EARLY AUTO GARAGES

Princeton Motors, southeast corner of Water and Washington streets.

A previous recent post discussed the early manned drive-in gas stations that replaced roadside or curbside pumps. By the end of the 1920s most local filling stations had become service stations.

Garages, for this article, are best described as facilities that focused primarily on auto repairs and sales as well as maintenance. Some also provided storage space for cars during winter in the early years when cars were primarily fair-weather vehicles. Some also repaired and sold tractors and farm machinery.

Research about the garages is ongoing, as there are questions that I still cannot answer, such as when the Highway 23 Garage opened or when the Washington Street Garage was demolished. (Please keep in mind my research only goes through 1939 at this point.)

Nevertheless, in keeping with the auto theme of the gas station post that was so popular, here’s a glance at the early garages I found during my research. I am breaking this into two posts. Today’s post traces the beginnings of the larger garages most often recalled by local historians.

Washington Street Garage

Bert Shew, architect and builder, erected the first garage in Princeton dedicated primarily to sales, service and repair of autos in 1909 on Washington Street, about midblock between Water and Main. (I believe the capstone sits outside the Princeton Historical Society’s buildings on the “crooked end” of Water Street.) Buildings containing Fred Sommer’s buggies and other items were moved toward Frank Borsack’s blacksmith shop at Main and Washington to make room for Shew’s concrete block machine shop and garage.

The Princeton Republic reported in November 1909 that the machinery and turning lathe had arrived for the Shew & Yahr Automobile Garage. Shew opened a roller-skating rink on the second floor, which the high school athletic club also reserved for its basketball practices.

Princeton Republic, March 3, 1910 – “Dr. A. G. Giese has purchased a beautiful Buick Touring Car of the Princeton Auto Co. of which B. Shew and V. Yahr are co-partners.”

Shew built another two-story building adjoining the garage in 1910 for the implement dealership of Lambrecht & Krueger before buying out partner Victor Yahr. Lambrecht & Krueger eventually also sold autos.

Princeton Republic, August 4, 1910 – “Messrs. Lambrecht & Krueger are busily engaged in the erection of a modern and up-to-date implement and machinery building at their old stand adjoining the Princeton Garage. The building will be 33×65 two-story, brick and cement blocks. Architect B.H. Shew has the contract.”

The garage then went through a dizzying parade of managers and owners. The garage managers included Victor F. Yahr, Albert Francikowski, W.P. Wilson, J. Bernecki and Herman J. Bernharndt.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 13, 1910 – “Victor Yahr sold his interest in the Princeton Auto Garage last week to Bert Shew. The company was organized last spring and they can boast of having done a splendid business in the sale of automobiles and supplies.”

Harry Drake arrived in June 1915 as the new machinist and gasoline engine man at the Washington Street garage. He handled all cars but specialized in Fords.

F.F. Krueger and William Grahn took over the Washington Street property in 1916 after Drake purchased and moved into the building at 435 West Water Street.

Princeton Republic, June 8, 1916 – “This week the garage on Washington Street opened under the firm name of Krueger & Grahn. They are now ready to serve the public with a full line of auto accessories, oils, gasoline, and guarantee service in repairing autos and all kinds of machinery at a very reasonable price. … The garage is to be overhauled and later another addition is to be built on it. It is a building now 55 by 80 feet with a large amount of space for storing cars. The firm say that they will run a livery in connection with their auto business and give the best of attention to all cars left in their care for storage or repairs. Krueger & Grahn have the agency for the famous Overland autos and have cars on exhibition and will give those interested demonstrations with this popular car. The firm will also carry a full line of farm machinery and do pump repair and general machinery repair work.”

The new owners built an addition to the rear of the garage to have more room for showing cars in the main front room. The 20-by-48-foot addition would be used as a machine shop and work room. A dance was held to christen Grahn’s Hall.

Princeton Republic, May 17, 1917 – “Wm. Schwenzer opened up a billiard and pool room above the Grahn garage lately. He has installed all fine and the latest type of tables and the hall presents a neat and up to the minute appearance.”

The garage went into foreclosure and was purchased by William Fenske in March 1934.

