During each of the past weeks of summer, I've taken one or two days on the Karfi as operator (captain, cashier and safety officer!) from the State Dock in Jackson Harbor to Rock Island.  It's a fun challenge to direct this small-but-quick vessel alongside the pier.  The superb beauty of the route and the mix of overnight campers - some of whom told us this was their 34th and 38th straight years camping there - along with many day visitors, makes those days special.   I hadn't dreamed I would have that job when I began the book on Rock Island. 

Besides enjoyment of my "day job," there is an opportunity to tell people about this website and the soon-to-be published book, Thordarson and Rock Island.  

Self-promotion takes a bit of steel, and so most often my deckhands pass promotional bookmarks out for me while I steer into the harbor.  It's apparent the Rock Island topic greatly interests people.  They appear open and receptive to such a book, whether they're just curious to learn more about Thordarson, his boathouse, or local history in general.  A few of our passengers already have read something I've written and published, and in moments of euphoria I'd like to think that's another reason they'll be interested in this book.

A bookmark is a relatively inexpensive gift to give.  With promotional material printed on both sides, I believe most Karfi passengers will use it to good advantage as a book page marker, even if they never follow-up with a visit to this website.  Books, the objects made of paper that we hold in our hands as we turn pages one-by-one, have yet to go the way of the 8-track tape deck.  Recent articles indicate that e-books sales have leveled off, and that physical books continue selling steadily, although sales of hardcopies are down considerably from years ago.

It would seem altogether wrong, in writing about a man who cherished books as a collector and had a library second to very few in the world, that an e-book would suitably reflect the nature of such a topic.  And since this book will be about an island that has been a natural area and State Park, I've asked the printer to please use sustainable paper in its printing, which will then be certified.  All inks now, as I understand it, are vegetable-based, and so this printing will be as "environmentally friendly" as we can make it.  

When considering the publication of Thordarson and Rock Island, there were compelling reasons not to go the route of an e-book.  For one thing, there are so many images, maps and illustrations that even creating printer-ready digital files has been a challenge.  Most e-book templates, as I understand them, do now allow for many images.  There will be over 100 in this book.  

On the inside of both front and back covers I've included a chart of Lake Michigan and an old contour map of Rock Island that Thordarson had inside his photo album cover.  These each help the reader to more closely examine Rock Island and Thordarson's world, even if readers are local residents and they already know plenty about this place.  Including maps is also a personal indulgence, following on my own interest to examine maps. But including a map was advocated by James Michener in his book about writing:  always include a map to help orient the reader.

Edits continue right through this day.  I've often dropped off packets of latest changes at Amy Jorgenson's back doorstep while on my way to Jackson Harbor.  The process is close, but we're not quite "there" in terms of getting the files off to Worzalla, the printer, in Stevens Point.   -    Richard Purinton  

In The Merry Month Of May June 11 2013

View from the ranks as Legion Color Guard led procession to the Island Cemetery Monday morning. 

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Visitors and residents of Washington Island enjoyed a near-perfect Memorial Day Weekend, with fine weather Friday through Monday.  Nearly any outdoor activity could be enjoyed, except for swimming or laying on the beach, since just one month ago the ice was leaving our harbors and the lake water is too cold for swimming.

The traditional Memorial Day Program with ceremonies at the cemetery and School House Beach afterward, sponsored by the local Gislason-Richter American Legion Post 402, was held at Bethel Evangelical Free Church.  Student Americanism Essays were read, selected war poems were recited by men of the Post, and the community turnout and support was again gratifying.

Approach to Rock Island, Saturday, May 25.

With the holiday over, we returned immediately to cooler, wetter weather Tuesday morning.  This year, with the addition of the small passenger ferry Karfi to the Ferry Line Fleet, I am under instruction with Jeff Cornell, who practically trained as a toddler under his Grampa Jim Cornell years ago.  Although a small vessel, rather straightforward in many ways, nevertheless there are characteristics and idiosyncrasies in this ferry not found on the larger vessels in Detroit Harbor.

This change of scenery is a welcomed one for me, and propitious, too, as I am just completing a book under the title, Thordarson and Rock Island.  This is a coincidental convergence of my earlier goal of completing this local history book, with the recent and unplanned acquisition of the Karfi by the Ferry Line company.  I am now  allowed the pleasure of working a few days each week on the Rock Island run.

