Emma Toft

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Question: how did Emma Toft's child hood lead to her to become such and influential woman in Door County History? 

Emma Toft was a very notable woman in her work to preserve and protect many natural areas in Northern Door. She grew up with her family in Baileys Harbor, Door County. Her father and mother instilled in her at a young age to protect, preserve, and respect nature. This love and respect led her to become a pivotal woman in preservation receiving many awards later on in her life. She was known as Miss Emma to Native residents of Door County, and was known by everyone. Miss Emma lived a simple life living in her family’s cottage, and still used her family’s old wood stove to heat her house and cook food. She was always seen wearing blue denim pant and jacket, a bandana, and boots. [1] Her work in preservation can be seen in the beautiful wilderness and pristine beaches that she helped preserve.

 Makayla swain

Childhood and Life Outside of Door County

Emma Toft was born on February 1st 1891 in Bailey Harbor Wisconsin. Her Parents Thomas and Julia Toft had 7 children. Thomas worked at a quarry in Mud Bay, now known as Moonlight Bay. [2] It was here that Thomas bought 275 acres of forest that became the homestead for Emma. She grew up in a family that respected and protected nature. Thomas refused to cut a single tree and instilled in Emma the need to protect nature for future generations. [3] Emma grew up with her siblings exploring and enjoying wilderness that was around them. Eventually all of Thomas and Julia’s children married and left home, except for Emma. Emma went on to be a school teacher for a short while like her sister Mary and Lucy. [4] In 1919, she decided to move to Chicago to pursue nursing. Shortly after she started her father suffered from a fatal stroke, that was believed to be due to stress over a land dispute that was later ruled in the Toft’s favor. Due to losing her father she left Chicago and came back to Door County to help take care of her mother and bring in much needed income. Emma, Lucy and their mother opened a summer resort on Toft’s point in 1920. [5] This summer resort allowed Emma to share the beauty and majesty of Toft’s point with people from all over.

The Push to Save Toft's Point and Many Other Ecological Wonders in Door County

Miss Emma had a very loving relationship to the land that she grew up on, it was a place that she felt safe and at peace. It was a pristine wilderness filled will dense forest and rock shelf's that reached over the water. It entrances visitors as they walk through towering trees and darting deer. This place was Miss Emma's Happy place and the place that shaped her into a wilderness conservationist. Her love for this place she grew up made her even more devoted to protecting it and other places. Toft’s point, like many other wilderness areas, was often threatened. She often had to fight land claims and people trespassing. Even when Miss Emma was a child her father often had to fight land climes, everyone wanted a part of their paradise. Hunters and loggers often tried to use her land. The large and dense forest was compelling to logging companies and they tirelessly tried to take it from Miss Emma.

Miss Emma not only worked hard to preserve her land but also became very involved in protecting and preserving natural sites all over Northern Door County. She banned together with friends Jens Jesen and Mertha Fulkerson to form a small but devoted grope of naturalist that pushed to save many of Norther Door County’s wilderness areas. They played a pivotal role in preserving the Clearing in Ellison bay, Toft’s Point, and the Ridges Sanctuary. [6] In 1930 Emma fought a proposed move to turn the Ridges into a trailer park. [7] The ridges today is noted for its ancient shorelines and impressive vegetation and wildlife. She was very passionate about keeping Door County’s nature preserved so she would fight tirelessly to save it. She was so passionate that later a dear friends made up a rumor saying that she laid down in front of a bulldozer so no harm would be done to The Ridges. [8] Without her involvement in protecting it, a very impressive ecological area would have been bulldozed flat and replaced with concrete. Emma continued to play an influential role in Northern Door County preservation even as she got older. Door County's most notable road is the one to North Port, known for its winding twists and turns. This beautiful and scenic road was once in danger of being straightened. This road was not only important to Miss Emma, but was a beloved site in Door County by residents and tourists. Roy Lucas, a longtime friend of Miss Emma, recalls her going up to governor Patrick Lucy and waving her finger at him telling him not to straighten the road. [9] Many of these battles she fought go unnoticed. People only see Miss Emma as the woman who saved her land from loggers, hunters, and others that threatened it, but they don't see that she helped preserve and protect some of Door County's most notable landmarks.

Her Impact on Door County Today

Toft’s Point and Ridges Sanctuary today are a must see when visiting Door County. Their unique habitats and distinctive mixture of wildlife, vegetation, and geological wonders, are something you can’t see anywhere else. Today Toft’s Point is known as a State Natural Area in Wisconsin and is visited quite frequently by tourists and locals alike. Emma Toft will not only be remembered for her work in conservation, but for her unique personality and willingness to fight for what she knew was right. Miss Emma’s strong personality yet motherly love for nature made her a unique person. It seemed that every person she met, she influenced. In October of 1997 Emma had to leave her beloved home at Toft’s Point, to become a resident at Dorchester Nursing Center. Friends that visited her said that they saw a missing spark in her eyes as she wished she was back at her home at Toft's Point. On Valentine’s Day of 1998 Miss Emma passed away leaving her legacy and spirt in Door County. She left Toft's Point to the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay, who still protect and take care of this wildlife area. Both the Ridges Sanctuary and Toft's point are open all year round for visitors. Miss Emma will never be forgotten for the amazing work that she did to preserve parts of Northern Door County.

References

  1. Keta Steebs, "Miss Emma Leaves Legacy for Generations to Come," Door County Advocate, February 1982, Pg.2,http://www.ridgessanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/history-emma-leaves-legacy.pdf.
  2. Miss Emma Leaves Legacy”,pg.3
  3. Steebs, "Miss Emma Leaves Legacy”,pg.2
  4. Patty Williamson, "The Toft Family and The Places They Called Home," Door County Pulse (Door County, WI), July 1, 2015, https://doorcountypulse.com/the-toft-family-and-the-places-they-called-home/.
  5. Williamson, "The Toft Family and The Places,"
  6. Miss Emma Leaves Legacy”,pg.3
  7. Steebs, "Miss Emma Leaves Legacy”,pg.2
  8. Norbert Blei, "Emma Toft," The Door County Compass, http://www.doorcountycompass.com/blei/emma/emma_toft.htm.
  9. Emma Toft: One With Nature," video file, 26:46, Wisconsin public television, posted July 29, 20013 http://video.wpt.org/video/2365054149/.

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