We’ve been to Door County many times, but have never gone to Washington Island. I set my sights on changing that and decided to stay two nights on the Island, which would allow most of my travel day for exploration here and one day to take the ferry to Rock Island (my previous blog). There are many ways to take in Washington Island. Since it’s a little expensive for a day trip to take your car along, some people opt to take the people-only ferry at Gill’s Rock or Northport. Once there, you can rent bikes or mopeds, just hang around the harbor or maybe catch the Cherry Train, which is an open-air tram that will give you a nice overview of the Island on its 2-hour tour. For a little more info on Washington Island, click HERE.
With over 80 miles of paved roads on the Island, I opted for the works. For $65, I got round trip tickets for the car ferry to Washington Island and the passenger ferry to Rock Island and also a ride on the Cherry Train tram tour. In my opinion that was the way to really get a feel for the laid-back state-of-mind you’ll get on both islands and see as much as I could during my time there. The Welcome Center at Washington Island was steps from the ferry and offers a break from the wind and some very pretty surroundings. Bike rentals are close-by as well. But don’t get the idea that you can walk the Island, because from the ferry landing to Downtown is three miles and Jackson Harbor (where you catch the Karfi to Rock Island) is eight miles.
You can’t miss the Cherry Train, with it’s bright red pickup truck and equally as red tram-cars. Our tour-guide was very knowledgable about the Island and offered lots of history and a few funny stories. Even though you may have been told there is no such thing as a stupid question, be careful if you ask one – because you will be the butt of her jokes for years to come.
Today was quite brisk, so thankfully I had many layers of clothing in my car. Remember that, if you come without a car since you’re sitting in the middle of Lake Michigan/Green Bay and it can get quite nippy, especially if the wind is whipping.
First stop is Mann’s Mercantile (above, behind the gnome). It seemed like a strange stop to me, since we were only there for about 15 minutes and I can’t imagine stocking up on hardware while on the island, but they did sell yummy fudge and other snacks and the buildings to the right of the mercantile were quite interesting. Across the street was a bar. I suppose I could have slammed something that would have warmed me up, but I thought better of that idea.
Pictured above, you’ll notice the grass on the roofs. Apparently they tried to have goats grazing up top, but were almost sued because another establishment in Door County (to be covered in another post) took offense to them stealing their idea. I guess it all worked out anyway, since one roof was too steep and the goats would fall off and the other was too low and the goats would just jump off and run out into the road. Since they had to abandon that idea, a gentleman now has to go up and mow the roofs, which seems like a dangerous line of work to me!
Next stop is Washington Harbor and Schoolhouse Beach, which got its name from a log schoolhouse built here in 1850. If you’re not a fan of sand in your shoes, this is the beach for you. This is a beautifully smooth limestone beach, so bring some hard-souled shoes. And don’t take the rocks or you’ll get slapped with a $250 fine – for each rock. According to our driver, limestone beaches have the cleanest and clearest waters and there are no biting flies, which makes this the perfect place for an afternoon of relaxation. The water gets deep quickly so diving and snorkeling are good. Away from the water there’s a great place for picnics in a beautiful wooded area.
Several beautiful blue signs near the beach read:
“The smoothly polished stones are an integral part of the Schoolhouse Beach experience… By ones and twos, by pocketful, purse full, by box full, trunk full or truckload, the limestone gems so beautiful to look at, so soothing to hold, are being taken from their natural environment… Marvel at the grandeur of Schoolhouse Beach and please leave the stones as you find them.”
“The big ships and docks are gone now, along with the early settlements and those who eked out a living on the harbor shores. Yet Washington Harbor remains a magnet for visitors and a cherished heritage for the descendants who still make the Island their home. This place of natural beauty has a magical quality with its mirror smooth surface evoking quiet reflection both physical and spiritual.”
Next up is the Farm Museum. Pictured above and below, this was a great stop. With lots of old rusty iron objects to photograph, cute wooden horses and loads of history, I couldn’t have loved this stop more.
“Farm buildings from various locations on the Island were re-assembled here along with old-time farm tools and implements. There is special emphasis on the period from 1870 to 1940.” – READ MORE
We slowed down as we passed the Downtown area while our driver told us the story of Nelsen’s Hall.
“Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub is the largest purveyor of Angostura Bitters in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Why are they famous for serving up a shot that makes many cringe? The answer dates back to Prohibition, when the United States (quite unsuccessfully) banned the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol from 1920 – 1933. Tom Nelsen, a Danish immigrant built the hall in 1899 and wasn’t about to close his doors. He applied for and was granted a pharmacist license to dispense bitters as a “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes.” Since Angostura Bitters is 90 proof, it’s safe to say that it served as more than a cure for stomachaches.
