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The Cliff Dwellers
1932 - 1989
By Florence Koehler Dickinson


Photos & Newspaper articles: 30 meg .pdf
Part I : “Small is beautiful - and personal”

One hundred thirty-five years ago a pristine, beautifully wooded cliff on Sturgeon Bay’s west shore nurtured Indian tribes with its abundant wildlife. The acreage to the north was to become a U. S. Government Naval Base - instead it was sold to Wisconsin in 1928 at $1.25 an acre - and so our beautiful Potawatomi State Park came to be. The acreage to the south was U. S. Government land first registered to David S. Crandall in 1853. The Laurie Stone Co. quarried the cliff from 1895 to 1910 to provide building stone and rip-rap for settlements and harbors all along Lake Michigan’s shores.

Commercial recreational use of the partially quarried land appears to have originated with “Captain Bob” and Lou Laurie in 1932.  Successive owners were Emil and Hester Hansen in 1937, Harry and Helen Brann in 1944, Al and Carolyn Larson in 1945, Otto and Anna Nelson with Bernie and Lorraine Selvick in 1949.

During the early nineteen thirties when times were tough, “Cap” and Lou Laurie originated the Cliff Dwellers - for a reward of a keg of beer, they persuaded some burly buddies to haul across the ice a discarded pilot house from a Great Lakes ship.  They perched it on the shore ledge, added a deck, railing and a bow reaching down to the water.  With its flag flying, this real-looking ship “sailing right out of the cliffs” became a beloved sailor’s landmark, an added bit of income and the centerpiece for the Cliff Dwellers.

Gradually more little cottages were perched along the cliff ledges and the shorefront.  Each was built at a different time -often with recycled materials, as they could be afforded - no two were alike in design, materials or workmanship.

All the cottages had linoleum covered floors, bare bulb electric lights with a pull chain, innerspring mattresses on flat bedsprings, bottle gas cook stoves and oil space heaters.  Cottages were expected to be left clean on departure.  Later “modern” indoor flush toilets and simple showers replaced the separate communal toilet-shower building that boasted of hot water at all times.  Bedding, cooking utensils and dishes also were furnished.  Ice, milk, groceries and mail were delivered daily - and guess what - a city bus stopped at the Cliff Dwellers twice an hour!

This transportation service was important because in those days families spent a month or most of the summer at “their” cottage.  The season was mostly from Memorial Day to Labor Day to fit the school summer vacation pattern.  The family often had no car here because Dad drove back and forth on weekends from the non-air conditioned big city - What a relief to join the family in naturally air-conditioned Door County!

Favorite activities were fishing for both food and fun, walking and biking in the park, rowing, swimming across the Bay and back, sunning and diving from the barrel and board raft, reading, card games and visiting with cottage neighbors.

When World War II descended on America shipyard workers from all over the Midwest landed on small town Sturgeon Bay.  Every possible roofed space was converted to wartime housing.  To this day it’s rare to find a 1940’s two-story home in Sturgeon Bay occupied by only one family.  Hard working, often lonely single men, women and families used the Cliff Dwellers cottages year round - even though none were winterized.  Year round living in very cramped quarters gave the lime cottages and their furnishings a rough time too! During these times and after the war’s end, the fish were leaving the Bay and vacation patterns began to change.

“Cliff Dwellers for Sale”

I caught sight of this sign in Pat May’s Realty Office downtown.  It gave me a jolt-the name stirred memories of Cliff Dwellers we’d visited on vacation trips-one in New Mexico’s Bandolier National Park where we three-young daughter Diane, Floyd and I climbed a rickety, primitive ladder up the side of a sheer cliff to look with awe at the smokey cave ceilings left by an ancient people called “cliff dwellers”.

There was the Appalachian Mountain Cliff Dwellers “Folk Art and Craft Shop” run by two enterprising women in Gatlinburg, Tennessee - and I’d heard of a Cliff Dwellers Ski Resort in Lutzen, Minnesota.  Years later we’d be drawn to a tiny West Indies Island called Nevis to be guests at the Cliff Dwellers.  There we learned that, by mistake, the owner received some of our mail - well W. I. is close to Wi., isn’t it? But that’s ahead of my story.

