The Teskes’ Store – 518 West Water

This post completes a series of four about the properties and buildings developed by brothers Edward and Gustave Teske in the 500 block of West Water Street in the 19th century.

When local historians refer to the Teske building, they are referring to the two-story brick building, built in 1872, at 518 West Water Street. It replaced a frame building built in 1859 by Josiah Luce.

“A Bird’s Eye View of the Early History of Princeton,” published by the Princeton Republic in 1869, provides a detailed description of the original frame building’s occupants:

“The next and eighth building erected to accommodate the increasing trade of Princeton was built by Josiah Luce and is the east room of Teske & Bro.’s store on Water Street. It was first occupied by Salem T. Wright, who sold goods to Princeton folks for some two years from that stand, when he moved across the street into his then new brick store (513-519 West Water), now Demell’s.

“Luce’s building, in the meantime, had passed into the hands of H.M. Rulison & Co., of Cincinnati, Ohio, and by them sold to R. Tucker & Son, who removed his stock from the (now) Myers building, and continued in successful trade until the spring of 1868, when he sold the building and stock to Teske & Bro., who have since, and are now doing a large retail trade in dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes, crockery and general assignment line, selling upon as good terms as can be had in the place.”

The property had been part of a parcel that passed from original plat owner Henry Treat to Wright and then to Luce. Luce sold 48 feet of the parcel in 1856 to Sarah and Hiram Rulison, of Cincinnati, for $1,000 (Deeds, Volume N, Page 97). Rulison sold The Badger Store to Richmond Tucker at public auction for $1,406 in September 1860 (Deeds, Volume U, Page 612).

“I will just say to each and every one who may have means to invest for a sure and profitable return, when we consider the central position of Princeton as a trading point, its fine water power, the great extent of farming country that must necessarily come to Princeton for market, etc., we are satisfied that here is unparalleled inducements for speculation,” Rulison noted in an ad in the Berlin City Courant promoting the sale.

The Teskes paid $1,000 for the property when they purchased it from Tucker in 1868 (Deeds, Volume 28, Page 440). The Teskes sold and moved Tucker’s building to make room for their new two-story brick block.

The obituaries for founders Edward Sr., 84, and Gustave Sr., 87, published in the Princeton Republic in 1923 and 1927, respectively, both indicate they came to the U.S in 1856 as teenagers and settled with their mother near the Mecan Church. They each worked and bought a farm before moving to Princeton in 1866 and engaging in the mercantile business, renting space before securing their place in Water Street history with the brick building in 1872.

The Teskes began hauling stone for their new business block in January 1872. They planned a two-story building, 90 by 100 feet, making it “the largest business room in the village,” according to the Princeton Republic. The lower room would be the sales room; a boot and shoe “manufactory” would locate upstairs.

Princeton Republic, March 16, 1872 – “On Monday night, at about 11 o’clock, or a little later, Mr. David Demell had occasion to be in the hall door of his brick block, and having heard hurried steps a few moments before, was peering about to see the cause. Looking across the street, he saw a small light between Luce’s block (in the second story of which is the Republic office) and the two-story wooden building of Teske Brothers. These buildings are separated only by room for two narrow flights of stairs, the light being situated as he thought against the wooden building. Mr. Demell hurried over to see what was wrong. … Tearing off the siding he found a large ball of cotton cloth saturated with kerosene and filled with matches, all in full blaze. The siding and studding were already ignited, but the timely application of plenty of snow spoiled the plan of the fiend who set fire to his neighbor’s property. Mr. Demell then went to the hotel and got out Mr. Walter Cooke and the hostler, and also aroused Mr. Teske, and the matter was talked and discussed with apparently slight chances of tracing the villain. Had it not been for Mr. Demell’s illness that made him wakeful and nervous, there is no telling how many families would have found themselves homeless, as this part of the village is built mostly of wood.”

Princeton Republic, May 11, 1872: “The two-story wooden building owned by the Teske Bros. has been moved off the lot, preparatory to commencing their new stone and brick block.”

Brick for the new building arrived from Sheboygan in June; iron columns came from Ripon. The building took shape over summer and fall but was not occupied until winter.

Princeton Republic, Jan. 18, 1873: “Teske brothers have moved their goods into their fine new store.”

The Teskes sold the first building they owned (520 West Water) to Fred Mittlestaedt in 1885. When Mittlestaedt erected a new two-story brick building there a year later, according to the Republic, “the rooms that were darkened on the second floor of the Teske block by the erection of Mittlestaedt’s building are now lighted by a sky-light.”

The Teskes also built a frame building at 528 West Water Street in 1880 and sold it five years later. They purchased Josiah Luce’s brick block at 514 West Water in 1877 and sold it to Mittlestaedt in 1885.

The Teskes stayed in business at 518 West Water Street, however, until 1964.

The booklet published in 1973 for Princeton’s quas qui centennial celebration stated “the Teskes were in business for 99 years before the last one retired and sold out.”

Area historian Elaine Reetz included an interview with Leone Teske, daughter of Gustav Teske Sr., who founded the business with his brother Edward Sr., in “Come Back in Time: Volume II,” published in 1982 by Fox River Publishing Company. Teske was 98 when interviewed. She and her brother Gust were the last of the Teskes to operate the business.

“Her memories are keen of the years she clerked in the store and then ran the business,” Reetz noted.

Teske recalled “bib overalls selling for $2.98 a pair and the white shirts we sold to Rudolph Wachholz, then in the undertaker business, to lay out the corpse. The rats that sneaked up the cellar steps at night and took the eggs we had for sale.”

