The Potawatomi and Winnebago tribes went to war with each other at the tip of a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. Men and canoes were lost in the fearsome crossing between the tip and a distant island, and the Winnebagos took this as an omen. They vowed never to cross the waters again and dubbed the passage the door of death. Enter French explorers who heard the locals’ name for the passage and called it Port des Morts. This was translated to Death’s Door when English-speaking settlers arrived, and the Wisconsin county that came later was named Door. Today Door County is an adult playground.
Instead of warring natives, Door County is home to glass blowers, printmakers, metalsmiths, etc. There are over 100 galleries to tempt the affluent where tepees once stood. “Creativity thrives here and in every discipline,” ARTS MAP boasts. Some so-called Door County art is, in my opinion, borderline kitsch but much is museum quality. Check out Edgewood Orchard Galleries between Egg Harbor and Fish Creek to be convinced.
Fish Creek is also home to the Peninsula Players, “America’s oldest professional resident summer theatre” according to its brochure. Performances during its 79th season run from June through most of October. Not that Door dies when it gets cold. Cross country skiing, ice-fishing, snowshoeing, etc. attract the non-fleeing, and many businesses remain opened year-round.
Door County means charming harbor towns like Ephraim and Sister Bay. Most are on the Green Bay side of the peninsula. Thriving farm markets like Wood Orchard in Egg Harbor sell local products. Ruth and I bought and devoured tangy Door County SweeTango apples here. Cherries abound in products ranging from salsas to strudels, but the strictly local specialty is apple cider donuts. The strictly local meal is the fish boil. Whitefish, potatoes, onions, and salt (the only seasoning) are put in a cauldron and heated. When fish oils rise to the surface, fuel oil is thrown on the fire resulting in a fiery boil over. Ruth and I didn’t sample this “Door County Tradition!” because we discovered Wild Tomato, a small, sensational restaurant.
The Door County Wine Trail draws enthusiasts to 8 wineries including Wisconsin’s largest, Door Peninsula Winery, which is also the area’s oldest wine producer. Local specialties mean mostly sweet fruit wines.
Ruth and I saw deer crossing the road more than once as we drove Door’s 2-lane roads. This County has 13 nature preserves and many parks like the very scenic Peninsula State Park with deep woods, a historic lighthouse, an emerald-green golf course, etc. Hiking is a popular pastime for locals, many of whom come from Minnesota and Illinois, consider Door County their second home, and spend their winters in Arizona and the like.
Maritime museums, trolley tours, wild mushrooms! Learn to watercolor, write poetry, quilt! Door County has it all for experience-seeking adults with a yearning for Alaska-like privacy.