The Heritage Village at Big Creek serves as a memorial to the people who lived in rural Door County from 1880 to 1910. Farmers and their families were isolated and lonely, but, by traveling five or six miles by horse or foot, they could find other people at a village. They could find community.
At the April 1991 meeting of the Door County Historical Society, a group of eighth grade students from T.J. Walker Middle School presented a program describing their experiences of pioneer living at Old Victoria, a restored mining town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The students said the experience was “life changing.”
The presentation prompted some members of DCHS to dream of a nearby place where Door County history could be brought to life. The venue couldn’t be a mining town like in the U.P., but perhaps it could showcase a rural community.
About the same time, the Sturgeon Bay Education Foundation was exploring the idea of creating a school forest. The foundation purchased 53 acres at a crossroads near the intersection of Highway 42-57 and Michigan Street just east of Sturgeon Bay, and The Crossroads at Big Creek was born. The foundation agreed to lease a corner of its land to the Door County Historical Society for The Heritage Village at Big Creek.
At the initial planning meetings, members of DCHS took on the daunting task of establishing a truly historic village. To prevent the problem of destroying history while trying to preserve it, DCHS asked several professional researchers to supervise an archeological survey of the site. Fourth grade, middle school, and high school students helped out; they dug, “shook” and analyzed every shovelful of soil.
After the archeological team determined that the site lacked significant artifacts or evidence of occupation, the DCHS began to create a village, to depict rural life in the period between 1880 and 1910.