Open a New DoorWisconsin’s Idyllic Door County Holds the Simple Life in High Esteem
By Jack Macaleavy
The heat and humidity have returned to the Emerald Coast for a long, hot summer, with the air conditioning running on full speed.
Think about getting away to one of America’s best-kept summer destination secrets, where the days are mild and the evenings cool enough to open the windows for some natural air conditioning. A place where the national neon chains have not penetrated, the people are just downright friendly, and there are a plethora of cultural and outdoor recreational opportunities.
Perhaps you’re thinking the Carolinas or the Rockies … but no, it’s Door County, Wis., a peninsula of national beauty protruding into the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan.
A resort on the eastern side of the Door County Peninsula recently was acquired by a visionary couple who immediately saw the potential to recreate the laid-back, simple lifestyle of lake living in the 1950s and ’60s, when families came year after year and created generational memories. Today, those people are bringing back children with families of their own to perpetuate the tradition.
Gordon Lodge was established in 1929 as a fishing and hunting camp, then expanded in the 1940s to a full-service destination. Located on North Bay, a cove of Lake Michigan, the 130-acre resort features tennis courts, hiking trails, a boat dock, a full-service restaurant, bikes, badminton, canoes, kayaks and many other amenities to entertain and support an enjoyable stay.
A few years ago, the Gordon family decided it was time to move on, and John and Wendy Tinnon looked past the lodge’s very tired and dated appearance to visualize the wonderful place the restored resort is today.
With the primary objectives of protecting the environment and changing as little of the lodge’s structural integrity as possible, the Tinnons began a two-year sojourn of improvements.
They split their tasks; John Tinnon’s focus was infrastructure and recruiting a team of rebuilding professionals necessary to provide a level of service that travelers used to a five-star experience would expect. Wendy Tinnon and a team of designers from Chicago set their sights on the restoration – with the intention of creating a cross between the mid-century modern look of the 1950s and the comfortable accoutrements of a Four Seasons hotel.
Gordon Lodge is centrally located on the Door County Peninsula, no more than a 20-minute drive to the many towns and sights that make it such a unique destination. Door County is about a one-hour drive from Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay. Two primary roads, Highways 42 and 57, wind past the dozen communities lining the 300 miles of shoreline. Their populations range from 300 to 10,000, each with its own personality and charm. Stores and restaurants are owned and manned by the locals, creating a level of personalized service you may remember from years ago.
Door County proudly boasts of having more operational lighthouses – most of them waiting for your visit – than any other county in America. History buffs will be fascinated by the many stories of the shipwrecks that line the coast, most caused by fierce storms that wreaked havoc on the commercial shipping industry.
Culture and the arts are at their peak each summer with the Peninsula Players. The troupe had its humble beginnings in 1935, opening with a performance of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” behind the Bonnie Brook Motel in Fish Creek. In 1937, founders Richard and Caroline Fisher purchased 22 acres and built an open-air pavilion along the scenic shore of Green Bay.
Today, the “Theatre in a Garden” reigns as America’s oldest professional resident summer theater. Stroll through the cedar forest or enjoy a sunset over Green Bay before taking in one of the company’s renowned performances.
Many communities host live music performances on a regular basis, bringing locals and visitors together on lawns checkerboarded with picnic blankets under the stars. One unique artistic experience is the Hands On Art Studio, where guests can try their hand at creating metal arts using blowtorches or working with glass to create a unique piece to take home.
Dining is one of the crown jewels of Door County. Many restaurants offer cooking classes during the day before the white linens come out each evening. The “White Fish Boil” is a traditional must-do for any visitor. This poetic preparation of food is narrated by a local who brings the history alive while cooking the evening’s dinner in a pot of boiling water over an open fire. The final touch is a massive flare-up of flames that burns off the fat and seals in the flavor of Lake Michigan’s plentiful and delicious fish.
What really makes Door County a place one could return to year after year is its people, their genuine appreciation of the simple life, and a sense of welcoming you would expect from close friends and family.