Probably my part Swiss heritage and being born in a secluded valley home called Oak Valley Stock Farm surrounded by high wooded hills in Jackson County - and visiting Switzerland itself-fascinated and drew me to this place with this marvelous name!

So for a lark, we went to see the Cliff Dwellers.  Hmmmm - gorgeous view - uncluttered opposite shore-open sky over water-privacy curtain of huge white birch trees, lacy cedar, gorgeous pines and maples and tumbled rock ledges in the back and sides.  But, in their winter-laid-up state the cottages looked forlorn - very used inside and out-paint peeling, screens rusty, some leaning tiredly - but the possibilities started to stir ---- “Oh, well - four of the eight should be torn down, one fixed up to live in year round, the other three fixed up to rent and pay off the mortgage.”

“But the home we’d just completely renovated inside and out was on the other side of the Bay and it’s handy to Floyd’s shipyard work and Diane’s school.”

“No matter - we could just live in the little office during the season as the previous owners did and go back to 421 N. Sixth Ave. in winter.”

Floyd always wanted a place on the water.  I didn’t - I preferred all my water in a tub, glass or birdbath.  I’d nearly drowned twice-once when I was pulled up on a raft in the Black River clinging to the big toe of a screaming woman - I was about five years old-and another time when I was thrown into the locks on the Fox River in Appleton by mischievous classmates who didn’t believe I couldn’t swim.

But it would be a homecoming to the West Side again - our first home was rented from Mrs. Marshak on Pine Street.  Floyd was born in the large home now part of Cherryland Motel.  The intersection of County C and S and Highways 42-57 was once known as “Dickinson’s Corner.” Floyd’s violinist grandfather, Lon Dickinson, owned those lands.  The present Holiday Motel on Second Avenue downtown was the site of a boarding house - his grandfather owned that too!

It’s time we quit working so hard and have a nice little summer place on the water - but not a resort! Besides one knew Door County would become crowded some day and being next to a State Park would mean we’d always be near a wonderful patch of green.  I’d always loved Mother Nature’s handiwork -she’d been generous indeed with this beautiful place!

“We signed the papers on May 15, 1957”

Former guests didn’t know all this and reservations started coming in.  So, ready or not, I dived in to run a little business while Floyd worked at the shipyard - we both worked evenings at CD of course! We washed, aired, waxed, painted, planted flowers, put up screens, anchored docks, brought out the boats and bikes and the first car arrived.  Then came a complication!

We learned we had been selected to host Door County’s first Foreign Exchange Student - and she was coming in mid-summer - not at the beginning of the school year as we expected.

Beatrice Conti came from her spacious “condominium” apartment (new term and concept to us then) in Rome, Italy to learn about living in America:

  • Her mother was a teacher - so was I
  • Her father worked with shipyards-so did Floyd
  • Her sister was about 14 - so was Diane Bea’s first drastic discoveries:
  • American father washed dishes - her father would never do that!
  • American mother used a hammer - her mother would never do that!
  • Bea did both of the above-she would never do that!

We all learned entirely new life styles that summer - We all ate, slept and camped indoors in our tiny office quarters including our lively dog “Pepper”.  We had to get along-and so we did!

After that first summer came the question - “Was this to be a summer home or resort?” Home? Of course! Besides working for room and board in homes, I’d earned money for books and clothes to go through Appleton High School by picking Door County cherries-at Bingham’s Orchard in 1935, Reynolds Orchards in 1936 and 37 - had a great time and met my future husband too! Door County was home to me! The Cliff Dwellers for a home was just perfect.  Resort business? Well, could be that too!

After all, I’d earned my college education totally by working - during the school year for room and board in Menomonie homes - during the summer for cash in resorts: Weaver’s in Pelican Lake, Hansen’s in Wisconsin Dells, Spence’s Supper Club in William’s Bay and the Chalet in Lake Geneva.

