Sisters Cities: Roxbury, New Jersey, Meet Roxbury, Wisconsin

By Steve Sears

No matter where you travel in the town of Roxbury, Wisconsin, you’re sure to hear or see the name “Ganser.”

There’s Ganser Company, Ganser Construction, Ganser Scientific LLC, and there’s roadways bearing the name in neighboring communities.

There’s even a Ganser Motel. “There’s a little motel, and it’s a little on the old side if you don’t mind sleeping in an old bed and such. It’s right on Route 12, and you’ll see it right before you go into (neighboring) Sauk City. It was an oddball corner between Routes 12 and 188. It (the motel) hasn’t really changed with the times as most things are.”

The above words are spoken by Roxbury Town Supervisor, 66-year-old Nick Ganser, whose family in the 1850s had a huge hand in officially founding Roxbury, which is located in Dane County. Ganser Motel is across the field from where he lives, right off of his family’s home farm. 

Ganser’s family emigrated from Germany. “And pretty much all of Roxbury was German,” he says. Johann (John) and Anton Ganser settled in Roxbury in the mid-19th century. “I believe there was five family members, brothers and sisters, that came over. Those two settled in the Roxbury area, and I think maybe one of the girls, too, who married.” 

Both Roxburys have seen conflict. Roxbury, New Jersey in the 1770s was home to some extent of  Revolutionary War, and in 1832, the Black Hawk Wars raged in the Roxbury, Wisconsin area prior to the  town and state’s founding. Indian tribes inhabited the land, and Chief Black Hawk was eradicated to Iowa, but then decided to move his tribe back to Madison, Wisconsin, which is about 20 miles from Roxbury. He moved his tribes high on the hills along where Route 78 is now, and the Battle of Wisconsin Heights ensued. General Henry Dodge, who eventually became Governor, tried to get them out of the area. The Indians actually sought to surrender, but Dodge and his troops had no interpreter and could not understand the shouting raining down from the hills, and instead attacked. Chief Black Hawk evacuated women and children out of the area via canoe to the Wisconsin River, and many of his warriors followed suit. “I believe there was only one person who died in the battle, and that was a United States soldier,” says Ganser. “The Indians were chased all the way down to Iowa, and the evacuees were annihilated by Dodge’s troops. There’s quite a history of the Black Hawk Wars, and there’s one (a monument) along 78. It’s where you get up into Black Hawk Hill. it’s called Black Hawk Heights.”

In 1840, Count Agoston Haraszthy settled quite a bit of the northwestern area of the soon-to-be town of Roxbury. He ceded some land to Rev. Adelbert Inama, that land located right next to where Ganser currently lives. “He wanted people to get an education; I believe he was a Jesuit Catholic,” Ganser says. “That’s where the first church in Roxbury was built. It was just a log cabin, he started there. As more people immigrated from Germany, a bigger church was constructed.” Fr. Inama purchased additional acreage to build that church, and St. Norbert’s is now the center of Roxbury. The municipal building is located there, and Ganser recommends the extremely popular Dorf Haus Supper Club on Highway Y, serving German fare in town since the late 1950s.

Currently about 1,900 people live in Roxbury, Wisconsin, which is 36 square miles, those miles all divided into 36 separate sections. The beforementioned routes 12, 78 and 188 run through town. The sister city on the east coast is a bit smaller at roughly 22 square miles, but there’s more people (about 24,000) and more highway access with Routes 46 and 80 bisecting the older Roxbury (which was founded in 1740), Routes 10 and 206 claiming some real estate, and Routes 15 and 183 heading north and south nearby.

Roxbury, Wisconsin is led by no Mayor, but just a Town Chairman and two Town Supervisors. “Pretty much most of Wisconsin’s rural areas and townships are run by a chairman and board of supervisors,” says Ganser. Most of the town’s students attend school in the neighboring Sauk Prairie School District, while a small southwest portion attend in the Wisconsin Heights School District, and the northeast corner students in the Lodi School District.

Visitors are welcome to this great community. Per Ganser, Roxbury is a pretty nice place to visit. “You can get into the rural areas, and you can get into the commercial areas.”

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