Saturday, August 16, 2014

Washington Island, WI 8/13/14

Washington Island, WI is located 7 miles off the tip of the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin.  The year round population is less than 700 people.  The island is approximately 5 miles by 6 miles.  We took the 30 minute ferry ride with our bikes which we would end up riding over 20 miles on the island roads.

On the ferry ride over we got a good view of Plum Island Lighthouse.  This Lighthouse was put into service in 1897.  This property was transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Services in  2007.  The lighthouse is viewed only from the water as the island is closed to public access, assuring protection for ground nesting migratory birds.

We first rode our bikes to the popular School House Beach. The limestone rocks were glacier polished thousand of years ago.  This beach is one of only five similar sand less beaches in the world.

Next we rode our bikes to this quaint little, mostly outdoor, farm museum.  The museum is completely self guided, with no museum personnel that we saw on site.  There were several farm buildings, dating back to the late 1800's, including a log cabin and barn.  Within the several buildings were tools, field machinery, photos and homemaking artifacts.  In one building is a sample of stovewood construction, used on the island.  In this construction, short logs would be stacked (cut ends facing out) filling the gaps with 'unslaked lime'. One of the many artifacts we viewed, included a gas powered Maytag washer machine.  That was something we had not seen before.  There was a set up yourself video that was a real joy.  It was narrated by a very elderly local resident (now deceased) Hannes Andersen.

Hannes's mother was the first Icelander born in Wisconsin.  There are more Icelanders here than anywhere else in the United States.  His father died when he was 10, and he immediately became responsible for plowing the fields.  He had many funny stories to tell on the video.  How special that someone had the foresight to have him tell his story while he was still alive, and what a story teller he was.

We stopped to visit the site of the Island's Dairy and finally ended up at Nelsen's for lunch.  Here, our waiter was a very polite local high school young man.  He asked for our order and then asked if we wanted to join the 'Bitter's' club.  We had heard some about this club, but asked Alex to please tell us the story.  Alex proceeded to give us a very detailed account of the history of the club.  He explained how Tom Nelsen, a Danish immigrant, having built Nelsen's hall in 1899, was not about to give up his business and close its doors when probation came about in 1920.  So, Tom Nelsen, applied for and was granted a pharmacist license, enabling him to dispense bitters as a stomach tonic for medicinal purposes.  Bitters is 90 proof, and served a lot more than just  'curing' of tummy aches.  Amazingly, Tom's plan worked and resulted in Nelsen's being the oldest, legally continuous operated tavern in the state of Wisconsin.  This tavern also served as a movie theater, ice cream parlor, dentist office and of course, the local pharmacy. 

So in order to be a full fledged islander, we took the challenge, and both of us are now card carrying members of the Bitters Club.  We both drank a shot of bitters, Alex put his bitter's dipped fingerprint on our membership cards and we signed the membership book. 

We asked Alex if he lived on the Island year round.  He told us he did, and that he went to the smallest public school in the state of Wisconsin, a school K-12 with a total of just 50 students.  Teri asked him how many were in his class and he said three.  Wondering just how a public school system accomplishes this sort of model, we looked up the school on the internet when we got back and were impressed. For those wanting to know more, here is that school's website.  Washington Island School  Lunch at Nelsen's and our visit with Alex our waiter, was a perfect way to finish off our trip to this wonderful island before we rode our bikes back to catch the ferry to the mainland.

Arriving back at the mainland as we started driving back home, we admired the beautiful clouds of Wisconsin-  something we are going to miss as we leave Wisconsin.

Plum Island Lighthouse
The Shores of School House Beach
Stovewood Construction-Farm Museum
Gas Powered Maytag Washer
-Farm Museum
Signing the Bitter's Club Membership Book
Love those Clouds!


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