I always cringe when someone claims his or her ancestor was “the first” anything in Princeton. Most of those claims, in my opinion, are based on family lore rather than fact. Some are easily disproved by facts gleaned from newspapers or public documents of the day. Others fail the logic test. A few are true.
The claim by the City of Princeton’s Historical Walking Tour that the building at 528 West Water Street was Princeton’s first drug store is not one of the few.
Princeton founder Royal C. Treat sold drugs from his stores in Princeton as early as the 1850s. When he registered for the draft in 1863, he listed his occupation as “druggist.” Brothers Richard and Gustav A. Mueller did not arrive in Princeton until the early 1870s.
Also, when Carman & Green built their stone store at the northeast corner of Water and Pearl streets in 1868, they leased part of their new space to the Wilde & McClurg drug store. In May 1875, Wilde sold the business to Richard and Gustave Mueller and headed west to the silver mines.
When they arrived in Princeton from Germany, Richard was 18 and Gustav 16. Younger brother Frank, 12, arrived from Germany alone in 1879.
The Mueller Bros. drug store referred to in local history was owned by Richard and Gustav, and they are the focus of this report, though Frank played a significant role in Princeton’s history as well.
Richard and Gustav, whose father, Michael, was a teacher in Germany and followed his sons to the U.S. in 1881, found jobs in Princeton stores shortly after their arrival here.
Richard worked for Sam Hinman, who had been a partner with Royal Treat for a time in the general store business, and in 1872 worked at Hinman’s store in Neenah. He later took a job in Oshkosh before returning to Princeton.
“Richard is one of our brightest young men and bound to succeed,” the Princeton Republic reported in May 1872.
Gustave began clerking at the Wilde drug store when he was 16. Five years later, he and Richard bought the business.
“The Mueller Bros. are quite happy over their fine trade,” the Republic reported a few weeks after the purchase. “Their store is headquarters for wallpaper, and they have a choice stock of fancy notions, stationery and school supplies, besides a complete stock of drugs and medicines.”
The brothers moved their business to the building at 514 West Water Street in June 1880, leasing the store from the Teske brothers after they moved their harness and shoe shop to their new room four doors west.
During his spare moments, Gustave had studied medicine and graduated from the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati. He went to Chicago in 1885 for a protracted stay to expand his medical skills and returned to Princeton despite getting a job offer in Chicago.
After being displaced again in 1885 when Fred Middlesteadt bought the building they occupied, the Mueller brothers decided they needed their own building.
Princeton Republic, March 5, 1885 – “Another important transfer of real estate in this village is announced. Gus Krueger has sold to Mueller Brothers a lot of 27 feet front just east of Schendel’s hotel. Mueller Brothers commence the erection of a two-story building this spring, to be occupied by themselves in their drug business when completed. The dimensions of the structure will be 27×100 feet, and it will be veneered with brick.”
Rather than just veneer their building at 528 West Water Street, Richard and Gustav ultimately decided to build the structure entirely of brick. The brick was purchased in Portage and hauled to Princeton in two loads by the steamer Weston. Work on the foundation started in May, and the building was completed five months later.
Princeton Republic, Oct. 15, 1885 – “The Mueller Brothers have moved into their new building this week. We have on several occasions referred to their new block, its substantial foundation of stone and its firm walls of brick. … The work is now drawing to a completion, and a careful inspection of it shows that the carpenter work will bear the closest scrutiny and compare well with the finest work ever done in the county. The floors are of red birch, solid as marble. On the lower floor the room is arranged to perfection. As you enter to the left is the express department, effectually fenced off from the intruder. On the east side the shelving is to a great extent occupied by drugs. On the west side, books, musical instruments and a thousand and one articles too numerous to mention, usually kept in their line of trade, adorns the shelves. On both sides iron frames support show cases filled with an endless variety of goods. All the shelving and scores of glass doors – sliding and opening on hinges – are neatly made. The second floor is arranged for dwelling apartments and will be occupied by Dr. G. A. Mueller, one of the firm. These apartments are well and pleasantly, from the parlors to the smallest closet. Every door is a glass-paneled one; and everything is done with a neatness that gives these rooms an air of elegant completeness and reflects great credit on those having charge of the work. The windows, including those below as well as above (excepting the front of store room) are two-lighted windows, raised and lowered with weights, all moving smoothly and easily in their grooves.”
Mueller Bros. occupied the store until Richard’s death in 1893. The building eventually passed to younger brother Frank, who had opened a drug store in the addition to the Gottlieb Schaal building at 602 West Water Street.
The Mueller Bros. story, however, goes well beyond the drug store. Richard and Gustav also made headlines in the local paper for less praiseworthy behavior.
Gustav was on more than one occasion chastised in the newspaper for mistreating his horses. He paid a $10 fine for whipping a horse in one incident.
Richard, meanwhile, made a name for himself in local politics and as a leader in the local Turnverein Society (Turners), which wielded considerable clout in local politics with its large German membership. He was at the center of the debates in the 1880s whether to build a new public school and often at odds with owners of the local newspaper.
Princeton Republic, July 15, 1880 – “At the annual school meeting held last Monday evening, R. Mueller was elected district clerk and L. Kunz treasurer. The meeting was run by the Turnverein Society and was cut and dried beforehand. We hope they may show as great zeal in maintaining good schools as they did in running the school meeting.”
Richard was twice re-elected but ran into trouble in 1886 over bills Mueller Bros. submitted to the school board.
