Washington Island is a world away from the bustling Door
Begun in 1979, the complex includes two newer studios, an 1895 schoolhouse, and a turn-of-the-century barn that's been renovated to house a studio and dorm facility for overnight students. They have a Web site where you can check out their class schedule, but the cashier in the school's gallery warned me that summer classes fill early in the season. I didn't plan that far in advance, so I had to settle for browsing the knit and woven items for sale made by faculty and students, the skeins and skeins of yarn, books and the looms that they manufactured and sell worldwide.
A place with this much waterfront is bound to inspire artists of all sorts and the island's Art & Nature Center is a gallery that features the work of local artists, some of which is for sale. Housed in an old schoolhouse, it also displays the art of nature, and includes a beehive you can watch at work, and information on the natural history of the island.
A fairly recent addition to the island, but a must-see, is the Norwegian-style stave church or "stavkirke." The wooden structure, with dragon heads at the "prows" of the gabled roofs, is based on architecture that appeared around the 11th-century blending Norse shipbuilding techniques.
The church, run by Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church located across the street, is as much a celebration of nature as it is of a higher being. Inside, its honey-colored, rough-hewn wood is under your feet, all around, and up, up to the building's peak. It's an inspirational gem and the short nature walk back to my car had me thinking a lot about how the island's early non-Indian settlers, many of them Scandinavian and Icelandic, must have found the quietude of the landscape and the harshness of the wind, snow and waves, and felt quite at home.
After a day of exploring nature, this city girl was ready to explore what the island had to offer in the way of refreshment. Unfortunately the shops and businesses of downtown's main street, called Main Road, aren't clustered for strolls, but are spread apart to the point that you have to drive from one to the next (especially after a day of hiking). This includes shops geared toward visitors, like Den Norsk Grenda -- a gift and book shop --with grass roofs that were shipped from Norway, and shops that serve the community like a grocer, the local newspaper, the Observer and a grocery store.
KK Fiske Restaurant is the only year-'round restaurant that serves three meals a day. The folks there were kind enough to cook up some grub even after they were officially closed, and nearby is the landmark Bitter's pub in historic Nelsen's Hall. Started by a Danish tavern owner who was big on dashes of bitters in just about every drink, the bar sells more bitters than any other in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. There are at least another dozen restaurants on the island, so dining options are plentiful and most are casual.
We stayed at a place called the Dor Cros Inn, a gathering of small cottages boasting knotty pine interiors (including the ceiling), not far from the ferry landing at Detroit Harbor. It's by no means fancy, but provides the three basic C's -- comfortable, clean and charming. The inn was bought three years ago by Cory and Laura Anders. Cory was a mason who decided to chuck life on Milwaukee's South Side for the call of the wild -- well, the kind of wild that comes served with fresh coffee and muffins every morning! The Anderses have big plans to update some of the property's buildings, but are determined to keep intact the Inn's "up north" casual atmosphere, rather than go upscale like so many formerly humble lodging back on mainland Door County. You can even join the Anderses and other guests for an evening around the fire pit, but you have to supply your own marshmallows and camp songs.
One of the best things about the island is the fact that many of its sights are free of charge, so you can spend all your money on fish boils and bitters. It takes about three hours to drive from Milwaukee to the ferry dock, where the ferries run about once an hour. The time of departure depends on the season and day of the week.
Back home, the rolling of the waves from the ferry is still with me, but luckily the remnants of fresh air perfumed by lake waters and a sense of relaxation also remain.
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