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Peninsula State Park History

Native American cultures

Humans have lived in the Door Peninsula for about 11,000 years. These early people were hunters and gatherers and eventually established small seasonal villages.

500 BC: Village site established at today's Nicolet Bay Beach. Various cultures occupied the site until 1300 AD. State Archaeologist Victoria Dirst conducted a dig at Nicolet Bay in 1994 and dated artifacts to the Early, Middle and Late Woodland and Oneota Native American cultures(400 BC).

Mixed villages of Potawatomi and other native groups occupied Door County and its islands through the mid 1800s. At that time, following treaties and the Indian Removal Act, the US government relocated native people outside of Door County. Today, about 2 percent of Door County's population is identified as Native American.

1800s: pioneers, mariners, fishermen and farmers

The earliest permanent settlers in Northern Door County fished, hunted and traded with local Indians. Lumbering and early tourism helped coastal villages and surrounding farms flourish.

Fishermen pulling in nets1842: Increase and Mary Ann Claflin settle on Weborg Point. Family members are buried in the privately owned Thorp-Claflin Cemetery.

1850s: Ole Larson settles on "Eagle Island." Eventually, the Larson family relocates to Nicolet Bay. Peter Weborg and Even Nelson settle with 35 Scandinavian families near Weborg Point.

1868: Eagle Bluff Lighthouse built on orders from President Andrew Johnson. Construction costs total $12,000. Henry Stanley, a Norwegian seaman, becomes the first lighthouse keeper.

1894: Dr. Hermann and Mrs. Henrietta Welcker of Milwaukee vacation in Fish Creek. Later, they open a health resort there. Welcker's Point and campground are named after the Welckers, who formerly owned this tract of land.

1909-1960: Peninsula's early days

Old black-and-white picture of lighthouse, circa 1909.1909: Peninsula State Park land purchased for less than $20 per acre.

1910: The Wisconsin legislature officially establishes the park.

1913: Albert E. Doolittle becomes Peninsula's first manager. He builds towers and campgrounds and raises funds for future park development.

1909-1960: Some park visitor build semi-permanent shelters and summer at Shanty Bay (Nicolet Bay) through the entire summer. The park manager routinely delivers groceries, milk, meat, bread and mail to the "summer community." Evenings, campers gather for minstrel shows, bonfires and social events, drawing audiences of as many as 1,500 people.

1914: Towers built at Sven's Bluff and Eagle Bluff. Both original towers are constructed from logs cut in the park and without the use of machinery.

1916-1948: Two young widows from St. Louis establish and operate Camp Meenahga for girls near today's Tennis Court Road. The girls live in tents and spend the summer taking instruction in horseback riding, swimming, dancing, drama and "personality."

1920-1961: The park operates a sawmill near Middle Road. Dead, diseased and wind-downed trees are cut into lumber that is used throughout the state park system.

1920s-1930s: Wisconsin's first game farm operates at Peninsula. Pheasants are raised at South Nicolet Bay campground. Visitors can also visit a small petting zoo at the game farm.

Campers in 1932 came by car with their canvas tent.1921: Manager Doolittle lays out a park nine-hole sand green golf course.

1927: The Door County Historical Society builds a 40-foot Memorial Pole at Peninsula Golf Course and dedicates it to the Potawatomi nation.

1930: A Civilian Conservation Corps Camp of 208 men constructs stone fences, clears hiking trails and roads, plants trees and refurbishing the ski jump and toboggan run near today's Nature Center.

1931: Chief Simon Kahquados, the last hereditary chief of the Potawatomi nation, is buried near the Memorial Pole.

Ski jump in 1930s1940s: Near the end of World War II, a small contingent of prisoners-of-war are assigned to work in Peninsula Park and nearby orchards. The German POWs are remembered for their industriousness and for singing while they constructed buildings, cut wood and picked cherries.

1947: Park staff remove Sven's Tower due to dry rot. White Cedar Forest (53 acres) and Beech Maple Forest (80 acres) State Natural Areas established in Peninsula.

1961-Present: modern times

By 1961, most "life leases" that enabled people to live in Peninsula expire with the death of residents. Buildings are moved or destroyed and farms and gardens return to a more natural state.

1960s: Modern facilities, including flush toilets, sinks and showers, added to campgrounds.

1964: Winter warming house on Bluff Road converted to theWhite Cedar Nature Center.

1970: Heritage Ensemble, now known as American Folklore Theatre, first performs in Peninsula State Park. Rebuilt Memorial Pole replaces original pole.

1981: Peninsula Golf Associates assumes management of clubhouse and grounds.

1982: Sunset Bike Trail surfaced. Irrigation system installed on golf course. Computers first used for camping reservations.

1988: Dwarf lake iris placed on federal threatened species list. New wastewater treatment plant constructed to serve campgrounds. Peninsula visitors use an average of 4.5 million gallons of water per year.

1992: First deer hunt held in Peninsula. Muzzleloader hunters successfully harvest 44 deer.

1995: Hidden Bluff Trail established. Memorial Pole at Golf Course removed and restored.

1996: Park Headquarters remodeled and expanded to better serve the increasing number of visitors.

1999: Centralized telephone reservation system established. On average, 70 percent of incoming calls at the Madison reservation center are requests for Peninsula's campgrounds.

Peninsula Centennial2000: Wisconsin State Park System celebrates 100 years. Door County Parks facilitate "Five Jewels in the Crown." Gibraltar school children write and perform songs for each park. Local women craft a memorial quilt that honors Door County parks.

2001: Tree thinning initiated at Tennison Campground. Information pavilion constructed at Park Headquarters.

2009: Peninsula Centennial Celebration.

Last revised: Thursday May 21 2015