Monday, July 13, 2015


Photo of the Green Bay chart reprint includes (top left) the early
settlement at the mouth of the Fox River with symbols representing
dwellings along the east bank of the river, and
Fort Howard shown on the west bank. 

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

This morning we awoke to rain and overcast, a perfect morning to straighten out my desk and to report on a package we received late last week from Eric Bonow.

Eric seems to have a nose for out-of-the-way documents and maps and in his searching he came across a very early "Chart of Green Bay" that was based on surveys under the direction of CAPT. W. G. Williams, assisted by Lieut. J. W. Gunnison, Corps of Topograhical Engineers, in 1845.  This chart was then "Reduced from the original Map in the Topographical Bureau" by W. B. Franklin, Lieut. Corps Topographical Bureau, in 1846.

The body of water of Green Bay is shown horizontally in order to include as much of the bay from the settlement at the mouth of the Fox River (Green Bay) to the very southern point on Washington Island, including the all-important passage of Porte Des Morts.   It's a shame Rock Island was not included, as it would have shown the first federal lighthouse in the northern Lake Michigan area, Pottawatomie Light, established in 1836.

Rock Island at the time this chart was published quite likely had a more sizable population with people of European origin than any other location north of Green Bay.  Large encampments of natives along peninsula shores of the bay had already disappeared following a treaty between the Menominee Indians and the United States, ceding a huge area which included present day Door County and "all the islands on Green Bay…"  (Rock Island, p.8, published 1969, Conan Bryant Eaton, Washington Island, Wisconsin.)

According to the late Island historian Conan Eaton,  by the time this 1846 chart was published, shipping would have relied on the lighthouse built on Rock Island's northern bluff.   The settlement of Rock Island's fishermen around that time, though small, would continue to grow over the next ten-to-fifteen year period, making Rock Island the setting where Washington Township was then organized in 1850 before the population rapidly declined in the late 1860s and 1870s.

Aside from the Green Bay settlement, long a trading center and a military fortification, no other settlements are shown or named along the entire peninsula.   There is a "Little Sturgeon Bay" and a "Big Sturgeon Bay" to denote shoreline indentations, but no villages named.  For instance, you will find "Eagle Bay" and "Eagle Hard" (the bluff that we know as Eagle Bluff), but as of that date no Ephraim.  

Bay water depths are shown with quite extensive soundings, and navigational features that showing bays, outcroppings and rocky shoals, well-depicted but generally without names.   Exceptions that are shown are:  Hat Island; Chambers Island; Strawberry Islands; Horseshoe Island and "The Sisters."   In Porte Des Morts we see the early name given to today's Plum Island but with the original and correct spelling of "Plumb Island."   This word "Plumb" which can be found on other early charts, denotes this island's location as dead-center, in the middle of the passage, between the peninsula and Washington Island.

The only named feature shown on the 1846 chart on the Lake Michigan shoreline was Baileys Harbor, "discovered" as a harbor of refuge a few years earlier by a Capt. Bailey, who then bought land there for the purpose of logging and quarrying.

The Sturgeon Bay Portage is depicted using a horizontal
scale of "1000 feet to an inch," while the
vertical scale is "20 feet to an inch."   The
highest elevation separating the two waters
was about 20 feet, then, and nearly all sand.

An interesting feature added to the chart was the "Profile of the dividing Ridge at Sturgeon Portage."  We conjecture that by 1846 not many travelers found it necessary or productive to portage across the sandy separation between Lake Michigan and the eastern end of "Big Sturgeon Bay." In earlier centuries, natives and then French voyageurs and pioneers would have carried their canoes or small boats from one waterway to the other.

It would be approximately 35 more years before a canal would be dug and completed to connect the two waterways, providing an economic boost to Sturgeon Bay's prominence in trading and shipbuilding, short-cutting the longer and sometimes treacherous route around the tip of the peninsula. In 1846 the peninsula itself was not yet named "Door Peninsula," but rather, "Wisconsin T.y" for Wisconsin Territory.

The 1846 sailing route around the peninsula and through the Door passage could easily have added a day or more to reach a point but a few miles to the west of Sturgeon Bay, a sailing route that also required avoiding many islands and shoals, none of which were yet marked by federal navigational buoys or markers.

 - Dick Purinton

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