Comparing Similar Great Lakes Second Home Communities - Door County WI

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Madeline Island Realty 50317-90


Comparing Similar Great Lakes Second Home Communities - Door County WI


When comparing new and existing home costs in similar recreational or second home communities on (or near) the Great Lakes, we tend to narrow our search to a handful of choices that are reasonably close to home.  Many of our customers think of Minnesota's "North Shore" (the Minnesota shoreline on Lake Superior between Duluth/Two Harbors and the Grand Marais area) as a basis for comparison with the Apostle Islands (Bayfield and Madeline Island).

My preference is to look to the east end of the State of Wisconsin as being somewhat comparable to our Madeline Island/Bayfield/Washburn/Cornucopia area.  Door County, which is surrounded by Green Bay to the west and Lake Michigan to the east, is worth examining when one looks for similarities between recreational communities in the upper Midwest.

I've always loved Door County and I used to spend summers there in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  I had the privilege of serving on the faculty of the Birch Creek Farm summer music festival, and I was an instructor in residence there (french horn) in the festival's second season, also performing with the Minnesota Wind Soloists woodwind quintet. Three of our quintet members went on to take jobs with various symphony orchestras when the group disbanded in 1979.  Our bassoonist, Bruce Grainger, left the quintet to take a job with the Seattle Symphony, and he later became a member of the Chicago Symphony.

Door County offers a reasonable basis for comparison with the Apostle Islands. For example, the driving distance from Chicago to Door County is nearly identical to the trip from Minneapolis & St Paul to Bayfield, Wisconsin (244 miles from Chicago to the Door vs. 245 miles from the Twin Cities to Bayfield).

Door County developed earlier and more rapidly than the Apostle Islands area, drawing visitors and summer residents from Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when some would say it reached its peak in terms of residential development.

Door County offers more hotels (and consequently more lodging amenities), more restaurants and entertainment options (Peninsula Players, Peninsula Orchestra, Birch Creek Farm Music Festival).

There is considerably more commercial development in towns like Sister Bay, Ephraim, Egg Harbor and Bailey’s Harbor than in Bayfield, Washburn or Cornucopia.  One downside to that commercial development is that a sizeable percentage of the waterfront in Sister Bay is pretty much obscured by tourist shops, restaurants and large waterfront dwellings.

Bayfield is similar in some ways to Ephraim, WI.  There is definitely a “New England” seaside look and feel to the local architecture. As in Ephraim, one will find stately homes with white siding, porches and porticos in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

There is considerably more commercial and residential development on Washington Island than on Madeline Island.  Fairly strict zoning in Apostle Islands communities, coupled with a passion for wilderness preservation on the part of residents, has slowed and controlled commercial development in both Bayfield and LaPointe, Wisconsin.

Ashland might be considered comparable to Sturgeon Bay.  Both are population centers close to their respective recreational communities.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin population in 2012: 9100

Ashland, Wisconsin population in 2012: 8128

The primary feeder market for real estate buyers searching for homes in the Door County recreational area has traditionally been Milwaukee, Madison & Chicago.

The primary feeder market for real estate buyers searching for homes in the Apostle Islands region is the greater Minneapolis & Saint Paul metropolitan area (including the border counties of western Wisconsin. In the past few years, we've noticed an increase in buyer interest coming from the Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago areas, as well as potential buyers from Iowa, North and South Dakota, Missouri and southern Illinois.

Some of our clients who have purchased on Madeline Island have confided in us that they chose the Apostle Islands over Door County for reasons of summer vehicle traffic congestion and commercial development.  One of my buyers tells me that Bayfield and Madeline Island remind him of “the way things were in Door County forty or fifty years ago.”

Now that I've summed up the similarities between Door County and the Apostle Islands, let me write briefly about the differences.

The best way to describe why a growing number of second home and vacation home buyers are choosing Madeline Island over other similar communities found along the shores of Lake Superior or Lake Michigan may be found in a Chicago Tribune column, written by Alan Solomon in 1997. 

Solomon wrote,

"This is a town with no traffic lights. There is no McDonald's here. No Wal-Mart. There are no water slides, no go-kart tracks, no wax museums or haunted houses.  This is a place where the lake is sparkling, the beaches clean, the fish abundant and hungry, the golf courses challenging and beautiful, the dining creative, the lighthouses photographable, the bike routes flat, the hiking shaded, the bears reclusive, the sunsets magical.  This, as a travel destination, is the Best Little Town in the Midwest."

I couldn't have said it better myself.  And a decade later, in 2007, Solomon reiterated his praise for the Bayfield and Madeline Island area.


We still watch the Door County real estate market on a regular basis, and we follow agent newsletters there, such as Connie Erickson's Door County Blog, for information and insight into that very important recreational real estate market in northeast Wisconsin.






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Eric Kodner

CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 -
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