After graduating from Stout Institute, as it was known then - and marriage in 1942, I taught Home Economics in Northern Door’s Gibraltar High School.  Here 1 became acquainted with resort-owning families.  I saw an immediate connection - resorts were merely commercialized homemaking with the “economics” a greater reality for a homemaking owner.

Floyd was a self-taught master craftsman of the Door County “can-do” ethic - he’d plan entire projects on a couple tiny pieces of paper - then make them all come true.

So, we decided we both had the enthusiasm and the skills needed for this job - we’d used plenty in the restoration of our home at 421 N 6th Ave.

Part II : “Growing the Cliff Dwellers

The Cliff Dwellers became our home - our labor of love, creativity and a way of life with the credo “Small is beautiful”.., and personal! We did all our own work with few exceptions.  Every fall at season’s end, we planned next winter’s projects to be completed evenings and weekends away from out jobs.  Eventually, one at a time, all cottages were renovated completely with rewiring, plumbing, heating and carpentering done by Floyd.  Bathrooms, kitchens and closets were added, walls insulated, sheet-rocked, floors resurfaced and carpeted, in-wall heaters installed.  Interior paneling in some was from Door County pine - beautiful! In one cottage we even used slabs cut from the pine logs.  I draw-knifed the bark off, Floyd rounded the surfaces and sealed them - lovely rustic paneling!

We had to make the most from the least -so I shopped for the best buys in everything! I puttied, sanded, stained, removed paint, painted, papered, besides refinishing and upholstering furniture.  I made draperies, curtains, rebound blankets, recovered pillows, mended bed linens.

Floyd upgraded all septic systems, drilled wells after finding out the first year people stoically spent several weeks “getting used” to the water, re-roofed, put in a natural gas system.  My partner was and still is an ingenious improviser.  I remember how we had to straighten out the four corners of a cottage that tilted like a cardboard box with no top or bottom to hold it square.  He jacked up the office to add more height and space for a lower rental unit.  Then on another, Floyd sawed off and pushed out the end - put in an extension and reattached the end – Voila! more room - kind of scary when I found myself recruited to steady that entire end of the cottage for him!

Would you believe an electric drill could move buckets of concrete up a 9 foot cliff ledge? I didn’t - but Floyd did it! Other times, where a truck couldn’t get to the site, we mixed our own concrete and carried it in buckets to its destination - even granddaughter Cara did her bit-using an ice cream pail!

I had long discontinued teaching and in 1966 Floyd “retired” after 25 years at Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding and Dry Dock - now we both became full-time cliff dwellers.  Running a small resort is a relentless 24-hour job, all year round, when you are building and rebuilding as well -but, we loved it!

First, we rebuilt another cottage to become our year-round home.  On this one Floyd raised the roof first, then renovated the entire interior with my help.  Diane and her dad did the re-shingling together.  Then a new shop for Floyd - all these years he’d improvised with garages and any space to be found.

Next - alas! our centerpiece “Pilot House” could sail no more.  Dry rot and termites had left no two ends of the studs connected to both roof and floor! “Pilot” had to go - a painful step for all of us! - In its place in 1968 we built one of the first swimming pools for resort use in Door County - guests loved it!

Soon, along our shorefront, special problems of erosion and safety appeared due to weather battering, high and low water fluctuations - so, we reinforced the shoreline.

Floyd built new from old here too.  He bought used steel plates from the shipyard; I knocked off the rust flakes and helped slide the plates down from the road to the water line below.  Other walls were built of pilings and forms to be filled with concrete.  Floyd suffered a severe setback at one point - all of his carefully built forms were reduced to kindling by a severe equinoctial storm.  Leisure-time decks were created by filling and surfacing - eons from now someone will discover a buried footed bathtub - too chipped and outdated to reuse!

That same year an analysis of our vacation market showed additional capacity was feasible and should include non-kitchen units - so we purchased the next door - south of us -Harbor View Cottages from Julius and Ida Schjoth.  For a season or two, our daughter Diane and husband Ken were managers until the cottages could be integrated into the Cliff Dwellers.

