More than picture perfect, Ephraim enchants and excites travelers
By Donna Marie Pocius
Special to DoorCountyNavigator.com
Ephraim just seems to have it all going on in Door County.
From its pretty-in-white Eagle Harbor setting to renowned events like Fyr Bal, which celebrates Scandinavian heritage, Ephraim invites you to stay a while.
Along the Green Bay waters and inland, you can rest in picturesque B&B inns and hotels with all the frills. Within walking distance of most accommodations, shops and galleries are set in century-old barns, log homes and vintage houses.
Ephraim also beckons you to natural attractions, historical sites and the arts. The village has its own wetlands preserve, historical buildings open for tours and the Francis Hardy Center for the Arts on the Anderson Dock--a national landmark.
“Ephraim has a lot to offer—from history to the most waterfront,” says Debbie Krause, owner of Bay Breeze Resort in Ephraim.
So let’s take a tour of Ephraim and see what all the fuss is about.
Festival celebrates heritage
“Of all the villages (in Door County), Ephraim is definitely one that appreciates ethnic heritage,” says Sally Jacobson, director/curator of the Ephraim Historical Foundation. “We want to celebrate the history of people who settled before us.”
Ephraim’s annual Fyr Bal, held in concert with the summer solstice, salutes the beginning of summer as well as heritage. Locals and visitors gather around nearly a dozen bonfires on the beach to symbolically burn the winter witch.
The 41-year-old festival honors a chieftain, who sails into Eagle Harbor before lighting the first bonfire. Locals vote for the chieftain--a citizen who has served the village’s business, arts or education in some way.
In addition to preserving customs like honoring a chieftain, Ephraim has maintained historical buildings including a Moravian parsonage and one-room schoolhouses.
The Ephraim Historical Foundation unveiled in 2005 the historic Iverson House. This is an 1853 log and frame Moravian parsonage—the oldest frame house in Door County, according to the Door County Historical Society.
“It is built in the typical Norwegian fashion with rooms for animals underneath the house—very unique in Wisconsin,” Jacobson says.
Guided tours of the Iverson House are available. Two old schoolhouses in Ephraim are also open to the public.
The 1880 Pioneer Schoolhouse, 9998 Moravia St., was built at a cost of $658 and stayed open until 1948. Today tourists can see a recitation on the blackboard, vintage books and more.
Jacobson, who grew up in Ephraim, fondly remembers attending the 1948 Ephraim Village School (now the Village Hall), where classes for up to 60 children at eight grade levels took place in one room with one teacher.
“It was a good way of learning things. Classes were grouped together, and there were kids doing more advanced work. So I was being exposed to something else going on and getting a peek-see at what I will be learning in the future. That was the benefit of the one-room schoolhouse,” she said.
Ephraim shops also provide their own kind of history lessons, while offering one-of-a-kind home accents and art. For example, an 1886 dairy barn has been re-purposed as City Farmer, a home and garden shop and interior design studio.
Original wooden shiplap-style walls provide a natural division for the store’s furnishings lines. The concrete floors are painted red and speckled with yellow, black and white.
“Drywall has not been used in the barn’s refurbishment,” said Celeste Wegman, owner and interior designer. “The store exemplifies what you can do with an old Wisconsin barn—people can shop and work here.”
Another unique shopping destination and historical attraction is Newport House Gallery, open for more than 20 years, and showcasing antiques and folk art in a log building.
Just south of the village’s Eagle Harbor and shopping area, the Ephraim Wetlands Preserve invites you to change your pace. Access the area from Hwy. 42 May through October. As you head south from town, turn left or east when you see the Ephraim Wetlands Preserve sign.
Here, you can take a leisurely stroll through a natural swamp and nourish your soul while learning about plants and animals that call wetlands home. Seven acres of wetlands have been preserved through efforts of the Village of Ephraim. On two trails with man-made bridges you can hike one-third of a mile through the area.
Wetlands include swamps, marshes, bogs, flood plains, seeps and wet meadows. “This is a swamp area, left in its natural state. What it feels like, what it smells like—a typical Door County wetland swamp,” said Paul Burton, village president.
You’ll see about a 60 different types of wildflowers including large yellow lady-slipper, hound’s tongue, marsh marigold and starflower.
Don’t miss the dragon flies. There are a few species zipping around, but the Hine’s emerald dragonfly with green eyes is the one to watch. It’s the only dragonfly on the Federal List of Endangered Species, and the world’s largest breeding population exists in Door County.
“You always hope you may catch a glimpse of this dragonfly. They are buzzing around,” Burton promised. “It is just good for the soul to be at one with nature, to experience a wetland in this area. It is very relaxing and a way to gain access to nature right off Highway 42.”
Finally, for a panoramic perspective, get off the highway and set sail from Eagle Harbor. While cruising by the picturesque Ephraim skyline and Peninsula State Park on a catamaran built by the Chicago Sea Scouts in 1960, hear Captain Tom Schroeder tell tales of the sea.
“I like to talk about the different wrecks. But the main idea is to be out on the water,” Schroeder, of Bella Sailing Cruises, says. “Get off the bus, get off the highway and get on the water. That is why you came to Door County.”
To learn more about places to stay and dine in Ephraim, visit our places to stay and dine links. For details about Ephraim tours and attractions, visit www.ephraim-doorcounty.com
Donna Marie Pocius is a full-time Egg Harbor-based freelance writer, who writes about travel, decorating and the arts.
Ephraim is so picturesque – we love it! Check out these great places to stay, and places to dine and shop while vacationing in Ephraim! You can even find some real estate here!