Students from Sturgeon Bay provided the inspiration that made Heritage Village come to life at the edge of Sturgeon Bay.
At the April 1991 meeting of the Door County Historical Society, a group of eighth grade students from T.J. Walker Middle School presented a program describing their experiences of pioneer living at Old Victoria, a restored mining town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The students said the experience was “life changing.”
The presentation prompted some members of DCHS to dream of a nearby place where Door County history could be brought to life. The venue couldn’t be a mining town like in the U.P., but perhaps it could showcase a rural community. What could be more quintessentially Wisconsin than a little village, one of the settlements that sprang up at many rural intersections across the Midwest: A Village at Big Creek.
About the same time, the Sturgeon Bay Education Foundation was exploring the idea of creating a school forest. The foundation purchased 53 acres at a crossroads near the intersection of Highway 42-57 and Michigan Street just east of Sturgeon Bay, and The Crossroads at Big Creek was born. The foundation agreed to lease a corner of its land to the Door County Historical Society for The Heritage Village at Big Creek.
At the initial planning meetings, members of DCHS took on the daunting task of establishing a truly historic village. To prevent the problem of destroying history while trying to preserve it, DCHS asked several professional researchers to supervise an archeological survey of the site. Fourth grade, middle school, and high school students helped out; they dug, “shook” and analyzed every shovelful of soil.
After the archeological team determined that the site lacked significant artifacts or evidence of occupation, the DCHS began to create a village, to depict rural life in the period between 1880 and 1910.
Kohl Fish House – 1993
Ed Kohl’s daughters donated this fish house. The Door County Historical Society moved the fish house from Jacksonport to The Heritage Village at Big Creek. Kohl’s grandson, Chuck Olson, helped restore the building and arrange artifacts inside based on his memories of how his grandfather caught and sold fish. The restoration was made possible by a grant from the Raibrook Foundation.
Parking Lot – 1994
A parking lot for the village and environmental center was cleared and paved as a donation from Bissen Blacktop of Sturgeon Bay.
Vignes School – 1995
When a one-room school in southern Door County was slated for destruction, the Door County Historical Society took steps to acquire it for the Heritage Village at Big Creek. Since area schools wanted consolidation in 1974, the building had been used as the Clay Banks Town Hall. By 1994, the town was planning to replace it with modern building. The town voted to donate the building and to help move it the nine miles to the Heritage Village site. The journey meant overcoming obstacles such as 89 overhead electrical and telephone wires and crossing a bridge over the waters of Sturgeon Bay.
After much discussion and planning, the 28-by-40 foot building – minus its roof – was moved. At the Heritage Village property, the school got a new roof and a reconstructed steeple, thanks to work and donations from John Collins and PortSide Builders. The warped floor was restored with time donated by the custodians from the School District of Sturgeon Bay. Members of the DCHS restored the interior of the building.
Heritage Garden – 1996
The members of the Sturgeon Bay Home and Garden Club started the Heritage Garden as a memorial to two club members. Originally planned as an herb garden, the garden has grown to include heirloom vegetables and flowers. Members of Master Gardeners constructed the slab fence around the garden and the arbor at its entryway. Each summer, volunteers from Sturgeon Bay Home and Garden Club and Master Gardeners tend the garden. The produce is shared with local food pantries.
The Petersen Granary – 2000
The Peterson Granary, built in 1905, was donated to the Door County Historical Society by Buffy Andre Miller, and moved from its original location on Lily Bay Road to the Heritage Village. A grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans underwrote the construction of an lean-to. In 2008, a grant from the Raibrook Foundation, enabled the DCHS, guided by Al Briggs of Algoma, to create a Blacksmith Shop in the lean-to section.
The Chapel at the Crossroads – 2001
In 2001, the Door County Historical Society celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding with a major project: building a three-fourth’s size replica of the first church built in Door County. The structure was patterned after the Ephraim Moravian Church, built in 1853 by Rev. Iverson. The interior includes a pulpit built by Dr. Ted Attril. The original organ from the Ephraim Church is on loan from the Ephraim Foundation.
The Warren House – 2004
The historic Warren House was donated by the descendents of the Warren family and moved from its site on County Highway U (almost to Horn’s Pier in southern Door County). The building had been covered in concrete, which was removed from two and a half sides. Using grants from the Raibrook Foundation, private donations and funds from the Historical Society, the building was restored at a cost of $80,000. The Warren family donated some of the furnishings and artifacts.
Privy – 2004
In 2004, students from the School District of Sturgeon Bay manual arts program built the privy building near the Warren House. The privy was installed over a modern, concrete vault storage unit, a project made possible by a gift from Gene and Pat Remy.
Greene General Store – 2005
The Greene General Store was built in 2005 with help from gifts and bequests from Jane Greene in honor of her husband Stanley Greene (long time Sturgeon Bay mayor and historian) and his father Harry Greene, who operated a general store in Sturgeon Bay. The building was designed as a composite of the general stores that flourished throughout Door County at the turn of the last century. The candy counter was the most popular place in the store; and a wood stove provided a “community center” for locals. Members and friends of the Door County Historical Society donated the artifacts and items displayed in the store. Each item was authenticated, cleaned and catalogued by a team of volunteers.
Schopf House – 2005
Originally built by the Lautenbach family, the house was donated by Bob Costa and moved from Division Road near the village of Egg Harbor. After being placed in The Heritage Village, the house was named for Orville Schopf, former Door County historian and past president of the Door County Historical Society. The house has been restored to typify the German immigrant family who built it, Gus and Caroline Lautenbach.