Princeton Republic, March 1, 1934 – “Wm. Fenske – Have taken over the garage of Wm. A Grahn and am in position to do all repairing of automobiles.”

I have not yet learned when the Washington Street building was demolished, but my theory for now, until my research gets further into the 1950s, is that it was removed as Luke Buchen moved Princeton Motors from Water and Washington streets to Main Street (the current location of Gagne Ford).

We know Buchen bought two garages on Main Street to make room for the new garage and sales lot. In 1954, he purchased the Jule Fenske property, previously known as the Highway 23 Garage, at auction. He made another move a year later:

Princeton Times-Republic, May 12, 1955 – “The Erich Rick property, now operated as a Cities Service station by Clarence Gallert, was sold last week to Luke Buchen for an undisclosed sum. Luke has not made definite plans for the state, but in the future he hopes to tie it in with the operation of his new garage building adjacent to the corner.”

Drake’s Garage

Harry Drake left the Washington Street Garage in 1916 to open Drake’s Garage at 435 West Water Street.

Princeton Republic, Aug. 3, 1916 – “Last week Friday a deal was transacted between Mrs. H. Harmon and Harry Drake whereby the later took over the ownership of her building on Water Street. The building will be occupied by Mr. Drake and will be transferred into a modern garage.”

Princeton Republic, Nov. 2, 1916 – “The incorporation recently formed by the Drake Garage Co. are now engaged in the construction of a new garage on the old site formerly occupied by Mr. Drake. The building being built with solid brick will be 30×100 in dimensions and will be modern and up-to-date in every respect. The incorporators are Harry Drake, president; Mrs. Drake, vice president; Herman Lichtenberg, secretary and treasurer.”

Princeton Republic, Dec. 7, 1916 – “The new Drake’s Garage building which has been under construction for the past number of weeks has been completed recently and presents a very fine appearance and greatly adds to the appearance of the neighborhood. The building was constructed of cement and red brick front and is a one-story building. They have the sole agency for the Ford cars in this city and are in receipt of three carloads.”

Harry Drake left for Clintonville in January to work with the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company, later known as the FWD Corporation. Frank Nickodem, Herman Lichtenberg and A.A. Krueger kept the garage going. Lichteberg managed the Drake garage in Princeton and Krueger the garage in Wautoma.

The Drake Garage unveiled new Fordson tractors in June 1918 and sponsored a demonstration at the Anton Novak farm 2.5 miles east of Princeton in August. Farmers could “see this machine work, plow and haul.”

Just two weeks later, Nickodem, Lichtenberg and Krueger sold the garage.

Princeton Republic, Aug. 15, 1918 – “On last Monday a deal was consummated between Drake Garage Co. and A.E. Schultz, of Kewaunee, whereby the latter became the owner of the former stock, supplies, autos, etc. and will take possession on Monday, Aug. 19. … Mr. NIckodem going into Uncle Sam’s service as truck driver and Mr. Lichtenberg expecting his call at almost any date for the same position prompted the firm to dispose of their large business. Mr. Schultz, a former citizen of Neshkoro, has been engaged in the farm implement, auto and auto repair business for a large number of years.”

Schultz also occupied the brick building at 439 West Water Street (Embellished building in 2020) and installed a vulcanizing machine there in February 1919.

Princeton Republic, July 17, 1919 – “Last Sunday afternoon at about 2:30 o’clock our little city was thrown into a state of excitement when the fire alarm was sounded, and a fire was discovered in the lower rooms of the Herman Warnke building occupied by the A.E. Schultz garage as a storage and a vulcanizing room. The Fire Department arrived very promptly and found the entire lower room and the rear outside stairway one mass of flames and many were of the opinion that the building, possibly the entire block, was doomed. Also, the Harmon building across the alley being in great danger of being caught from the flames which shot through the west windows toward the frame structure. However, the prompt action and excellent work of the firemen and throwing two streams of water, the fire after a few minutes was under control. The fire, it is estimated, originated in the vulcanizing room of the Warnke building and soon spread to the outside stairway leading to the second story. The second story being arranged into dwelling rooms was inhabited by Theodore Radtke and family. The rooms filling rapidly with smoke made it impossible to carry the furniture to a place of safety. …  The storage room of the garage containing considerable amount of stock was totally destroyed but was partly covered by insurance. The garage itself was only slightly damaged in a few broken windows and ceiling being smoked up.”

