noses nipped by frost going to their work over a small clearing. Work they had to or starve, and they chose the first; a group of them stayed at farmhouse, having to sleep in a shed adjoining the frame building where you could count the stars between the logs, but the boys had good feather beds with them and warm clothes of Icelandic wool, so they did not suffer by the cold, but were joyful, hopeful and almost happy to have to rough it. Navigation started late in the spring, and it was well into the month of May before the old steamer Truesdell could get through the ice up to Washington Harbor dock. As soon as the boat got to the landing several of the young fellows jumped aboard, and a good part of them have kept away from the island ever since. A couple with two young daughters were in this group of fifteen. Thorkell Amason was the man's name; he bought a small farm here but sold it again and left with his family.

"After 1872 a few came now and then, some left but others made their home here. Dr. Th. Gudmundsen arrived in 1884, but died January 29, 1899. At present there are about sixteen families of the original stock, that is, people born in Iceland. The population of those of Icelandic origin is likely somewhere near two hundred or about one fifth of the entire population of old Pottawattomie."

When the Ranneys sold their interests on Washington Island their lands, pier and business passed into the hands of a man by the name of John Furlong. While the Ranneys enjoy the pleasant reputation of having been most generous and fairminded business men, Mr. Furlong has the reputation of using his opportunities on the island to build up an oppressive monopoly and for a half century blocked all development of Washington Harbor.

He owned the only pier on the harbor and permitted no fisherman or trader to tie up to it unless he would sell his fish to Furlong at whatever price the latter would pay. All incoming and outgoing freight was also charged an exorbitant dockage to the great injury of the farmers. As he owned all the land bordering on the harbor he had here what seemed an ironclad monopoly. These and other alleged abuses of his opportunities were much resented and discussed by the people on the island.

Finally a plan was found which promised relief. A petition was signed and filed asking the town board of supervisors to lay out a road to the water's edge near the head of the harbor. The petition was adopted by the board and the road was laid out. At the point where the new highway reached the shore the farmers proceeded to build a pier. The stone which was removed in grading the new road was used to fill the pier.

At this point Furlong intervened. He raised a big cry that the new pier would ruin the business of his own and demanded $1,000 damages. He also demanded another $1,000 damages for his prospective labor in removing the stone from the new pier which stone he charged had wrongfully been taken from his land. Suit was entered to recover these damages and to restrain the farmers from finishing the pier.

The action was entitled John Furlong vs. John Larson, Math Hanson, H. P. Anderson, C. B. Lind, I. P. Hanson, Wm. Anderson, E. W. Steward, Christian Larson and Claus Zink. The sheriff was sent to arrest these men and the order is dated May 16, 1876, and seven of the defendants were arrested May 24, 1876, the sheriff being unable to find Lind and Zink. These seven were brought to Sturgeon Bay and put into the county jail. The jail at that time was a wretched little structure, scarcely big enough to room three persons. To crowd seven men into this little hole was therefore to subject them to great hardship and danger to health.

On May 26th, one of the prisoners wrote a letter to the public which is printed in the Door County Advocate. The letter is as follows:

"To the Editor of the Advocate:
"I did not leave all hope behind me when I was thrust into this dingy bastile; the consciousness of committing no wrong, and the belief that truth is mighty and will prevail sustained me and my fellow prisoners in this our time of trouble. I will briefly relate to you how it came about that we were brought here, and your readers can judge for themselves if they think we should be punished this way.

"On the 31st of March the Town of Washington laid out a road to low water mark on the shore and had the same recorded according to law in the clerk's office. The supervisors of the town then let the contract to William Anderson to work and make a good road of it. There was a quantity of stone to be removed to grade the road and there being no place handy to put it, the farmers decided to build a pier and use the stone for filling up the cribs, and thus save trouble in disposing of them otherwise. The dock was commenced 16 feet from low water mark and was to be 40 feet wide and 190 feet long.

"On the 24th of May seven of us were arrested on an order of Judge Ellis, on a complaint made by John Furlong for trespass; and brought to this place to give bail for $500 each, failing which, we were sent to jail. This comes very hard on us, two men being obliged to leave sick wives, one with a babe just born, and the other about to be confined. Owing to the backward season, none of us got in our crops, and if we cannot get released so as to return to our work it will be very hard for us to provide for our families.

