the commercial hotel

This photo, circa 1890s, shows the two buildings built by Frederick Schendel in the heart of Princeton’s downtown. The building at left that today houses Once in a Blue Moon restaurant was occupied primarily by saloons (west room) and dry goods stores (east room) in its early years. The building at right, which no longer exists, was the site of the City Hotel, later renamed the Commercial Hotel.

The fence painted with brightly colored flowers in the middle of the 500 block of West Water Street aptly reflects the lot’s colorful history.

Lot 4 of Block D is best remembered in Princeton history as the site of the City Hotel, later rebranded the Commercial Hotel. The hotel was built by Fred Schendel in 1880 on the site of Princeton’s third store, erected by Thomas Williams thirty years earlier.

I had been searching for a good photo of the hotel ever since the post in November about the City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour plaque that incorrectly says the hotel was located on the site of the Once in a Blue Moon restaurant (536-538 West Water Street). The hotel was one lot farther east.

A tip from Jan Gruenwald Manweiler led me to the Sondalle Law Office (535 West Water Street) where several large framed photos of Old Princeton are prominently displayed, including a beautiful photo of the Commercial Hotel that I believe came from the Herman E. Megow collection.

I reached out to picture owner and fellow Troop 25 Eagle Scout Mike Lehner for a “good turn,” and he graciously allowed me to borrow the picture for the weekend to get it digitized and available for both my blog and book, which is in the final stage of production before it goes to press. 

Historic lot

Thomas Williams, among Princeton’s earliest settlers, purchased the property from Princeton founder Royal Treat in May 1850 (Deeds, Volume L, Page 232). Treat had purchased the lot from John D. Jarvis, who later owned the Jarvis House, predecessor to the American House at 444 West Water Street. 

Earlier owners of the property in those first few months were Henry Treat, who obtained the patent for Princeton’s original plat in 1849, Ferdinand Durand, who operated Princeton’s first store – across the street from the future hotel site, and Salem Wright, who built the downtown’s first brick building at 513 West Water in 1859.

The early history of Princeton printed by the Princeton Republic in 1869 – “A Bird’s Eye View of the History of Princeton as Detailed by Early Settlers” – states that the future hotel property was the site of Princeton’s third store, the combination of a shanty built by Philo M. Knapp in 1849 and a one-story building erected by Durand, who used the front for storage and the rear as a dwelling. (Knapp stocked the shanty with one barrel of whiskey, one box of stick candy, one-half barrel of white fish, 50 pounds of assorted nuts, 4,000 cigars, one box of clay pipes and one box of smoking tobacco.)

According to property records at the county register of deeds office, Williams paid Royal Treat $150 for the property. The Republic’s history states that Treat traded the property for a horse. 

Williams combined the Knapp and Durant buildings into one large building, erecting a second story to help merge the buildings, for two businesses and residential space.

In 1870 Williams operated a boot and shoe shop in the east room and rented the west room to Theodore Slater, who specialized in carriage trimming, upholstery and harnesses. Slater was followed two years later by Calvin Jones, who opened a restaurant, and in 1875 by baker John Hennig. August Bartz moved his cigar manufactory to the Williams block in 1878.

Williams, who was born in England, was in the news more often for his lawsuits against the Chicago & North Western Railroad than his shoe-and-boot business. He long contended that the railroad failed to properly compensate him for the land it took when laying track in Princeton in 1872. In December 1876 he commenced 13 lawsuits against people going to the railroad’s elevator to unload produce, claiming they were using his land.

The circuit court judge appointed a commission to assess damages for land taken by the railroad. Williams said he was entitled to about $875 but settled for $250 and costs in 1881. He also was able to move his buildings from the small triangle at Main, Water and Mechanic streets and near the depot to lots farther north on Mechanic.

Williams moved to Germania in 1887 but left a dead horse in one of his buildings that village officials had to abate. He returned in 1888 to open a shoe and boot repair shop in his house on Mechanic Street.

Williams died in September 1897 at age 85.

The hotel

Williams sold his Water Street property to Frederick Schendel in January 1879 for $1,700 (Deeds, Volume 40, Page 254). 

