Have you ever seen the TV show “MythBusters”? I did not anticipate my role as a myth buster when I began researching the history of Princeton for a possible book. As I learned about “Old Princeton” from the pages of the Princeton Republic, however, I found building after building whose history did not match what had been published in previous local historical accounts or the City of Princeton’s Historical Walking Tour.
The building at 630 West Water Street is a good example. For decades Princeton Historical Society representatives have told the tale that the building was one of several moved from the now defunct village of St. Marie to Princeton in the 1860s. Just last week, a story in the Princeton Times-Republic about the folklore museum the society is creating at 630 cited repeated the claim, citing an earlier interview with a spokesperson for the historical society, and noted that the building formerly was located west of the St. Marie hotel, near the intersection of County Road J and Huckleberry Road.
The walking tour plaque claims the building was moved with the help of forty yoke of oxen and three teams of horses. (Society board members used the claim as well in a fundraising letter on behalf of the folklore museum, which not surprisingly emphasizes “storytelling” over history. Sad but true.)
It all makes for a colorful story, but is it true?
We do know from 19th century newspapers and local histories that buildings were moved from St. Marie and Hamilton, another site on the river north of here that faded as Princeton grew, by teams of oxen, by barge and over the frozen Fox in winter. Some were moved intact; others were dismantled, the lumber transported and the structures rebuilt in town. But is the building at 630 West Water one of them?
Considering the number of other incorrect plaques on the walking tour, you have to be at least a little skeptical, don’t you? But you also want to believe that a historical society would have documented the history of its own museum, right?
We’ll leave the question of whether the building came from St. Marie for another post. Today we’ll look at the claim that the building was used as a feed and seed store for approximately 100 years.
The information is false.
The evidence includes Sanborn-Perris fire insurance maps, which were produced for thousands of communities across the U.S. beginning in 1867. Sanborn maps are considered highly accurate historical documents.
As described by the Library of Congress: “They show the size, shape and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories and other structures. They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used.
“In the 19th century, the maps were prepared for the exclusive use of fire insurance companies and underwriters. Those companies needed accurate, current and detailed information about the properties they were insuring.”
The Library of Congress has five sets of Princeton maps: 1892, 1898, 1904, 1914 and 1927. The first four are available on the Library of Congress and Wisconsin Historical Society websites. The 1927 map is still covered by copyright and therefore cannot be reprinted, but I was able to obtain a copy with the help of an archivist in Washington. (Thanks, again, Amara, if you’re reading this.)
The maps clearly show that the building at 630 West Water Street was used as a hardware store in 1892, 1898 and 1904. There are several references in the Republic, as well, over the years about the hardware store, including:
Princeton Republic, April 6, 1893 – “Wm. Schroeder, having purchased the hardware business of Herman Warnke, takes possession soon.”
Schroeder sold his hardware stock in 1913.
Princeton Republic, May 1, 1913 – “On next Wednesday, May 7, my whole stock of hardware, paints, oils and other material will be sold at auction at the hardware store of Wm. Schroeder, Princeton, Wisconsin.”
Princeton Republic, June 19, 1913 – “Erich Mueller, who recently purchased the Wm. Schroeder hardware store, is having the front of same remodeled. We understand that Mr. Mueller will use the building for the storage of pianos, sewing machines, etc.”
In 1914, 630 housed the pianos, sewing machines and other items being sold by Erich Mueller.
Princeton Produce Company, Lichtenberg and Blinkiewicz proprietors, rented the building from Mueller in January 1933. They dealt in poultry, eggs, veal, poultry feed, supplies, etc. It was not until 1946 that Edmund Piasecke moved the feed and poultry business he had purchased 10 years earlier from the widow of his former employer, A.A. Manthey, from 616 to 630 West Water Street.
Edmund Piasecke’s daughters, Joan and Carol, researched the history of the business and confirmed for princetonhistory.com that he moved the business to 630 West Water Street in 1946 and that he sold it to Jim Krueger in 1971. The feed business closed in the 1980s – I have not confirmed a specific date.
The 100-year myth is busted. On to “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say.
NEXT WEEK: We will examine more closely the history of the Princeton Historical Society building at 630 West Water Street.