Ghost Port Settlements and Shipwrecks in Door County’s Clay Banks

Township, Door County, Wisconsin: A Wisconsin Maritime Study

 Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula harbors over a dozen ghost town sites. Many of these vanished communities were actually small lake ports, associated with the logging industry and related pioneer enterprises that blossomed shortly after the Civil War. The Lake Michigan coastline of Clay Banks, the smallest township in Door County, had four such “ghost port” settlements. Maritime shipping was essential for these hamlets because roads and railways were lacking or ineffective. However, the waters off this township are fringed by numerous rocky shoals, which necessitated the construction of extensive piers to ship the products generated by logging, farming and fishing enterprises. A key interdependency evolved between these sawmill-communities and nautical commerce from their mega-piers. Despite these lengthy docks, many shipwrecks and maritime mishaps occurred on the dangerous reefs, as well as at the piers themselves. As the logging era faded, the sawmills closed, local businesses dwindled away, and the massive docks crumbled into the lake, until each settlement had virtually disappeared, leaving only underwater or underground remnants to tell their stories.

Ten years ago, the Wisconsin Underwater Archeological Association (WUAA) began this study of these extinct hamlets, both above and below water. Archival research recounts both the development and the decay of these lakeside communities, including histories of their vital sawmills and shipping docks. The hardships and complexity of the small sawmill businesses are examined, as are the lives of certain key individuals who championed civic developments and commercial enterprises in these wilderness settlements. Local shipwrecks and other maritime misfortunes are discussed, and several underwater archeological field studies are presented. In telling this story of communal rise and fall, the authors have relayed the information in a manner that hopefully captures the “flavor of those long-gone, pioneer times.”

A Wisconsin Underwater Archeological Association Study

Available October 1st, 2020

Our Four Lakes: Their Legends Sites and Secrets chronicles the history of the waterways in Dane County, Wisconsin from

prehistoric times, through early settlement to the modern era. It describes the industry and commerce that relied on the lakes and rivers, including ice harvesting and steamboat transportation.

This third edition includes over 40 historical photos, new stories and underwater images. A guide for scuba divers, this

book contains maps and descriptions of 40 dive sites on all Four Lakes of the Yahara chain.

The book retails for $25.

It is available on Amazon.com at: Our Four Lakes

This publication tells the story of Fireboat 23 from it launching in 1897 until it was taken out and sunk in 1923 to be forgotten until 2005 when Jerry Guyer discovered the wreck in about 70 feet of Lake Michigan water. Included are the results of the 3 seasons that were required to do the underwater archeology performed by the volunteer divers from WUAA and the GLSRF.

The Norlond sailed under various names during its sailing career. In November of 1922, she started leaking and the crew was unable to save their vessel.  The underwater archeology that is included in this publication was completed by volunteer divers from WUAA and the GLSRF. 

A Pirate Roams Lake Michigan: The Dan Seavey Story

By Dr. Richard Boyd

In the maritime history of the Great Lakes, only one lake captain was ever arrested by federal authorities for piracy. That mariner was Captain Daniel W. Seavey, who frequently prowled upper Green Bay, but also wandered far and wide across Lake Michigan where his raucous exploits and pugnacious nature became legendary. His most infamous deed was the theft of the schooner Nellie Johnson in 1908, which led to a lengthy pursuit up Lake Michigan by a federal gunboat, hot on Seavey’s trail.  

Seavey has occasionally been the subject of “short story” articles that briefly described some of his misadventures, but this essay is the first in-depth look into his life and background, examining how he became known throughout the region as “Dan the Pirate.” The book provides many new, well-documented insights into the escapades of this roguish seaman, whose biography reflects the very definition of piracy itself. The text is generously supplemented with many interesting newspaper excerpts and photographs that highlight Seavey’s nefarious activities.