Three of the eight cottages closest to the property line were not easily restorable.  They were removed and in 1971 “Cliff Gardens” was built.  Our architect, John Steinman of Green Bay designed a real cliff dwelling! A soaring, cherry-red carpeted lobby connects two wings, two stories high over parking.  Passages along the cliffside lead to the sixteen rooms each with a carpeted sitting balcony overlooking the Bay - with flowers of course!

Contractor Lyle Thielens of Van’s Lumber and Vernon Olson, excavator, worked carefully to minimize any damaging effect on the cliffs.  Bob Peterson installed the heating and plumbing system and Ken Peil the mound system, K&L the electrical system.  No one could be found to do the staining and painting so Diane, Ken and I were the interior finishers.  All the rough sawn cedar siding was stained by Diane and I before carpenters nailed it up.  “Cliff Gardens” opened for business in 1971.

Next began the exterior integration of the two separate cottage resorts and one new motel lodge.  Fourteen little houses - no two alike-and all built at different times by different people of different materials and different designs - some job this was!

Color was the key - we unified the building exteriors by using dark red with white trim and the reverse combination.  Some were given a “rick-rack” eave trim as Floyd called it and shutters and window boxes - it worked beautifully!

Next, we used walks and steps to connect the buildings.  Specific parking areas were created and surfaced between trees - we treasure each tree! Floyd built retaining walls from the road down to the bay level with rock retrieved from site preparation.  Uniform railings of rough sawn cedar were installed for safety.

Lastly, and to me most importantly, shrubs and perennial borders were planted everywhere! Each season annual flowers provide a different look.  I love creating these colorful outdoor works of art-using every nook and cranny to meet my goal: “wherever you look, you’ll see flowers at the “Cliff Dwellers.” This requires a master plan outlining “what goes where” and an ordering list - petunias, geraniums, marigolds, impatiens, begonias - huge ones down to the midgets I called “bloomin fools” - all accented by spikes, polka dots, yinca and the ibosa vines which give off a scent that repels mosquitoes.

Next, an assembly line and potting shed is created under Cliff Gardens - hundreds of pots are planted, carried up to the rooms, carefully put in their correct place in each balcony’s window box.  There are window boxes, hanging planters, borders and beds scattered all over the place.  Floyd ingeniously adapted upended red clay chimney liners with attached shelf inside to become column planters in the parking spaces below “Cliff Gardens.”

All of the staff digs in too at planting time-beds are spaded, tree roots dug out, fresh soil added from a mixture of three -year composted fall leaves mixed with top soil and used in all pots, tubs and whatever! Grooming and watering is a healthy change of activity for staff in charge of inside room care.  Some parts of the Cliff Dwellers are frequently gifted to our guest appreciators with love.  Most requested are our landscape perennials:

hosta whose gracefully leafy clumps border all the walks

Bishop’s cloak whose varigated leaves make a wonderful ground cover in sun or shade

shiny leafed myrtle that loves the shade incorrigible wild violets that grow everywhere

I’m happy to dig plants, water thoroughly, wrap in wet newspapers or plastic bag and tuck them into the hands of another plant lover.  On the other hand, there is a constant need to guard against having our wildflowers picked - Trilliums, Mayflowers, Honeysuckle, Jack-in-the-pulpit and Door County’s flower - the Lady Slipper.

After our season ends in late October, all cottages and rooms are stripped of perishables, bath and bed linens, blankets, pads, pillow liners, bedspreads.  Evenson’s Laundry finds the “balcony drop” quicker than the stairs.  All items returned from the laundry are sorted, inventoried and stored.  Mattresses and carpets are thoroughly vacuumed, draperies checked for dry-cleaning and windows covered with paper to prevent sun-fading.  Protective covers are put on air-conditioners, water lines drained and panels installed on back passages to prevent winter snow accumulation on their carpeted floors.  All planters and pots, waste cans, lawn furniture are emptied, washed and stored.  High school crews rake leaves for a day or two and they’re composted atop the bluff - equipment is drained and stored.  Last but not least, inventory is taken.

