The wall mural at Ford’s Gathering on Water Street features the brewery, Ideal Orchestra and other scenes of early Princeton.

Yesterday, after enjoying refreshments and good company at Ford’s Gathering, I came across a “Reflections of the Civil War” symposium on C-SPAN3 (American History TV). Edward Ayers, president of the American Civil War Museum board, was speaking about the difference between history and memories.

Memories are often shared via journals, videos and newspaper columns (most notably locally in Elaine Reetz’s “Come Back in Time” columns and books of the 1970s) and then adopted by readers as history. But memories do not make history, as explained by Ayers:

“History is based on evidence that other people can examine. Memory is not. History is revised, therefore, as the evidence changes, either because there is more of it, as there always is, or because we come to see old evidence with new questions and methods. Memory is powerful, but it is often wrong. If history is wrong, it will be corrected.”

I have upset some city officials and fellow members of the Princeton Historical Society by correcting errors (with “evidence that people can examine”) found in the Downtown Historic District designation report of 1997, the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory and the City of Princeton’s Historical Walking Tour. The walking tour is an example of a great idea gone terribly wrong, as several of the plaques, for which sponsors paid about $200 each, in the historic downtown contain factual errors – and no one seems to care enough to address the problem with any sense of urgency.

I have also suggested the city, which is selling reprints of the 1973 quasquicentennial historic booklet in advance of the 175th anniversary (dosquicentennial) in 2023, include a page in the 175th booklet it is preparing to correct errors in the quasqui book. Sadly, I doubt anything will get done.

NEXT: We’ll look at the history of the building at 630 West Water Street, home of the Princeton Historical Society’s future folklore museum. The plaque on the City of Princeton’s Historical Walking Tour says the building was moved from St. Marie in the mid-1800s and used as a feed and seed store for 100 years.


  1. Thank you for digging deep to find out more about Princeton! You seem so passionate. History is liquid and can easily be re-written when new evidence is found. For some it’s difficult to lose the comfort of what they’ve always known. Some may even bristle at the thought of errors. Don’t worry, those who really care about how precious history is will appreciate your effort. Love the photos!

  2. Need not worry, you know, as long as you have been able to obtain demonstrable facts. Too bad some of the older folks have died and are no longer available to “fill in the blanks.” Oh, the stories my step father used to tell! My wife would listen in rapt attention as he made people and events come alive. Like the time, post WWII when he went with a group of fellows and tried water skiing. The boat was under powered and no one told him to just let go of the rope. So he was dragged along under water for quite a ways.
    He could tell you a great many of the nicknames fellows had for one another. It was fun listening late into the night.

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