DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) — The Door County Historical Museum’s Cherry Harvest exhibit is extensive, “We used to be called Cherryland USA,” Maggie Weir, Curator at the museum explained, “in fact, we still sort of use that moniker.”
Amongst the images depicted harvests over the years, one photo stands out: a picture of a German POW, flanked by an armed guard, working on an orchard.
“People come up to us and say ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that there were German prisoners of war here,'” Maggie said.
The museum’s small collection of photographs from the Harvest of 1945 is just about all that remains from the little-known piece of Door County’s history.
“Most of the farmers that housed them are long gone now,” Weir said.
But less than an hour drive up the peninsula, in Sister Bay, is something else leftover from that much-forgotten era.
“I just thought it was a very neat building,” Mark Carlson, owner of the Door County Wildwood Market said of the structure that houses his business. “I knew nothing about the German POWs when I moved the building.”
Mark moved the building in 2001, saving it from being razed.
He and his wife, Mary Pat, have owned the structure and operated their farmers market out of it for nearly two decades.
Mark told Local 5 that he was born and raised in Sister Bay, but even a lifetime in Door County didn’t prepare him for what he learned after acquiring the building.
“A friend of my dad’s stopped in when I was working on it,” Mark recalled, “converting it into the market. [He] casually mentioned to me, he said, ‘I picked up German POWs from this building.’ First I’d ever heard anything about it.”
Mary Pat added, “both of our fathers served in World War II and there was never any mention of it, and yet here it was, so close to home. It was home.”
While they were in Door County for the Harvest of 1945, it was also home for those German POWs.
“A lot of the workers had already gone to war, so they were delighted to have these Germans,” Maggie Weir said, “and the Germans were actually delighted to be here as well because they would rather be harvesting cherries than fighting.”
She added that armed guards watched over the prisoners, but to her knowledge, their rifles were never loaded.
AN EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH MARK AND MARY PAT
Mark and Mary Pat are in Florida for the winter and were unable to complete an on-camera interview with us for this story. They were, however, available for the Skype interview you see above.
“They had no intention of escaping or going anywhere,” Mark explained. “They were just young people and enjoyed their time in Door County.”
The POWs departed after the harvest and the county moved on, the buildings used for their housing, like the one owned by the Carlsons, were used to house migrant workers.
“We wanted to keep the face of it looking just like it was,” Mark said, “and I’ve had so many people thank me for saving it because if I hadn’t moved it, it would have been bulldozed and the history would have been gone.”
Mary Pat added, “I guess it’s all about the history of it, to be able to have people walk in and realize we haven’t refinished the floors. Those are the floors that the German prisoners walked.”
It’s a forgotten history anyone can walk into, along a stretch of highway in Door County.