A Visit to the Door County Maritime Museum

In December of 2018, we went to Door County, Wisconsin and visited the Door County Maritime Museum, located adjacent to the Sturgeon Bay and in the city of the same name. Sturgeon Bay and the Door County area as a whole were havens for shipbuilding, and even today is inextricably linked to the maritime industry.

Ships being constructed at Sturgeon Bay. Notice all of the rails, which represented the end of the line of the Ahnapee & Western Railway.

To put it mildly, Door County is much more gorgeous during the summer, but nonetheless, the museum was a very interesting visit, and we learned a ton about shipwrecks that have occurred in the Great Lakes.


While the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was immortalized in the Gordon Lightfoot song, it is far from the only wreck to occur in the Great Lakes, and in fact there's a museum in Paradise, MI devoted entirely to shipwrecks that have occurred in these waters.

From the DCMM, "The Louisiana was a steamboat constructed in Marine City, Michigan in 1887.  During the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, The Louisiana attempted to seek refuge along Washington Island, but the heavy winds ran her aground.  She still lies on the southeast side of Washington Harbor."

Learning about shipwrecks inspired us to map some of them on our Ghost Towns map

I picked up this cool poster on shipwrecks within Lake Michigan alone from the gift shop, just to give you an idea how many have sunk in the lake.


While there are far too numerous shipwrecks across the Great Lakes, and the world, to map entirely map, we are mapping the ones that are visible on satellite imagery.

Many remote sensing techniques are deployed to discovering shipwrecks, but there are also explorers who dive into the waters to find such vessels.

For somebody with little experience on the water or sailing, the museum was quite educational without feeling inaccessible to someone without any amount of experience or knowledge, which is something all museums should try to emulate. 

This ship's wheel was part of an exhibit of the wheelhouse of a 1907 ship, known as the Horton Gallery.

The John Purves Tugboat is but one of several vessels that are displayed adjacent to the museum.

This picture should give you an idea of the weather outside. Cold, windy and wet. 

The museum is also home to the Baumgartner Gallery, which houses ship models, including the SS Badger below, a car and, at one point in its life, a railroad ferry.




The SS Badger today is the main vessel between Manitowoc, WI and Ludington, MI and carries US-10 over the water.


Beyond the model exhibit, an exhibit dedicated to the shipbuilding history of the area has some historic photographs that were particularly interesting to me.

An early 20th Century photograph of Peterson Boat Works. Note, of course, the rails in the foreground.


Of course, the thing I found most interesting in this exhibit was the historic maps of the area they had on display!

Aerial lithograph of Sturgeon Bay, looking northwest.

19th century Door County map.

At the time we visited this museum, I was almost singularly focused on railways and road history, and this museum was part of what helped show the history of the world around me, and I think it does a fantastic job of telling the Maritime history of Door County, which is long and complex. It's well worth the drive up Lake Michigan to visit, as is the rest of the county. 

Thanks as always for reading!

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