Sturgeon Bay, something for everybody

"Sturgeon Bay, Historic Harbor City"

Sturgeon Bay is about 9,000 strong with lots of things to see and do, from downtown to the waterfront, sitting close to Green Bay with a ship canal connecting Green Bay to Sturgeon Bay to Lake Michigan. Native Americans liked the area because of its proximity to these waterways. Once host to massive forests of pine and attendant sawmills, it would become a place where all travel was by boats and steamboats, the latter plying their goods between Chicago and Green Bay. Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay dates back to the late 19th century and continues to the present. It is a town steeped in ships, past and present, a mariner's town, a sailor's delight, a maritime city.

November 1, 2015


I see Sturgeon Bay as the southern entry point to beautiful Door County and the Door Peninsula, jutting out on the east side of Green Bay, separating the bay from Lake Michigan. I've done a story on Door County, "Door County --- Our “Cape Cod” and better." It is a wonderful tourist center, and a great starting point from which to enter Door peninsula. While I was there I very much had the feeling I was in a town steeped in ships, past and present, a mariner's town, a sailor's delight, a maritime city. I should remark here that on January 23, 2014, the Commandant of the US Coast Guard proclaimed Sturgeon Bay a "Coast Guard City," one of only sixteen communities nationwide to be named that and the first, and only, in Wisconsin.

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To the upper left of this photo is Green Bay. To the lower right is Lake Michigan. In between is Sturgeon Bay and the city of that name. If you look very carefully to the southeast of the city, you can see the narrow Sturgeon Bay Canal that connects Lake Michigan and Sturgeon Bay and ultimately Green Bay. And yes, for all those who thought Green Bay was a football team and the name of its home city, you are right, but there is also a large body of water called Green Bay.

Let' start by a quick trip through downtown. The fun section, I thought, was on the east side of the bay, on 3rd Street.








This "Old Bell Tower" is a modern rendition of Bank of Sturgeon Bay's original tower erected in 1900 and removed in 1939. The tower houses the original silver-bronze bell.


And of course you have to have a sturgeon plying the main drag through town!

As every little boy like me might do, I spotted a group of tug boats on the west side of the river and had to get over there. It turns out they are berthed in front of the Marine Museum. Let' take a look at a few of these beauties.


The John Purves was built in 1919. She's an ocean-going tug and has said the Great Lakes, Caribbean and Bering Sea. She rescued foundered ships and served in WWII. In the 1950s, she took on towing and salvage jobs. She has since been donated to the museum.


This is the Donny S., construction completed in 1950. She is an active ship. Donny S. works in ship docking, ice breaking, and towing, all from her home base in Sturgeon Bay.


The tug closest to you is the Susan L. The one by her side is the William C. Selvick. The Susan L. was built in 1944, was transferred to the Army, and was used by the Amy for a long career, to 1999. She now works in ship-docking and towing trades in Sturgeon Bay and Menominee/Marinette. The William C. Selvick also was built in 1944, again to work for the Army. Sold in 1966, she dredged. She now works alongside her fleet-mates in the ship-docking and towing trades out of Sturgeon Bay.

Now we'll switch over to shipbuilding. Sturgeon Bay has been involved in shipbuilding going back as far as 1918. In the 1970s the industry here was building 40,000 ton Lake freighters, but has not built one over 20,000 tons since 1987. The market spoke!

As I understand it, Sturgeon bay now hosts two major ship building companies, Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding (FBS) and Palmer Johnson Yachts, the latter producing SuperSport and SportYachts, to wit, huge yachts, up to about 200 ft. in length. During my visit, frankly, I was not sure what I was looking at or what was involved. Furthermore, I did not have good access to the shipbuilding facilities. But even at that I could tell this was a huge business. I'll show you photos that I took without being able to say much about them.


I took this shot from the west side of the bay. That is the SS Arthur M. Anderson. She is a laker cargo ship built in 1952. I took this photo in July 2015. I have learned that Sturgeon Bay is where she does her winter layover. I further learned that she had had a very difficult time in the winter of 2014-2015. The Green Bay Gazette reported on March 6, 2015, "The 767-foot bulk carrier, due in port nearly two weeks ago, finally arrived Wednesday morning at its winter layover port in Sturgeon Bay, after a long journey from Lake Erie that required assistance from the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards … The Anderson spent more than two weeks battling through ice in southern Lake Erie, for a trip from Conneaut, Ohio, to Gary, Indiana, that typically takes two days. The freighter became frozen in place off Conneaut on February 19, 2015 in deep, pressure-ridged lake ice stacked upon itself by winds. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter escorting the ship couldn't break it out, and two additional cutters from the Canadian Coast Guard were sent to assist. The Anderson sat locked in ice for two days before being freed. I've seen a photo of her coming through the Sturgeon Bay Canal in early March and can tell you there was ice and a lot of snow piled on the shore. It's northern Wisconsin!


I believe this to be a look at part of the FBS facilities, either building or repairing or both.



Of course, I had to zoom in on the guy operating those massive gantry cranes. Let me tell you he is up there, and he is lifting and setting down some extraordinarily heavy equipment. Should that equipment start swinging around, it could do a lot of damage.


I sit through the fence to get this view that reflects what the place is — very busy, lots going on.

Now let's go to the ship canal. Of course I had to explore it. And frankly, I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw and learned. I now know why the Commandant of the Coast Guard proclaimed Sturgeon Bay a "Coast Guard City."


This is the canal a short distance from where she meets Lake Michigan — she is known as the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. This canal has not only been a time-saver, but a life-saver. Prior to it being built, ships had to go all the way up the Door Peninsula and around through the dangerous Northern Passage around the peninsula, widely known as "Death's Door."


That is the canal emerging into Lake Michigan from Sturgeon Bay to the left, with the Coast Guard Station to the right. I made the mistake of walking on the station's grounds. Don't do that! I was scolded. I could have pulled out my military ID card, but said nope, I deserved to be chided. That is a lighthouse on the right, called the Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pier Lighthouse.

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A closer look at part of the Coast Guard Station. You can see part of a boat berthed there. In case you don't know it, I am a retired Air Force officer but I go nuts over the Coast Guard and its boats and cutters. I have attempted to identify this beauty from this photo, and have concluded she is a 45 ft. Response Boat Medium, used a lot for shore-based operations. The response boat-medium is designed to meet a broad spectrum of Coast Guard mission requirements, including search and rescue; ports, waterways and coastal security; smuggler and illegal migrant interdiction. Awe man, get me out on that sweetheart and stand aside, I'm driving thus hummer!


I believe this called the North Pier, and visitors are allowed to walk its length.


Once you get to the end of the pierced, you come to this, the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal North Pier Lighthouse. It was originally constructed in 1881. A new one was erected in 1903. Interestingly, dense fog frequently shrouds the entrance to the canal, so a fog signal was added to the light house. In 1931 the light was electrified. The Coast Guard determined in 2010 it no longer needed the lighthouse. So it tried to sell it to no avail, and then auctioned it. A man from Kentucky bought it in 2014. I'd like to live in it!


Across the way we could see some fishermen heading out of the canal on their way into Lake Michigan.


I got a kick out of the way all the birds were lined up on the pier across the way.


As I walked back to shore, I couldn't help but gaze at the Lake Michigan shoreline close to where we were.