Located on the Green Bay side of Door County, Wisconsin, Ephraim is proud of its heritage and has worked diligently to preserve remnants of its history. The Ephraim Historical Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to keeping village history alive has done so by purchasing or receiving donations of historical buildings, documents and artifacts. The buildings now serve as museums, illustrating how and where people used to live and work.
The village dates from 1853 when it was founded by a Moravian minister, Reverend Andreas Iverson. About a dozen structures are over a century old. The most prominent among them is the Moravian church, completed in 1858, one of the village landmarks. It was formerly located near the shoreline before being moved to its current location on a hill overlooking Eagle Harbor and the public beach, marina and docks. Other venerable buildings are the Iverson House, completed in 1854, the Anderson store built in 1858, the Pioneer Schoolhouse and Anderson barn, both built in 1880 and the Bethany Lutheran Church, which dates from 1882. Aside from Iverson, the name most closely associated with the early days of Ephraim is Anderson. Aslag Anderson and his brother Halvor entered into an agreement with the Moravian Congregation: the congregation would sell them land and in return, the brothers would build a deep-water dock that the villagers could utilize. Work began on the dock in 1858. Anderson put a warehouse on the dock, then built a store, a house for his family and a barn. The store and part of the barn are currently museums.
Much of Ephraim’s history can be found on the internet, but the best way to get an in-depth appreciation of the origins of Ephraim and the efforts made to keep that history alive is to take a guided walking or tram tour organized by the Ephraim Historical Foundation.
A walk through the village
I visited Ephraim on a recent blustery spring afternoon. The morning began with rain, changing to snow. Fortunately, no hail, sleet, hurricanes or tornadoes. My walk started at the Anderson warehouse on the waters edge. The warehouse is covered with names and inscriptions, placed there in answer to an open invitation to residents, boaters and other visitors to “decorate” the outside with their signature. Some would call it graffiti, but the writing is too polite and organized to qualify. The wind almost blew me off the dock, so after inspecting the writings on the warehouse walls, I strolled down the main street along the harbor. During the warm months, this area would normally be crowded with boats and boaters, but on that day with its freakish weather, they all stayed home.
Across from the harbor is Wilson’s restaurant and ice cream parlor, which had its start serving homemade ice cream over a century ago. Another interesting building opposite the water is the old firehouse, now a museum housing vintage fire engines. Modern firefighting equipment may be found in a modern firehouse, but the old one was not torn down or converted to something else, likely outcomes in most other towns. When you look at the old firehouse from across the street, notice the steeple of the Moravian church looming behind it.
Heading uphill along Moravia Street took me to a succession of historic structures. First was the Iverson house, former home of the founding reverend and his family, which was undergoing a facelift when I walked by. Then came the Moravian church. While it was truly impressive from the outside, I was blown away by the interior, particularly the stained glass windows. The church is still well-used, not a museum but an active place of worship. The Bethany Lutheran Church was a short walk away, followed by the Pioneer Schoolhouse museum and Goodletson Cabin. The cabin, which was built to house a family of seven, consists of a single room. It had been constructed on Horseshoe Island by a pioneer family in the middle of the nineteenth century but was later moved to Ephraim.
The Pioneer schoolhouse has a special story to tell. A one room schoolhouse since 1880, it was replaced by a new building in the 1940’s. While the future of the old schoolhouse was being debated, Helen Sohns, who had taught there, helped organize an effort to buy the building and preserve it for future generations. This was the spark that led to the founding of the Ephraim Historical Foundation. Standing in the neat room with its well-worn wooden desks, I imagined the teacher at the front of the room, trying to deal with a group of students of different abilities in different grades. It must have been a noisy place.