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Exploring the Door, Day 2

July 18, 2011

After a rejuvenating sleep in Suite 16 of the Hadley House—one of the White Lace Inn properties, I woke early for my day’s adventure. A small group of journalists were going to spend the day on Washington and Rock Islands and we had an early wakeup call. Our car picked me up at the Hadley House at 7am. It was too early for breakfast, and I didn’t even have time for coffee, so I asked our guide if we could stop somewhere en route. We had to drive from Sturgeon Bay to Gill’s Rock to catch the ferry that would take us to Washington Island—approximately 42 miles, and our guide did not want us to be late for the ferry.

After our coffee stop, we drove north to Northport and the ferry landing. We had some time to walk around the area and take pictures. The Washington Island ferry ( leaves Northport every hour and we didn’t want to miss it because we were going to be taking the Cherry Train ( to tour the island once we landed on Washington Island. We boarded the ferry and went upstairs to sit and watch our passage through the fabled “Death’s Door” the narrow waterway between Plum Island and Pilot Island that was the site of many shipwrecks.

We arrived at Detroit Harbor on Washington Island and were greeted by Dick Purinton, president of the Washington Island Ferry and the Cherry Train. Prior to boarding, Purinton told us the history of the ferry and the Cherry Train. He explained that there were 716 residents on Washington Island and that he would take us (via the Cherry Train) to see some of the sites. What he didn’t tell us was that the Cherry Train was an open-air vehicle and that driving along the highways and byways would be a somewhat chilling experience (the temperature was in the low 60’s). Several in our party quickly went to the gift shop and purchased Washington Island Ferry sweatshirts.
We boarded the train and Purinton drove from Detroit Harbor (ferry landing) to the downtown, also known as “Up the Road” to Washington Island residents. Purinton stopped on Town Line Road across from Trinity Lutheran Church and told us the church was chartered in 1928, and the stone building was built in 1948.

Across from the church, a short walk up a wooded walkway stood Stavkirke (Stave Church) a replica of a church in Borgund, Norway, built in 1150. The church is small, but beautiful. The term ‘stave’ comes from the 12 large wooden pillars, or staves, that comprise the center structure of the church. On the roof outside there are 4 dragonheads carved from pine by David Ranney. According to the brochure located inside the church, if one looks up and to the left as one enters the church, you will see a tool belt hanging with candy wrappers. The tool belt was hung by John Herschberger to honor his friend, Dale Bjarnson, who helped built the church, but died before it was completed in 1995. The candy wrappers pay tribute to Bjarnson’s love of jellybeans.

Stavkirke, Washington Island, WI

From Stavkirke, we rode north on the Main Road to Jackson Harbor Road and took the turn off to Schoolhouse Beach. As I disembarked, I noticed distinct warmth emanating from the beach. No doubt Lake Michigan was warmer than the air, and offered respite from our chilly ride. The stones on the beach were perfectly round and came in many sizes. We were cautioned from taking a stone for a souvenir, as there is a fine if found removing the smooth spheres. I picked up a large stone, a perfect sphere, about the size of a soft ball. I threw it in the air a few times to get the feel. I was tempted to put it in my pocket, but decided against it. I placed it with the others and returned to the train.

From Schoolhouse Beach, we again boarded the Cherry Train and rode a few miles to the Farm Museum ( a place where original Washington Island farm buildings are reconstructed and maintained. The buildings have been collected from various sites on the island and placed at the museum for historical purposes.

There is a cabin, log shed and stone building that originated from the farmer of Alber Olson, an early settler on the island whose parents had emigrated from Denmark. My grandparents had also emigrated from Denmark, and walking around the museum, I felt a distinct connection with the past. The corncrib and machinery shed were exactly like the one on my grandparents’ farm. There were 2 blacksmiths working in the blacksmith shed and the fire from their furnace brought welcomed warmth to the chilly morning. We wandered around the museum until our guide appeared to shuttle us to Jackson Harbor where we took the Karfi Ferry to Rock Island State Park (

Corn Crib at the Farm Museum, Washington Island, WI

Pottawatomie Indians then early French settlers settled Rock Island. In 1836 the first lighthouse on Lake Michigan was built on the island. It is the oldest lighthouse in Wisconsin and is still used. The early settlers eventually left the island and it was purchased by Chester H. Thordarson, an electrical engineer from Chicago in 1912. The state of Wisconsin purchased the island from Thordarson’s heirs and it became a state park in 1965. It is the only state park that does not have an admission fee—because it is the only state park that does not allow motor vehicles. Camping is available and there are 10 miles of hiking trails. The only transportation to the island is the Karfi Ferry. There is no electricity, although the island does have Wi-Fi and cell phone service.