The hall remained open during Prohibition, making Nelsen’s the oldest legally continuously operated tavern in the state of Wisconsin. The tavern also served as a movie theater, dentist office, ice cream parlor, and of course, pharmacy.” – READ MORE
I couldn’t find anything about the significance of The Bitter End Motel – right next door – other than it must have been pretty handy to be so close to a motel after drinking 90 proof shots. I just loved how the grapevines looked on the side of this historic old motel, so I included it here.
Next stop was a bonus! The Cherry Train lady said that she didn’t want to get our hopes up, so she didn’t tell us about this stop. Sometimes the parking lot and area around it is so packed with people you can’t get through in our allotted timeframe. Good thing we came on the “off season”, we made the stop and WOW, it was great.
The Stavkirke Stave Church on Washington Island was built to honor its Scandinavian heritage. Built at 3/4 scale, this church was designed after a church in Borgund, Lærdal, Norway, built in the 12th century and is a medieval wooden Christian church building of post and lintel construction – a type of timber framing.
After we said goodbye to the Cherry Train, back at its depot (the Welcome Center), I headed back to see some of the other things on the Island before I found my accommodations for the next two nights, with my first stop at Little Lake.
Right next to Little Lake was the Jacobsen Museum, which was chock full of natural and historical artifacts of the region, with a tour given by a woman who used to know Jens Jacobsen when she was a young child. For more information, read the info in the picture below. This sign was near the entrance to the Museum.
People’s Park was just up the road. A beautiful day, a beautiful park with awesome views, plenty of picnic tables and a gnarly old tree.
Below are pictures of the Bethel Church (1865) – the first church on the Island and St. Michael’s Chapel. The building that now houses St. Michael’s Chapel has worn several hats. Originally constructed as the Washington Harbor School in the 1800s, was also a General Store before it’s transformation in 1964 to a Chapel. Although open to the public, no services are actually held here.
The Art & Nature Center was one of the schoolhouses used when Washington Island had multiple school districts. Now it is the center for the display of works by local Artists. It also is a place for people to view the island’s unique ecology with plant and animal displays. Visit the website for the Art & Nature Center. Right next to the Center is a Memorial to the World War II Veterans.
One last stop at the Mountain Park & Lookout Tower sends you up 186 steps to the top of the Island to enjoy majestic views of the land and water. Wow, what a sight!
I decided to stay for two nights at the Sunset Resort, because of it’s great location on the sunset side of the island and because it had private bathrooms, which are rare on the Island. What I found was a beautiful location, a great resort and some very friendly people who have run the resort for years. Traveling alone, it’s nice to feel welcome and safe. Overall it was a great couple of days.
Phyllis was very friendly and helped me to find a place where I’d feel comfortable dining alone. The result was a fabulous meal, chatting with a fabulous bartender at the Sailor’s Pub, which is close to the ferry landing. I tried a new martini that Alex dreamed up that day (with pear juice, yum!), and my meal also provided left-overs for the next evening, which I stored in the guest refrigerator at the resort.
I was very excited to see my first sunset on Washington Island and then catch some ZZZs. I was pooped after such a full day. But as it turned out, there couldn’t have been a more boring sunset had I ordered one up. Good thing I got to bed early and then rose early, because the sunRISE was something to see.
The Sunset Resort has over 25 flags from different countries around the world. There are four or five that are permanent fixtures in the front of the resort and more in the back, near the water that they switch out. The first night, I met a couple at the resort from Wales and when I said I was from Belgium, we all laughed that we had such a worldly group there that night, even though our hometowns of Wales and Belgium were both in Wisconsin.
It always pays to chat with the folks “in the know”, because the next morning, I asked the purveyor how he decides which flags to put up each day. He wasn’t sure, he thought it was just random and mentioned that today’s flags were Belgium (left) and Germany (right). It may have been random, but I like to think that it was just for me. They must not have owned a flag from Wales.
Thanks to Lee, another of the outstanding folks at the Sunset Resort for helping me get a little more information on the limestone rocks that come ashore on Schoolhouse Beach. I always make a habit of taking a quick photo of any placards or DNR information that I can reference when I get home and start on the blog. One of my photos was cut off and I couldn’t see the last of what was written. I called the resort and Lee made a stop and emailed me pictures, so I could finish the quotes about the Limestone rocks. Thanks so much for the pictures, and for the wonderful stay Lee! I will be back!
Next up: Newport State Park