The author of the City of Princeton’s Historical Walking Tour plaque assigned to the building at 518 West Water Street, recently renovated and now home to Levee Contemporary art gallery, confuses the history of the property with the history of the building. Again, this is especially unfortunate because the Teskes’ store was a community icon for nearly a century.
The plaque states that “this was the eighth downtown store built in Princeton (1851).” No, the building that now stands at 518 West Water was not the eighth store built here. It was built in 1872.
The lot, however, was home to the Princeton’s eighth store, built in 1851, as reported in “Bird’s-Eye View of the History of Princeton,” published by the Princeton Republic in 1869.
Princeton Republic, Feb. 8, 1869: “The next, eighth building erected to accommodate the increasing trade of Princeton was built by Josiah Luce, and is the east room of Teske & Bros. store on Water St. … Luce’s building, in the meantime, had passed into the hands of … R. Tucker & Son, who … continued in successful trade until the spring of 1868 when he sold the building and stock to Teske & Bros., who have since, and are now doing a large retail trade in dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes, crockery and general assortment line, selling upon as good terms as can be had in the place.”
The plaque goes on to state, “In 1859 the original wood structure was replaced with a stone and brick building.” This also is incorrect. The Teskes built the stone and brick building in 1872 and designed it to complement the Josiah Luce (514) and August Thiel buildings (508-512) built concurrently two years earlier.
The Teskes began hauling stone for their new business block in January 1872. They planned a two-story building, 90 by 100 feet, making it “the largest business room in the village,” according to the Princeton Republic. The lower room would be the sales room; a boot and shoe “manufactory” would locate upstairs.
Princeton Republic, May 11, 1872: “The two-story wooden building owned by the Teske Bros. has been moved off the lot, preparatory to commencing their new stone and brick block.”
Brick for the new building arrived from Sheboygan in June; iron columns came from Ripon. The building took shape over summer and fall but was not occupied until winter.
Princeton Republic, Jan. 18, 1863: “Teske brothers have moved their goods into their fine new store.”
It would’ve been nice if the walking tour organizers – which include the City of Princeton, Princeton Historical Society, Chamber of Commerce and Community Development Authority – could’ve corrected this plaque before the new art gallery opened, but that didn’t happen. The gallery opened on July 3rd, and, last seen, the plaque was stored in the Visitor’s Center at Water and Main streets. (Perhaps it should be recycled.)
This is the eighth incorrect plaque found in Princeton’s historic downtown district, and, I’m sorry to say, there are more to come.