After reading intently and organizing letter and document materials that were Thordarson's, with a steady, concentrated writing effort since January 1st, it is now a pleasure to set course for the Thordarson's stone edifice, the Rock Island State Park Boathouse.  It is Thordarson's best known structure and a most convenient point on which to steer when departing Jackson Harbor.

Jeff is particular as to how his operation should be managed, following years of safe and reliable transportation. I'm slowly gaining the needed skills.  If Jeff is to get his day off each week, my improved abilities will give him that opportunity.

There are two contrasting photos shown here of the Karfi's recent operations.  One was taken Saturday on the noon trip to Rock Island.  The other was yesterday morning when we had cool temperatures and a light rain.   I'm amazed, given that weather, that we had any passengers for a day of hiking and exploring on Rock Island.  It shows the possibilities when sunnier, warmer days arrive.

-  Dick Purinton   (Note:  Thordarson and Rock Island is a reasonable 4-6 weeks away from printing.  Estimated pages:  435; 100+ images with maps; paperback.   Price:  $27 + tax + S + H)

Rock Island Side Trip June 11 2013

Steamer Saugatuck at Rock Island (from Washington Island Archives)

Washington and Rock Islands -

Part of the explanation for my blogs being intermittent this winter, even though I officially consider myself "half time"at the Ferry Line office and therefore partly retired, is that I've been working on a history I'm calling Thordarson and Rock Island.

This has been an enjoyable project in many ways, and I've learned a great deal about the former owner, his life, and how Rock Island was changed by him, and in turn how he and his family were influenced by Rock Island. (Most readers know that for almost 50 years Rock Island has been a Wisconsin State Park.)

For nearly seven years, off and on, I've collected Thordarson information.  I've transcribed letters into computer files and written original text about them.  During this process I've discovered many surprising connections, and each involves a side trip from the main subject.  This is one of the pleasures of the process, but side trips also become another reason for the time it takes to put it all together.

I've made announcements about finishing this projects to others before, partly to spur myself to meet a deadline.  I didn't realize I had so much ground yet to cover.  But now, I think I'm really getting close to a draft that's readable and "almost" error free.  Spring is upon us, according to the solar calendar, and summer's not far off.  I need to wrap this up before time runs short, with work and distractions aplenty.

Thordarson came in contact with many fascinating people, and a good number of those associations are supported with documents, primarily letters.  I won't post information here that will appear in the book, but there are plenty of other things to write about.

In this blog I thought I'd post a few old boat photos.  These were found in the Thordarson files at the Island Archives, and I'd guess that either Thordarson or a family member took them as these boats came into the Rock Island pier.  According to one letter, an early pier was under construction around 1914 so that he and his workers would have a safe place to land, unload materials, and moor a boat.

No names or dates were printed on the reverse side of these photos (typical and unfortunate, because this is the case for nearly every Thordarson photo).  I contacted friend Eric Bonow, who recently reported back aboard an ore boat at Bay Shipbuilding to start the 2013 sailing season.   Eric always enjoys unraveling a mystery.  He's collected maritime ship images and he also searches collections belonging to others in order to identify vessels.


In the first photo shown is the steamer Saugatuck.  It's moored alongside Thordarson's pier, perhaps after discharging freight and maybe Thordarson himself, who found it convenient to take a train from Chicago to Escanaba, then a boat across upper Green Bay to his island estate.

Saugatuck, steaming from Rock Island. Photos probably taken same day. (from Washington Island Archives)

The Saugatuck ( 110 x 22.2 x 8.6) was built in 1909 and was originally the Alfred Clarke.  Among its owner history was the Canadian company Pelee & Lake Erie Navigation Co. of Ontario.  The boat made its rounds of several  owners and locations before it came under ownership of Captain Charles McCauley and John J. Cleary, of Escanaba,Michigan.  McCauley in late 1913 wrote Thordarson and asked if he'd like to be a subscriber in his new venture.  We don't think Thordarson took him up on his offer, but a few years later, with McCauley still operating his boat, Thordarson asked for the vessel trip schedule so that he could coordinate his arrival by train in Escanaba with a departure for Rock Island.  (Undoubtedly an extra stop for which Thordarson might have paid extra.)

