Taking Toll and Summering on the River In Boscobel

A teenage Gladys Pinfold Sanger stands on the Boscobel bridge near the toll house circa 1919. You can see Easter Rock in the background.

Gladys Pinfold Sanger spent summers as a teenager at a cottage that once stood on the Crawford County side of the Wisconsin river just west of the Boscobel bridge on highway 60. She also took toll on the bridge when she was a teenager in 1919 for a few years.

In 1873, the State of Wisconsin authorized the city of Boscobel to construct a toll bridge that would span the Wisconsin River connecting Crawford County to Grant County. The city of Boscobel had to incorporate as a city in order to issue the bonds to pay for the bridge. The bridge was expected to cost $25,000 to build. The bridge would be completed in 1874 and be replaced by a “free” bridge in 1935.

The law empowered the city of Boscobel to collect the toll and stated what the toll would be: 25 cents for any vehicle pulled by one horse or other animal; and for each additional animal 10 cents; for all animals in droves of 50 head, 2 cents each and for each animal over 50, 1 cent each; and for hogs and sheep they will not charged more than 1 cent each. Later automobiles would be charged 25 cents.

A toll house was built on the south side of the river and a toll keeper was hired to take toll on the bridge. Austin Decker was the first toll keeper in 1874 and was paid $600 per year (Boscobel’s People and Places by Florence Bohlman).

Today, the cottages are long gone, but the memories of this era when people had small cottages along the river and when people had to pay toll remain.

The toll bridge at Boscobel was built in 1874 and was replaced in 1936.

Sanger was born November 30, 1907 in Madison, Wisconsin. She was an only child and her parents died when she was 13 years old. After her parents died, she moved around from “pillar to post” until her uncle Ward Smith in Boscobel took her in. She finished high school in Boscobel and married Ottmar Sanger on November 5, 1928. This is an interview conducted with Sanger on February 13, 1989. She tells the story about the cottages that she visited and then lived in along the Wisconsin River.

D: Tell me about that cottage?

G: Well it wasn’t the way they have cottages nowadays. Most of ’em wouldn’t be so nice. It was rather rough on the inside. The rooms didn’t have partitions clear to the ceiling, but we did have partitions between the rooms and doors on them and all. And we had one big front porch where we lived and ate and inside we did all our cooking. When we had some of the floods they’d be clear up to the back door but we never got them inside the cottage.  It was nothing fancy. They were not painted or finished off. No indoor plumbing. We had pumps and outhouse, but it was lots of fun.

Sketch of river cottage by Florence Bohlman, similar to the one that Gladys Pinfold Sanger lived in.

I took this picture (below) from the front porch from our cottage and (you can) see the water was clear up around everything and the cottages on down the line. There about six other cottages and we had a regular little village there every summer. The same people always lived there all summer.

Water levels run up close to the cottages during high water.

D: Where was this cottage?

G: About a half of block from the end of the bridge on the north side of the bridge. On the west side of the Boscobel bridge. (Crawford County side of the River where the bridge sits today. The cottages were destroyed when the new bridge was built in 2000.) There was a regular little village down there. It’s quite different now. There’s some cottages there but I don’t think they have a regular little village like we did. We used to get together nights around a bonfire and have parties out on the beach and we lived there. We’d meet out on the riverbank and oh we’d sing songs and everybody’d donate maybe cookies or something like that and milk to drink of maybe coffee. Everybody closed up in the winter. They never stayed there. As soon as school started everybody closed up their cottage and moved to town. Some lived in Wauzeka and some in Boscobel. For years it was always the same occupants  so we had almost like a village down there. The same people always.

D: What were some of people who lived there?

G: Kronsages had a cottage down there, Anschuetzs, Daywitts, Pattersons, they were from Wauzeka, George Guernsey, Gunny Guernsey’s folks.

D: What did you do all summer?

G: Fishing, sitting around, and of course the women would do some canning, we had clothes to wash and meals to get. We did a lot of fishing and swimming. The men went back to town to work.

