The most difficult part of researching Princeton’s history is separating fact from fiction. So much lore has been intertwined with history over the years that it is sometimes difficult to separate the two.
It becomes especially difficult when local tales do not match historical documents such as property records, government documents and newspaper reports. Storytellers and songwriters ensure folk tales are remembered; historians tell us whether they are true.
I have mentioned in previous posts that I cringe whenever I hear someone claim a person, business or anything was the “first” in Princeton. Those claims are usually based on oral tradition rather than fact.
Two prominent examples in local histories of “Old Princeton” are early settlers Silas Eggleston, who arrived in 1856, and Herman E. Megow, who arrived in 1873.
It has been reported that Eggleston operated the first trading post on the Fox River and built it on land he purchased from Princeton founder Royal Treat on or near the site of the first log cabin in Princeton. Both claims are inaccurate.
Megow has been described as Princeton’s first barber and cigar store operator. He was neither.
Make no mistake. Eggleston and Megow were both important contributors to the history of Princeton, especially the history of Water Street businesses.
Eggleston owned at least three buildings on Water Street, built the downtown’s 14th building in 1858, and dealt in wheat, potatoes, produce, groceries, dry goods, hides and furs over the years. He ran a saloon for a year and dry goods stores for many years. He owned a large farm in the town of St. Marie, converted Princeton’s original foundry into a store and residence, owned the land where an overall and shirt factory was built, and had a small building near the bridge and warehouse near the railroad track.
Megow was a justice of the peace for 50 years! He also served as director of the school board for several terms and as village clerk. His photography still provides historians with insights into our past, and the long articles he wrote for the Princeton Republic on issues such as prohibition, moving pictures and World War I tell us much about the mood of Princeton during key moments in its history.
There is no need to embellish the accomplishments of Eggleston and Megow. Mixing fiction with fact only muddies their contributions, in my humble opinion.
Herman E. Megow
The “fake news” about Megow stems, I believe, from the section published by the Princeton Times-Republic in 1948 celebrating the centennial of the city’s founding: “Judge H.E. Megow had an interesting and varied career in both politics and business. He opened Princeton’s first barber shop and conducted its first cigar store.”
The Megow lore was picked up by area historian Elaine Reetz, who interviewed Megow’s son, Herman A., or “Ham,” for columns and books she published in the 1970s and 1980s.
“The Trail of the Serpent,” written by Reetz and Robert Gard and published in 1973, includes a section on Megow. In it, Ham Megow says his father, who was born in Posen, Germany, in 1852 and came to the U.S. with his parents at age 2, arrived in Princeton in 1878. The story mentions Megow worked as a barber and sold real estate and insurance but focuses largely on H.E. Megow’s role as country photographer capturing scenes of life in the Princeton area.
In Volume II of “Come Back in Time,” published in 1982, Reetz reported “Megow opened Princeton’s first barbershop, conducted its first cigar store and also a cranberry brokerage business.” The article said Megow began his photography career in 1878.
The Megow tale has been accepted and shared as well, without documentation, by the local historical society and cemetery walk organizers.
Stories published in the early days of the Princeton Republic, however, refute key parts of the Megow tale.
It seemed illogical that a community founded in 1848 would not have a resident barber until 1878, which is when Herman E. Megow arrived in Princeton, according to his son’s account, and we can easily verify that Megow arrived in 1873 and was not the first barber.
Princeton Republic, Jan. 8, 1870 – C.M. Montgomery, Fashionable barber and hairdresser. Demel’s Block, Water Street, Princeton, Wis.
Princeton Republic, Aug. 3, 1872 – “Mr. A. Parker is running a barber shop in Hubbard’s block. We hear him well spoken of by some of our young men who patronize him.” (I believe Parker’s first name was Addison, but I have been unable to confirm that.)
On June 14, 1873, the newspaper’s Local Matters column reported simply “A new barber in town,” and the Republic began running the following ad: “Barber shop. In Hubbard’s block opposite the hotel. Herman Megow has opened a barber shop on Water Street opposite the hotel, where he may be found at all reasonable hours ready to do his duty in his profession.”
The advertisement changed several months later.