Gradually over the years Diane honed all these management procedures to a marvelous degree indeed!

After closing for the winter, we have unstructured use of our time and energy - so we sit around a lot - at national and state conventions.  As travelers all over the world we enjoy being on the other side of the desk in the guest’s shoes.  We’ve learned a lot that way.  At conferences and seminars we share our successes and problems - learn solutions that work.  We became members of the American Hotel - Motel Association, Wisconsin Innkeepers Association, and the Door County Chamber of Commerce.

I remember visiting Clara Egan, Sturgeon Bay’s host to travelers, in her tiny Chamber of Commerce office on Fourth Avenue.  When the city chamber became the Door County Chamber of Commerce, Sturgeon Bay lost and soon missed its area tourist promotion and hospitality service.  Modest though it was, Door County’s tourism budget was supported mainly by city tourist businesses for some years.

Finally, around 1959 I launched the idea of a Sturgeon Bay Area Information Center.  Thanks to the “can-do” hard work of Leona Raffelt of Rocky Shores Resort, June Lenius of Mac Villa Resort, Jeanette Defonge of DeJonge’s Cottages, Doe May of May’s Cottages, Larry John. D.C. Pisha, Harry Dufek and Floyd, who with me recruited members, hammered, sawed, nailed, painted and curtained until VOILA! We opened our center in 1960 with 175 charter members and Dora Schmidt as host.  I wrote the bylaws and became the first president.

Between loafing and twiddling our thumbs all winter, I’d catch up on book work, file papers, write “love letters to IRS” - otherwise called tax returns - design brochures, ads, travel show displays, address Christmas and spring cards, take telephone and mail inquiries and reservations, plan and complete physical plant improvements.

Soon robins began singing and ice on the bay started to melt - announcing a new season was beginning - so did interviews with job applicants.  Local high school students heading for higher education were on my priority list.  I’m proud that Cliff Dweller earnings have helped others as I was helped - so the circle comes around giving me warm feelings indeed!

Part III : People, Pleasure and Mother Nature

So why all this investment of time, labor and money to create this small resort?

It’s a wonderfully satisfying way of life that helps us and guests to connect to ourselves, each other and Mother Nature!

The world comes together at a resort -people come to us from Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Germany, Japan, Australia, Greece, China, England, Switzerland, Chicago, Milwaukee and Green Bay.  One finds people from all these places amazingly unique yet amusingly the same just by observing their ingenious ways of using the same spaces indoors and out.  People come to us for many reasons: to restore their spirits, escape routine, boredom and job pressure, rejuvenate relationships, cope with a loss or tragedy, pursue better health, begin a new life with a mate, get in touch with the natural world of sky, trees and water and themselves again.

It’s fascinating to see the change of pace happen - to see the weaning from routine and machines - telephones, TV’s, air-conditioners, computers and clocks.  It’s a challenge for many to just sit, watch - just to be! feel caressing breezes or brisk winds, marvel at “spider web lace” draping cedar trees, observe morning and evening insect-feasting parades of mama ducks and their broods along the shore front, follow the sky’s cloud patterns, listen to the waves lapping gently or roaring wildly.  It’s a challenge to give oneself permission to simply enjoy fragrances - flowers, fresh mown grass, morning rain, cedar and pine trees.  Best of all is watching the weather - stunning sun rises, glowering storm clouds, brilliant sunsets, northern lights, star light, rainbows, moonbeams decorating a rippling expanse of water and over it all the oddly squawking voices of those gracefully swooping, diving seagulls.

We have a much-used collection of nature books.  In one of our first seasons, guests identified 84 bird varieties - some birds are transients, some are homebodies year round, others are seasonal users of our freebie bird houses.  Favorites around the Cliff Dwellers are wrens, chickadees, cardinals, mourning doves, woodpeckers-red headed and pileated-mocking birds, creepers, cedar waxwings, bluejays, robins, orioles, humming birds, swallows.

