The oldest history of Princeton was written by John C. Gillespy and published in 1860 in “The History of Green Lake County.” It contains, as the subtitle indicates, “biographical sketches, anecdotes, etc. as related by old pioneers.”
I’ve always found the section on Hamilton, one of three communities platted just north of Princeton, along with St. Marie and State Center, interesting because of how local historians have interpreted it.
Hamilton was nearly adjacent to St. Marie and pretty much abandoned by the time Gillespy published his work. Here’s how he described the village:
“About half a mile south of the village (St. Marie) is the remains of the village of Hamilton, a competitor for metropolitan honors; some years gone by, it had a population of 125 inhabitants. In the days of its prosperity had two stores, two blacksmith shops, one tin shop, two taverns, one post office; was a place of good trade; had a bridge across the river, but the fates in an angry flood of the breaking up of the river carried this structure down stream, which sealed the doom of this outgrowth of speculation. What there is left of the place are four dwellings and one barn; tavern houses and stores have gone off bodily – the Cottage House at St. Marie, moved off under the steady pull of fifty-three yoke of oxen, whilst some less cumbersome took a more lengthy flight to Princeton, one of which is occupied by R.C. Treat, esq., as a store.”
The interesting part, for me, is the section “tavern houses and stores have gone off bodily – the Cottage House at St. Marie, moved off under the steady pull of fifty-three yoke of oxen, whilst some less cumbersome took a more lengthy flight to Princeton.”
In “The Trail of the Serpent,” published in 1973 by Robert E. Gard and local historian Elaine Reetz, the authors mention how a building called the “College House of St. Marie had been moved out of Hamilton and into Princeton under the pull of fifty-three yoke of oxen.” Reetz repeated the info in her “Come Back in Time” column and book.
But that’s not how I interpret Gillespy’s summary.
First, context is important. Remember, the entire paragraph in question – repeated almost verbatim in 1890 in the “Portrait and Biographical Album of Green Lake, Marquette and Waushara Counties” – was written about Hamilton, not St. Marie.
Based on the sentence structure and 19th century writing style, I interpret the section as saying the Cottage House, which I assume was a tavern or hotel, was moved by 53 yoke of oxen from Hamilton to St. Marie while smaller buildings took the longer trip to Princeton.
Update: And here’s what happens when you “assume.” Local historian Joe Wyse found records indicating St. Mary’s College at St. Marie incorporated in 1856.
The phrase “took a more lengthy flight to Princeton” implies the Cottage/College House traveled less distance than the “less cumbersome” buildings, in my opinion.
Now, did the owners gather another 53 teams of oxen some time later and move the building again, this time from St. Marie to Princeton? Perhaps.
The only information I’ve found to this point about a tavern or hotel that came from St. Marie-Hamilton to Princeton was a building burned in 1897 (521 West Water Street) that the Princeton Republic editor of the time was pretty sure had been named the Fox River House before it was moved here. (Another business of the same name was opened in Princeton in the early 1900s at the southwest corner of Water and Pearl streets.)
As always, I welcome any information anyone has about the buildings of Princeton’s historic downtown, and if you spot any errors in my research, please let me know so I can correct it.
Much of the speculation about buildings that came from St. Marie can be traced to Reetz’s series of interviews of octogenarians, such as John J. Bartol and Herman A. Megow, in the Princeton Times-Republic in the 1960s and her columns, “Come Back in Time,” published in the 1970s in the Fox River Patriot and later reprinted in book form. Unfortunately, little information from the oral histories was ever substantiated with solid documentation.