The Saugatuck eventually wound up in Chicago where it was abandoned and sunk in the North Avenue Basin of the Chicago River.  Later, it was scuttled (intentionally sunk to get rid of the old hull) in Lake Michigan.


Eric wrote that the Hyacinth (160.6 x 28 x 14) was a predecessor to the familiar Coast Guard buoy tenders (Sundew, Mesquite, Acacia, etc.) we used to see in Green Bay waters.  And although we can only guess at the dates on these two vessel stops at Rock Island, it seems to fit in, more or less, around 1920.

The Hyacinth was built in 1907 by Jenks Shipbuilding, Port Huron, as a lighthouse tender under the Dept. of Commerce, U. S. Light House Service.  The vessel likely was making a call at Rock Island for the Pottawatomie Light, located on the island's north end.

Light House Service vessel Hyacinth, perhaps around 1920, at the Rock Island dock. (from Washington Island Archives)

According to the vessel data sheet Eric supplied (which he obtained online from the Alpena County Public Library) the Hyacinth transferred to Coast Guard command in 1940.  Then in 1946 it served as a construction vessel for the Lyons Company of Whitehall, Michigan.

That company installed a new 900 hp GM diesel, and in so doing it may have attracted the attention of Cap Roen of Sturgeon Bay.  In 1956 he bought the Hyacinth and removed the engine, and put it into his tug John Purves (now a restored museum ship at the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay).  The following year the  ownership of the old hull was shown under Sturgeon Bay Iron & Metal Company (Roen's next door neighbor along the waterfront).  It was scrapped.

Eleven Foot Shoals - Lightship No. 80

In Hannes Andersen's book, he wrote that Thordarson was known to salute every ship or object he passed enroute to his Rock Island (salute by means of drink, Hannes meant).  Well, in this case Thordarson took a photo as the vessel he rode aboard rounded the Eleven Foot Shoal lightship, anchored approximately 3 1/2 miles south of the actual shoals which were near the Stonington Peninsula, and about 2 miles north of the Minneapolis Shoals. (There wasn't an operating Minneapolis Shoals light station until June of 1936, only a buoy.)

Painted on the topsides of this vessel is "11. FOOT." to designate the vessel and the shoal.  Anchor chain can be seen from bow, indicating she
was on station, a turning mark for a vessel headed to Rock Island. (from Washington Island Archives)

Such a lightship was not uncommon for marking major shoals or turning points for shipping in the nation's waterways.  This one was built in 1912 by Racine Truscott Shell Boat Company of Muskegon, Michigan.  (80 ft. x 21 ft. x 10 ft.)   It was built specifically for lightship service, with a 100 hp steam engine.

During its early service it was sunk, Nov. 10, 1913, on Waverly Shoal in Lake Erie, with a loss of six lives.   The vessel was salvaged, then beached in Buffalo, and later towed to Detroit where it was refitted.   In 1924 it was positioned in northern Green Bay at Eleven Foot Shoal.   We can assume it was some time after being assigned to upper Green Bay that this photo would have been taken by Thordarson.

-  Dick Purinton

Note: Original post from Ferry Cabin News: March 23, 2013

Karfi Purchased By Ferry Line June 11 2013

Karfi hauled hikers, day visitors, overnight campers and their gear to Rock Island State Park each summer since 1967.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -


Washington Island Ferry Line, Inc. president Hoyt Purinton announced the purchase of the Karfi from Jeff Cornell of Washington Island in the late afternoon, Wednesday, November 14, 2012.


The Karfi is a 36-foot steel vessel built in Escanaba in 1967 to ferry campers, hikers and day visitors between Jackson Harbor, Washington Island, and Rock Island State Park.  During each of the past 46 summers the Karfi was operated by members of the Cornell family.


The Karfi was originally constructed for Jim Cornell, a former Washington Island commercial fisherman.  At age 67, in 1981, Jim sold the Karfi operation to his son, Jack, who then operated it for the next 20 years.  In 2002, Jack sold the vessel to his son, Jeff Cornell.   Jeff had crewed for both his grandfather Jim and his father as a youngster, starting at age 12.


Jeff operated Washington Island Ferry Line vessels as a captain from 1989 through 1999.  He then operated the WDNR fisheries research vessel Barney Devine for several years prior to purchasing the Karfi.  He will rejoin Washington Island Ferry Line in the spring of 2013 as ferry captain on the Northport ferry route.