Princeton Republic, March 14, 1874 – “Barber shop. Having removed my shop to the west room of the Williams block, on Water Street, I will be ready at all reasonable hours to duty in my profession. Shaving and hair cut to order. Next! Herman Megow”
Megow moved his barber shop again in 1874, to 541 West Water Street, one door east of the Union Harness Shop. The building was built in 1858 by Silas Eggleston.
In 1876 Megow secured letters of patent for his hair restoration product, which he advertised heavily in the Republic.
Princeton Republic, May 20, 1876 – “Herman Megow is making money out of his hair restorer. When you get shaved have him put a little on your hair and whiskers, and the first mosquito that puts a foot on either will be sure to slip up and leave for other quarters.”
Megow got in the cigar business in 1881 when he purchased Charley Crane’s manufactory, located on the second floor of the Eggleston building. Crane had purchased the business from August Bartz in 1879.
Megow also purchased the Eggleston building in 1881.
Princeton Republic, June 23, 1881 – “H. Megow has moved into his building and is settling down to business ‘under his own vine and fig tree.”
He turned his attention toward more creative endeavors in the late 1880s. “H.E. Megow proposes to establish a business as an artist,” the Republic reported in June 1886.
Princeton Republic, August 19, 1886 – “H.E. Megow has been doing some fine work lately in enlarging photographs. He displays much artistic skill in that direction with the pencil. One he has completed for a brother in Iowa is excellent.”
Megow sold his barber shop to Otto Maulick in December and purchased the photo gallery of A.H. Noyes.
“Herman is conquering the mysteries of art, and in connection with his skill in wielding the brush will make the business flourish,” the Republic said.
Megow set up shop on the second floor of his building and hung a sign, the newspaper said, “that is conspicuous enough to arrest the attention of any person wanting photographs.”
Princeton Republic, Thursday, May 3, 1888 – “H.E. Megow has fitted up rooms in his building over Frank’s grocery for his photograph business and is moving into them today.”
Megow renovated his building in 1898, adding a third story with a skylight and 1858 capstone.
Princeton Republic, Aug. 5. 1898 – “Herman Megow will have his photo gallery nearer the sun than others, viz: in the third story.”
Reetz provided a colorful look at Megow’s work and his studio when she shared her visits with Ham for the article in “Come Back in Time, Volume II”:
“These pictures reveal many historical facts about the lives and homes of the settlers of seventy to one hundred years ago. The horse-drawn implements for working the land; the women in bustles, with fitted waists and high collars; all posting self-consciously, standing or seated on chairs or rockers. …
“The studio remained unchanged until recent decades. There were cameras and stacks of glass plates. A faded love seat and a carved chair used as props for wedding photographs stood dust covered and unused against the wall. The scenery pictures painted on the walls for background effect were dimming.”
(Herman A. Megow, who was a newsboy in Princeton during the Spanish-American War, noted in 1973 that he saved much of his father’s photography work and equipment, “for with no historical society in Princeton I wanted to preserve some tangible evidences of the past.” Megow’s glass-plate images and photo equipment became key parts of the Princeton Historical Society collection after the group formed in 1982.)
Herman E. Megow and his wife, Julie, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in the American Legion room (545 West Water Street) next door to their three-story block in 1930.
Megow ran for re-election as justice of the peace in 1932 at age 80.
Princeton Republic, March 31, 1932 – “Mr. Herman E. Megow has served this city in capacity of Justice of the Peace since 1884 and if again elected to the office he will have served the one-half century mark. Mr. Megow, although 80 years of age, has the ability and ambition to continue in the service of the public. In body he is physically fit and a mind alert should be able to render supreme service at this age. The Republic takes this opportunity to congratulate our neighbor Justice Megow upon this fine recognition and the fact that he has served Princeton people for nearly five decades is a tribute he can well be proud of.”
Megow won re-election but soon moved to South Milwaukee to live with his daughter. He was hospitalized at Mount Sinai in Milwaukee in July 1937 after suffering a stroke during an operation. He passed away in May 1938 at age 85. His obituary in the Princeton Times-Republic did not mention his early business ventures.
The next we hear of Herman E. Megow is the newspaper’s centennial edition 10 years after his death with claims that he was Princeton’s first barber and operated its first cigar store.
And the seed is sown.
