Washington Island, Wisconsin
Backstory and Context
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