The History of the Washington Island Ferry and Slow the Spread

Washington Island Ferry

Visitors often stop at Crossroads at Big Creek to ask questions about Door County. “Why is it called Door County?” and “What? No bridge to the island? so how do you get there?” These questions are answered in the book Over and Back. The Crossroads and the Door County Historical Society are pleased to host the author of this fascinating book as a part of their Sunday in The Village Series. At 2:00, Sunday, August 19, Dick Purinton will offer the program “The History of the Washington Island Ferry”.

According to Purinton, the somewhat ominous name for the county came from French voyageurs. He wrote, “Porte des Mortes, Death’s Door, is a water passage seperating Washington Island form the tip of the Door Peninsula.

“While placid most days, fast-moving storms and current running against the winds create steep, chaotic seas in the Door. Shoals and islands in close proximity also present navigational difficulties for sailors, especially in snowstorms or fog.

“Shipping through the Door passage was difficult for the schooners of the late 1800s, as it can still be for ferries, small boats and even large ore freighters.”

Purinton, the CEO for the family-run Washington Island Ferry Line, earned an Award of Merit from the Wisconsin Historical Society for Over and Back, a Picture Hisotyr of Transportation to Washington Island. He also wrote Words on Water – A Ferryman’s Journal and Bridges Are Still News – Island Essays, Poems and Photos. Purinton graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in journalism.

In his words, “Life on Washington Island and boats which cross the waters have been inseparable companions.

“Mutually dependent…ships, crew, passengers, freight, the resident Islanders and their products have evolved on a parallel course….Waters of Lake Michigan have been both an advantage and a hardship. Early Island settlers had an advantage in the heyday of maritime commerce when the easiest transportation was by boat. As emphasis on land transportation grew, water became more of a barrier to Island growth and opportunity.

Purinton will tell the full story at 2:00 in the lecture hall of the Collins Learning Center. The Village will be open from 1:30 to 3:30 and Historical Society members will be offering tours of the buildings and selling their marvelous cookies to help with Village Maintenance.

On August 20, at 7:00. the Door County Invasive Species Team Program will offer a public program called “Slow the Spread – Implementing Wisconsin’s Invasive Species Rule with Businesses” featuring guest speaker Chrystal Schreck. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has been working with many partner groups and agencies to slow the spread of invasive species throughout the state. Wisconsin’s Invasive Species Rule (Chapter NR 40) has provided a consistent platform from which DNR personnel are reaching out to agency staff, community groups, businesses and the public.

This is your chance to learn about the invasive species regulations, especially as they apply to businesses. Whether you are a business or a community member, this session will give you the tools you need to comply with the regulations and slow the spread of invasive species in your region. Schreck is an Invasive Species Education and Outreach Specialist at the Wisconsin DNR.

Family programs are offered at 1:30 Monday through Thursday free of charge.

Crossroads is a preserve welcoming learners of all ages to programs in science, history and the environment. The Historical Village at The Crossroads and the Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan Street, just east of Sturgeon Bay, are open daily 1:30-3:30. 

Wednesday , August 15                                                                                                             1:30 Family Program: “A Country Store”

Visit the Greene General Store and learn about the storekeeper and his family, and find out what’s for sale in 1900. Meet at the Greene General Store in the Historical Village at the Crossroads. Free and open to the public.


Thursday, August 17                                                                                                                  1:30 Family Programs: Birds and Wildflowers

Join the summer educator to search for birds and wildflowers in the colorful meadows of the Crossroads preserve. Free and open to the public. 

Sunday, August 19                                                                                                                     1:30-3:30 Sunday at the Village: “The History of the Washington Island Ferry.

Members of the Door County Historical Society, in period clothing, will offer tours of the buildings and they will be selling their marvelous cookies. At 2:00, Dick Purinton will present a program on “The History of the Washington Island Ferry.” Free and open to the public.

Monday, August 20                                                                                                                                                           1:30 1:30 Family Program: Penny Candy

When you think of a General Store, you think of penny candy. At this family program kids will learn about the treats of yesteryear and adults will remember happy days of childhood. Free. Meet in the Greene General Store.


Tuesday, August 21                                                                                                                    1:30 Family Program: Moon struck

Families will enjoy learning about the Earth’s Moon and a few of the moons from other planets in our solar system. Hands on activities will help participant understand basic concepts. Free. Meet in the Collins Learning Center.


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