It is interesting to note that by the third volume of Reetz’s works, which was published in 2000 and repackaged some of the pieces published previously, the reference to Megow being the first barber was changed to “the judge was one of the earliest barbers in Princeton.”
Silas M. Eggleston
Reetz also helped popularize Eggleston’s story, based primarily on interviews with his great grandson, Paul Ladwig, in the 1970s and 1980s, but it too strays from facts we can document by reviewing early editions of the local newspaper.
As noted above, Eggleston had diverse business interests and operated in multiple locations over his years in Princeton, so it easy to see how some of the facts got put into the grinder and produced, let’s say, “alternative facts.”
Eggleston was born in 1835 in New York and arrived in Princeton in 1856, eight years after Royal Clark staked the claim that became part of the original plat of Princeton.
“He is said to have entered the growing settlement poor – and he died poor – but in the intervening years he was known as one of the wealthiest men in the bustling community,” Reetz tells us in Volume II of “Come Back in Time.” “… When the leaves on the willow trees were as large as a squirrel’s ear, Indians visited Princeton every spring, coming by way of Lake Puckaway and the Fox River to barter their winter’s catch of fine furs for Si’s merchandise.”
Eggleston’s history is linked by Reetz to the Dizzy tavern, a onetime icon that stood just east of the Main Street bridge, on the north side of the road. The tavern previously had been a hotel operated by Eggleston’s son, DeWitt.
The story stated the Dizzy’s “bar room, which was the first Indian trading post, was built about 1860 by Silas Eggleston.”
And already it begins to unravel.
I am not sure what is meant by “the first Indian trading post.” In Princeton?
The City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour plaque states, “In 1860, Silas Eggleston built the first small Indian Trading Post along the Fox River.”
Neither the story nor plaque is accurate. Eggleston did not build anything near the future Dizzy location in 1860. And he certainly did not have the first Indian trading post on the Fox River or in Princeton. Princeton merchants were trading with American Indians from the time it was founded, eight years before Eggleston arrived. A fur trader helped build Princeton’s first store in 1849.
“Trading post” seems misleading, too. “General store” would be more accurate. Most of the early merchants traded with whites as well as Indians; trading and bartering were common business practices in most stores.
My first stop when checking Princeton’s early history is the “Bird’s Eye View of the Early History of Princeton,” published by the Princeton Republic in 1869 and reprinted a couple of times over the years since then.
There we learn that Eggleston built a store in 1858 – but in the 500 block of West Water Street, not by the bridge on Main Street:
“The fourteenth building in the line of business progression was put up by the indefatigable Silas M. Eggleston in ’58 or ’59, who, like Banquo’s ghost, would not back down at the bidding of sturdy opposition. The principal business carried on for perhaps a year, could best be gathered by the traveler as he closely scrutinized a moderately sized sign, ground work dark green, upon which were traced in backwoods characters of brownish yellow ochre, the words, ‘Princeton Saloon,’ honestly reminding those who were green enough to enter, that they would come hence, ‘done brown.’
“Soon after he purchased a small stock of goods at Portage, and has continued in the dry goods, grocery, crockery and notions trade, doing a remarkably successful business until now. Something over a year ago A.C., son of A.G. Hopkins, Esq., of the hardware firm of Hopkins & Son, of this village, became a partner with Eggleston, the firm name being Eggleston and Hopkins. They now have one of the largest stocks in town and are doing a driving business.”
How do we know the building Eggleston built was at 541 West Water Street rather than by the bridge? Property records at the county register of deeds office tell us so.
Eggleston purchased that part of water lot 25 (541 West Water) from Ira Sherman for $140 on May 3, 1858. (He sold it on May 10, 1881, to Herman E. Megow for $900.)
To add just a dash of confusion to this discussion, we should also note that Eggleston in December 1865 purchased the three-story stone building at 535 West Water Street, built by Christoph Krueger in 1860, for $325. (He sold it John Pahl in 1877 for $1,350 and bought it back in 1891 for $2,000.)
Eggleston did not even own lot 13, site of the future Dizzy tavern, until December 1875 when he purchased it from George Long, who had a one-story building at the east edge of the bridge for his furniture and carpentry business. He was also the bridge tender for a time.
