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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
hosta whose gracefully leafy clumps border all the walks
Bishop’s cloak whose varigated leaves make a wonderful ground cover in sun
shiny leafed myrtle that loves the shade incorrigible wild violets that
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,
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
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
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
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
*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
*‘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
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
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
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.
“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!