A Brief History
The man who would build the building that was to house Boscobel’s leading hotel was Adam Bobel. Bobel (1834-1885) was born in the village of Maden, in Prussia. A weaver by trade, Bobel emigrated to the United States in 1853, married in 1855 and moved to Boscobel in 1861. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Bobel spent 18 months with the Union Army as sutler with the 20th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Sutlers were government-approved vendors who were licensed one to a post or regiment. Sutler is a Dutch word meaning “to undertake low office,” and their reputation was legion, soldiers often paying five times the true value of an item.
In 1865, Bobel, with a Mr. Schaffer, constructed the two-story stone building that is now the south portion of the hotel at a cost of $5,000.00 for use as a saloon. In about six months time after the building was finished, Mr. Bobel purchased his partner’s interest and ran the business alone. In 1873, Bobel built onto the saloon an additional three-story structure and extended the third story over the saloon building.
On January 7, 1881, a fire completely gutted the building, leaving only the sign and walls standing. Fortunately, Bobel decided to rebuild. On May 13, 1881, only four months later, the Central House, as it was known, was completely refurnished and open for business.
Remarkably, much of the work from this period still remains in place today, and the exterior of the hotel is still in its largely original 1881 state. Adam Bobel continued to operate the hotel until his death in 1885, by which time the Central House was one of the most noted hotels in southwest Wisconsin.
The Boscobel Hotel is best known today for being the site of a meeting that resulted in the founding of the Gideons International Society. In September, 1898, John H. Nicholson, a traveling salesman from Janesville, WI attempted to check into the Central House, but as no single rooms were available, the hotel manager asked him to share a room with another salesman, Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, WI. During their stay at the hotel, the two men discussed the need for an organization of commercial travelers that would provide “mutual help and recognition for Christian travelers.” In 1899 the two men met again and were joined by another salesman, W.J. Knights of Janesville, WI and in July of that year the organization was formed and known as the Christian Commercial Travelers’ Association of America with its object being the fellowship of “Christian travelling men of the world.” Although the first organizational meeting took place in Janesville, the Gideons have always identified the Boscobel Hotel as the location of its founding. From its modest beginnings in Boscobel and Janesville, the Gideons have grown into an international organization whose name is familiar even to those who are unfamiliar with the organization itself. The Gideon Bible, distributed by the organization, is now familiar to every American traveler.