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.
The booklet published in 1973 for Princeton’s quas qui centennial celebration described Teskes’ as a “99-year store” and stated “the Teskes were in business for 99 years before the last one retired and sold out.”
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 on the mercantile business, renting space before securing their place in Water Street history with the brick building in 1872. (The business was sold in 1964.)
“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 for $1,000 (Deeds, Volume N, Page 97), who sold the property to Richmond Tucker for $1,406 in 1860 (Deeds, Volume U, Page 612).
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 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, 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.
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.
Princeton Republic, May 23, 1940 – “The Teske store is the first local business house to secure Nylon ladies’ hose.”
My newspaper research only goes to 1945, but we know from property records that G. Teske & Sons Inc. sold the store to Lois Jankowski in 1964 (Deeds, Volume 183, Page 359). She operated LoAnn’s Ladies Apparel there for several years.
In 2004, the building was home to Erly Mike’s. According to the City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour, Joe Tondu opened the Fox Note Jazz Club there in 2007.
Levee Contemporary art gallery moved into the space in 2019.
If you can fill in any of the gaps in this building’s history, please let me know. Thanks for caring and reading about local history.