Invariably someone finds moth and butterfly specimens that have been hurt.  Animals that guests may glimpse vary from year to year-there are the usual bunny families, red squirrels, and big grays, exotic flying squirrels, mink, weasels, martens, muskrats, opossum, with raccoons, skunks, foxes and deer doing their usual or unusual thing!

Raccoons winter under cottage floors, mice scuttle in the walls, bees store honey near chimneys, squirrels explore attics, wasps build nests under eaves-spiders everywhere.  We try not to kill or poison - we remove, explain and/or accept - except raccoons - once they discover “garbage-can-dining” at midnight - the alarm by city dwellers puts an end to the free lunch.  Ingenious Floyd hive-traps and relocates them in less-peopled areas.

One guest excitedly reported someone kept stealing his fishing worms kept outside his door.  That, I reassured him, was Hannah, a friendly raccoon who’d been panhandling for pieces of bread at my door - soon she brought her young kit - some days later she was found dead - but her training kept the kit alive.

There are very few snakes around these cool cliffs - no poisonous ones in Door County, but occasionally a large but harmless pine snake or small grass snake appears.  A young boy, very afraid of snakes, discovered a grass snake near his cottage and was ready to kill it.  After we stopped to admire it together, he named it Chester - they both tolerated each other nicely the rest of his stay.

Some animal experiences may be inconvenient, funny or not so pleasant.  Skunks can be all of the above.  Our fearless young miniature dachshund called “Sir Humperdink” - “Humpy” for short was alerted by a guest to a skunk under their cottage.  He dashed in - very carefully and woozily backed out - his eyes shut, his body reeling, coat covered with a greyish dust.  VERY QUICKLY - first aid was improvised - a tomato juice hand-scrubbing in the tub of a washing machine saved the day - VERY STRONG deodorant and stiff breezes saved the atmosphere!

After a windstorm, a family found some baby birds on the road - the mother bird was killed by a car.  A cardboard box topped by a refrigerator wire shelf, grass clipping for a nest, lots of worms and berries and almost a week later the little ones were ready to fly.  How do I do that? I had to think like a bird -aha! Lots of berries on bushes in the old quarry down the road! They adapted beautifully - came back, hovered about several days but finally they were on their own - beautiful cedar waxwings!

Repeat guests noted all the changes made from their last visit.  While our premises changed, the Bay’s changes were many and continuous in our 32 years here.

In the late 60’s there was very low water and a fish crisis of major proportion that had a major impact on tourism.  Dead alewives deluged the shores of Door County.

Alewives are tiny fish, they lodge between rocks and stay there - the sun is hot -alewives S1’INK! Vacationers stayed away in droves.  Fortunately our reinforced shoreline avoided that alewife collection - BUT they’d collect in masses on our small sand beach and STINK! Here was a job you couldn’t hire anyone to do - so Floyd’s early dawn job was to collect and transport tons of the smelly critters to his parents cherry orchard ten miles away - good fertilizer -and good fresh air enjoyed a return.

We remember when we had a lovely sandy beach - when the water levels were so low we could walk on shore four to six feet from the sea walls, when we had to build a 60’ wood walkway for docking boats in deep enough waters, when a boat slip was filled with sand for children’s play area then later covered with a concrete deck.  And we remember the high levels of the Bay which ruined or wrecked havoc when fierce storms took out docks and banged at boats.  Of our four original docks only one remains.  Winter ice was good at lifting docks around the bay too.

Weather crises mean scouring the shores of Sturgeon Bay to bring back rental boats and motors hurriedly beached when sudden squalls hit - and somewhat chastened boaters have to be brought back by car - now understanding our caution to keep an eye on the weather.  Here it means hurried rounds to close doors and windows - and all the guests are somewhere else - and cottages and rooms are locked, of course! Two actual tornadoes brushed the Cliff Dwellers - One tornado siren alert in the city resulted in shepherding all our guests into our concrete reinforced furnace room, a natural shelter, within minutes - a lot of togetherness we had there for a while!

