The Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal

ship canal 1.jpg

A few months ago I wrote about transportation numismatics of Door County. Somehow I managed to forget to include one of the largest pieces in the collection.

The document shown above is a specimen of a $1,000.00 bond issued by the Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan Ship Canal and Harbor Company. The bonds were issued to finance the construction of the canal connecting these two bodies of water across the Door County peninsula in 1873. The original piece is too large to fit on a standard scanner. The lower half not shown in the scan consists of interest coupons. This is either an unissued remainder or a printer’s specimen.

I obtained the bond from Chet Krause in about 2012. Chet thought enough of it to picture it in his book on Wisconsin Obsolete Paper Money and Scrip even though it is neither. Chet knew I lived in Door County (he referred to me affectionately as that damn lawyer in Sturgeon Bay) and offered it to me when he was dispossessing himself of his collection in the years before he died. I am proud to be its current caretaker.

A not entirely to scale rendition of Lake Michigan, Green Bay and the Sturgeon Bay canal from the Chicago publication the Land Owner marking the opening of the canal. (The Newberry Digital Collection).

Construction on the canal began in 1872 across a 1.3 mile strip of land that separated Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan. It was completed in 1881. The canal shortened the trip between Green Bay and the Lake Michigan ports by 150 miles. It also eliminated crossing Death’s Door, the treacherous channel between the northern end of the Door peninsula and Washington Island.

The canal had a tremendous effect on the development of Sturgeon Bay and Door County in the late 19th Century. The ships passing through provided a vital link between the county and the rest of the world as the roads to the county were primitive and there was no rail connection yet. It resulted in Sturgeon Bay becoming a center of shipbuilding.

NOAA map of Sturgeon Bay and the canal. The yellow line is the canal and the red line is the dredged ship channel. The inset is the city of Sturgeon Bay

Great Lakes shipping continues to pass through the canal but it has a greater significance for smaller boats than the lake freighters. The canal makes Sturgeon Bay the center of a large and varied sport fishing industry allowing for salmon fishing on the big lake, smallmouth bass on Sturgeon Bay and perch and walleye on Green Bay all from a central location.

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