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South End of Green Bay: The Islands at the Entrance thereof and Part of West Shore of Lake Michigan

J.D. Graham and W.F. Raynolds
The Bureau of Engineers of the War Department

Death's Door and Other Hazards
Between 1872 and 1889, one lighthouse keeper recorded two shipwrecks per week at Death’s Door.

Steamship and sailing captains used maps like these to navigate the Great Lakes’ many hazards. Famous among them was the treacherous entrance to Green Bay from Lake Michigan, known as Death’s Door. On this map, the French name Port des Mortes persists.

This chart includes sailing directions from the Straits of Mackinac to Green Bay. Navigation charts were provided free of charge to ship captains. They showed shoreline vegetation, roads, houses, soundings, dangers, magnetic declinations and lighthouses.

The narrow passage separating Door County from Washington Island is characterized by strong currents, fierce winds and rocky shorelines that wrecked many a ship and claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Some say Death’s Door was named when a Native American war party, negotiating the passage in canoes, smashed against the rocks in a sudden storm. Others say the French named it because many of their people died there.

Shipping products via the Great Lakes was vital to the economies of many lakeside communities in the 1860s, which were dominated by lumbering, fishing, and shipbuilding.

By 1882, the Sturgeon Bay ship canal enabled ships from lower Green Bay bound for Chicago to enter Lake Michigan without passing through Death’s Door.