“Americans have been deeply divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth. The original North American colonies were settled by distinct regions… each with their own religious, political, and ethnographic characteristics. All of these century-old cultures are still with us today, and have spread their people, ideas, and influence across mutually exclusive bands of the continent. There isn’t, and has never been one America, but rather several Americas.”
So writes Colin Woodard in his book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. It’s described by fans of sociopolitics and geography as “an illuminating history of North America’s eleven rival cultural regions that explodes the red state-blue state myth.” The book inspires debate no matter which way you land on the issue: the suggestion that American culture isn’t divided along political lines inevitably begs the question: Where does our culture come from? Who do we owe our history to? When is culture louder than nature in deciding our environment?
One of the protagonists of Woodard’s account of American history is Yankeedom, the ethnocultural region originated by the Puritans of New England, extending outward to western reaches of the Great Lakes.
“Yankeedom was founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, a religious utopia in the New England wilderness. From the outset it was a culture that put great emphasis on education, local political control, and the pursuit of the ‘greater good’ of the community, even if it required individual self-denial. From its New England core, Yankee culture spread with its settlers across upper New York state; the northern strips of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa; parts of the eastern Dakotas; and on up into Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Canadian Maritimes.”
In this view of Yankeedom, the combination of our Puritan forefathers’ migrating through the Great Lakes area in combination with a geography conveniently similar to the farmland and coastal havens of New England produced many enclaves that felt closer in spirit to Boston than Chicago or Detroit.
Door County, Wisconsin, is just that place, the poster-child for this collision of maritime-voyageur culture and midwestern sensibilities.
“Door County has been called ‘The Cape Cod of the Great Lakes’ due to its laid-back coastal charm and the historic small towns that dot its peaceful shores. This breathtakingly beautiful county features 300 miles of shoreline, 53 public beaches, 16 communities, 11 historic lighthouses, eight wineries and five state parks — not to mention 19 county parks, three microbreweries, and a distillery.” — Jay Gentile
Here in this beloved Midwestern retreat that breaks off the mainland and juts adventurously into the the heart of Lake Michigan, where the water meets the woods, you can find the kind of cultural intersections and idiosyncrasies that make America special in the first place.