Cornell said that although he enjoys piloting the Karfi’s daily trips to Rock Island, he’s also looking forward to a greater variety of routes and challenges.  As one of several Ferry Line captains, he’ll be able to schedule a summer’s day off now and then, too, something he couldn’t easily do as the sole owner-operator once the Karfi's season schedule began.   However, Cornell may still pilot the Karfi at least part of the time for the Ferry Line. 


School group of campers about to disembark at Jackson Harbor's State Park dock.

Are changes anticipated for the Rock Island State Park route now that the Karfi is no longer a Cornell family operation?

“Limited changes, if any,”  Ferry Line's president Hoyt Purinton said.

“Despite its number of seasons, the Karfi has been well maintained and is in immaculate condition.  We intend to operate the Karfi to Rock Island with the same standards for public safety and spotless vessel condition as did the Cornells, with a schedule similar to that of past years.   One new consideration may be to offer a combination ticket for both the Washington Island and Rock Island ferries, a convenient, single transaction that would also be a savings for the customer.

 “The Ferry Line is looking forward to serving Rock Island State Park visitors,” Purinton said.  “Many people return every summer to hike, camp, or visit the Thordarson boathouse or the Pottawatomie Lighthouse.   As an island park, it’s one of our state’s most unique parks.  We believe there are many people who, for various reasons, have never visited Rock Island, and we’d like to reach those people and encourage them to visit.


“At the same time, we’re also pleased to welcome back Jeff Cornell as a Ferry Line captain.  He’s familiar with our operations, and he'll fit in well.  Starting in early spring of 2013, Jeff will pilot Washington Island ferries in summer as well as winter.”                


-  Dick Purinton
Note: Original post from Ferry Cabin News: November 14, 2012

Tower On Rock Island June 11 2013

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Last Friday I published information on this site about a Rock Island photo album  given as a gift by C.H. Thordarson to a friend, H.R. Holand.

One photo showed a tower on Rock Island that appeared to be located on a high bluff of the island's interior.  When was it built, why was it built, and how was it used, and what happened to it?  These were questions that arose from that photo, and the only information I was able to obtain was from retired Rock Island State Park manager Kirby Foss.  He said it was a survey tower, and that the location had never been found.

Eric Bonow responded with what appear to be answers to most of those questions.  Eric sails as Mate for the Interlake fleet, has a degree in "industrial archeology," and worked for a time with a survey company in the Superior, WI area.  His research and emailed response offered the following information, which I'm reprinting word-for-word rather than attempting to summarize.

    "Thank you for the blog entry on Rock Island.  Every so often you throw down the gauntlet, so to speak, and I have to pick it up.  Here goes.  What you say regarding the original land survey of the Door County area being done very early is true.  For the most part, those guys hacked their way through the woods, setting section corners and the like.  However, the U.S. Lake Survey did their work by triangulation, and they had a series of stations covering the midwest, and they tied these stations in to other networks which covered the country.  There were orders of stations.  A First Order Station would be used in the triangulation through from one point to another.  First Order surveys were of very high accuracy, and had fairly long legs.  There were also Secondary and Tertiary Surveys (and monuments) to map out local areas.  The legs of these triangles were shorter, and consequently more stations were established.  These surveys led to the production of the charts we still use today.

Contour map of Rock Island

"It so happens that a First Order Station was established on Rock Island in 1864.  In the Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1902 the U.S. Lake Survey positions for all of these stations are given.  From the Rock Island station azimuths are given to the stations at Door Bluff, Bark River and Peninsula Point.  That meant that towers had to be visible at these points as well.  Unfortunately the map which accompanied the report was torn off in my copy  and the part showing these stations is missing.  These stations were used more that once.  For example, in the report that I have (which lists all these stations), there was, in 1901 a resurvey of the Apostle Islands.  In this report the writer enumerates the methods used, types of stations established, etc.  Consequently, if a person had the time (I don't) or the inclination (I do) to look through other reports, the last probable use of the tower on Rock Island could be determined.

