Washington Island is a unique island destination located six miles off the tip of the Door County Peninsula, Wisconsin. It is a popular year-round Midwest tourist destination. Washington Island is the largest of Door County’s thirty islands comprised of 35 square miles and over 100 miles of roads to explore its rich history. Your visit begins with a five mile scenic ferry ride through surrounding rocky shores and lush forests.
The Town of Washington was established on June 20, 1850. The first inhabitants of the Island were the
Winnebago and Potawatomi Indians, staying as late 1860.1
Before the Civil War, there was a negro settlement of nine
families at what is now called West Harbor. It is thought that these negroes
were runaway slaves who found refuge here.
Most of the people who settled on the island were Scandinavian
immigrants, especially Icelanders. The first Icelanders who came to Washington
Island in 1870 were fishermen. They wrote to their friends in Iceland and
encouraged them to take advantage of the fishing and agriculture. Today,
Washington Island is one of the oldest Icelandic communities in the United
States and among the largest outside of Iceland itself.
Washington Island is home to several historic attractions,
museums and parks.
One of many is Jackson Harbor Maritime Museum which is
located in two former fishing sheds located in Jackson Harbor where fishermen
continue in the commercial fishing trade.
Long known for abundant fish in the waters surrounding the island, it is
also well known for some of the most treacherous water conditions on Lake
Michigan. Hundreds of wooden shipwrecks
are located here and the ferry ride to the island routes through ‘port des
mortes’ or Deaths Door.2