Princeton Republic, July 29, 1886: “A motion that certain bills of that firm be presented in itemized form was met by a defiant answer, that in effect told the district that they could prod around in the waste basket and see what they could find. Such an answer was an insult to the district. Subsequently a committee was appointed composed of F. W. Cook, Gus. Teske and M. Berger to secure duplicates of bills, where the original ones could not be reached, that had been presented to the board during the year. This duty so far as practical has been performed. Several items in the bills presented by the Mueller Bros. and allowed by the board, are under investigation, considered improper and illegal, and at the last meeting a motion prevailed by an overwhelming majority to institute legal proceedings against that firm for the recovery of such amounts as is believed illegally collected by them. The debates and motions at several meetings have been red-hot. A motion at the last meeting requesting the clerk to resign went through with a perfect tempest of applause.”
School District No, 2, which included the towns of Princeton and St. Marie, sued Mueller Bros. Justice John McConnell, of Dartford, heard the case over two days in August.
Princeton Republic, Aug. 26, 1886: “The defendants had refused to return certain monies that had been paid them, the bills being allowed through the oversight of the board, or perhaps it better be termed carelessness. Upon investigating the matter through a proper committee and otherwise, the district refused to endorse the transaction. The defiant and unreasonable attitude of Mueller Brothers caused the district to order suit to recover and hence the trial at Dartford. After a fair hearing the jury gave a verdict in favor of the district, judgment $7.25; both judgement and costs amounting to $43.49.”
The Muellers’ foes were still not satisfied and circulated a petition that gathered nearly 150 names asking that Richard be removed from the board. County Judge J. Edmund Millard set a December 17 court date, but Mueller did not attend.
Princeton Republic, Dec. 23, 1886: “No defense in the case appearing, the prayer of over 140 voters of the district was allowed and an order issued by the county judge suspending the said R. Mueller. On Tuesday the board selected Anton Rimpler as clerk to serve during the remainder of the school year. This case which has long attracted attention through the perverseness of the clerk, is, we hope, ended.”
Gustav Mueller moved to Menasha shortly after the bruhaha. Richard, however, remained in Princeton to operate the drug store. He also spent considerable time on his collection of American Indian artifacts.
“R. Mueller has one of the finest collections of Indian relics, etc. to be found in the state,” the Republic reported in August 1890. “He has several copper and iron specimens, as well as several articles of petrification. Among his collection is a ‘memorial piece,’ one of the two known to have been found in the state.”
The collection was later donated to a museum in Oshkosh, but local historian Joe Wyse told me a short time ago that the entire collection has gone missing over the years.
The most interesting story about Richard Mueller’s life in Princeton, in my opinion, occurred in summer 1890 when he and an uncle, Ephraim Mueller (father of future Mayor Erich Mueller), bade adieu to their friends here and started for Germany to visit the Fatherland.
It was a short trip. The Muellers missed their rail connection in Chicago and stayed overnight at a boarding house. The Republic shared the story with its readers:
Princeton Republic, July 10, 1890: “They were discovered the next morning asphyxiated with gas. It required several hours of hard work to bring Mr. E Mueller through; Richard being nearer an open transom was not so badly affected. Mr. E. Mueller returned home Tuesday evening, having completed his trip to Germany at a rate that throws Twain’s trip ‘round the world in the shade.”
The Muellers reportedly started for home together but were separated, and several days later Richard still had not returned. Frank Mueller went to Milwaukee to look for Richard but could not find any trace of him.
Princeton Republic, July 17, 1890: “The suspense, however, as to his whereabouts was relieved Saturday by a telegram from Milwaukee announcing that he was in that city under the protection of the police, destitute of money and in a plight showing pretty rough usage. His brother, Herman, of Ripon, took the first train for Milwaukee after the reception of the telegram Saturday morning and returned with Richard to Princeton Monday noon. Herman Mueller reports the case as follows, gathering the facts mostly from Richard’s statement. It appears that on the return of Mr. E. Mueller that he supposed Richard had come on to Milwaukee, but in that he was mistaken. Nothing particular happened until they reached Oak Creek between Racine and Milwaukee. As the train stopped at the station Richard left the coach. He was immediately accosted by two strangers who invited him over to a restaurant to have a glass of lemonade. While in the restaurant the train started, but the strangers informed him that another train would soon pass, and the delay would be but for a short time. From that time his train of recollection seems to have broken. That lemonade manipulated by strangers probably fixed him. He has indistinct recollection of being put aboard some kind of vehicle and being driven off. When he came to himself, he was wandering in the woods. His money, some $300, and his gold watch were gone. Nothing was left on him in the shape of clothing except his pants, shirt and hat, even his shoes being taken. His shirt cuffs and buttons and collar buttons were all gone, and he was wandering aimlessly and had been for probably three days and nights. Coming out of his dazed condition he sought relief at a farm house and making known his condition and who he was and what happened, his case appeared to excite sympathy and he was put on a train and sent on to Milwaukee, where he placed himself in the hands of the police requesting them to notify his Princeton friends as to where he could be found. His condition on Saturday was pretty tough. His feet were lacerated and what clothing he had was torn, and he looked as though he had been reaping bitter misfortune in some shape.”
The culprits were never caught, and Richard returned to his life in Princeton. When the Turners celebrated their 17th anniversary in 1891, Richard was the main speaker as the grounds about Turner Hall (429 West Water Street) were lighted with Chinese lanterns.
Richard’s health took a turn for the worse in March 1893. He had for some time been bothered by an “abnormal growth” afflicting his throat and the roots of his tongue and, after various consultations with doctors about the cancer, went to Chicago for surgery. The first reports said Richard was doing well, but the prognosis changed quickly. The family was told he was in critical condition.
Richard Mueller, 41, died about 10 p.m. Sunday, April 1, 1893, in Chicago.