Another time Floyd and I felt a sudden quiet and intense heat outside our office door, then the storm ripped by us and hit Sunset Park across the Bay which only hours before had been packed with June Jubilee revelers - no one hurt - though many magnificent trees were downed in the park, All our lights were out - candles were distributed.  Then we discovered the cause - a huge tree had been felled across the wires and the road preventing any electric power or passage down the entire road to the park.  We had to find rooms for our guests who couldn’t get to us and escort some of the more determined guests through the tangled mess by flashlight.  Everyone ended up being safe but much damage was wreaked across the Peninsula.

Around 1959 or 60 a foreign freighter rammed the downtown bridge completely disabling the drawbridge mechanism and effectively closing off the only land access traffic had to Northern Door.

How could we be so lucky?  We had homes and cars on both sides of the bay! Diane, our 16 year old daughter, had just gotten her drivers license and was on the other side with the car and access to our home.  We had our truck and motorboats on this side.  For us and our visitors it was a challenging time - for most guests and local residents alike it was the first time they’d actually walked across our “iron-lace” covered bridge and viewed the stunning vistas up and down the bay.  A ferryboat was hurriedly put to work downtown for pedestrians and ingenuous ship builder, Fred Peterson, put together a pontoon bridge at the canal for auto traffic.  Our west side location enjoyed a bit of a bonanza from travelers worried about being marooned on the peninsula side of the bay.

In our early days at the Cliff Dwellers we had social evenings for all cottagers complete with potluck suppers or a fish boil by Floyd.  There would be evenings with outdoor movies and freshly popped corn or apples or cherries.  There would be storytelling, singing or just quiet moon and firelight watching.  We’d learn about their lives, they’d learn about ours - Door County’s cherry and apple-picking and canning, shipbuilding, local artists, Belgian pies, lighthouses, the Canal and Coastguard Station, first settlers, Indian tribes and all the park trails and tower.

Folks thought nothing of swimming across the Bay and back - that had to cease when motorboat traffic increased and water levels rose.  There was our barrel and board swim raft for sunbathing, diving and jumping - until the water became too low and safety became an issue.

Part IV : “People Are Wonderful”

Some early days memories of people grand, funny, wonderful - and challenging! Some are particularly memorable especially the women!

*Rhea Briody, a nurse and free spirit inside a not slender body and Dorothy Ferrabee, a tiny but totally-in-charge skipper of their runabout motor boat, plus all other mechanical challenges to daily living, came to the Cliff Dwellers from Texas for over 20 summers.  They rented Pilot House for the entire season and were the first to greet each season’s returnees.  We learned later that Dorothy was in charge of World War II’s “Bundles for Britain” program.

*Alma Vreeland came with a friend to the Cliff Dwellers and ended up building a cozy home across the bay where she retired happily ever after with a canoe, ukulele, shelves of books and hosts of new-found Door County friends.

*‘The walker-using woman and her nurse companion who lived two happy months in Water’s Edge cottage, enjoying the up-close waves outside their picture window, the parade of boats, and the feeding of all Sturgeon Bay’s ducks on their driveway each morning.

*The adventure-loving woman who gleefully left her elegant Continental auto and apprehensive husband to walk shoeless over an improvised catwalk to her waterfront cottage during the 1986 high water crisis.  AND in the morning she’d nonchalantly in bare feet rearrange the nightly wave-demolished catwalk so her stilt unenthusiastic husband could get to the swimming pool.

*The all-woman “bell ringers” who set up a practice hall in their cottage and treated everyone to a delightful concert.

*The many small groups of Minnesota women who’d pool their vacation monies and come to the Cliff Dwellers for their all-woman equivalent of their men’s annual deer-hunting flings.  Then there were the men’s groups:

*Those who came all geared up to catch the big ones from a charter boat out in the “big lake”.  Their success is then hooked to worry about where and how to get their costly catches cleaned and frozen to take home -most seemed to miss an expected charter boat service!

