July is Cherry season! The Hilltop Inn is located in Fish Creek and is close to many orchards and farm markets and all things Cherry! If you are looking for the perfect Door County vacation rental, resort, or condo, the Hilltop Inn is it. Our two-bedroom condos sleep six comfortably, and are the perfect place to unwind after your cherry-picking adventure! Callus at 920-868-3556 to book a reservation now.
July is prime Door County vacation season. Everything is open and in full swing! Stores, bars, restaurants, wineries, theaters, parks, beaches…Door County has so much to offer…plus July is Cherry Season! Dozens of orchards, with thousands of trees bursting with ripe cherries. Map of orchards here. But, how did “cherries” become one of Door County’s main symbols?
The History of Door County’s Cherry Industry
In the early days of Door County’s founding and settlement, lumber and fishing were the main industries and means of employment. Then followed the early resorts and tourist hotels. During this period many people tried to farm and grow crops but the shallow, rocky soil was hard to coax anything from. In 1862 a Swiss immigrant named Joseph Zettle, found that the shallow, rocky soil that was unfriendly to traditional crops, was perfect for fruit trees. The soil provided good drainage for the trees…plus the peninsula, situated between the bay of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, provided “lake effect” and a cushion from severe weather and late frosts. The success of Mr. Zettle’s apple orchard caught the attention of University of Wisconsin Horticulture Professor, E.S. Goff and A.L. Hatch, a Wisconsin Fruit Grower who decided to experiment with different fruit trees on the peninsula to find which trees did the best. After trying various trees they found that cherry trees were the most successful. The pair planted the first cherry orchard on three acres a little north of Sturgeon Bay. Other farmers followed suit and cherry orchards began springing up all over the county.
The orchards were successfully producing cherries but few people outside the county knew about them. Farmers promoted their crops with small farm stands and “Pick your own” signs up and down the roads. It wasn’t until 1929 that Door County became an agricultural attraction when a man named Carl Reynolds started a week-long Cherry Blossom Festival to promote Door County’s cherry industry nationwide. To say that the event was a success was an understatement. The festival was a massive success drawing thousands of tourists to the peninsula and making the “Pick Your Own” orchards a major attraction. The peak of Door County’s cherry industry was in the 1940’s and 1950’s when the orchards produced 50 million pounds a year from 700 different growers. The crops needed 10,000 seasonal workers to pick the crops each season. During World War Two, many of the men that normally picked the crop were away fighting the war. Migrant workers were brought in from as far away as the Bahamas but it wasn’t enough and millions of cherries had to be left on the trees. In 1945 the US Government established a POW camp in Sturgeon Bay to house nearly 2,200 German Prisoners of War. The prisoners were immediately sent into the orchards to pick the cherry crops. See video here. In the summer of 1945 the Germans picked over a half million pails of cherries effectively saving that years crop! Many of the prisoners formed warm relationships with the people in Door County. Some of the growers got creative to draw workers to the orchards. Frank Murphy, owner of Horseshoe Bay Farms near Egg Harbor, started a summer “Cherry Camp” and advertised it to teenagers throughout the Midwest. See a video of Cherry Camp here. Over 100 kids came and were housed at the Horseshoe Bay Golf Course club house. They were expected to pick 7.5 pails of cherries a day. That covered room and board. The kids were paid money for anything they picked over that. Every evening prizes were given out to the best pickers of the day. Free time was spent exploring the Horseshoe Bay caves and swimming in the bay. Mechanical cherry pickers were invented in the 1960’s and the massive amount of labor was no longer needed.
Picking your own cherries is still a popular summer activity in Door County. Some families have been coming every summer for generations. Cherry picking should be on all visitors bucket list to experience at least once. Booking a condo at The Hilltop Inn provides a comfortable home away from home for your Door County cherry experience. Each unit has fully equipped kitchens. After you harvest your own cherries you can make a yummy cherry recipe right here. Here is my favorite recipe for cherry granola cookies taken from the Destination Door County website. AND don’ forget cherry juice for cherry margaritas!
Thanks to Destination Door County for the fabulous videos and recipes!