At the extreme northern end of Door County, a wide, rock-rimmed bay opens into the peninsula from the north. On the west side, it is guarded by the magnificent Door Bluff, which rises defiantly 200 feet high above the roaring sea. On the east, it is sheltered by the somewhat lower Table Bluff, top-crowned with cedar and balsam. The arc of the enclosed semi-circle of gleaming waters is indented at its apex by a third bluff, noble in its castellated terraces but nameless in the presence of its greater brothers. The west half of the bay is called Garrett Bay; the east half is known as Gills Rock.
The name of Gills Rock is a comparatively recent innovation, so named after Alias Gil, who, in the early 1870s, came here with his woodchoppers and devastated the land. On old maps and in ancient days, the bay was known as Hedgehog Harbor.
Almost 100 years ago, there was on Rock Island, 10 miles outside of Hedgehog Harbor, a man by the name of George Lovejoy. He had been a sergeant in the United States Army and had settled on Rock Island in 1836. Lovejoy was a famous hunter in many parts of northeastern Wisconsin and possessed a remarkable faculty for almost anything he undertook. It was said that he almost broke up the settlement on Rock Island by the bewitching, homesick melodies of old-time songs he drew from his violin. He was also a master ventriloquist. Sometimes, he would go out on the ice where an Indian was fishing and make the trout talk back to its captor in the most approved Chippewa dialect, to the poor Indian’s terrorized amazement.
At an early date, Lovejoy built a small vessel, said to be the first one built in Door County. One autumn, at the approach of winter, his vessel was thrown on the beach near the present Gills Rock pier. Next spring when he returned to launch her, he found her so high above the water that he had to give it up. Later, he returned with a companion, a tremendously strong man by the name of Allan Bradley, and with his help, the boat was launched. During the spring, the porcupines had gnawed so many holes in her, however, that they had much difficultly in making her float.
When Lovejoy was ready to leave, he offered to pay Bradley for his help. But Bradley would not accept anything. “I like this Hedgehog Harbor of yours so much,” he said. “It is the pleasantest place I have found in the West, so I am going to build me a home here. Since you brought me here, I will take nothing for my work. Allen Bradley then built a shanty just back of where the present pier stands, and in 1856, became the first settler in the vicinity of Hedgehog Harbor, by which name it was afterward known.
Allen Bradley later became one of the epic characters of Door County. He was a good-natured, square-dealing person, more than six feet tall, but he was so broad that he looked rather stocky than tall. He measured more than four feet around the chest, had hands as broad as shovels, and was obliged to wear moccasins because no shoes could be obtained that were big enough. The old settlers in the northern part of the county speak of “Old Bradley, the timber chap, who lived like an Indian and could cut seven cord of body maple in a day.” In those days, crosscut saws had not yet come into use, and the big maple trees were felled and cut into cordwood with axes only. Bradley had a homemade affair as heavy as a maul and, with his strength behind it, chips weighing a pound apiece would fly at every stroke.
Bradley did not spend much time cutting cordwood, however. He was a leisurely fellow, hunting and fishing and tapping his maple trees. Money was not much needed except for the annual purchase of flour and knick-knacks for the family. The deer that bounded through the timber gave him abundant food and the best of clothing. Maple sugar for his flapjacks in the morning, a bear-steak for dinner, a whitefish for supper, furnished a menu that did not cost him five cents a day, and which a fastidious epicure of the metropolis could not surpass in quality. Life was easy.
(From Old Peninsula Days, by Hjalmar R. Holand, originally published in 1925, re-published in 1990 by Wm Caxton Ltd, 12037 Hwy 42, Ellison Bay, WI, 54210; 920.854.2955.)
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