This year’s Anderson Barn Museum exhibit tells the stories of Ephraim’s early hotels and the individuals and families who became a part of each hotel’s history. Tourism has been an important part of Ephraim since the turn of the 20th century, and it changed the fortunes of this small pioneer community. When the village was founded in 1853, Ephraim’s economy was based primarily on lumber, with some fishing and farming. By the late 1800s, area lumber was scarce, and a new industry emerged with the arrival of the Goodrich Steamship Line.
Tourists from Milwaukee and Chicago, looking for a change of scenery and drawn by the fresh air and natural beauty of Door County, boarded a steamship and, after a multi-day journey, arrived at Ephraim’s Anderson Dock. Others arrived by stagecoach after taking the train to Sturgeon Bay. As more and more visitors arrived, an obvious problem emerged: where would these tourists stay?
These early hotels were not just a place to sleep, but they also provided meals in a time before restaurants became commonplace. Each establishment offered something unique to guests. Some of the hotels entertained visitors with comedy and variety shows, while others were known for a special recipe or notable décor. These hotels sought to make guests feel at home; with transportation to Door County being more expensive and more difficult than it is now, a tourist might stay for the whole summer, rather than taking today’s shorter vacations.
From owners to staff to guests, there were hundreds of individuals who have impacted the history of these hotels. The hotels were largely family and community affairs, with many employees and owners involved in multiple properties. One person from the history of each hotel is featured in this exhibit, though there are countless others whose stories could be told.
-Guest Blogger Emily Irwin