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Namur in Door County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

The Fire of 1871 and Williamsonville: A 19th Century Euroamerican Settlement in Door County

From First Americans to Euroamericans

 

—Archaeology and History of the WIS 57 Transportation Corridor —

 
The Fire of 1871 and Williamsonville: A 19th Century Euroamerican Settlement in Door County Marker image. Click for full size.
By K. Linzmeier, June 8, 2014
1. The Fire of 1871 and Williamsonville: A 19th Century Euroamerican Settlement in Door County Marker
Inscription.
The Town of Williamsonville
Tornado Memorial Park in Door County is located on the site of the former settlement of Williamsonville. The town was settled by the Williamson family in 1869 to take advantage of the Door County State Road opened in 1867 that linked Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay.

By 1871, Williamsonville had a steam-powered shingle mill for processing wood from the nearby pine forests and cedar swamps, a boarding house, a blacksmith shop, eight houses, and 10 acres of cleared farmland. The town’s population of 76 included men, women, and children.

The Peshtigo Fire
On October 8, 1871, events conspired to erase Williamsonville from the landscape if not from memory. Contemporary accounts tell us:
“The woods and the heavens were all on fire, the smoke blocked the sun and the rising moon turned red.”
The Peshtigo Fire is less well known than the Chicago Fire that occurred on the same day. The Peshtigo blaze remains the most destructive forest fire in American history. The Peshtigo Fire destroyed one million acres of farms, forests, sawmills, and small towns in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, including the town of Williamsonville. For ten days prior to October 8, 1871, residents of Williamsonville had been fighting small blazes and had
The Fire of 1871 and Williamsonville: A 19th Century Euroamerican Settlement in Door County Marker image. Click for full size.
By K. Linzmeier, June 8, 2014
2. The Fire of 1871 and Williamsonville: A 19th Century Euroamerican Settlement in Door County Marker
(back left marker)
set back-fires to protect their town. Despite these efforts, a strong wind began to blow on the evening of October 8, fanning fires and spreading sparks and eventually burning all of Williamsonville’s buildings. People took shelter in a potato patch south of the town, in the town well, and under wet blankets in beds of ash. Fifty-nine of the town’s 76 residents died as well as 16 horses, five oxen, and 38 hogs. Williamsonville was never rebuilt.

Remembering Williamsonville
When Tornado Memorial Park was opened in 1927 to commemorate the destruction of Williamsonville, the Sturgeon Bay Advocate reported that the site was in the same condition as it was after being destroyed by fire.

The land included partial foundations of the boarding house, well, and mill, the location of the former potato patch, and many charred tree stumps.

Archeology at Williamsonville
Archaeological investigations uncovered portions of the mill and several structures, including houses and outbuildings.

Because of the site's significance, Wis DOT redesigned WIS 57 to avoid the site and preserve the archaeological deposits.

A List of Those Who Perished in the Fire of October 8, 1871 at Williamsonville, Wisconsin
Published in the Door County Advocate, October 26, 1871.

At Williamson's Mill
Joseph Married, wife and three children • Nelson Dimrow, wife and two children • Michael Adams, wife and three children • John Williamson, wife and one child • Jos. Marcoix, wife and two children • James Williamson and wife • Mrs. Buckland and two children • Unknown French woman and two children • Thomas Crane • John O'Conners • Chas. Duncan • Emery Jervis • John Conlan • Unknown Woman • Henry Jervis • Maggie Williamson • Freddy Williamson • Maggie 0'Neil • Patrick Ahearn • Charles Weinbeck • Peter Bordway • Joseph Verbonker • Thomas Whelan • Dan Nickolson • Frank Borway • Jason Williamson • George Buckland • J. Williamson, Sr. • James Whelan • James Donlan • Mike Rogan • John Ahearn • Frank Donlan • Louis Longley • Maggie Heaney • Unknown Woman • Four unknown bodies found in the woods.

At Scofield & Co. Mill
Twelve unknown men

(All photos UWM-ARL 2012)
logos of United States Department of Transportation, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Wisconsin Department of Transportation

 
Erected 2012 by the United States Department of Transportation, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
 
Location. 44° 44.065′ N, 87° 40.02′ W. Marker is in Namur, Wisconsin, in Door County. Marker is on County Road DK east of County Road N, on the left when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is immediately southwest of the Belgian Heritage Center, formerly Our Lady of the Snows Church. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1255 County Road DK, Brussels WI 54204, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 8 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. After the Fire: The Vandermissen Brickworks Site (here, next to this marker); Historic Euroamerican Settlement of the Door Peninsula (here, next to this marker); Transportation Archaeology on the WIS 57 Project (here, next to this marker); The WIS 57 Reconstruction Project in Brown, Kewaunee, and Door Counties (here, next to this marker); Belgian Settlement in Wisconsin (within shouting distance of this marker); The 1858 Rosiere Kermiss (approx. 4.8 miles away); Well Site (approx. 6.6 miles away); Stage House · Dyckesville (approx. 7.8 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Namur.
 
More about this marker. photo and map captions, clockwise:
• Panic at the river during the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 (Image courtesy of the Wisconsin Electronic reader; originally published in Harper's Weekly, November 25, 1871)
• Map of Williamsonville drawn in 1931 by Hjalmar Holland (Door Co. Historical Society)
• Portion of Williamsonville mill foundation
• Artifacts from archaeological excavations: Burned crockery; China; Melted glass; Platter rim; cast iron stove part
• Corner of burned structure is visible in upper left corner of excavation
• Williamsonville and the Great Fire of 1871 (showing extent of fire –HMdb) (UWM-ARL image, Source: Wisconsin Past and Present: A Historical Atlas)
 
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker.
 
Also see . . .
1. Tornadoes of Fire at Williamsonville, Wisconsin, October 8, 1871. Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. (Submitted on January 10, 2015.) 

2. Peshtigo Fire. Wikipedia entry. (Submitted on January 10, 2015.) 

3. The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. "On the evening of October 8, 1871 the worst recorded forest fire in North American history raged through Northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, destroying millions of dollars worth of property and timberland, and taking between 1,200 and 2,400 lives." (Submitted on January 10, 2015.) 
 
Categories. DisastersRoads & VehiclesSettlements & Settlers
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 264 times since then and 89 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on , by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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