The garage changed hands about one week later.

Princeton Republic, July 24, 1919 – “In a deal recently consummated between A.E. Schultz and Wm. Knaack and Ernest Priebe the latter two become the owners of the former garage business and Ford agency. The business will hereafter be conducted under the firm of Knaack & Priebe. Possession was given immediately, and the two gentlemen have opened their doors for business and are well equipped to take care of the trade in the line of supplies and all kinds of repair work.”

In May 1920, William Knaack, George V. Kelley, Albert Wishlinski, William Priebe, Frank Nickodem, William Swanke, Alfred Sommerfeldt and Alfred Freiheit took the train to Detroit, where they picked up six touring cars, one sedan and one roadster for the Knaack & Priebe garage and drove them home.

Knaack sold his interest in the garage and Ford agency to E.H. Priebe in October 1922.

Princeton Republic, August 9, 1928 – “E.H. Priebe has plans completed for an addition to the rear of his Ford service station. The specifications call for a 26 by 50 feet extension. The building will be two stories with basement under the entire new structure. The building will be of tile blocks and fireproof. Then, too, Mr. Priebe intends to improve the east wall of the present building. When fully completed the addition will afford up-to-date storage for cars and a convenient workshop.”

The garage changed hands again in 1931.

Princeton Republic, April 2, 1931 – “Julius Fenske and Arnold Kelm have recently opened a service station formerly occupied by E. H. Priebe and are in position to serve your car. They have engaged the service of Arnold Shwonek, who will devote his undivided attention and time to all work entrusted to the firm.”

Fenske bought out Kelm and operated the business as Fenske’s Service Garage until 1941 when he took over the building formerly occupied as the Giese & Giese garage in the 500 block of West Main Street (just east of the Bank One drive-through in 2020).

Princeton Republic, May 22, 1941 – “Jule Fenske announces that he plans to be at his new location in the building formerly occupied by Giese and Giese ready for his formal opening on Memorial Day. He will continue to handle Wadham’s Mobil oil gasoline and lubricating oils and will continue to service cars. In his new quarters he will have more room to display his farm equipment lines which include Allis-Chalmers tractors, combines, etc. as well as Universal milkers, New Idea manure spreaders, Blackhawk sulkey cultivators and planters.”

Princeton Motors next occupied the former Drakes’ Garage building in conjunction with its operation at the southeast corner of Water and Washington streets.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 5, 1941 – “The Princeton Motors have leased the building formerly occupied by Fenske. They will use it for their paint and car body repair department and also for the display of Ford tractor-hauled farm machinery.”

Princeton Times-Republic, July 3, 1941 – “The Princeton Motors has completed the repainting of the building formerly occupied by Fenske’s garage, and has stocked it with a large display of Ford tractors and Ferguson farm implements. The rear portion of the building will be used for body repairing and painting.”

Princeton Motors sold the former Drake’s Garage building in 1944.

Princeton Republic, April 6, 1944 – “A deal was concluded the first of the week by I. J. Craite for the purchase of the garage building now occupied by the Princeton Motors for storage and automobile paint shop, and formerly occupied by Jule Fenske. Mr. Craite plans to remodel the building and install four bowling lanes. A thirty-foot addition will be built at the rear of the building, a modern heating and air conditioning plant installed, and a new ceiling and a modern front will also be among the improvements. It is expected that work will start on the improvements in a few weeks and that the alleys will be ready for opening about August 1st.”

The building has been a bowling alley ever since.

Princeton Motors

When Alfred Warnke razed the former Harmon furniture building in the 400 block of Water Street in July 1920, he told the Princeton Republic that he planned to erect a “modern and up-to-minute garage,” 40 by 80 feet, one story tall, constructed of tile with a brick front.

