This plaque on the City of Princeton’s Historical Walking Tour repeats an error made in a 1970s account of local history despite information to the contrary provided by a local historian.
Princeton had a bridge well before 1867. The Wisconsin Legislature in 1850 authorized Royal C. Treat, who founded Princeton in 1848, to construct a bridge across the Fox River. The legislation stipulated that the bridge must include a draw that could be opened so boats could pass through without hindrance.
The Marquette Mercury and other newspapers in 1852 reported that a “substantial bridge” had been built across the Fox in Princeton.
John Gillespy’s “History of Green Lake County,” published in 1860, noted that “a float bridge, such as is generally in use on the Fox, connects the west with the eastern part” of the village.
And the Green Lake Spectator in 1863 reported the following: “The bridge across Fox River at Princeton is being furnished with a new draw. It will cost about $500.”
The plaque does not mention the wooden bridge was replaced with an iron bridge in 1878.
A representative of the Milwaukee Bridge & Iron Company met with local officials and residents in November 1877 to convince them that an iron bridge was the most economical, long-term solution. The following week, village residents voted 229-90 for a new bridge.
A special town meeting was held on November 27, residents voted 123-9 to authorize the town board to issue bonds for the construction of an iron bridge to cost no more than $4,500. An iron bridge was estimated to cost about $1,000 more than a wooden bridge.
The state Legislature agreed to let the town borrow the money for the bridge, with 7 percent interest, from the state school and university trust fund. In December the contract for building the iron bridge across the Fox river at Princeton was awarded to F.B. Illsley & Co. of Milwaukee for $6,450.
In spring 1878, a pontoon footbridge was constructed across the river, and the float of the old bridge was fitted up to accommodate those who wished to cross the river with teams during the construction project. The toll was 50 cents.
After the new bridge passed its trial swing in early April, W.H. Keepers, superintendent of the Milwaukee Bridge & Iron Company, came to Princeton to formally turn over the bridge to the town board.
Plans to replace the aging iron bridge were approved in 1929, but construction was not completed until 1930.
Princeton Republic, June 19, 1930 – “The Fox River bridge crew is preparing for paving the street between the big bridge and the mill channel bridge. Part of the frame work has been completed and prospects are that the laying of cement will begin this week. The south half of the street will be first completed, and traffic will be directed to the north half of the street. The west span of the bridge is already concreted. The floor part of the draw will be finished off with creosote blocks while the east span will be of concrete. It is estimated that the entire work will be completed about August 1.”
The bridge was not ready for the dedication ceremony planned to coincide with the city’s Fourth of July celebration.
Princeton Republic, July 10, 1930 – “On account of the rain on the forenoon of July 4th the dedication of the new Fox River bridge was dropped from the program. There was abundance of mud and slush about both entrances to the bridge, and it seemed unadvisable to ask the crowd down there. The Mayor and the committee in charge decided that on account of the condition of the entrance and also due to the fact that the bridge was incomplete that the dedication ceremony would be put off. It has been tentatively decided to hold the dedication on August 31st (Sunday), at which time a very elaborate program will be carried out with noted speakers present. A fine program will be presented.”
On July 26, workers raised the bridge for the first time. A subsequent inspection found problems with the creosote block pavement on the middle span that took a few days to repair. “Just when all will be completed and opened to traffic cannot be determined at this time,” the Republic reported.
Princeton Republic, August 7, 1930 – “Father Jankowski drove the first car over the $125,000 bridge across the Fox river amid cheers from the workmen and spectators on Monday at 1:30 p.m. August 3, 1930. A.D. He was followed in a car soon after by Mayor Gorr, Alderman Lese and Clerk Rimpler.”
The temporary bridge and roadway were cleared and the crew that had been working in Princeton for the past 12 months left August 25 for various parts of the state. The dedication ceremony, which had been moved from Fourth of July to Labor Day, was held in October.
Princeton Republic, Oct. 9, 1930 – “Despite the threatening weather which prevailed during the day, this city on Sunday entertained a large crowd at the dedication exercises of the new $125,000 bridge crossing Fox River. Dedication exercises were held during the forenoon with a state engineer of Madison, Judge Van Pelt, State Senator L. J. Fellenz and Atty. M. K. Reilly as speakers. They spoke from the bandstand, which had been placed near the bridge for the occasion. The stand was filled with town, village, city and county officials who were honor guests for the event. Supt. Geo. V. Kelley gave a short address and introduced the speakers. Music was furnished by the Princeton High School band, which led a parade to the city park following the bridge dedication exercises. A large crowd was entertained at the park during the afternoon with music and carnival attractions of various kinds. A dedication ball at the auditorium brought the program for the day to a close.”
The 1930 bridge lasted more than 50 years and was replaced in 1983-1984.