Thiel Building, West Room – 512 West Water

The Thiel double building at 512 and 508 West Water Street, built in 1870, today houses Beer Belly’s, left, and Happy Medium.

The August Thiel double building at 508-512 West Water Street and the Josiah Luce building next door west, built simultaneously in 1870, were the first of the brick buildings that today line the north side of the 500 block of West Water Street.  

We have already traced the lineage of the Luce building. It will take two posts to unravel the Thiel double building history. The property today houses Happy Medium bar at 508 and Beer Belly’s bar at 512.

I would like to believe, though have no documentation to support it, that the building that stood at 512 when August Thiel purchased the property in 1869 was the one mentioned by John Gillespy in the 1860 history of Green Lake County when he recounts that one of the buildings moved from St. Marie-Hamilton to Princeton was occupied by Royal Treat as a store. Treat, however, occupied multiple locations over the years, so it might be just wishful thinking on my part.

County property records show that Thiel paid Treat $1,000 for a strip of land just under 9 feet wide off the east side of lot 5 and just over 36 feet wide off the west side of lot 8 (Deeds, Volume 31 Page 278) in Block D.

The Princeton Republic reported the sale as well.

Princeton Republic, July 17, 1869 – “We are drifting, dangling loose in the air. August Thiel has bought of Mr. Treat the building with the lot in which our office is located, and the lot adjoining on the east, and will put up a large stone block next summer. August means business and intends to help build up the town in which he made his money.”

Thiel, who made his money with a wagon factory and blacksmith shop north of the brewery on Farmer Street, planned a two-story, stone-and-brick double building with a 44-by-80-foot hall on the second floor. (The hall became the gathering place for dances, concerts, celebrations, lectures, etc. until Turner Hall was built in 1878.)

The Princeton Republic monitored Thiel’s progress over the next several months.

Princeton Republic, Dec. 4, 1869 – “The stone is coming upon the ground for Thiel and Luce’s blocks.”

Princeton Republic, Feb. 12, 1870 – “August Thiel is removing his two-story frame store off its lot on Water Street to make room for his large, new block next summer.” (It is unclear what became of the building.)

Princeton Republic, June 18, 1870 – “Thiel and Luce are proceeding with their block of three stores.”

Princeton Republic, August 13, 1870 – “The front of Thiel’s new block was finished, so far as brick and iron work go, last Saturday, and is really a very fine front. We believe the best in the county, or near it. August was so well pleased with the job done by the masons that he gave them a splendid supper and entertainment. A few outside guests were invited, and the band discoursed sweet music until the ‘wee hours.’ A general good time was had, and although California wine and lager were free to all, none imbibed to excess. August offers a cash premium of $300 to any person who will build as a good a building in town with a better front within the next year. Who will take the money?”

No one took up Thiel’s challenge. It became a moot point in October when Thiel was killed in a freak riding accident near August Swanke’s shops on the west side of town.

Problems emerged at Thiel Hall soon after a dance was held to celebrate the opening of the county fair. Within a week or two the roof had sagged so much that it became necessary to raise it and to put on cast-iron washers, the Republic said. The roof repair was completed in November.

“Now we can boast of as neat a hall for dancing or for entertainments of any kind as can be found in this part of the state,” the Republic declared.

August Swanke built a stone addition to the Thiel block in June 1879. The lower story provided storage room for the two stores in the building and the upper story was used for a stage and property rooms for Thiel Hall.

Tracking occupants of a building that is 150 years old can be challenging, but I am confident that we can identify the early businesses – general stores, meat markets, furniture stores and more – relying primarily on the reports of the Princeton Republic.

When the building opened, W.J. Frank occupied the east room with groceries and other goods and Teske Bros. temporarily utilized the west room.


After the Teskes, we know the Thiel block served as the headquarters of the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad for a time. A.W. Pettibone, who also had dry goods stores in Berlin and Ripon, moved to the west room in May 1874.

George Parker filled the room with his stock of groceries and other goods after Pettibone departed in April 1875. After Parker moved to the Eggleston stone building at 535 West Water Street in 1876, he was succeeded a few months later by (Anton) Rimpler & (August) Zellmer.

Although there were reports of only a handful of major burglaries or robberies in the newspaper in Princeton’s early years, the Rimpler & Zellmer store was hit twice.

In 1878 the burglar was arrested, and goods and cash were recovered.

Burglars blew open a safe at the store in 1883. According to the Republic: “A pile of thick bed comforts had been hauled from the shelves; one was spread upon the floor, evidently to deaden the tramping sound of feet while the job of drilling a hole through the safe door was being prosecuted. The thick bed comforts that lay on the floor had evidently been used to deaden the noise of the explosion. The safe blowing was a huge joke upon the burglars, as it was not locked and could have been opened by a little turning of the knob and pulling at the door. It contained no money.”

Zellmer retired in October 1885. Rimpler continued on his own in the Thiel block until building his own store at 545 West Water Street in 1891.

Princeton Republic, October 1, 1891 – “Anton Rimpler has transferred his stock of goods from the room in the Thiel block, which he has occupied so many years, into the fine new room in the block he has completed. His new quarters are ample in size and built with a view adapting them to the present needs.”