Warnke did not complete the building at 441 West Water, however, until 1922. Rather than a garage, the first occupants were a “gents toggery” shop and a shoe store.

Just as E.H. Priebe was improving his garage at 435 West Water in 1928, The Dickenson Bros. purchased the building at 441 West Water Street.

Princeton Republic, July 26, 1928 – “In a deal consummated last week Friday between Mrs. Herman Warnke and Dickinson Bros, of Bloomer, Wis., the latter took over the ownership of the Warnke building now occupied by the K. Manthey gents furnishing store, C. Kinkel tailor shop and G. Radtke, cobbler. Dickinson Bros., we are informed, will arrange the building for a garage and will deal in automobiles and will take possession in the very near future.”

The Dickinsons did not last long. They and Priebe fell behind in payments and eventually lost their properties. The Chevy agency went to Lem Kalupa, and Paul Weiske, of Montello, claimed the Priebe and Dickinson locations.

Princeton Republic, Jan. 23, 1930 – “Last week in a transaction with the Dickinson Chevrolet Co., Mr. Lem Kalupa has taken over the entire interest of that company and has added the Chevrolet car to his agency. In a conversation with Mr. Kalupa he gave us the information that a fine and up-to-date garage equipped with a handsome show room will be built by him on Main street the coming spring.”

Princeton Republic, March 26, 1931 – At the foreclosure sale last Monday of the E. H. Priebe Ford stock of goods, machinery, etc., Paul Weiske, Ford dealer of Montello, was the successful bidder, his bid amounting to the sum of $3,800. Mr. Weiske purchased the object in view of opening a Ford agency in this city, if arrangements can be completed.”

Princeton Republic, June 18, 1931 – “Weiske Bros., who have secured the Ford agency for this city, are engaged in rearranging the building formerly occupied by E.H. Priebe. Partitions are being constructed and the shelving for the storing of extras are being placed. The basement of the building will be arranged for servicing cars. When fully completed, Weiske Bros., who come here from Montello, can boast of having one of the most complete garages in this section of the country.”

Princeton Republic, Oct. 1, 1931 – “Paul Weiske, the Ford garage man, will move his family here from Montello this week. They will reside in the Martin Bartol (Bartel) home, W. Main Street.”

Vincent Weiske, who had been working at a machine shop in Milwaukee, joined his brother in Princeton and took charge of the repair department. Luke Buchen was employed as the Princeton Motor Company’s accountant.

In 1932 Alfred Warnke razed the filling station at the southeast corner of Water and Washington streets and laid a cement driveway and parking lot for the Ford garage.

Paul Weiske was killed in April 1934 when the new sedan he was driving left Highway 73 on a curve about 3 miles east of Plainfield, struck a culvert and turned over. The garage passed to Anton Weiske and in 1937 to Vincent Weiske and Luke Buchen.

The garage later moved to the 500 block of West Main Street, south side, and was operated by Luke Buchen and then Bob Meyers. Today it is Gagne Ford.

Freitag’s Garage

The Republic teased its readers in both August 1928 and March 1929 that rumors were spreading that a new garage would be built on Main Street.

The rumors proved true. Henry Freitag, of Montello, announced plans in 1929 to build a garage at 500 West Main Street, on the site of the landmark Merrill Livery, founded in 1872. Frank Giese removed the old barn in April, and Freitag wasted no time getting started.

Princeton Republic, April 23, 1931 – “Henry Freitag is preparing for the foundation of his new garage on Main Street, foot of Washington Street. The building will be 90 by 80 feet.”

Princeton Republic, April 30, 1931 – “Henry Freitag, who with a crew of ten men engaged for the past number of days in the erection of a garage on Main street, on the site of the old livery barn, has the foundation completed and is now engaged in placing forms for the four-foot-high concrete side and rear walls. After finishing the cement work, the remainder of the walls will be of tile. The front of the building structure, however, will be of pressed red brick.”

Princeton Republic, June 25, 1931 – “Harry Freitag and crew of carpenters are engaged in building the roof of his new garage on Main Street. The iron beams of the roof were placed last week.”

Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 28, 1943 – “Ty Freitag announces that his big modern garage is now ready to serve the public.”