Our group hiked through virgin forests to the old lighthouse and took a brief tour. We ended at the boathouse, which is a spectacular building and activity center to campers. It was built by Thordarson and the bottom half of the boathouse is made from cut stone, whereas the top half is made from the same round stones that comprise Schoolhouse Beach because Thordarson was running out of money and decided to use the stones that were found on the beaches.

Inside the boathouse there is a large fireplace that has since been sealed off. Furniture that Thordarson had made for his home is cordoned off in one area of the boathouse. There are tables with games and puzzles throughout the large room for the visitors to enjoy. A huge chandelier made from cows’ horns and other found objects hang from the ceiling. Although beautiful, the chandelier is never lighted—one reason is the island’s lack of electricity, the other is that the chandelier uses 32 volts of power and is not compatible with 110 voltage currently used.

Inside the Rock Island Boat House (with chandelier)

We left Rock Island, made our way across Washington Island and took the ferry back to the mainland. We arrived at the scheduled time at Rowleys Bay Resort ( for a traditional Door County fish boil. The water was boiling the pot over the open pit fire when we arrived. We joined the other journalists in the bar and watched the chef through the large windows. It simply was too cold to sit outside, blazing fire notwithstanding. The potatoes and onions are cooked first and then the whitefish is added during the last 20 minutes. When the food is ready, the chef adds kerosene powder to the fire that causes a huge blaze and subsequent boiling over. Ostensibly, the boiling over is necessary to remove the fat from the water.

When the chef determined it was time, our group headed outside for the ‘boiling over.’ Impressive sight—and the blaze provided some much needed warmth for all in our group. Rowleys has an “all-you-can-eat” fish boil along with their buffet and the food was simply delicious. Before we left, we talked with Jewel Peterson Ouradnik,  the owner of Rowleys who gave us some background on Grandma’s Swedish Bakery, part of Rowleys resort and a giant pecan roll to enjoy.

Our next stop was the American Folklore Theatre ( where we would enjoy a performance of “Guys and Does” written by Frederick Heide and Lee Becker (music by Paul Libman). When I learned that the theatre was an outdoor theatre, Mike and I opted to return to the White Lace Inn. Although we had heard favorable comments about the play, I was too cold to spend any more time outdoors.

We arrived at the White Lace Inn ( around 7:30. “Random Orbit,” a small group of acoustic musicians were playing in the main house, so Mike and I decided we’d go and listen to them. There was a cooler full of beer and soda at the front door of the main house. We each grabbed a beer and walked toward the community area, where the group was playing. There were about 10 people sitting on chairs and sofas. We couldn’t find a seat, so we walked into the dining room and met with another journalist and Dennis Stats, the owner of the White Lace Inn. We sat around the antique dining table and started to talk about writing, about Sturgeon Bay and about being an innkeeper.

Statz told us that he opened the White Lace Inn in 1982—3 months after he had purchased the house. Dennis is a mechanical engineer and was working in a ball bearing plant in Indianapolis when he decided that he would like to be an innkeeper. He has since purchased other homes adjacent to the original White Lace Inn. Washburn House, Hadley House and the Garden House are now part of the White Lace Inn and comprise 13 rooms and 5 suites, all open year-round. The White Lace is known for its romantic getaways and the beautiful rooms, relaxing atmosphere and gracious hospitality make it a must-stay for anyone who wants to experience romance, relaxation and beautiful surroundings.

We spent about 2 hours talking with Statz and the other journalist and the experience was a welcome respite from the activities of the previous 2 days. We even learned what bearings were…but that’s another topic. We walked back to our suite through the beautiful grounds, stopped at the mediation garden and petted one of the cats that live on the property. It had been a glorious day.

The following morning we woke early and made our way through the garden walk to the main house. Breakfast was waiting—and what a delicious breakfast it was! There was cherry-stuffed French toast, chocolate bread and hot coffee. In addition, there was a warm fruit soup that was simply delicious! We lingered over breakfast and met a couple from Boston who frequented the White Lace. They referred to Door County as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and it was an analogy that we thought was most fitting. All too soon, we packed up our car and began the long drive home.

One Comment leave one →
  1. barbpoppy permalink
    August 24, 2011 2:49 am

    Watching the sun rise over Rock Island from our room at the Jackson Harbor Inn was an early August morning delight! There is so much history right there at the Harbor with the the Maritime Museum. I want to go back again in October and see the Fall colors and experience the silence again. I don’t know why more people don’t stay overnight on Washington Island. It is so quiet!

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