Colsac III Ferry

Also known as: Merrimac Ferry
Wisconsin River between Okee and Merrimac, Wisconsin

Free Ferry across Wisconsin River on Wis 113


Colsac III Approaches the east shore

For more about this ferry, see the listing for the Colsac III Ferry on our sister website, Bridge Hunter Dot Com. The listing tells the history of the ferry and includes photos from its manufacture.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning

View this photo at



There has been a ferry in operation at this location since 1844. The ferry was muscle powered until about 1900 when a gasoline engine was added. In 1933, the ferry was taken over by the Wisconsin Highway Department, forerunner of the DOT. Tolls were eliminated at that time.

The first Colsac was built in the 1920s to carry automobiles the size of a Model T Ford. ("Colsac" is a portmanteau of Columbia and Sauk, the two counties connected by the ferry.) By the 1960s, the ferry was woefully obsolete and the Colsac II went into service, capable of carrying 12 cars. In 2003, the Colsac II was replaced by the Colsac III, capable of carrying 15 cars.

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.

I Believe in Ferries! 

Written by J.R. Manning

Several times over the years, bridges were proposed to replace the popular ferry, the attempts always failing for one reason or another. When I-94 was completed, bridging the Wisconsin River about 12 miles upstream, "experts" predicted the demise of the ferry crossing, convinced that people would make the 24 mile detour to avoid the bottleneck. But tourists surprised the experts and the Merrimac Ferry remains a popular attraction.

The ferry has survived several threats. During WWII, the ferry was a bottleneck for workers commuting to an ordnance plant in Baraboo. The federal government offered to pay half the cost of a bridge, but Governor Julius P. Heil vetoed the idea, saying that if the feds wanted a bridge here, they could pay for the whole thing.

By the early 1960's, service complaints began to stack up. The original Colsac, built in 1924 for cars the size of a Model T Ford, could only carry six modern cars. The state proposed building a bridge here. State engineers went so far as to design a bridge to span Lake Wisconsin to replace the anachronistic ferry. Local interests had seen how tourists enjoyed the ferry, so they started a local campaign to save the beloved Colsac.

Buttons proclaiming "I Believe in Ferries" was the basis of the campaign. The state gave in, and the Colsac II was commissioned to Marinette Marine Corporation. The 12-car ferry went into service in 1963. The Colsac II was decommissioned on November 4, 2002 and replaced by the Colsac III on May 6, 2003. The Colsac III, a catamaran, was built by Basic Marine of Escanaba, Michigan. It was shipped overland to Merrimac and assembled on site over the winter.

According to the Wisconsin DOT, the ferry continues to carry over a quarter of a million vehicles each year, including a high count of 318,354 in 2009. Link:

The ferry operates April through November each year, although it will continue service into December until ice makes the crossing impossible. In the event the ferry is not operational, a series of warning lights at strategic points alert motorists to take a different route.

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

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974
Reference number
NR name
Merrimac Ferry
Area of significance
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event
Property type
Historic function
Current function
Periods of significance
1950-1974; 1900-1924; 1875-1899; 1850-1874; 1975-2000; 1825-1849; 1925-1949
Significant year
Number of properties
Contributing sites: 1
Contributing objects: 1

Update Log 

  • December 6, 2015: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • June 20, 2014: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated NRHP Status
  • July 12, 2011: Added by J.R. Manning