I blame, or credit, Laura Skalitzky and Tracy Ebert for sending me on this fun tangent. First, Laura posted the photo of “The First House in Princeton” on Facebook. Then Tracy messaged me asking if I had any additional information. I said I didn’t, but the cabin most likely was just east of the bridge, on the north side of Main Street.
I had seen the photo previously, in the city’s quasquicentennial booklet published in 1973. It raises more questions than it answers. Does the line “The First House in Princeton” refer to the city, which would be founder Royal Treat’s cabin, or the township, which would be John Winchell’s cabin at highways 23 and 73 three miles east?
I assumed, and I know that’s dangerous, the photo was supposedly Treat’s cabin, but I wondered who the kids were. Neither Treat nor his brother Henry were married when they founded Princeton in 1848-49, nor was the second white settler, Nelson Parsons. John Knapp and John Ross and their wives arrived next. I don’t believe Knapp had young children at the time. Jackson Ross was the first child born in Princeton, but I have had little luck learning more about the Rosses.
Perhaps the photo was taken well after 1850, well after Treat had started a family. We know from newspaper reports that he moved into a frame house on East Water Street in the ‘60s.
Nevertheless, I did some quick research about the first building erected in what became the city of Princeton.
The earliest history of Princeton, “The History of Green Lake County,” was written in 1860 by attorney John Gillespy. He said Treat built his shanty and then a “substantial log hut” on Block B (north of Main Street, east of the bridge, the first block east of the Fox beyond the water lots that lined the river).
Next up was the “History of Green Lake and Waushara Counties and the City of Ripon” published by Edgar Fox and W.T Dudley in 1869. They said Treat built his shanty “opposite the house of E. Manthey, Main Street, east of the bridge.”
The “Portrait and Biographical Album of Green Lake, Marquette and Waushara Counties,” published in 1890 by Acme Publishing Company of Chicago said Treat staked out a claim on Block B and put up his first shanty on Main Street near the bridge, “nearly opposite” the E. Manthey residence.
The final 19th century source I rechecked, and to me the most accurate, was the “Bird’s-Eye View of the History of Princeton” published by the Princeton Republic, in 1869. I consider it the most reliable history because the author, whom I assume was editor Thomas McConnell, says he checked with the early settlers to ensure its accuracy. Treat was still living in Princeton and advertising in the Republic; in fact, McConnell’s office for a time was in a building owned by Treat. It seems logical to me that Treat was a source for the history and would’ve seen the history before it was printed or demanded a correction if he saw any serious errors after it was printed.
The Republic’s history noted that “this shanty, the first building erected in Princeton, was put up in front of the house owned and occupied by Ernst Manthey, in Main Street on the east side of the bridge.”
In 1940, when the Princeton Times-Republic reprinted the 1869 history and listed who then occupied some of the historic sites mentioned in the “Bird’s-Eye View,” it reported the first building “must have been located near the present site of the Wegner service station, since Ernst Manthey (who was the father of the late Edw. Manthey) had his residence on the site of the present Henry Grams residence (now 640 West Water Street).”
The quasquicentennial booklet in 1973 said Treat staked out a claim on what was called Block B of the original plat and built a shanty in the approximate vicinity of “the Dizzy Bar of today.” The Dizzy Bar, since demolished, sat just east of the bridge, on the north side of Main Street.
Local historian Elaine Reetz in 1977 wrote in the Fox River Patriot that Treat built his cabin “west of the present Dizzy Bar.”
So, where do we go from here?
It is telling, in my opinion, that the Republic’s history does not mention Block B. The newspaper’s history very well could’ve been an attempt to correct the earlier versions, but that is just my speculation.
Remember, too, that there was no Block B, no lots, no streets, no landmarks when Treat built his cabin. Princeton’s original plat wasn’t completed until about a year later. When I read the Republic’s 1869 history the first time, I assumed “in” Main Street was a typo. But it could literally mean “in” the street. The railroad depot built in 1872 was placed practically in the middle of Main Street, near Mechanic, for example.
The histories use Ernst Manthey’s residence as a reference point. The Times-Republic’s 1940 history determined Manthey lived at 640 West Water Street, which at that point was the Grams property.
The 1892 illustrated map of Princeton, the 1901 plat map and an early 1900s photo give us various perspectives of the area in question.
The Times-Republic from 1940 also concluded the cabin rested near the site of Wegner’s Shell station. Here’s what I tracked down about Wegner’s Shell station:
Princeton Republic, Nov. 20, 1930 – “The Shell Oil & Gasoline company are engaged in the construction of a filling station on corner of Main and Mechanic streets on the property formerly owned by Mrs. Wm. Lueck. Alfred Sommerfeldt will be at the head of the station when completed.”
Princeton Republic, Dec. 25, 1930 – “The filling station, corner of Main and Mechanic streets, was recently completed and opened for business. The building is of steel and stucco construction and adds to the beauty of that section of the city. Alfred Sommerfeldt has taken over the lease hold of the building and deals in the Shell Oil company products.”
Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 12, 1935 – “Harold Wegner has taken over the Shell Gas and Oil Service Station on Main Street.”
It gets confusing from there, as another station, built in 1926 near the bridge at Water and Main by Julius Schalow, also became a Shell station in the 1930s. But, after consulting local historian extraordinaire Joe Wyse, I believe it’s safe to say Wegner’s station was located at 631 West Main Street, where Mike Kallas operates Mike’s Payless Auto Services today.
Unfortunately, we most likely will never know if the photo truly shows Treat’s cabin or exactly where the cabin was located. We just don’t have enough information.
My conclusion is that Princeton’s first building most certainly was not west of the former Dizzy Bar nor on the Dizzy Bar property. I also don’t believe it was in Block B.
Instead, I accept the 1940 Times-Republic’s location – 631 West Main Street – but possibly a few yards north, overlapping at least part of the future Main Street, not too far from the southeast corner of Block B.
Perhaps the most accurate description is to say Treat erected Princeton’s first building “in the vicinity of the intersection of Main and Mechanic streets.” That’s probably how I will phrase it in my book.
Thank you, Laura and Tracy.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
What say you?