In those days there weren’t so many women that had jobs, but the men folk did. I worked at a restaurant and I had to be to work at 6:30 in the morning to get breakfast for the railroad men. And so I walked up town from down there. It was quite a bit over a mile from down at the cottage up town and I walked it every morning to work. They called the road the “dump.”

D: When were the cottages in their heyday?

G: I would say probably from 1910 up until 1925-1926. From then on, I got married then (November 5, 1928) and I think the families were getting older and just moved away and the younger ones didn’t want to take over and little by little the cottages were sold to other people.

D: Tell me about the swimming on the river

My uncle’s father-in-law always every summer he would get a man to come down, cuz the river was very dangerous for us, he would get a man to come down to ‘sound out” the river. He would run stakes down where the current wasn’t as fast and then we were never allowed to go outside of those boundaries to go swimming, but if we went across to the beach side (south side of the river) that was fairly mild there and we could swim most any place there.

Billy Seeman, Gladys Pinfold Sanger (standing) and Ruth Bach enjoy the sandy beach near the toll house on the south side of the river.

D: Tell me about this beach on the south side of the river by the toll house?

G: It was just beautiful, just sand. It was just an enormous big mound of just solid sand, course it’s all gone now. Completely gone. I don’t think there’s any sand. I haven’t been down there for a long time. I don’t think there’s any sand down there anymore. But from the toll house out it was just an awful lot of sand. It was practically that side of the river that would be going south and west behind the toll house and it was all clear sand and it was beautiful.

D: And that was the swimming hole

G: That was pretty much the swimming hole because they tested the water. The currents weren’t quite so bad there. It was over on the other side where the night club (Manhattan Club) is now on that side the current was wild you had to be awfully careful (near the cottages). And of course we spent an awful lot of our time climbing the big hill (Easter Rock) at the end of the bridge. We used to climb up there pret’ near every day looking for snakes and so forth.

I love snakes. I’m a great snake lover, but of course we were warned to be very very careful. Gunny Guernsey went along and myself cuz we both lived down there and Kenny Koeppl and he lived with his grandparents down there. Course they’re both dead now too and we’d go up in there and course the boys would go after the snakes and they’d find something to kill ’em with. It wasn’t really the best thing in the world but we got an awful lot of fun out of it. But we girls, my next door neighbor Lola Daywitt, her folks had a cottage, she and I used to go out on the grounds where we lived and we would catch garter snakes and then we would wrap 5 or 6 of em around our necks and you may think I’m lying but I am not and we would go into the cottage and my aunt would almost have cat fits she was so scared. “You get out of here. Don’t you come back in again,” she would scream. I’m a nut. I’m scared to death of bats and I love snakes. So we used to have a lot of fun with garter snakes. Garter snakes will never hurt anybody.

D: What about rattlers?

G: There were rattlers up there too, but we never really came across any of them.

D: Did the river ever give you a good scare?

G: Well one time this Lola Daywitt, her folks had a cottage there too, and we took a boat and we rowed down, you didn’t have to row too hard, course going down with the current we went way way down the line and while we were there a storm came up and it wasn’t very good coming back up. We worked terribly hard and we got about half way back to the cottages and we pulled into the shore we didn’t know exactly know where we were but we pulled in to the shore tied the boat up and we hit for the road and we walked the rest of the way home. That’s the only scare I think I ever had down there. I really was scared that day.

D: What kind of a boat were you in?

G: Just a flat bottomed wooden boat with oars. Coming back up would be more difficult because you’re going against the current and then the storm came up and the wind and all we just couldn’t get any place at all and we were so scared of being tipped right over so we finally hit for the shore. So we didn’t try doing that ever again. We weren’t very old then. I mean possibly 14, 15, years old or 16. We weren’t old enough to be running around doing things like that but we did it. And of course we got scolded plenty for it.

D: What kind of fish did you catch?

G: Catfish, sunfish, back in from the sandy beach back in a little ways there was a couple little holes back in there and you could get sunfish. But mostly catfish out in the river and a pike once in a while if you were lucky. Up under the bridge they were more apt to get some pike but carp was the main thing and most people didn’t want to use carp but my aunt had a very good way of fixing it and it was just as delicious as any kind of fish. We ate plenty of carp. She would bake it with bread dressing, put it in the oven and bake and my it was delicious. There’s no reason you can’t eat carp, but some how or other people look down on carp. Most wont even think of eating it at all.

