Friday, July 26, 2013


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

A light rain is falling, and there is a temporary lull in tourism this afternoon, a good time to consider a new blog.  I've had some of these images on my computer screen for months, waiting for that opportunity to string them together with observations.

What got me started on this was the topic of dredging and dock work, and how one thing builds on another over the years and decades.  The present island ferry dock was formerly the property of Ole Christianson who had a boatyard and marine railway there.  If you're interested in more details on that yard, a letter from Ole to Thordarson is included in the about-to-be-published Thordarson and Rock Island.  Thordarson, it turns out, was interested enough in Ole's boatyard to exchange letters with him and get a price.  Ole, it is assumed, was what we call today a "motivated seller" because when Thordarson didn't bite, William Jepson who operated the ferries from the shipyard location at the far end of the harbor did.  Jepson moved his ferry landing and began to make dock improvements.  (This move would also have entailed the improvement of a road for motorized vehicles to and from the Lobdell Point area.  John W. Cornell recalled walking to work along a footpath when he first expanded his dock, where the current Island Outpost dock is now situated.)

North Shore moored inside the slip.
Barrels are lined up along the Standard Oil
dock to the north.  Chambers house is
in background (right).

In the first photo I think we can safely say the North Shore is backing from the location that is also the current ferry landing, backing "into the channel" so-to-speak.  Since the exact year isn't known, there might not yet have been a dredged channel, only a naturally deep waterway. (It was first dredged in 1937.)  Jepson wasn't the only operator to carry autos.  But he appears to be the first to do so, and the first to operate a regularly scheduled service using two ferries, the Welcome and the North Shore, built expressly for passenger and auto service from the Island to the Door Peninsula.

Earlier passenger service?

Eric Bonow provided the 1909 timetable below that outlines early passenger service options to upper Green Bay ports, including Detroit Harbor.   The larger Bon Ami or Sailor Boy made the main run between Sturgeon Bay and Marinette-Menominee, and then north to Escanaba.  A smaller vessel, Thistle, was used to call on smaller harbors along the Door Peninsula.  If someone from Washington Island wished to go to Escanaba, for instance, they could board the Thistle from Gislason's dock (near present day Shipyard Marina), and then transfer near the harbor's entrance to the northbound Bon Ami, which then continued on its way to Escanaba.  When southbound, the Bon Ami or Sailor Boy would stop in Washington Harbor, but apparently only when there was demand.

The fact that trains could be met at Sturgeon Bay or Marinette/Menominee (also at Escanaba, although it is not stated on the Time Card) made it a convenient means of scheduling travel.   It was with such possibilities that C. H. Thordarson often arrived in Escanaba, Michigan, from Chicago by train in later years.  A smaller boat trip completed his last leg to his Rock Island estate.

 Although it is hard to read the fine print, Eric highlighted the Thistle's name in yellow.  Passengers who wished to disembark in Detroit Harbor would also transfer from the larger Hart Line boat to the smaller Thistle near the harbor's entrance.  Then Thistle and her crew were optimized with an offer of "cheap excursion rates outside of Detroit Harbor every pleasant afternoon" to help fill time before she began her run south.

A promotion ran in the Time Card:  if passengers continued to Escanaba, they would arrive in the evening, "Giving all our passengers a chance to approach the city by night and view the immense ore docks lighted by electricity, which is a beautiful sight."

Other early Detroit Harbor vessel activity

Another Eric, Eric Greenfeldt, sent me a volume of great information in the form of early newspaper article reprints.  These clippings tell of the very first beginnings of  ferry transportation on Washington Island.  Here is a sampling:

The Door County News (DCN) of 22 May 1919 reported Capt. Carl Hanson of Washington Island, owner and master of the gasoline freighter Marion, stated his intention to make twice daily round trips from Detroit Harbor to Garret Bay (west of Gills Rock).

In the next few weeks, Hanson apparently sold (or leased) the Marion to William Jepson.  The June 26, 1919 issue reported the first trip carrying an automobile, the ferry Marion under Jepson's authority.  Success of the undertaking, it was noted, depended upon the "patronage of the public." But a "large increase in the number of autos during the past and first of the present season" was optimistically noted.  Also described was "a dock being built at Gills Rock for the ferry to discharge the autos conveniently and expeditiously, and the work will be completed by the end of the week."

Highways and automobiles led to a decline, then the end, of around-the-bay services such as the Hart Line offered.

The Marion's schedule and rates as advertised in the July 10 DCN:  Trips were twice daily.  Round trip rates were $5.00 for small cars, $7.00 for touring cars.  Passengers were 75 cents each, one way.  An accompanying column noted that "The line promises to become a popular mode of travel when brought to the attention of the outside world."

[We're still working on that...]

Competition was in the wings.  The following account appeared in the April 21, 1920 issue of the DCN:

Pete Anderson, the Mail Carrier, Will Carry Cars Across the Door In His New Boat

Washington Island is to have a ferry service again during the coming summer for the accommodation of the inhabitants of that part of the county as well as the tourists trade.

Pete Anderson, the hustling mail carrier, is the man behind the proposition and he will combine it with his regular business of handling Uncle Sam's mail and carrying passenger s back and forth.

