“German Prisoners of War on Our Soil” is the title of Door County Historical Society’s Sunday program scheduled for 2:00 on September 20 at Crossroads.. That topic seems entirely fitting because there actually were German Prisoners of War on our soil– the soil of the Crossroads at Big Creek Preserve.
We became aware of this in 2010, when Crossroads collaborated with the Door County Historical Society to present a Family Event we called “Celebrating Orchards.” We knew that in 1911, Moulton Goff (son of Emmett S. Goff, the University of Wisconsin professor who helped pioneer orchards on the peninsula) purchased our land from the Hans Hanson family. The Goff family raised cherries, plums, apples and small fruits. And indeed, during the War Years, POWs helped harvest the fruit.
Our friends, the Door County Library staff, suggested that as part of our research, we read Stalag Wisconsin by Betty Cowley. We did and ended up inviting Ms. Cowley to be the keynote speaker for our celebration. She was happy to come to Crossroads, but she had a condition. Before her program, she wanted to have the opportunity to meet with area residents who remembered Door County during the World War II. So we put out the word, and were amazed that people we had known, sometimes for years, clearly remembered the POWs in Sturgeon Bay.
Apparently, while we were learning about Sturgeon Bay, Emilie Coulson, Katie Dahl and James Valcq were in the process of writing an original musical for Northern Skies Theater (then known as American Folklore Theatre). Called Victory Farm, this moving and well-researched show told the story of the relationships which developed between Northern Door County natives and German War prisoners.
During World War II, it seems that many Door County families, for one reason or another, got to know the German prisoners. Our speaker, Dr. John J. Beck, was a just a child during the war, but his father, Dr. John G. Beck, was the physician who provided medical services for the German prisoners held in Door County. Dr. Beck has vivid memories of accompanying his father to the internment camp. He also has done extensive research to complete his story of how the prisoners lived and how we treated them. His illustrated lecture will evoke memories for some and provide insights for others.
It’s not really a labor camp, but with its chain link fence (now on only two sides!), the Ida Bay Preserve looks rather like one. On Tuesday, September 22 from 10:00-2:00, Friends of Crossroads are holding a Work Day, laboring to remove honeysuckle from the property and to work on our new trails. Lemonade and granola bars will be provided. The Friends would welcome other volunteers. Meet at the Parking Lot at the intersection of Canal Road and Buffalo Ridge Trail. Worker should wear long pants and work gloves. Those wanting to explore the trails should arrive at 9:00 for a pre-work session hike.
Crossroads at Big Creek is a learning preserve welcoming learners of all ages to programs in science history and the environment. The Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan in Sturgeon Bay, is open 2:00-4:30 daily and during scheduled programs. Trails at Crossroads, the Ida Bay Preserve, and Big Creek Cove are free and open to the public.
Sunday, September 20
DCHS Lecture: “German Prisoner of Our Soil”
Speaker John J. Beck, M.D. will present an illustrated lecture about the World War II German Prisoners who labored in Door County. Sponsored by the Door County Historical Society. Free and open to the public.
Tuesday, September 22
Friends of Crossroads Work Day
Volunteers will be laboring to remove honeysuckle from the property and to work on our new trails at the Ida Bay Preserve. Lemonade and granola bars will be provide. The Friends would welcome other volunteers. Meet at the Parking Lot at the intersection of Canal Road and Buffalo Ridge Trail. Worker should wear long pants and work gloves. Those wanting to explore the trails should arrive at 9:00 for a pre-work session hike.