D: Did you ever cook out fish on the sandbars?

G: A couple of us kids used to go fishing and we always would take a frying pan along with us and then we’d build a fire and cook and clean our fish and cook it right out in the open right where we caught it. Was a lot better than it was at home. It was so good that way.

Just about every other time we’d go out fishing we’d take a pan along and some butter and maybe some bread. That’s all we’d have is fish and bread.

I went with Gunny Guernsey, his folks had a cottage there and he was about my age and this Ruth Bach she was a friend of mine and she’d come down and go with us. Kenny Keoppl his grandparents lived on the hill right above our cottages and so he stayed with his grandparents in the summer time so he always joined us.

Toll House Tending 

G: I always looked forward to taking toll at the toll house. The Millers were the names of the toll keepers and I would go over and take toll for them while they ate dinner during the summertime.

D: How long did you do that?

The Boscobel toll house was located on the south side of the river.

G: Possibly on and off for a couple years around 1919 (She was 12 years old in 1919). And I’d always go over barefooted of course. We were always barefoot. I think I had half the bridge in my feet and it was just alive with bats in there and of course I’m terrified of bats. It wasn’t so bad during the daytime it was just if I happened to go over in the evening to visit them and I always have to put something over my head cause the bats were just thick in there. It was a covered bridge and the bats just loved it in there.

It was just lots of fun to be over there. I’d sit there and watch the different cars going by going into town and some going home and sometimes a team would come along.

D: How long did it take you to get across the bridge and back?

G: About 5 minutes to walk across

D: Did you ever get a chance to talk to people on the bridge.

G: No one on foot, they’d go in their cars. There was no visiting. To get the toll, you just walked out into the road and stopped them. They always stopped. We never had anyone that caused any trouble while I was ever there anyway. That was a lot of fun. I’d come down from Madison and that was quite a treat to go down there and take toll at that bridge because we never had anything in Madison like that. I got quite a kick out taking toll.

Toll was 25 cents for a car and its passengers and I think a horse team and a wagon was 15 cents if I remember rightly and nobody ever balked at paying. They were all very good about paying they were used to it. And the house itself was just the bare necessities. It wasn’t very fancy. The house was built up quite high from the river. I suppose allowing for the fact that if it ever did flood. They had a walk from the back door around to the outhouse so they were up quite a ways from the sand beach. Then they had a little office to the front where whoever was on duty usually sat. I never did because I’d rather be out there in the road to be sure I caught them as they came along. The fellow that did all the time he usually sat in the office because he didn’t want to stand outside all the time. It wasn’t a big beautiful building or anything it was just bare necessities.They just had wood fires and I imagine it was pretty cold. I think when they freed the bridge of toll (in 1936) then the Millers moved to town and they lived in town until they died.

Sanger recalled that long before she took toll, her future husband’s family (Ottmar Sanger) lived in the toll house circa 1887. The family had a house fire and they needed a place to live so they became caretakers at the toll house for awhile.  She recalls that her husband’s dad got some small wage but that it was mostly a place to live while they were getting their house rebuilt so they didn’t care if there was not much money coming in. The family loved the sand beach and they had family get togethers down there. 

Amelia (left) and Wilma Sanger (Otmar Sanger’s sisters) on the Toll Bridge in Boscobel, circa 1887.

In 2000, State Highway 60 was reconfigured and a new concrete bridge was built to replace the steel truss bridge that was built in 1936. The 1936 bridge was a free bridge and replaced the toll bridge that was built in 1874.  All of the cottages were removed when the new bridge was built in 2000. Gladys Pinfold Sanger died June 30, 1991 at the age of 91. 


2 thoughts on “Taking Toll and Summering on the River In Boscobel”

  1. I remember Wilma Sanger, she was a friend of my mother’s. We lived in Boscobel from about 1958 thru 1969. I was very young but I do remember her.

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