Horseshoe Bay Farms

The Property

When Frank Murphy took ownership of the Farm in 1925, it encompassed over 1,000 acres. He sold some of the property over the next ten years, resulting in the farm consisting of around 850 acres (including what is now Murphy Park) shortly before his death in 1934.

A close look at the plat map indicates some of the other local famous historical family’s existing holdings.

  • A.J. Anderson (lower left)
  • Carmody (center)
  • Berschigger (top left)
  • La Fontaine (top right)
  • Eames (top right)
Horseshoe Bay Farms Plat Map; 1934
Horseshoe Bay Farms Plat Map; 1934

In the spectacular aerial view below, Farm I buildings below the bluff and Farm II buildings on the bluff, including the Spray Barn (center-right) are visible. In the foreground is Murphy Park.

The one road leading up the bluff does not include Highway G leading to Highway 42. In the top 1/3 of the photo, Alpine Golf Course and Egg Harbor are visible.
Horseshoe Bay Farms Aerial View
Horseshoe Bay Farms Aerial View

The Farm Structures

Farm 1

Horseshoe Bay Farm: Farm I Aerial View; Circa 1930's
  1. Cow Barn & Crop Storage
  2. Creamery
  3. Bull Barn
  4. Calf Barn
  5. Chicken House
  1. Test Barn
  2. Hog Pens
  3. House Barn
  4. Field Barn
  1. Root Cellar / Storage Barn
  2. Hog House
  3. Manure Shed
  4. Power House
  1. Ferrier / Wood / Machine Shop
  2. Farm Equipment Barn
  3. Farm Houses
  4. HB Gold Clubhouse

Farm 2

Horseshoe Bay Farms; Farm 2; Circa 1950's

Farm II located on the bluff overlooking Farm I, consisted of a Crop Storage Barn(foreground); Machinery Barn (right side); Farm II Manager’s House (left side); and farm workers houses (4 of the original Horseshoe Bay Settlement homes).

Not shown in the picture is the Spray Barn, where the chemicals were stored and mixed to be sprayed on the orchards.

Horseshoe Bay Farms Operations

After the closure of the Holstein breeding business, farming operations turned to raising dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs and chickens (Rhode Island Reds & White Leghorns).

Feed crops were grown below the bluff on 180 acres just north of the barns.

In time the farm became the largest employer in Door County, principally due to the fruit orchards it developed on the bluff. Horseshoe Bay Farms grew several varieties of apples and cherries to market through the Sturgeon Bay Fruit Growers Cooperative.

In it’s hey-day, the Farm was the largest fruit producer in the County and one of the Co-op’s major participants. The Co-op had a large supply house located where the current Horseshoe Bay Beach Club stands, and had built the large dock at Horseshoe Bay to ship fruit to locations along Green Bay where it could be distributed via rail to it’s final destination. The dock was rebuilt and is now used by the Frank E. Murphy County Park.

Cherry Camp

The fruit orchards made Door County famous and generations of teenagers worked at Horseshoe Bay Farms famous Cherry Camp. Over 100 kids from as far away as Chicago arrived at the camp each summer to pick cherries for several weeks. They were housed in the original Horseshoe Bay Golf Club Clubhouse (the dormitory) on the shore of Green Bay. Camp counselors included Green Bay Packer football players (the Cowles family sat on the Packers Board for many decades) and high school coaches from Green Bay.

The dormitory included a mess hall and a canteen – the store where you could buy pop, candy, and other treats. Bathrooms were available, but mostly the participants cleaned-up by soaping up and plunging into the Bay. Outside the dormitory were a basketball court, baseball field and swimming dock. Boxing and horseshoes were other recreational options.

Each day started with reveille and calisthetics outside. After breakfast, trucks would transport the kids up the bluff to the orchards. The participants had to pick 7.5 pails of cherries per day to cover room and board. After that, the boys could stop or work toward profit. Lunch was served at the orchard.

Quitting time came at 4:00 PM. Kids swam, played baseball or basketball, explored Horseshoe Bay Cave or just leaned against a tree with a bottle of pop. After supper, camp awards were given to the high pickers and candy bars to those who picked well. Every evening the pledge of allegiance was recited as the flag was taken down and taps were played.

Tecumseh (Horseshoe Bay) Cave

The Legend of Tecumseh’s Cave

Chief Tecumseh was a famous Shawnee Indian chef in Indiana who built a coalition of tribes in the Midwest in the early 1800’s to resist American settlers as they moved west.

According to history, Tecumseh came to Door County preaching his ‘gospel of resistance’. The Potawatomi at Fish Creek rejected his message, took council against him and decided he should die. A canoe of 6 Potawatomi chased Tecumseh and his companion along the Green Bay shoreline. Tecumseh put ashore and ended up taking refuge in a cave on a bluff overlooking Horseshoe Bay.

The Potawatomi tracked Tecumseh to the cave and blocked the entrance. Weeks later they returned to find the barricade undisturbed. They concluded Tecumseh had died in the cave.

The Potawatomi were surprised the following spring to hear that Tecumseh was back at home alive. The Potawatomi went back to the cave, made an opening through the blockade, entered and searched for an exit. They found none. They were convinced that Tecumseh was a spirit.

Did Tecumseh find a way out? Did he trick the Potawatomi into thinking he was in the cave? Did the Potawatomi lose his trail and fabricate a story to save face? And of course maybe Tecumseh was a spirit?

Horseshoe Bay Cave

Horseshoe Bay Cave, on the bluff just below the Horseshoe Bay Golf Club Clubhouse, remains one of Wisconsin’s greatest caving challenges and a geological and environmental treasure.

Horseshoe Bay Cave is the longest wild cave of the 400 known caves in Wisconsin. Members of the Wisconsin Speleological Society have mapped the cave to 3,103 feet in length

Many people over the decades have  ‘explored the cave’, but most never got beyond the first 300 feet. Of those who ventured beyond, they found an intricate internal structure. The cave has only 50 feet of walking passage, but over one-half mile of agonizing crawlways connecting 56 rooms. The cave winds and twists over rimstone dams and piles of breakdown, through pools and streams, with over 900 feet of passages flooded (1-3 feet deep). Penetration beyond the ‘Old Section’ (the first 1740 feet) requires a full wetsuit and almost total immersion in 46 degree water.

In 2012, Door County bought the pasture land below the cave leading up to the entrance and about the first 50 feet of the cave. With the approval of Horseshoe Bay Golf Club (the owners), a Cave Management Plan was developed and an Access Agreement signed in 2014 to allow Door County to control study and exploration of the cave.