Back to the plaques.
The researchers who compiled the City of Princeton’s Historical Walking Tour whiffed on the early history of this venerable building, home now to Once in a Blue Moon Restaurant.
The building was not built in 1884.
The building was not once a prominent downtown hotel.
The building is not in the State Historical Registry.
Fred Schendel, a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War, began excavation of the building at 538 Water in May 1877.
“Fred Schendel has commenced operations on the basement wall of his building, next west of (Thomas) Williams’ building,” The Princeton Republic reported.
The work progressed slowly through the summer and fall.
“The Ponto-Schendel block approaches completion,” the Republic reported on Dec. 21.
The double building included a saloon in the west room and dry goods business in the east room.
Fred Schendel also built another double building (now vacant lot with the cool painted fence) at 530-536 just east of his first store in 1880.
The Republic reported on July 1, 1880, that Schendel was tearing down the two-story building just east of his block to make room for a “business house of more modern style.”
Schendel obtained the property from Thomas Williams, whose building was the third store built in Princeton after its founding.
The Princeton Republic in 1869 published a history of Princeton that described the structure:
“Philo M. Knapp first made his appearance in the summer of 1849 and in that fall built a small frame shanty which he soon stocked with 1 barrel whiskey, 1 box stick candy, 1/2 barrel white fish, 50 pounds assort nuts, 4,000 cheroot cigars, 1 box T.D. clay pipes and one box smoking tobacco.”
The shanty and an adjacent building eventually passed to Princeton founder Royal C. Treat, who traded them both to Williams for a horse in 1852. Williams consolidated the buildings for his boot, shoe and harness shop, and dwelling. He retained ownership until selling to Schendel in 1880.
The foundation was completed in July. Schendel began veneering the building with brick in September. The wind toppled the brick on the front of the building in October when the mortar had not hardened enough due to damp weather.
Schendel operated a saloon and billiard hall for a while but expanded his reach in July 1881.
“Schendel has been carrying hotel furniture into his building, and the prospects are favorable for the opening of his hotel soon. In point of fact it is opened,” the Republic reported.
The City Hotel a few months later added a large barn on Main Street “for the accommodations of the traveling public.”
Schendel in 1885 “made changes to his establishment that almost gives it the appearance of a new house,” the Republic reported. “Fred proposes to have matters handy at his hotel.”
Schendel announced plans to retire in 1890 and leased the “City Hotel” to August Schilling, of Wauwatosa. Schilling erected a new sign: “The Commercial.”
Schilling left town abruptly in 1891, leaving several in “the soup” here, according to the newspaper, and Schendel resumed management of the hotel.
Jacob Messing took possession of the Commercial Hotel on July 1, 1893, but Schendel returned within two years. For many years the building was home to the Schendel family jewelry business as well.
Schendel finally retired in 1914, selling the hotel and tavern to Fred Breivogel, of Waupun.
It’s unclear what the plaque writer meant about a State Historical Registry. The Princetown Downtown Business District is on the National Registry, but 538 is “non-contributor” to that honor, meaning it had changed too much to retain its historical significance. It is listed on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Architecture and History Inventory, a digital library of more than 148,000 buildings, structures and objects throughout Wisconsin. So is my house, but that’s a future blog topic.