During the past winter Pete purchased the big gasoline yacht Navarre which formerly belonged to Judge Turner, now deceased, and during the past couple of weeks, he with Thos. Johnson and George Jorgenson have been busily engaged at Two Rivers in converting the craft into a business boat.   She was thoroughly overhauled below the waterline and is now as good as new.

On Monday, Mr. Anderson, accompanied by Messr. Johnson and Jorgenson, arrived in the city with the boat on their way to Washington Island, stopping only long enough at the yards of the Fuller Goodman company on the west side to take on a load of material with which to finish the craft.  It is the intention to put in exceptionally heavy beams and decks for carrying automobiles.  The upperworks and decks will be put in at Detroit Harbor during the ensuing month, it being the intention to have her ready for commission along about the first of June.  The Navarre is 56 feet long and 15 feet wide and will be capable of carrying three cars handily.  She is an exceptionably fine boat.  The owners will also have accommodations for passengers as well.

Mr. Anderson has not as yet figured out just what schedule he will run on , but this will be announced at a later date.

There are a large number of autos owned on the Island, which together with those of people who wish to visit the place should provide a good business for the ferry.  
(Note:  In this early newspaper article the word "autos" appears with an "e," similar to "potatoes," a new word then for editors and readers alike.)

Well, enough for one rainy day.

Eric Greenfeldt sent me quite a few column inches reporting discussions leading to that first official auto being carried by Jepson on the ferry Marion in 1919.  When it rains again, and tourism doesn't require my services, we'll continue with this subject.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Over the past number of years while working on projects, each with its own immediacy, I've sat on an idea for a book on Rock Island and its one-time owner C. H. Thordarson.

I had many materials on Thordarson and a notion of how best to use them, but I didn't have sufficient time or confidence to give it the concentration and the push needed to finish such a project.  That changed when I decided to step back from daily duties at the Ferry Line January 1st, and since then I've been concentrating on this history, now titled Thordarson and Rock Island.   Of course, I'm still actively working for the Ferry Line, and the warmer weather and tourism of summer mean I have added responsibilities of operating the Karfi a few days each week in Jackson Harbor and driving tours on the Cherry Train.  But I'm far enough along with the book that those days come as welcomed breaks, allowing me to step back from what becomes obsessiveness to finish what I've started.

Book will be soft cover and will include
over 100 historic images, maps and illustrations.

The time involved to complete this book became far greater than I dreamed.  First, it took me time just to get going, to convince myself I was on the right track, and to make sense of the whole.  New questions cropped up that needed answers, and they were often left hanging (some will never be answered).  As early as March, the endless but essential task of editing began.  I've been fortunate to have the help of a number of friends with a qualifying background (they like to read!), eager to offer comment on what started out as very rough copy.  Through their collective comments the manuscript has become much smoother and easier to read, I believe, vastly improved from both accuracy and grammatical standpoints.  However, that editing is still going on today, with two, final "readers" lending their sharp eyes and minds to necessary corrections.

Although publication was already set back several times, the project is now much closer to print-ready.  But I've said all of this before...and then reset my own deadline.  But deadlines are the only way to bring reality to such a lengthy and multi-headed project, and I need to give several weeks' lead time to the printer.   At the same time, I want a product that won't cause me to cringe later due to egotistical blunders and grammatical errors.

In addition to volunteer readers, Amy Jorgenson is doing my digital page graphics for a printer-ready file.  I coordinate my ideas and edits with Amy.  With so many steps involved, I'm not planning on a sequel.   I hope this one will be a book readers will find informative, enjoyable and error-free.

A sample page:

Added to my research and the writing portion of this book project is the fact that early on I decided the surest way to get this to print would be to self-publish.   While I've done this sort of thing before, this time the steps were multiplied and they were larger steps that ended up stretching my time and my resources.   Along with the decision to be my own publisher, I also take on responsibility for marketing the finished product.  In this, I've been fortunate to have many local readers and the bookshops to sell books to motivated readers, but for this topic on Thordarson I wanted greater reach.

To this end, I wanted my own website to promote book information, sales and marketing, and so I asked Courtney Cauldwell, an Island resident, to help me set this up.

Yesterday, Friday, this website was officially opened at:

I would encourage you to look at my new website.  Sales of two previous books are also offered, but please note that until later in August the Rock Island book will not be available.  At a future date, advance orders will be taken.  But not yet, please!   I'd like to assure everyone that a product is in hand before commitment is made to an order.

In the middle of the final editing and publishing process is a trip Mary Jo and I have planned to visit England, to view crop circles among other things.  This trip was decided on a winter's whim back in January when the snow was flying and I still had great optimism this book would have been to the printer and back again by now, with a pallet of boxes awaiting orders in my basement.  But not so, as it turned out.   The time to see crop circles is when grain fields are mature, in late July and early August in Wiltshire County.  Nearby are the Standing Stones and many other ancient stone circles, mounds and monuments of earlier civilization.

We're committed to this trip, just as I am committed to finishing this book!

