[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
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
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
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.