Schendel started making major changes a year later. Demolition and foundation work occurred in summer 1880.

Princeton Republic, July 1, 1880 – “Fred Schendel is tearing down two-story building just east of his block to make room for a business house of more modern style. The old building that was razed to the ground was among the landmarks of Princeton and can be placed among the antiquities of this village. Ed Harroun has told us a bit of history of the old building which will prove of interest to the old settlers. Thirty years ago, in the spring of 1850, F. Durand built, opposite his store, a one-story building for storing goods and grain, the work being done by Chas. Stacey, now of Minnesota. The next fall P.M. Knapp built a one-story building next west and adjoining for a grocery. Knapp purchased the goods of George Parker to fill up his new room. We believe this was the first grocery store in Princeton. Some years after this date Thomas Williams bought both buildings, and employed Mr. Edward Hamer (since dead), father of our present townsman, Geo. T. Hamer, to consolidate both buildings into one by placing another story over the two. Mr. Williams occupied the new building as a boot, shoe, harness shop and dwelling for many years. At a quite recent date the property passed into the hands of Fred Schendel, the present owner, who as above recorded will soon have the last vestige of the old landmark moved away. But it is an age of progress, and one by one the old points, which have become interesting by their very age, have to yield and give room for the modern improvements that are better adapted to present use.”

The foundation was completed in July and the building veneered with brick in September. The brickwork had to be redone in October when a strong wind toppled much of it because the mortar had not hardened yet due to damp weather.

The City Hotel opened in July 1881 with little fanfare.

Princeton Republic, July 28, 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.”

Authors of “History of Northern Wisconsin,” published by the Chicago-based Western Historical Company in 1881, described the City Hotel as “a comfortable inn kept after the German fashion.” At the time it included 16 guest rooms as well as billiard and sample rooms, which both could get a little rowdy.

Princeton Republic, March 3, 1881 – “A hundred voices made music at Schendel’s billiard hall on Cattle Fair day.”

Schendel paid $5 fines on more than one occasion for keeping the saloon open past the 1880s closing time of 11 p.m.

Schendel bought a new wagon made at the shops of August Swanke on the west side and advertised a “Free ‘bus to the City Hotel” from the depot two blocks away. Schendel provided supper for the Schuetzen Verein dances and other events and in 1885 made additional improvements to his hotel.

Princeton Republic, March 5, 1885 – “Landlord Schendel has recently been bringing the carpenters into requisition and made changes in his establishment that almost gives it the appearance of a new house. Fred proposes to have matters handy in his hotel.”

Schendel added onto the rear of the hotel in 1888 and in 1890 leased the business to August Schilling, of Wauwatosa, for a “term of years,” according to the newspaper. Schilling coined the new name, Commercial Hotel, or The Commercial, but was gone in 16 months.

Princeton Republic, Aug. 27, 1891 – “The Commercial Hotel has again changed. A. Schilling has left it and it has gone back into the hands of Fred Schendel, the owner of the property. Schilling left some days ago and is supposed to be in Milwaukee. Being unable to make the hotel business pay here, he has quit and left several in ‘the soup’ financially.”

Schendel rented his store room to various businesses over the years, including J.F. Warnke, who sold dry goods there in 1892, Otto Goldfuss, who opened a jewelry store there in 1893, and Gus Krause, who operated a bakery and restaurant there beginning in 1901.

The hotel was being managed by Schendel’s wife, Henrietta, and Bertha Voss, mother of local German teacher Theodore Voss, when they changed the name in 1895 to the Commercial House.

Schendel installed acetyline lighting throughout the hotel in 1898 and upgraded to electricity in 1902. He remodeled the front of the building in 1903.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 29, 1903 – “Shew & Craw have completed the work on the new glass front for Fred Schendel, the proprietor of the Commercial House. It gives the hotel a beautiful appearance.”

Goldfuss’ clock

I must digress for a moment at this point to share a story about Otto Goldfuss, the jeweler mentioned above, whose “historical clock” was his pride and joy. The clock was 16 feet tall and weighed nearly a ton. It was illuminated by electric lights with the electricity generated by a small dynamo in the clock.

