Did you know the buildings at 513-519 West Water Street are the oldest buildings in Princeton’s historic downtown? They were built by Salem Wright in 1859-1860. A history of Princeton published in 1869 by the Princeton Republic says the east building was built first, followed by the west building the following year.
The Republic lists the “double building” as the 13th built in Princeton and the first built of brick and stone. The wooden buildings built before Wright’s brick building were either moved, razed or destroyed by fire as the downtown developed.
The bricks for Wright’s buildings were burned in kilns near August Swanke’s wagon factory on the West Side and at the junction of Warner’s Creek with the Fox River at the south edge of town. The stone was procured from the quarry of F. Bandt about two miles southeast of town.
The buildings were used primarily as dry goods stores in the early days and later housed a bakery, barber shop and other businesses. The upstairs provided a hall for meetings and celebrations. Farewell dances were held in the “brick building” for soldiers marching off to the Civil War, and the women of Princeton would gather there to roll linen bandages for the war effort.
Wright traded the double building in the 1860s for land owned by John Demell near Peoria, Illinois. The buildings were changed so much over the years that when the Princeton Downtown Business District was added to the federal registry of historic places, 515-519 was listed as “non-contributing.”
If you spot an error in my list, please let me know. I will update and re-post. We need to be as accurate as possible when recording our past. Thanks for reading and caring about local history!