Also, Royal Treat never owned Lot 13. The patent for the 127.7 acres that comprised the original plat of Princeton, east of the river, was issued to Henry Treat, Royal’s brother, in June 1849. Henry, in September, sold Lot 13 and four others to Philo M. Knapp for $40. The property passed through six other owners before Long sold it to Eggleston for $25. (He sold it in February 1907 to his son, DeWitt, for $100.)
The old building by the bridge was in bad shape in 1881. The Republic reported water had saturated the foundation of the building and it seemed ready to topple over. Eggleston said he was considering moving, repairing and expanding the building.
After Eggleston built a warehouse near the railroad track in September 1881, he utilized the room by the bridge to house a small stock of dry goods when he closed a store in the Demell block (513-519 West Water Street) in 1882 and later primarily for storage and office.
Princeton Republic, Aug. 9, 1888 – “The boys have taken particular pains to knock out the glass in Eggleston’s building at the bridge, and recently broke into the structure and stole all the paper rags stored there.”
In March 1889, Eggleston said he was having the old building at the east end of the bridge repaired. He added a stock of groceries in 1890 but vacated the store five years later when word leaked out that DeWitt Eggleston and Jessie Jackowski had been secretly married for two years and would live in the building near the bridge.
DeWitt Eggleston announced in December 1896 that he would serve supper and oyster stew at his place whenever there was a dance or similar entertainment. He moved the old building and built a two-story addition in 1898 and started renting out rooms. John Shew did the brick work for the foundation for a new furnace. The Republic called DeWitt’s building “a substantial improvement for that part of town.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 29, 1898 – “A new hotel sign adorns DeWitt Eggleston’s place.”
The hotel went through various names: Dewey Hotel, DeWitt’s Place, Riverside Hotel, First Chance-Last Chance and finally the Dizzy. Over the years it competed with the American House, City Hotel (aka Commercial Hotel) and Princeton Hotel for clientele.
Princeton Republic, April 10, 1902 – “Hotel accommodations are excellent, there being two that send buses to the depot to meet the trains – the American House in charge of H.K. Priest and the DeWitt House in charge of D.W. Eggleston. The Princeton House and Schendel’s hotel do not cater so much to the traveling public, yet they have a large list of steady boarders.”
Silas Eggleston sold the Eggleston & Son warehouse by the tracks to lumber merchant Frank Yahr and conducted most of his business in the early 20th century from the former foundry building he converted into a house and storefront at the corner of West Main Street and River Road. He got in trouble with city officials in 1903 because his hides and furs were obstructing the roadway.
The confusion concerning Eggleston’s dealings with the Indians stems, I believe, from the misconception that his “trading post” was located by the bridge. Eggleston’s site was more likely the two-story block he built at 541 West Water Street, where Herman A. Megow said Indians also stored their canoes over the winter, or the three-story stone block at 535 West Water.
Ernest Eggleston owned the property at 535 West Water (today the Sondalle law office) when it was sold at a foreclosure auction in 1920.
Princeton Times-Republic, Aug. 5, 1937 – Ernest Eggleston, of Madison, who is visiting relatives here and renewing old acquaintances, recalls early days in Princeton dating back half a century when his father, S.M. Eggleston, conducted a store where the Vic Yahr store is now located (535 West Water). He remembers how the Indians paddled their canoes almost to the back door of the store and brought in their furs to trade for groceries, tobaccos, traps and other necessities.”
Silas Eggleston passed away in 1928 at the age of 92 years, 4 months and 21 days. He had lived in Princeton for 72 years.
“Mr. Eggleston was one of our first citizens engaged in the general merchandise business in Princeton and followed this vocation for many years,” according to his obituary in the Republic. “Later he devoted his time in the grain and produce business.”
When DeWitt Eggleston passed in 1942, his obituary also noted that “his father, one of Princeton’s pioneer businessmen, for many years conducted a store on the site of the present Yahr store … The Dizzy tavern operated here by Mr. Eggleston was known not only as a hospitable place to stop but also for the owner’s ready wit and genial personality. He had a good memory and liked to tell of pioneer days in Princeton when Indians brought their furs to trade for supplies. He liked to travel and in his younger days lived at Southhampton, England.”
The Dizzy, then operated by Paul and Dolores Ladwig, was razed in 1983 when the Main Street bridge was replaced. Paul Ladwig was DeWitt’s grandson.