Every summer, I spend a great deal of my time in Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is a popular tourist destination for people from Wisconsin, Illinois, and the rest of the US. The area is north of Green Bay and is the peninsula that jettisons into Lake Michigan off of the east side of the state of Wisconsin. Over the years, I have discovered a lot of what Door County has to offer, from Al Johnson’s Swedish pancakes to the Skyway Drive-In Movie Theatre in Fish Creek, but until this summer, I had never even heard of one of Door County’s coolest sights: Rock Island.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, my Uncle suggested we check out Rock Island because he said it was a sight every Door County boater should see. The only way to get to Rock Island is via boat, which may be why many people have not heard of it or been there. From Fish Creek, it was about an hour and a half boat ride, which admittedly is a little long, but once you get there it is definitely worth it.
The island itself is just northeast of Washington Island, a more popular tourist destination. Washington Island is a lot bigger and more industrialized with restaurants, shops, roads, and running water. Rock Island, on the other hand, allows no motorized vehicles on the island and does not have running water. You can get to the island by either taking you own boat and parking it on the dock, or you can take a passenger ferry which runs from Washington Island 3-6 times a day depending on the season.
Rock Island has many incredible sights to see, starting with the Viking Boathouse built by Icelandic-American Inventor Chester Thordarson. Thordarson became extremely wealthy after he built the first ever million-volt transformer which won him a gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair. Thordarson’s boathouse is a classic example of Gilded Age lavish lifestyles, as the building is simply magnificent. The exterior reminded me of a Venice, Italy because of the way water flows right into the boathouse under the two massive arches. Once you walk inside the arches from on land, you can the see the stunning beauty from another angle, and it felt like the boathouse would be a great scene for a James Bond getaway.
In the top level of the boathouse, the sights are just as impressive. Upstairs you will find a massive feast hall filled with vintage, hand-carved Scandinavian furniture. The room is simply majestic with its open atmosphere and beautiful architecture, and it reminded me of the great Mead Hall from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem “Beowulf.” I think Thordarson may have had that in mind when he built it, because it looks just like I always pictured the great hall in “Beowulf.”
Thordarson’s boathouse is the must-see attraction on Rock Island, but the island has more to offer than just that. The island also is a popular destination for fall hunting as well as winter snowmobiling. In addition, the island has forty campsites that can be reserved and also is home to the Potawatomi Lighthouse, Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse.
Next time you head up to Door County, make sure you check out Washington Island and more importantly, Rock Island! The allure of the island can’t even be described, but I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!