“It is an ingenious contrivance and worthy of examination,” the Republic reported.

Goldfuss’ original creation came to an untimely end in April 1895 after the jeweler, who closed out his inventory to Schendel and planned to take the clock on tour, distributed handbills throughout Montello announcing that his historical clock would be exhibited there on a Saturday night.

“Early Saturday morning the clock was placed in a wagon and Mr. Goldfuss and party started for Montello,” the Republic reported. “The clock must have had a good shaking up on the way for when it was placed in position in the hall, the whole contrivance collapsed and was broken in a thousand pieces.”

Goldfuss and his workmen rebuilt the clock, according to the newspaper “on a more elaborate scale,” and when completed held a successful exhibition at Turner Hall.

Now back to our story:

Fred Schendel

Fred Schendel was born near Dreisen (then part of Prussia; now Drezdenko, Poland) in 1845. One profile published in the Republic said he was 11 years old when his mother died and 14 when his father passed, but his obituary indicated both parents died when he was 9.

“With these disadvantages Mr. Schendel started to carve a name and fortune in life,” the profile published by the Princeton Republic in March 1902 noted. “In 1860 he spent three years learning the mason trade which he pursued for a number of years with good success.”

Schendel’s first major building contract was for a church in Ludom (now Ludomy, Poland). Many of the early Polish immigrants who settled in Princeton came from the Ludom area.

The young mason moved to Warsaw in 1864 and traded trowel for rifle in 1866, serving two years in the army during the Austro-Prussian War, also called the German Civil War, and earning a commission as an officer before being honorably discharged in 1868.

Schendel came to the U.S. and Princeton in 1870, married Henrietta Krause in 1871 at the home of Gustave Teske Sr. and worked as a mason before building his first business block at 536-538 West Water Street in 1877.

Schendel helped organize the Princeton Scheutzen Verein, or German shooting club, in 1876, served as its captain for many years and won the group’s shooting contest in June 1879 to earn the title of “king” during the annual Schuetzenfest celebration.

Like many Princeton families, the Schendels were decimated by diphtheria in 1881, losing all three of their children at the time to the disease. Another son, Carl, arrived later.

Schendel departed Princeton for Chicago and then Germany in August 1895 to travel with the German Kruegerverein (veterans association) to participate in celebrations – Sedan-Feier – commemorating the victories over the French and Napoleon in the war of 1870. He was the only veteran from Wisconsin to attend the event.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 24, 1895 – “Fred Schendel returned from his trip to Germany Friday and reports having had a grand time with his old comrades in Germany. … One side of Mr. Schendel’s coat is well covered with medals which were presented him at various places in Germany. He had the pleasure of seeing and conversing with Emperor William and Prince Bismarck and other notables.”

Schendel returned home just in time for his silver wedding anniversary celebration, which the Republic described as one of the largest to ever take place in Princeton. 

Schendel returned to Germany in 1900 and visited the Paris Exposition during his trip. He was in the spotlight again in 1902.

“When (Prussian) Prince Henry was recently making his tour through the state Mr. Schendel was nominated as flag bearer for him at Milwaukee,” the Republic reported. “On account of their not having a German flag there, the prince announced him as lieutenant and bearer of the American flag. Princeton feels proud of the distinction and honor conferred upon our Mr. Schendel and he has received daily congratulations from his many friends here and especially from the old settlers.”

Schendel’s other local business ventures included opening a saloon on the west side, owning a share of the brewery for about six months in 1893, and transforming the former Schuetzen Hall east of the intersection of Main and Second streets into two store buildings with living space overhead each in 1895. The Princeton cigar factory of A. Ziebell & Co. moved into one of the spaces in 1896.

“Mr. Schendel takes great interest in our town and country and does all he can in a business and social way to build it up,” the Republic noted in 1902.

Schendel also operated a jewelry store with his son, Carl. They sold and repaired watches and clocks, sold phonographs and sewing machines, and in 1909 added Columbia double-disc records – a different selection on each side – at 65 cents each.

