The “Boomtown” style building was built in 1865 by the McCormick brothers, Thomas and Peter, as a shoe and boot shop. It is the oldest wood-frame building remaining in the Water Street business district.
The building is mentioned in the history of Princeton first published by the Princeton Republic in 1869: “In 1865, the McCormick brothers erected a shoe shop near Green’s elevator and it has since been used as such.”
It is unclear how long the brothers, both Civil War veterans born in Ireland, operated the shop together, but in 1878 the Princeton Republic reported Peter McCormick had a boot and shoe shop in the old McCormick building.
Johnny Carr moved his barber shop there in 1885. The 1892 and 1898 Sanborn maps list a confectionary as located there, and the 1904 and 1914 maps list it as a cobbler shop. Vincent Krysinski was the last cobbler to occupy the building.
Another barber purchased the building in 1924.
Princeton Republic, June 5, 1924: “Recently a deal consummated between John Roberts and the McCormick estate the former took over the property of the latter on lower Water Street recently vacated by V. Krysinski shoe shop. The building will undergo improvements in the interior as well as exterior.”
Roberts, who was raised on a farm in St. Marie Township, started barbering in Princeton in 1901 and went into business for himself in 1904. For many years his shop was in the Theodore Bednarek building at 608 West Water Street.
Roberts opened for business at 613 West Water Street on June 23, 1924. His son, John Kenneth Roberts, joined him in 1930. John and Ken Roberts were both musicians and local history buffs, and loved to spin a yarn, according to the Republic editors.
In 1910 Roberts and fellow Princeton barbers Ed Hennig and H.E. Tucker raised the price for a shave to 10 cents, plus five cents for a hot towel. The price for a shave was 20 cents in 1933, when a haircut cost 40 cents.
Roberts added a plate glass front to his shop in 1940. He was mentioned quite often in the newspaper’s “Seen and Heard Around Town” column started by H.H. Hobart, publisher of the Princeton Times-Republic. The column successfully mixed news with humor and opinion.
Princeton Times-Republic, August 19, 1943: “To save himself from embarrassment in the future, John Roberts says that he is going to wear suspenders the next time he takes a physical examination that calls for putting his arms up in the air.”
Roberts gave up the shop to another longtime Princeton barber, Edward “Tiff” Kolleck in the 1950s.
John Roberts passed away in 1964 and is buried in St. John the Baptist Catholic Cemetery in Princeton.