Structures That Tell Our Stories
In Door County, the architecture tells a story—the story of the earliest Native American residents, of the Scandinavian and Belgian settlers who came next, of an enduring maritime culture, and of a simpler, more pastoral place where nature, recreation, and family time are valued above all else. Iconic manmade landmarks that illustrate where we (and our ancestors) came from are strewn all over the peninsula and Washington Island. You just have to know where to look.
Architectural History & Influences
While this area was long inhabited by Paleo-Indians and Native Americans, white settlers began arriving as early as the 1520s.
The first permanent settlers arrived in the early 1800s from Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Moravia and brought with them their homelands’ cuisines, celebrations, and traditions as well as design aesthetics and building methods.
Belgian culture in particular has strong ties to Southern Door County. Some of the most fascinating local structures are also the humblest: roadside Belgian chapels, many of which were destroyed in the Peshtigo Fire of 1871. The post-fire period took place during the Victorian era, so the chapels were rebuilt in brick, and many other structures and homes were built in the Victorian style as well.
Local architecture and design has also been heavily inspired by nature and Door County’s symbiotic relationship with Lake Michigan. Relics of our maritime past can be seen in the lighthouses, marinas, bridges, ports and canals, and other boating/fishing infrastructure.
Top 9 Must-See Landmarks
Don’t miss these iconic landmarks that best represent the region’s cultural and historical influences—and don’t forget the camera. If you’re looking for even more, check out this list of local locations on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Sturgeon Bay Bridge: stately 140-foot steel bascule bridge
- Eagle Tower: observation tower with views of the lake
- Northern Sky Theater: a theater under the stars in a state park
- Thordarson Boathouse: Rock Island's Icelandic-inspired structure
- Lighthouses: 11 lighthouses span the county, all with their own history
- Anderson Dock: graffiti-friendly historic site by the lake
- Alexander Noble House: lovingly preserved Greek Revival farmhouse
- Native American Village Site: replica prehistoric village with wigwams
- The Clearing Folk School: beloved nature and learning center
5 Spiritual Sites to See
Door County has a long list of churches, chapels, and religious and spiritual sites that are worth visiting no matter your faith or belief system. Here are just a few.
- The Stavkirke: a Norwegian-inspired medieval stave church in the Washington Island woods
- Belgian Chapels: small, one-room roadside prayer structures found throughout Southern Door County
- Ephraim Village Hall & Moravian Church: Moravian-influenced architecture in a picturesque lakeside community
- Boynton Chapel: a humble wooden church in the woods of Baileys Harbor at Björklunden
- Church of the Atonement: oldest church in Fish Creek constructed in rural Carpenter Gothic style