By Dottie & Pete Pohlman, Lodge Managers 1984-1989
Door County Almanak, No. 5, 1990
The old Goodrich steamer makes the turn off the Sister Islands and straightens out heading to Sister Bay. As the captain slows the streamer to a crawl to give the Chicago families a lingering view of the majestic harbor, the call goes out to be sure you have all your trunks lined up for speedy dispatch from the ship.
There is a chill in the air as the temperature drops to the low 70’s, a far cry from the 85 plus days in the big city in late June. While Mama and Papa gather the children for a respectable, dignified, and controlled departure, Abraham A. Carlson, the owner of Liberty Park Summer Resort, pulls up with a buggy for his patrons.
As the loaded buggy heads north on the gravel road, Papa lays out the last-minute instructions for their 4-week stay. Papa has arranged everything for Mama and the children to stay for a “Summer Rest” as he will depart on the return voyage back to Chicago tomorrow. With the buggy insight, the resort staff prepares a hearty welcome and looks forward to the challenge of the next few weeks.
And so it was, as a visit to Door County and Liberty Park Summer Resort ushers in a cool retreat in the summer of 1910.
Half the Fun was Getting There
Yes, the old steamer on the Goodrich Line was a magnificent way to get to Door County. Many stops were made along the way – Milwaukee, Algoma, Kewaunee, sometimes Mackinaw Island, and would take just over 24 hours. If you added, say a few St. Louis passengers that were escaping the summer heat, one could figure another day or two for the journey. In 1910 the price of a round trip steamer ticket from Chicago was $15.00 and included meals. (This information is courtesy of Amos Rasmussen of Ephraim who took a steamer to Ephraim from Chicago to stay with his grandmother for the summer when he was ten years old.)
As trains grew in popularity, a Door County visitor could take a train from out East to Chicago and travel all the way to Milwaukee and then coach it to Northern Door. Later trains would go all the way to Sturgeon Bay. After the train passengers reached Sturgeon Bay they could take the main route out and connect with the Old Stage Road and reach Ephraim, Sister Bay, and travel the high ground to Ellison Bay and beyond.
For the stout-hearted, the touring car provided both a challenge and a sense of independence to reach Door County. Some old-timers recall their parents saying it was a six or eight “flat” trip from Milwaukee to Northern Door. (Per Muellers Garage in Sturgeon Bay.) Time-wise, in the early 1920s, it could take anywhere from 10 hours to 2 days depending on flat tires, breakdowns, and the weather.
Later in the early 1930s, a ribbon of concrete from Northern Illinois offered a delightful six or seven-hour drive along the shores of Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The route would be either Old Route #41 or 42 to Milwaukee, then 141 to Manitowoc and 42 right to Sister Bay.
In the same 1930 period, one could hop the Chicago and Northwestern train that left Chicago at 12 noon, connect with a bus at Manitowoc, and arrive at the Lodge for the 6 o’clock evening meal.
Entertainment at the Lodge
After arriving at the resort, later called Liberty Park Hotel, the first order of business was to collapse. Usually, this was with a cool lemonade and natural ice from the Green Bay waters. A summer supply of ice was stored in the icehouse in back of the Lodge and with any luck at all the ice would last until Labor Day. (The old icehouse is still intact with its thick walls and small 5 ft. 4” door. It now houses – guess what? Two guest refrigerators.)
Settling down and just relaxing was of course not for everyone and some action was needed. For those individuals, a hot game of ping pong or croquet on the front lawn could get the heart pumping. If you wanted a faster pace, badminton could be played by the side of the Lodge next to the horse chestnut tree. Not to be outdone by this fast action, horseshoes in the back of the Lodge could fill a solid afternoon. In addition, one of the first tennis courts in Northern Door provided guests with active sets and competition among the guests.
Beyond the sporting activities and nightly card games, the old stand-by of fishing was conveniently available across the road from the Lodge on the waters of Green Bay. Jumbo Perch, the 12” to 14” kind, Bass, Blue Gill, and Lake Trout were in abundance, and if you would share your catch with the other guests, the Lodge kitchen staff would turn out a fish dinner, with all the trimmings, and serve it on pure white linen table cloths.
Entertainment Around the Area
With the motor car all the rage, a delightful way to spend a morning was to ride through Peninsula State Park or follow some of the old Indian trails that covered the Peninsula, or the hiker could take smaller trails and take a “goodly” hike from Eagle Terrace to the Eagle cave and spring.
If you wanted to explore, you could drive to Hibbards Creek north of Jacksonport. Here you could leave your car and follow the creek to the old stockade that the Ottowas are said to have built when they were besieged by the Iroquois years ago.
For the venturesome, a days outing in a motorboat to the coast guard station and the lighthouse on Death’s Door, was outstanding. On another day a visitor could go westward and visit Chambers Island where the deer roamed freely.
In the evening dancing was the big thing around the Peninsula. Moonlight boating and bonfires on the beach also captured the hearts of visitors. And last, but not to be forgotten were the endless games of cards, checkers, skittles, and dominoes. This could last to all of 10 p.m. at the inns, resorts, and lodges around the Door.
Dining at the Lodge
As restaurants were few and far between in Northern Door in the early 1900s the inns took care of providing food for their guests. Liberty Park was on the “American Plan” and three full-course meals a day, plus snacks, were the order of the day.