Freitag hosted a reception for about 50 people at the new garage. “Movies were shown consisting mainly of a new product for automobile engines,” the Republic reported. “Later in the evening a fine repast was served by Mr. Freitag. The entertainment was held in the show room of the garage.”

H.A. Freitag & Son brought the largest tire in the world to the garage in October 1932.

“The tire is attached at the rear of a heavy sedan and is in a giant fork,” the Republic said. “The tire is 12 feet high and 4 feet wide. It weighs, including its yoke, 3,900 pounds. The tread, sidewall and bead weigh 877 pounds, and the inner tube 125 pounds. The value of the tire is $5,000. It is the fourth such tire that the Goodyear Rubber Company has manufactured. While it is used as an advertisement, the tire also is a scientific experimental laboratory. The Goodyear people are studying its construction and its behavior at all times. The day may come, they say, when such tires will be commercially produced for monstrous airplanes.”

Freitag sold the garage in May 1952 to H.J. “Red” Buelow, who owned it for about three years.

Princeton Times-Republic, April 28, 1955 – “Bob Miller, of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, formally took over the Chevrolet and Oldsmobile agency last week in Princeton. He purchased the business operated for the past three years by Herman “Red” Buelow. He will operate under business under the name Bob Miller Chevrolet. Miller has been in business in Cedarburg since his graduation from Beloit College.”

This photo from the City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour shows Ty Freitag, left, and Red Buebow at the Freitag Garage, 500 W. Main Street.

The remodeled building is now home to Pulvermacher Enterprises.

Highway 23 Garage

I don’t know when the Highway 23 Garage opened. It was located just east of the current drive-through lane of the U.S. Bank branch at 102 Pearl Street, southeast corner of Pearl and Main streets.

I believe – but have not confirmed – that the garage was started by Lem Kalupa and Philip Stelmacheski. It opened sometime between 1914 and 1927, according to the Sanborn fire insurance maps.

The first reference I found to it came from October 1928 when the garage was advertising Oakland-Pontiacs.

In January 1930, Kalupa bought out Stelmacheski’s interest in the garage and became the local Chevy agent by buying out the Dickinson Chevrolet Company. He changed the name of the Main Street garage to Kalupa Chevrolet Sales and Service Station.

Kalupa said he planned to build a new garage in spring but instead sold the business to Ray Thrall, Alfred Giese Jr. and his sister Winefred. The new firm was known as Giese, Thrall & Giese

“They have taken the agency of the Chevrolet, Pontiac and Oakland cars and will do all kinds of repairing pertaining to automobiles,” the Republic said.

By July 1935 Thrall was out, and the garage was Giese & Giese. The Geises gave way in 1941 to Jule Fenske, who moved his garage there from Water Street.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 22, 1941 – “Jule Fenske announces that he plans to be at his new location in the building formerly occupied by Giese and Giese ready for his formal opening on Memorial Day. He will continue to handle Wadham’s Mobil oil gasoline and lubricating oils and will continue to service cars. In his new quarters he will have more room to display his farm equipment lines which include Allis-Chalmers tractors, combines, etc. as well as Universal milkers, New Idea manure spreaders, Blackhawk cultivators and planters.”

Buchen and Wieske added the garage to the Princeton Motors empire in 1949.

Princeton Times-Republic, Feb. 17, 1949 – “The Princeton Implement Co., local sales agency for the famous Ford tractors, Dearborn farm equipment and other well known lines, will hold their formal opening in their new home Wednesday, February 23rd. … Their new showrooms and service shop are located in the building formerly occupied by Giese’s garage and is directly across the highway from the Giese lumber yard. … The Princeton Implement Company is the outgrowth of the farm equipment department operated in connection with the Princeton Motors, and although still under the same ownership is from now on to be conducted as a separate business, this change being made necessary by the need for more room and the constant expansion of this department.”

Again, my research does not extend far enough yet for me to know when the garage was demolished. If you know, please share.

I will discuss the beginnings of several smaller garages in the next post. If you have comments or suggestions, please let me know. Thanks for reading and caring about local history.

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