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Near Sturgeon Bay in Door County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal
 
Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal Marker Photo, Click for full size
By K. Linzmeier, September 17, 2008
1. Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal Marker
photo captions:
Canal Life Saving Station — circa 1890
Canal workers and a steam-driven dredge — circa 1877
The Big Tow — circa 1894
This sign is located here.
 
Inscription. This canal was the dream of Joseph Harris, Sr., "the Father of the Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal." His intent was not only to provide a shorter and safer route for sailing vessels, but to also become rich by selling building lots along the canal in the town of "Harrisburg" that would surely result along the lake end of the canal. After much work, lobbying, and a change in the canal location, a state charter was granted in 1864 to his Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal and Harbor Company to begin work three-quarters of a mile south of the projected "Harrisburg." Harris never realized a financial gain on the sale of his property and "Harrisburg" was never built.

In 1871 the federal government constructed a harbor of refuge on Lake Michigan at the place where the canal would emerge. Construction of a lighthouse and fog signal at the end of the breakwater was recommended in 1873, but the light was not built until 1882.

Construction of the canal began on July 8, 1872, but the Depression of 1873 held up the work for three years. Construction resumed in 1877 and on June 28, 1878 at 7:30 p.m. the final shovelsful of dirt were removed to allow the mixing of the waters of Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan. There is little written record about the canal laborers, but we do know a fair number of local men were
 
Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal & Marker Photo, Click for full size
By K. Linzmeier, September 17, 2008
2. Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal & Marker
 
hired along with "men from the outside recruited by promises of good wages."

The first loaded ship towed through the canal was the three-masted schooner "America" bound for Chicago in 1879 with a load of lumber. It would take another four years to complete the 7,400-foot canal to the specifications needed for the sailing vessels of the 1880s to safely use the canal.

The first full year of operation in 1882 showed 415 ships passing through the canal. Ten years later that number had increased nearly tenfold to 3,949. During the early years of the canal, a tow charge was levied on ships passing through.

Local tug owners provided towing services for the ships using the canal and competition was keen as whoever got to a ship first got the job. The ship owners found that they could split the charges by linking up and being towed through in a group. The "Big Tow" shows a group of six sailing ships joined by tow ropes in their passage through the canal.

The completion of the canal reduced the trip distance from Green Bay to Milwaukee and Chicago by 150 miles and eliminated the dangerous journey through Death's Door passage at the tip of the Door Peninsula.

For more information about maritime history in Door County visit the Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society, Inc.

CANAL FACTS
 
Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal Photo, Click for full size
By K. Linzmeier, September 17, 2008
3. Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal
Looking southeast towards Lake Michigan.
 
AT A GLANCE

Construction began in 1872
Waters connected in 1878
Full operation of canal in 1882
Canal length: 7,400 feet
Canal width: 100 feet
Canal depth: 22 feet
Costs
Excavation: $229,867.32
Docking, revetment, etc.: $24,113.71
Civil Engineer: $37,489.66
TOTAL: $291,461.69

This informational sign was made possible by a joint effort of the Door County Historical Society and the DCMM&LPS Maritime Friends.
 
Erected by the Door County Historical Society and the Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society Maritime Friends.
 
Location. This marker has been replaced by another marker nearby. It was located near 44° 47.965′ N, 87° 19.215′ W. Marker was near Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, in Door County. Marker could be reached from Canal Road east of Buffalo Ridge Road, on the right when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is along the canal which can be reached from the parking area of the Overlook Trail. Marker was at or near this postal address: 2627 Canal Road, Sturgeon Bay WI 54235, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this location, as the crow flies. Wisconsin State Rock (here, next to this marker); Portage Park (approx. half a mile away); ‘Old Bell’ Tower (approx. 3.8 miles away); Historic Sturgeon Bay (approx. 3.8 miles away); The Old Bridge (approx. 3.8 miles away); "The Old Rugged Cross" (approx. 4 miles away); Bradley Crandall Sawmill Site (approx. 4.4 miles away); Steam Barge Joys (approx. 4.6 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Sturgeon Bay.
 
Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Robert L Weber, November 23, 2008
4. Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal Marker
Marker is missing. We would appreciate an update about its replacement.
 

 
Regarding Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal. Door County is named after a dangerous water passage at the tip of the peninsula, called by French explorers "Porte des Morts" or "Door of the Dead."
 
Also see . . .
1. Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. (Submitted on January 11, 2009.)
2. USCG Station Sturgeon Bay. (Submitted on January 11, 2009.)
3. Sturgeon Bay Canal Station. "The third order Fresnel lens alternated red and white flashes. The focal plane of the light was 107' above lake level." (Submitted on January 11, 2009.) 
 
Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal Photo, Click for full size
By K. Linzmeier, September 17, 2008
5. Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal
Looking northwest towards Sturgeon Bay
 
 
Canal Entrance from Lake Michigan Photo, Click for full size
By K. Linzmeier, September 17, 2008
6. Canal Entrance from Lake Michigan
U.S. Coast Guard Station Sturgeon Bay
 
 
A Foggy Morn Photo, Click for full size
By Nick Tamble, June 2008
7. A Foggy Morn
When the weather is right, fog settles thick in the canal, especially the last mile or two leading to the canal station.
 
 
LIght House at the end of the canal. Photo, Click for full size
By Robert L Weber, circa 2010
8. LIght House at the end of the canal.
About 1/2 mile East of the marker.
 
 
Jetty Lighthouse Photo, Click for full size
By Robert L Weber, November 11, 2010
9. Jetty Lighthouse
 
 
Jetty Photo, Click for full size
By Robert L Weber, August 19, 2010
10. Jetty
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on January 11, 2009, by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 2,417 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on January 11, 2009, by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.   4. submitted on June 7, 2011, by Bob (peach) Weber of Prescott, Arizona.   5, 6. submitted on January 11, 2009, by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.   7. submitted on November 1, 2009, by Nick Tamble of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.   8. submitted on December 14, 2010, by Bob (peach) Weber of Prescott, Arizona.   9, 10. submitted on December 16, 2010, by Bob (peach) Weber of Prescott, Arizona. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
 
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