Sturgeon Bay's Waterfront History: Sturgeon Bay Boat Works / Palmer Johnson Inc.

© Photographed May 28, 2015
Erected 2007 by City of Sturgeon Bay and
Wisconsin Coastal Management Program
Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin
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Sturgeon Bay's Waterfront History
Sturgeon Bay Boat Works / Palmer Johnson Inc. 
Boat building in this portion of the waterfront dates back to 1903, when Sturgeon Bay Boat Company was founded by Will Hayes and Associates at the foot of Spruce Street (now Michigan Street). But it was Hans Johnson and Herman Gmack who established a boatyard here in 1918 that continued through the 20th century, Known as Sturgeon Bay Boat Works, the yard built rowing skiffs and commercial fishing tugs and was managed by Palmer Johnson, the son of Hans Johnson. With 15 skilled employees, the firm also expanded into sailboat production.

During Word War II the boatyard burgeoned to 75 employees and produced an astounding 43 air/sea rescue craft of 45 feet and four Army T-class freighters of 65 feet. Following the war, Sturgeon Bay Boat Works' reputation as a yacht builder grew and became more personally identified with Palmer Johnson. When Johnson retired from the business in 1956, the company was renamed Palmer Johnson Incorporated. It continued to expand and acquire more waterfront property.

In 1961 the business began a new ear when it was sold to Patrick Haggerty, then president of Texas Instruments. Under his leadership  the firm developed the technology of welded aluminum boat construction. It was this move to aluminum hulled boats that made them famous in yachting circles.

In subsequent years Palmer Johnson Inc. cemented its standing as one of the world's premier yacht builders under the ownership and management of Mike Kelsey, Bill Parsons, and "Shuff" Williams. Some of the largest, most luxurious yachts in the world have been built here, including Fortuna, a 100-foot motor yacht built for King Juan Carlos of Spain. Other satisfied customers have included Ted Turner and Nelson Doubleday. Yachts have been built for clients from all over the U.S. and Europe and far-flung places such as Brazil, Turkey and Singapore.

In 1988 the firm purchased a vacant canning factory located at N. First Avenue and Kentucky Street. Yacht construction expended into this facility and employment reached around 250 in the early 1990's. Eventually the company again went through ownership changes and no longer operated at the original waterfront boatyard, but Palmer Johnson is still producing high-quality yachts at the First and Kentucky facility. The original waterfront property, which remained in the ownership of the Haggerty family, became Great Lakes Yacht Services. This boat repair and storage facility was established in 2003 by Patrick Haggerty's daughter and son-in-law, Sheila & Scotty Turner.
The marker is located on Sturgeon Bay's Waterfront at Graham Park, and is accessible from the westernmost end of Pennsylvania Street, west of its intersection with Qunicy Street, at or near 10 Pennsylvania Street, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin 54235.

NOTE: Graham Park consists of 1.2 acres between Oregon Street Bridge and Pennsylvania Street and was the former PBI Shipyard site. The creation of the waterfront park is a key part of the redevelopment efforts for the former shipyard area.

Palmer Johnson Yachts

Palmer Johnson incorporated originally began as Sturgeon Bay Boat Works at the corner of Michigan Street and 1st Ave. By the 1960's the company grew to include the whole waterfront between Michigan St. and Oregon St. and eventually expanded to other locations within the city.
Sturgeon Bay Boat Works during World War II
Waterfront view of Palmer Johnson Incorporated in June, 1968
The Sturgeon Bay Boat Works crew of about 1926 stands where the Michigan Street Bridge landed five years later. From left are Julius Glomstad, George Greenwood, Evan Evanson, Cyril Lauschet, Calmer Nelson, Harris Pieifer, Walter Haertel, Henry Propsom, Palmer Johnson and Hans Johnson.
The 195-foot motor yacht La Baronessa, built by Palmer Johnson Incorporated in 1998, was the largest aluminum yacht in the world.
The 124-foot ketch Galileo, built by Palmer Johnson Incorporated in 1989, premiered a series of large, well made, luxury cruising sailboats in excess of 100 feet.

Looking north, with the Oregon Street bridge visible to the left.

The marker is located at Graham Park.

Plenty of parking to access the marker.

The marker is located at Sturgeon Bay's Historic Downtown Waterfront.

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