Usually, the day started at 5:30 a.m. with the staff making preparations for breakfast and starting the baking for the evening dinner. A specialty for the evening meal on Saturday night was tenderloin steak, and the meat had to come from the Beach Road Market right next door.
Eating times were a real ritual and preciseness was demanded. The dinner bell would call the guests at exactly 12 o’clock – not a minute before or after. (Yes, the bell is still hanging on the icehouse and Richard Malmgren, the fifth-generation owner of the Lodge still remembers the exact time he could “give’r a good ring.”
A few of the recipes used at the Lodge have been found and Ethelyn Brood (granddaughter of the founding Carlson family and former Lodge host) provided a sampling of a favorite pancake hit.
Liberty Park Swedish Thin Pancakes
3 eggs (large)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter (melted)
Beat eggs, add remaining ingredients plus melted butter.
Let stand ½ hour before making into thin pancakes on a well-seasoned pancake griddle.
After the guests finished their meal, the name cards and exact seating location were noted, and the table was prepared for the next meal. To ensure pristine pure white linens, the Baileys Harbor Laundry was contracted to supply spotless linens to Liberty Park. In the really old days, some say before the 1930s the Lodge could handle the laundry, but not anymore and professional services are required. In reviewing some of the old bills and confirmed by Bob Anderson and son Fred of the Baileys Harbor Laundry (now called the Door County Laundry), a 1940 laundry bill came out to be 6 cents per pound, now 50 cents per pound. In comparison, to postage for example, at 3 cents an ounce in 1940 and now 25 cents an ounce, the increase has been about the same – roughly eight times. Needless to say, labor, lodging rates, and related costs all reflect a gradual increase.
The Lodge was hardly a glimmer in A.A. Carlson’s eye, as he left Chicago in 1895. Originally old Carlson thought his family and close relatives would come to Sister Bay to share his freedom, fresh air, and quiet surroundings.
In designing the first part of the complex, his original concept was a Victorian building, high and unique to the Door and plenty of room for all the relatives. Needless to say, the relatives never made it. Not to be disturbed, the capable Carlson realized that Door County needed housing for its increased “stream of visitors” and the resort was opened in 1898. Later the main building was an extended length emerged, to be separated into its present form in 1920 – creating Liberty Park Lodge and the Liberty Homestead.
With the Lodge as a focal point, it was clear, however, that some guests wanted separate privacy and a string of cottages grew to a total of 12. These too have evolved from the bare essentials – bedrooms, a sitting room, and a cozy fireplace, and an open ceiling – to closed ceilings, heating units, bathrooms, and now spacious decks. Yet, a quaintness is still in keeping and a uniqueness – to be old – yet up to date prevails.
This and That Today
During the early 1980s, the staying patterns of the guests gradually changed. While July and August are still the most popular months, June and September are growing in popularity. Instead of staying a week, however, the guests stay usually three days and centers on a weekend. September has become an excellent month for the retiree when the weather is still warm and the shops are less crowded.
The make-up of the visitors to Liberty Park still focuses on Northern Illinois families, especially the Northwest communities of Wheaton, Hoffman Estates, Palatine, Gen Ellyn, Barrington, Palos Park, Deerfield, Northbrooke, and Libertyville.
In the early days of Liberty Park, the records show quite a number of the guests from the St. Louis area. This continued until the late ’40s, but now only a small number visit and the stay is usually three days. Perhaps the hot and humid St. Louis weather has subsided.
It appears that a growing number of visitors hail from the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. While the drive is somewhat longer than from Northern Illinois, about 7 hours compared to 4 hours, the guests don’t seem to mind. Their biggest complaint is the poor east-west roads. Hopefully, a new Highway 29 will ease the situation.
In addition to the Minnesota people, more and more Southern Wisconsin visitors are visiting Door County. Usually, once again, on a 2 or 3-day basis, as they tour other Wisconsin vacation spots 2 or 3 days over a one or two-week period.
Overall, Liberty Park has 60% to 65% of its guests as repeat customers each year. One steady customer has come back visiting over 43 years. Numerous others have been visiting for over 30 years. In this pattern of steady customers, the ongoing generations carry on the tradition of coming to Liberty Park as their grandparents did years ago.
The Rest of the Story
While things have changed and improvements have been made over the years at Liberty Park Lodge and Shore Cottages, a few things remain as they were over 90 years ago.
In spring the westerly sun makes its annual northern trek to settle just to the west of the Sister Islands. In the woods, to the east of the Lodge on Liberty Hill, shooting stars, wood violets, and trilliums puh themselves up through last year’s butternut, aspen, ironwood, and birch leaves.
Next door, The Shepard of the Bay (formerly Zion) Lutheran Church bells still calls us on Sunday morning and reminds us too when a friend has passed away. On the Liberty Homestead three-story houses, the weathervane still turns and whips its directional head to the northwest, showing us that August will be cool once again. At the beach, the sparkling, clean and refreshing water rises and falls from year to year creating unpredictable beach sizes and a multitude of smooth pebbles.
So as things change, a timelessness hopefully calls our loyal Door County guests back once again, and if you are so inclined you might just get some rocking chair time in on the slanted veranda of the Lodge – If you close your eyes you just might see an old buggy loaded with steamer trucks and a few old-timers calling out “see you next year.”