The monument has been in use since its establishment in 1864, and a current datasheet on it is attached.  I've plotted the position on a map and included that as well.  With this information, it would be a simple matter to enter the coordinates into a hand-held GPS and take a metal detector along and find the monument.  According to the info, it is buried 3' below the ground, mostly in an effort to protect it.  Once the monument is found, it would be another simple matter to search in a radius around it to see if any remains of the base of the tower exist.  I would guess that the tower was removed so that the material could be used elsewhere.  However, these towers had to be very stable so some sort of base must have been constructed. As an aside in this, First Order monuments are still established, but it is done with a GPS unit.  The unit sits on a station for a given period of time (usually pretty long), and then the electronic record is taken into the office and a computer post-processes the info an comes up with an accurate position. 

Pages from original Rock Island survey notes, c. 1835

"To digress a little, since section 23 of T34N, R30E lies entirely on Rock Island, I looked up the original survey notes and plat which were done in March - April of 1835.  According to the notes, this line was run north from the SW corner, and posts were set at the W 1/4 of section 23, and then again at the NW corner.  The south line of the section was run, and points along it were noted, such as where they encountered a swamp, and when it was left.  I've included those notes as well.

"Since the US Lake Survey used triangulation to set their monuments, and the reports tell of the towers and equipment used, I feel pretty confident in saying that the tower shown in the pictures was used by them.  This is substantiated further by the continuation of the monument up to present time.  It would be a lot of fun to scout out this area and see what's there.  Also, since the Public Land Survey ran the lines I doubt that this would have had anything to do with the establishment of the monuments used in that survey.  That was an interesting exercise for a Sunday morning and early afternoon (before and after church, and lunch too).  Thanks for throwing that out there.  I'll have to look over these photos the next time I visit the Archives."

And in a follow-up email, Eric wrote:

"Since those stations were so far apart, I think that they did a lot of that surveying at night.  A more clear atmosphere, and then they would have some sort of "something" up there that burned.  Of course in 1864 background lights wouldn't be the problem they are today."

Thanks for the information.  Perhaps we'll be taking a trip to Rock Island one day to find that location.   -  Dick Purinton

Note: Original post from Ferry Cabin News: January 9, 2012

Kodak Moments June 10 2013

Rock Island scenes given as gift by C.H. Thordarson, March 30, 1920

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

A recent Wall Street Journal article Jan. 5, 2012 described the imminent demise of the world-famous Kodak company:
  "Eastman Kodak Co. is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection in the coming weeks, people familiar with the matter said, a move that would cap a stunning comedown for a company that once ranked among America's corporate titans."
What does this news item have to do with Rock Island and the album shown above?  Likely, nothing, except for the film emulsion or paper, most probably a Kodak Company product.  However, there has been for some time an accreditation to George Eastman for photos taken on Rock Island in the early years of C.H. Thordarson's ownership.   The connection has persisted, but so far, no hard evidence has come to light to connect Rock Island with the famous creator of every day photo products.
The album came to the Island Archives in November this way:   Ingert Johnson, wife of the late Al Johnson, called to say she had a book of photos of Rock Island that had been passed to her by the late Liberty Grove resident Bill Beckstrom.  Bill (we surmise) had been given it by the family of noted Door County Historian, H.R. Holand.   Holand's daughter was either given the album, or it was passed to her in his estate.  H.R. Holand, in his wide-ranging historical interests, had become acquainted with Chester Hjortur Thordarson, who owned Rock Island.  The inside cover of the album has a nice contour map of Rock Island, and the opposing fly leaf has the inscription:
To My Friend                        March 30, 1920 
        Mr. H. R. Holand
        who first told the 
       story of Rock Island to the
       people of Wisconsin

      I give this book.
            C.H. Thordarson

Thordarson purchased land on Rock Island in 1909 and 1910, and so we can estimate that the photos in the album were taken some time in the ensuing decade.  An interesting pair of photos shows a wooden tower (that I estimate to be in the 50-ft. range) in the high-ground interior of Rock Island.  An old fire tower?  Not so, says Kirby Foss, recently retired Rock Island Park Superintendent who worked on Rock Island for all but nine of his 33 years of state park service.

 "Phil Peterson referred to it as a survey tower used in the early survey of Rock and Washington Islands.  But he never found the tower or the exact location.  Neither did Tom Jessen, Phil's successor, or did I.  People who've hunted on Rock year after year, who have pretty well walked every spot of ground, they've never seen evidence of the tower.  Tom always thought it might have been made of hardwood, the fact there are no remains left."

Excerpt from Ferry Cabin News.