 -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, July 11, 2013


School House Beach stones.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Stones can be beautiful with colorful, interesting shapes.  They are useful in construction, to fill holes, create concrete in crushed form, to build masonry walls.  Certain types of stones are considered the ultimate in created beauty, such as when crafted into stone sculpture or stone countertops.

Stones can also be a great impediment, to farming and laying underground cables, a danger to ships when unseen just beneath the ocean's surface, or anytime they appear in their natural state and we find it least convenient - such as in a hole we're digging for a fencepost.

At various times we've all skipped, tossed and collected stones.  However, more recently, the repositioning and stacking of stones as a guidepost or a means of personal expression has become for many a common practice.  For some, this practice has nearly become an obsession.

Where is this piece leading? Why is he bothering to tell us things we already know or don't really care to hear?  It seems intuitive that stones - as common as air or water - aren't usually considered a precious resource unless they are first mined, or specially cut or sculpted, or placed within a wall or floor where they are critical to the structure.

At School House Beach on Washington Island, residents often are asked to defend local policy to visitors, "why the smooth beach stones found there shouldn't be taken."  The apparent and rapid disappearance in the last several decades of School House Beach stones is attributed to visitors taking them home, but a good number may lie at the harbor's bottom, having been skipped in fun by both Islanders and visiting guests.   There is no way these stones can be readily replaced, these wave-polished stones that took centuries for nature to refine, and so we now admonish anyone who takes one for a souvenir.

Another and similar trend, I think, is the movement or our general population to build small piles of stones into cairns.  This has been encouraged through photographs of stacked stones that impart a Zen-like benefit to the builder and viewer that supposedly makes this practice OK on public properties.

The Art & Nature Center of Washington Island currently features a display of stacked stones that are actually ceramic pieces cleverly and skillfully made to resemble School House Beach stones.  The artist includes a disclaimer that he did not take stones from the beach, and that the birch branches framing his piece were taken from a construction site where they were going to be disposed of anyway.   That's commendable and appreciated.  But does his sculpture encourage the building of more stone piles along School House Beach, where already on any given summer day stone stacks exist near the blankets of idle-handed beach-goers?

The Peninsula Pulse recently ran a piece about an art project of Kate Borcherding who stacked stones along Door Bluff on the Peninsula as part of her Memories Diaries Art Project, funded by Kickstarter.  (June 28th-July 5th issue.) The stones she chose were of various shapes and sizes and were stacked and then photographed:  art installation, it was termed.   The impression given to the reader by that article might be that anyone can try their hand to imitate or improve upon such art, and that since it is art, the end product is of a worthy realm, like a Zen object, and therefore we should be encouraged to practice more of the same.

On Rock Island recently, the Friends of Rock Island (quite unwittingly, I'm sure) at the Rock Island State Park Picnic celebrating the Fourth of July sponsored a stone cairn building contest.  I'm not certain of their judging guidelines, whether the goal was to reward the tallest, most massive, or the most unique stack of stones, but the encouragement to take what the glaciers dispersed and reorganize it into our own desired likeness seems wrong, even though any single stone stack seems harmless and temporary. They may seem to many like sand castles which a builder would not displace materials from their "natural setting."  

I read an editorial several years ago that ran in a Green Bay paper where the writer was greatly disappointed when he visited several national parks in the west.  No matter where he hiked, or how remote the location, he observed stacks of stones left behind by clever stone-stacking artists who were probably hikers, like himself.  He wanted to see nature as it was and should be,  knowing that he would encounter trails with footprints here and there left by previous hikers, which for practical reasons can't be undone but will be washed away by nature.  These footprints also come with the presence of man, he believed, but they were less intentional than piled stones. The ever-present rock stacks, he believed, defaced the landscape as would painting your name on a large boulder or carving your initials in a tree or a wooden handrail.

For writing this I may be considered just "an old grouchy bastard" who can't seem to join in the fun or appreciate the benefits of creative release that stone stacks may give its builders.  But, I thought I'd at least like to try getting my point across.

How original are we?  How artistic?  Do we improve upon nature when we stack stones, or do our products become a collective nuisance, such as when stacks of stones proliferate as sometimes is the case at School House Beach?   Better to build than to take them away, some may say, and I tend to agree with that.

In the act of walking down the beach toward the water, each of us is helping push the naturally piled stones further toward the water's edge, one step at a time.  Maybe the pastime of stacking them will bring some of the stones back up the beach line where their march toward the water can start over once again.  But I think there is nothing as enjoyable as seeing that beach, and others like it, after winter's snows have left it in a near-pristine condition, or after a big northerly gale when the forces of nature (and not man's pseudo-artistic hands) have repositioned them flat.

The lake and the lake shore below the high water mark are public property.   There are no laws against stacking stones.  Should we then go along with it, and improve construction methods through the use crowbars and levers, tackling the really big stones, all the more to impress our audience of fellow travelers?

Will an endpoint in stone stacking be reached?  Or will a time come when stacking stones is passe' and no longer a unique form of expression, only a way to pass time?  Will this human pastime ever be seen as a blight, rather than the form of artful construction some now consider it to be?

-  Dick Purinton