*Those occasional “up-late-at-night” or “early-in-the-morning” buddies who cared not that voices carry through the walls and across the water - that every descriptive word can be heard - and who create a disaster area of kitchens, sinks, refrigerators.

*ln our early days, motorcycle rallies were held in Sturgeon Bay - one of our group’s members was killed during the event - none of his “buddies” cared - we called the family and handled details.

*One time the FBI visited our office, gave instructions to retain and turn over to them every discarded piece of anything from a certain guest’s room.

Early on a quiet morning we were wakened by loud voices and noises.  One of our rental boats was out on the Bay without permission, overloaded with two men and their sons.  Fierce argument - couldn’t get motor to run - we called the Coastguard for help - we watched and waited - language and decibels got worse - lost an oar - then life preservers tossed out - Coastguard called ”where is that boat?” Ye Gods, told them by the time they got here to rescue, there’d be a drowning! Floyd had to go after them-on the way a fellow fell overboard - Floyd wary - circled the boat - picked up preservers and oars - man now scared enough to realize his predicament - couldn’t swim or get back in the boat - Floyd then could tow man and boat back to shore.  I spent all that morning calming down and listening to the trauma of a young son of one of these prominently connected Milwaukeans!

A most enjoyable adult group was the “Cliff Dwellers” of Chicago.  This was an organization of selected membership representing the arts, music, literature, architecture, philosophy, education professions, etc.  Dubbed “Cliff Dwellers” from their location in the high office complexes of downtown Chicago they were most appreciative of their Door County namesakes - the editor would send copies of their newsletters describing their visits to their Door County “Cliff Dwellers” home.

Most inspiring groups were the high school biology classes who came from Milwaukee for several years.  They used the Cliff Dwellers and the Park for their laboratory.  During the day we learned, together, more about our many on-premise varieties of trees, mosses, bushes and wild flowers.  Around the bon-fire at night they sang songs, ate our popcorn and on the last night had a lovely initiation ceremony.

For a while, when they first came to Door County we hosted bus tours.  While the $ reward was great, we discovered this not to be in harmony with our operation which emphasizes the personal touch.  For some, of course, the Cliff Dwellers steps were a bit much - but the greatest disadvantage to us was the noise and motor fumes of the bus befouling our fresh air before, during and after the extended loading and unloading times - too high a price for the business.

*Then a special niche found us - more and more couples were choosing Cliff Dwellers as a honeymoon destination.  They liked the serenity, the natural beauty, the views and privacy.  Soon we found couples coming to celebrate anniversaries.  Parents gifted their children - children gifted their parents!

On a shelf in the office is our long-time honeymoon collection of albums for each year since 1967.  Two pictures of the couple are taken - one for them - one for our albums.  It’s fun to have returnees, their friends and relatives enjoy those album memories.

Another guest-pleasing Cliff Dwellers innovation is the delivery of a personalized morning tray to every unit - even those with kitchens! Being along the water with recreational activities and a breakfast is the best of both worlds, we’re told.

1984 was a special year for us - the Cliff Dwellers was chosen by the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association as the “Small Property of the Year” - and AAA honored us with a special award for having shown the greatest improvement of a small property.  In 1987, Floyd served as President of the Wiseonsin Innkeepers Association.

Guests remember us with cards, photos, special gifts.  I have a favorite keepsake from a young woman who cross-stitched a sampler as a gift to me.  It reads:

“Blossoms and birds and budding trees THANK GOD! We may be sure of these”

I remember feeling for a long time that this was a comfortable truth, I no longer feel so supremely confident that our “Kingdom Delicious” as National Geographic named Door County in 1969, can endure.  Do we have the self-discipline to work together to truly protect our land - its peaceful open spaces, water, fresh air, flowers, trees and wildlife - the key parts that make our “Door” so special and beautiful? I wonder and worry!

Enjoy the relaxation and views, all along our 550’ of Cliff Dweller shoreline... umbrella tables and lounge chairs are just waiting for you!

-- Florence

Copyright 2011 Layla Alexia