"The sheriff, Mr. Wm. Wagoner, does all he can for our comfort, and grants us what privileges he can, consistent with his duty.
"E. W. STEWARD
"Door County Jail, May 26, 1876."

This letter created a tremendous storm of indignation against Mr. Furlong and the prisoners were released June 10, 1876. The action was tried at the July term, 1877, and Furlong got a judgment for $50 damages and costs taxed at $241.92.

While Mr. Furlong, due to the mysterious technicalities of the law, obtained a nominal victory, the feeling against him on Washington Island ran so high that he moved away from the island. He continued to hold his lands, however, and the shore property of the harbor remains as undeveloped as it was when Robertson and Ball settled there seventy years ago. Washington Harbor is one of the most beautiful spots in the county which if developed would bring in a large amount of money in taxes. But like the dragon in the fairy tale brooding over his treasure and permitting no one to use it, so the Furlongs sit tight, effectually blocking all improvements in this fair spot.

In the Door County Advocate for July 31, 1873, is an interesting account of Washington Island, written by an outside visitor, giving a glimpse of its people, its appearance and its industries almost a half century ago. The following is an extract:

"My walk of four miles over a grass grown road through the interior was worth the exertion. A Sunday stillness prevailed, varied by the tinkling of numerous cow bells. Every cow wears a bell. At a bend of the road I came upon a white church perhaps twenty feet wide. It had a simple spire with a gilt ball and was almost hidden in foliage. Near by was the cabin of a maker of wooden shoes and its owner carrying a jug, and some children gathering wild strawberries. Occasionally there came the crack of the axe from the tall woods. I encountered a section of a pine tree five feet in diameter fallen across the track.

"In the forest long, grave like mounds show where fallen trunks had slept and decayed undisturbed for centuries. Trees splintered and hurled in all directions by the lightnings and winds of recent years constituted a formidable chevaux de frise to the advance of civilization. The clearings are made mostly by Danes. Their buildings consist of a log house to live in and another for tools, provisions and perhaps animals. There are said to be 14 farms on the island consisting of from 15 to 25 acres each. Very good crops of grain and fruits are raised.

"We arrived at the island towards 4 o'clock, kept around to the north of it, and bore down into Washington Harbor, the metropolis, which lies at the end of a small bay and looks north.

"At the dock is the store and warehouse of Mr. D. W. Ranney, the only merchant and principal proprietor of the place. About it on the steep hillside are clustered fifteen or twenty weather beaten gray cottages and dry houses with stone chimneys. Mr. Ranney's residence, a large white house with a piazza, looks out prominently among them. Piles of cordwood, the cutting of which is a profitable winter occupation for the inhabitants, are a prominent feature in the foreground. On the dock are arranged rows of fish barrels just delivered from the steamer. Half a dozen fishing boats are tied about a smaller dock on which are built picturesque fish houses of logs and bark. Across the harbor there are more boats and scattered gray houses. Ledges of limestone rock around both shores are laid in regular courses and resemble fortifications. At intervals square blocks have fallen out and leave the appearance of port holes. Mr. Ranney estimates the product of the island as follows: There were got out during the last year 2,700 cords of wood, 3,500 telegraph poles, 25,000 cedar posts and about 13,000 packages of fish, from 5,000 to 7,000 bbls. of salt and 8,000 half barrels are sold per annum

"The population including that of St. Martin's, Detroit and Rock Island, all within a short distance, is estimated at from 250 to 300. The greater number are engaged in fishing on the coasts as far as 16 miles out. A good outfit consists of a boat and from 50 to 60 nets, the whole worth perhaps from $600 to $800. The nets are of two kinds known as "gill" and "pound" nets. The first are made in lengths of about 180 yds., from 4 to 5 ft. deep and with a mesh 2 ½ inches square. The fish run against these, which are kept upright in the water, by means of floats and weights, entangle their gills in the large meshes and are captured."