“The large store in its early years included a tailor who worked on custom-made clothing in a back room. Ready-made garments were selected from the racks on the second floor,” Reetz wrote. “Dry goods took over the west half of the first floor, and groceries were purchased on the east. Swivel stools, fastened to the floor, were for the comfort of customers while shopping, visiting or relaxing. The counters were long and low. Bulk foods, barrels and tin containers, with coffee beans to be ground at home or in the store were what the customer expected to find.

“Clerks were ready to help by weighing and measuring, with no pre-packing dreamt of. Dried fruits were standard fare, with oranges or bananas only in season and infrequently. Eggs were bartered for essentials.”

Teske recalled the store was especially busy on Cattle Fair days, Saturdays and Sunday mornings “when customers left their eggs to be counted out while they attended church services.”

Edward Sr. sold his share of the business and the downtown property to his brother in 1903 (Deeds, Volume 61, Page 385) as he focused more on developing the mill and mill race with his son-in-law, Edward Zierke.

After Gustave bought out his brother, he brought his son Edward into the business, creating G. Teske & Son. They sold to Gustave’s two other sons, Fred and Gust Jr., and two daughters, Leone and Edna (Mrs. Howard O. Whittemore), doing business as G. Teske & Sons Inc., in 1927.

Gust and Leone operated the store for the family.

Princeton Times- Republic, May 23, 1940 – “The Teske store is the first local business house to secure Nylon ladies’ hose.”

G. Teske & Sons Inc. sold the store to Lois Jankowski in 1964 (Deeds, Volume 183, Page 359).

Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 17, 1964 – “Announcement this week that G. Teske & Sons clothing store had been sold to Lois Jankowski marked the end of business under the family name which dated back 99 years – to 1865! It was in that year that the late brothers, Edward and Gustave Teske, opened the store under the name of E. Teske and Bro.”

Gust Teske Jr. said he remembered when the first canned goods arrived at their store, consisting of canned peas from Randolph and canned corn from Maine.

Jankowski, whose husband, Sylvester, worked for Kopplin & Kinas, operated Lo Ann’s Apparel there for several years. The store’s name was a combination of Lois and Ann, her daughter’s name.

Beginning when she was in high school, Lois Jankowski had worked at the local cigar factory for 11 years before moving to the Bartol Insurance Agency and then Skogmo’s in 1958.

Lo Ann’s closed in 1972.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 4, 1972 – “Displays of merchandise are again seen in the two windows of the store Lo Ann’s recently closed and vacated by the owner Mrs. S. Jackowski. This place is now an addition to the adjoining Variety Store owned by Mr. Ed Seavecki.”

Roger and Ruth Fritz opened Into Wood in 1978.

Princeton Times-Republic, Dec. 14, 1978 – “Into Wood, 518 Water Street, a shop dealing in restored furnishings and antiques, is a place in which many hours can be spent browsing, selecting and talking to the young owners. … Roger and Ruth Fritz, the owners, are encouraged by the interest shown in their business since it opened ‘around Memorial Day.’ At first the business was located for about a month further down the street.”

Princeton Times-Republic, June 7, 1984 – “A new business with an intriguing name, ‘The Gracious Gander’ will open in Princeton at 518 Water Street on Friday, June 8, 1984, at 9 a.m. Their ad in this week’s Billboard tells the public to ‘take a gander’ at their selection of baskets, dried flowers, braided and rag rugs, wooden folk art, pillows, Amish quilts, wreaths, pottery, stained glass, etching, stenciling and supplies, raw and spun wool, country furniture, candles and more!”

Four couples owned the store: Bobbe and Jeff Punzel-Schuknecht, Mary and Mark Lind, Connie and John Willett, and Pam and Jim Aikins-Carlson. The store closed for the winter and then reopened in spring.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 13, 1985 – “A year ago this June the Gracious Gander, located at 518 Water Street, Princeton, opened its doors to the public. Inside handmade quilts decorated the walls and antique furniture and hardwood floors warmed the shop’s atmosphere. Everywhere – on shelves and antique furniture, hanging from the walls and standing on the floor – were handcrafted country items that accented the store’s delightful country flavor. And now a year later how is The Gracious Gander? It is doing better than ever.

The former Teske building, along with its neighbors to the west, was in need of repair by the end of the decade.

Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 3, 1991 – “The three buildings on the north side of Water Street (518, 520, 524 West Water) in downtown Princeton have been catching everyone’s attention. They have been remodeled and the ‘Victorian’ paint job has really added to the area. Tom Rogers Sr., who lives on the west side of Princeton, owns the buildings along with his son, Tom Rogers Jr. So far the buildings house two businesses, the one owned by Rogers, Accurate Control Inc., a research and development firm dealing with electronic devices, and Advanced Motion Control, owned by George Hollings.”

Don & BJ’s Second Hand Store opened at 518 West Water in January 1999. It featured new and used merchandise, antiques and collectibles. They purchased the former Teske Bros. building in December 1998.

Princeton Times-Republic, March 4, 1999 – “If you’ve been missing Don and B.J. and their second-hand store (like Luella Smith who was first in line when the door opened at their new location, Luella claiming she was going through ‘withdrawal’ while they were closed!), the good news is they are open at a new location – 518 W. Water – they plan to stay open having bought and remodeled this building for that purpose – and things are looking good! Many of you, like Luella, already know Don and B.J. from their former location in Princeton. Because they were renting that space, they had to move out in May of ’98 when the building sold, forced to sell all their merchandise unable to find a new location to rent.”

That completes our survey of the first 150 years, 1849-1999, of 518 West Water Street. If you can fill any of the gaps, please let me know.

Levee Contemporary art gallery, which opened in 2019, occupies the space in 2022.

Thanks for caring and reading about local history.

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