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Merrimac Ferry


The Colsac III Ferry

The Colsac III ferry operates from mid-April to November 30, each year, weather permitting and operates 24/7 in season. "Colsac" is a phonetic combination of the names of Columbia and Sauk Counties, separated by the Wisconsin River. A ferry has been in operation at this site since 1844, four years before Wisconsin became a state.

The Wisconsin DOT site claims this is a one-mile crossing, but near as I can tell, it's really about 4/10 of a mile.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in October 2007

BH Photo #111238

Street View 


The last ferry crossing on the Wisconsin Trunk Highway System, has operated since 1844. It is a cable ferry, with the cables visible in some of the photos above. Today it runs 24/7 in the summer only; it does not operate in the winter. It is popular not only for local commuters, but also as a tourist attraction. For bridge hunters, the ferry is also a great way to view the adjacent WSOR - Wisconsin River Bridge (Merrimac)

The current vessel (COLSAC III) was dedicated on May 16, 2003. The previous steel vessel (COLSAC II) was put into service in 1963, and ran for 40 years. The original wooden COLSAC was already in service in 1933 when the State of Wisconsin took over operation of this service. No information is available for the vessels that preceded this COLSAC, except for photos of them on the WisDOT web site below.


Cable ferry across Wisconsin River on Wis 113
Columbia County, Wisconsin, and Sauk County, Wisconsin
Open to traffic 24/7 in summer; closed in winter
Privately owned fee ferry from 1844 to 1923; operated by Columbia and Sauk Counties as fee ferry 1923-1933; operated by State of Wisconsin since 1933 as a free ferry
- Basic Marine Inc. of Escanaba, Michigan (Colsac III 2003-)
- Marinette Marine Co. of Marinette, Wisconsin (Colsac II 1963-2002)
- Unknown Firm of Dubuque, Iowa (Colsac I 1924-1963)
Cable Ferry
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974
Also called
Colsac III Ferry
Approximate latitude, longitude
+43.36780, -89.62360   (decimal degrees)
43°22'04" N, 89°37'25" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
16/287430/4805002 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Inventory numbers
NRHP 74000330 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
BH 36174 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • June 30, 2019: New photo from Dana and Kay Klein
  • June 18, 2018: Updated by Roger Deschner: Add photos; expand description; general updates; add category "Cable Ferry"
  • September 15, 2014: New Street View added by Luke
  • June 29, 2014: New photos from Steve Conro
  • December 13, 2013: Updated by Robert Thompson: Corrected build date.
  • November 16, 2009: Updated by Robert Thompson: Added builder
  • November 15, 2009: New photos from Robert Thompson
  • August 9, 2008: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated NRHP Listing
  • February 5, 2008: Added by J.R. Manning

Related Bridges 



Colsac III Ferry
Posted February 5, 2008, by J.R. Manning (thekitchenguy [at] sbcglobal [dot] net)

During WWII, the ferry was a bottleneck for workers communing to an ordnance plant in Baraboo. The US Government offered to pay half the cost of a bridge, but the governor vetoed the idea, saying that if the US Government wanted a bridge here, they could pay for the whole thing.

In the 1960's, service complaints stacked up because the original Colsac, built in 1924 for cars the size of a Model T Ford, could only carry six modern cars. I-94 crossed the Wisconsin River just 12 miles up the road, and it was thought that most tourists would rather travel the Interstate than the anachronistic ferry. The state proposed building a bridge here. Local interests had seen how tourists gladly traveled 12 miles out of their way to take the ferry, so they started a local protest.

Buttons proclaiming "I believe in ferries" was the basis of the campaign. The state gave in, and the Colsac II went into service in 1963.

According to the Wisconsin DOT, the ferry continues to carry over a quarter of a million vehicles each year, including 316,819 in 2004. Link: http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/water/merrimac-history.h...

The Colsac III is a nostalgic trip across the river, the last ferry on the state trunk highway system. At one time, there were over 500 ferries in operation in Wisconsin. Ferries carry cars and people into the state but this is the last ferry operating within the state of Wisconsin.

Webmaster's note: The photo that was here has been incorporated into the main site.