In the above account reference is made to "a maker of wooden shoes carrying a jug." He was a humorous character who is remembered by all because of the smiles he provoked. His name was Christian Jenson, but he was better known as the wooden shoemaker. He received this title because he made wooden shoes which were much used by the Danes. He was a simple minded fellow who became crippled by an explosion of a lamp. Mr. Ranney gave him a house on the hill near the Bethel Church and saw to it that he was supplied with the necessities of life. This house on the hill was named "Gibraltar" by the wooden shoemaker and here he was very happy. He built a sort of a tower and here the young people of the island had great sport playing pranks and Fourth of July stunts almost any day. The wooden shoemaker was as much of a boy as any, entering into the sport with the greatest enthusiasm. He used to boss the boys around like a buccaneer while they would ring bells, blow horns and carry on a most boisterous hubbub. Personally he operated a fearful contraption which he called a "rattle machine." When the old fellow got out his rattle machine there were great doings at "Gibraltar."

The wooden shoemaker had a failing for strong drink which Mr. Ranney did not permit him to indulge in. The shoemaker was therefore in severe straits to obtain his liquor. Mr. Jacob Smith, one of the most respected church members of Ephraim, occasionally visited the island with a trading hooker. The wooden shoemaker persuaded Mr. Smith, who knew nothing of his failing, to procure for him five gallons of alcohol in Green Bay. He needed the alcohol, he explained, to polish his wooden shoes. Mr. Smith bought the alcohol and put it into an empty beer keg. The keg had a quantity of rosin in it which was dissolved by the alcohol. When the wooden shoemaker received his alcohol he passed the word around for a grand time at "Gibraltar." A large crowd gathered to celebrate with the old fellow but the mixture of rosin and alcohol was too much even for the seasoned drinkers of the shoemaker's party. The next day they were all wretchedly sick to Mr. Smith's chagrin, Ranney's disgust and the wooden shoemaker's complete mystification.

The shoemaker was always hopeful and good natured except when the subject was matrimony. He courted every unmarried woman on the island but in vain. Once he disposed of a number of wooden shoes and felt very prosperous and hopeful. He sallied out and offered himself to every woman he met. "Don't be afraid," lie said. "I can support a wife. I have $15 coming to me!"

Washington Island is a land of many charms and progressive people but suffers under a serious handicap - the passage across the Door. For months in the fall and spring no man is sure of his footing in crossing the Door. Where the ice may be perfectly safe in the morning the waves may wash in the evening. The shifting winds that rush through the Door play all sorts of havoc with the ice. The following is an account of the various modes of crossing the Door on a single day in March, 1914, copied from a Door County paper:

"St. Patrick's Day will long be remembered as a remarkable day on account of the various modes of crossing and the abundant travel across the Door. The mail went and returned in a motor boat; Peter Anderson drove across the Door after passengers with a sleigh; Bo L. Anderson returned from the county seat with a horse and cutter; Charles Jensen arrived home from Chicago with a horse and buggy; and Harry Dana came across with an auto. Each one of these parties report that the going was good for this particular rig."

Washington Island, because of its great beauty and bracing climate, is admirably adapted to cater to the tourist business. It has also received a not inconsiderable patronage of this kind. The uncertainties of crossing the Door are, however, a serious handicap to success in this business. To overcome this the progressive islanders have lately planned to provide a ferry boat to serve the purpose of a bridge over which the tourist and other travelers could ride in ease in their motors. In 1916 the county board was asked to make an appropriation of $500 to aid this enterprise in providing dockage, etc., to be paid as soon as the ferry was in operation. This appropriation was unanimously passed by the county board which saw the great significance of this improvement, providing as it planned the missing link in the Door County highway system. For some reason, however, the county clerk chose to take a hostile attitude toward the movement and sought legal opinion to ascertain if such a contingency was provided for in the statutes. As the question of ferry boats to Washington Island had never before mine up, the laws of Wisconsin were silent on the subject and the appropriation was declared illegal. A bill was then introduced in the Legislature and there passed, but was vetoed by the governor. The ferry project thereupon died.

It was very unfortunate that the county clerk killed this project by inviting legal obstacles. The county board which passed the appropriation was perfectly willing and able to see the matter through.


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