Fred and Henrietta Schendel retired in 1914.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 22, 1914 – “F. Breivogel and family, of Waupun, came here last week and took possession of the Commercial Hotel owned by Fred Schendel who with his good wife conducted the hotel for a great number of years and have during their business career gained many friends and large circle of acquaintance. Mr. and Mrs. Schendel will retire from actual business.”

The Schendels had 13 children, but Carl was the only one who lived to adulthood. He took full control of the “jewelry and gents sports goods” store, formerly F. Schendel & Son, in 1915.

(I am just guessing, but the people on the balcony in the photo above could be hotel owners Fred and Henrietta Schendel and their son Carl, who was born in 1888.)

Fred Schendel passed away in March 1924 at age 78. The obituary in the Republic said Schendel “was a man of generous impulses and never forgot the hospitable ways of the pioneer. The stranger, even though a beggar, never failed to find food and shelter if he sought it at his hands, and he was at home by the bedside of the sick, and delighted in all kinds of neighborly offices.”

By the time of this photo, circa 1907, the Commercial Hotel (11th storefront from right) no longer includes a balcony and features a new roof line and peak.

New businesses

It is unclear when the hotel closed, but Breivogel moved on to the Buckhorn in 1925, the same year that Carl Schendel announced his retirement and held an auction to liquidate his inventory. A well-known grocery store – Princeton’s first major chain store – moved into the building’s east room in 1927. 

Princeton Republic, March 10, 1927 – “The east half building of Mrs. Fred Schendel was recently rented to the A & P chain of grocery and fruit stores. The room is now being remodeled and shelving and counters will be provided by the lease holders. The building, we are informed, will be ready for occupancy within a few weeks.”

The Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company installed new shelving in March, gave the front of the store a fresh coat of red paint, and brought three large truckloads of groceries to Princeton. The store served Princeton area residents for nearly 17 years, closing on January 29, 1944.

Princeton Times-Republic, Feb. 3, 1944 – “The Atlantic & Pacific Tea Store has become a war casualty due to the help shortage. They closed their store last Saturday night. Ernie Schnell, the manager, will move to Fond du Lac where he will be employed in the meat department of the A & P store there until he is inducted in the army.”

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Ladwig (Sr.) opened a restaurant and ice cream parlor in the west half of the building in April 1926 and installed a new soda water fountain “of the very latest design” in 1928.

Ladwig sold the restaurant to his brother, Max, of Columbus, in January 1929, saying he planned to enter the real estate business. Max “Moxie” Ladwig operated the restaurant for about eight years before selling the business to Robert Semro to devote more time to his Pleasant Valley Pavilion, later renamed Pye Alley Club and known simply as Pye Alley.

Princeton Republic, June 17, 1937 – “Max Ladwig has announced the sale of the Pal Restaurant to Robert Semro, the new owner to take possession July 1. Mr. Semro, we understand, will conduct the business as a tavern (Bob’s Tavern). Mr. Ladwig states that the sale of the restaurant will enable him to give all of his attention to his tavern and dance pavilion at Pleasant Valley, where he contemplates extensive improvements in the near future. He plans to erect a new fireproof building on the property adjoining the pavilion, with the tavern occupying the first floor and living quarters on the second floor.”

Carl Schendel, who lost part of an ear and suffered a head injury in a hunting accident, was deemed incompetent in 1936, and the building was sold in foreclosure for $5,600 to Barney and Mary Priske (Deeds, Volume 99, Page 45). An auction of the Schendel household goods was held in October at the corner of Water and Pearl streets in November.

I have not researched beyond 1939, but we know from property records that the Priskes sold to Arthur Dreblow in January 1954 (Deeds, Volume 134, Page 21) and from the Princeton quasquicentennial booklet  that Wilsey’s Furniture and Center Tavern occupied the west and east room, respectively, in 1973.

I don’t have information on when the building was demolished – only that it was done prior to 1996 – but will update the blog when I find it.

Thanks for reading and caring about local history.

The former Commercial Hotel property, between Blue Moon restaurant, left, and Bentley’s Pharmacy.

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