John Koeser moved into the Thiel block in 1891 with a large stock of furniture. Like most furniture dealers of the day, Koeser also sold caskets and worked as an undertaker. He installed an elevator so he could, in the words of the Republic, “use the floors from cellar to garret.” He went through a couple of partners, made improvements to his building and expanded his skills.

Princeton Republic, August 1, 1901 – “J.M. Koeser will leave Monday for Oshkosh to prepare for an examination to secure a license to practice undertaking embalming in compliance with a law passed by the Legislature last winter.”

Koeser put in a new plate-glass front in September 1902 but announced a year later that he was ready to retire. He sold the furniture store and undertaking business to Chas. Hermann & Son, of Brandon, who took possession on March 1, 1904.

The Koesers sold the building and property to Oswald Hoyer in November 1907 for $3,500 (Deeds, Volume 69, Page 96). Hermann & Son moved into the Mesick building in the 600 block of Water.

Hoyer passed the property to William W. Collins (Deeds, Volume 69, Page 113), who sold it to Clarence E. “Eugene” Thomas for $5,000 plus services rendered in December (Deeds, Volume 69, Page 114).

Thomas operated a general store with groceries, clothing, assorted other goods and, in 1909, a soda fountain. He used “The Price Maker” as his slogan.

Thomas drastically changed the business in 1911 and sold it 18 months later.

Princeton Republic, Jan. 26, 1911 – “Eugene Thomas has opened a new meat market and is ready to supply choice cuts of meat. He carries a fine line of meats and has secured the services of an experienced butcher to give first class service to his customers. Everything in the market has a new and sanitary appearance and the new market is open to serve the public and give them a first-class product.”

Princeton Republic, July 11, 1912 – “Eugene Thomas thanks citizens of Princeton and vicinity for patronizing his butcher business and otherwise in the village. My business attitude was always to try to please the patrons of my shop, and no doubt all are aware that I have made the price of meats go down in the village of Princeton.”

The Princeton Peoples Meat Market, which the Republic also referred to as the Union Meat Market, decided in August 1912 to operate a meat market in Thomas’ former stand. The group included Julius Schalow, president; Herman Warnke, vice president, John Shew Sr., treasurer; F.F. Krueger, secretary. Schalow, Edward Hardell and John Kerski comprised the directors.

Kohnke, Schalow and Co. purchased the building from Martha (Bartel) Thomas in 1916 for $2,173.69 (Deeds, Volume 76, Page 414).

“The company will rent to the Princeton Meat Market Association the whole first floor and the upstairs will be repaired and remodeled for living rooms,” the Republic said. “The company expects to put the block in first class condition.”

Princeton Republic, March 30, 1916 – Mr. and Mrs. Herman A. Megow, who have been residing at Denver, Colorado, for the past several years, returned here last week to again make Princeton their home. Mr. Megow, who is a butcher by trade and has followed that profession for the past number of years has acquired an enviable knowledge. He is now engaged at the People’s Meat Market.”

A conflict arose between Victor and Edward Hardell and the association’s board of directors in 1919. After Victor Hardell sued the association, J.W. Kohnke published the following retraction in the Republic: “The undersigned hereby retracts all statements I made derogatory to the character or reputation of Victor Hardell. I further say that Victor Hardell during his entire employment was faithful and honest, and that the trouble arose as the result of hasty action.”

The board paid Hardell’s court costs and expenses. In the retraction, however, Kohnke noted that payment of a bill by Edward Hardell had sparked the dispute. Hardell said Kohnke’s comment about the bill was “misleading as to its statement of fact” and offered his response to Kohnke’s “jumble.”

The company went out of business a few months later.

Princeton Republic, Feb. 19, 1920 – “At a meeting of the Princeton Meat Market Association last Saturday afternoon it was decided by the members to sell their entire shares of stock to Herman Megow Jr. Herman was employed by the association as manager and head butcher and has held that responsible position for the past four years. He has considerable experience in that line not alone in Princeton, but larger cities throughout the country.”

After Megow moved his business to his father’s building at 541 West Water, William Schwenzer purchased the building at 512 in May 1920 (Deeds, Volume, 80, Page 609). He operated a billiard hall during prohibition and a tavern afterward.

Princeton Republic, May 6, 1920 – “Julius Schalow, Edw. Hardell and Gustav Schultz, owners of the building wherein the H.A. Megow meat market is conducted, sold recently to Wm. Schwenzer, who will occupy same in the near future with his pool and billiard hall. H.A. Megow will move his meat market into the building of his father one door east of the Nickodem Bros. store building.”

When the Princeton Times-Republic reported in February 1943 that “with blitzkrieg speed and thoroughness county officers swooped down on the county’s taverns last Thursday night and seized seven slot machines,” readers learned that three of them were taken from Schwenzer’s and one from Tassler’s across the street.

Schwenzer also battled personal demons.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 4, 1950 – “A number of people have asked me about Bill Schwenzer and how he was able to get another license for his tavern. The question has come up especially since Bill is now on one of his periodic binges. Bill successfully passed his probation period and while the judge recommended that he sell his place of business, there was nothing to bind him to do that and nothing connecting selling his business and getting a new license. The city council controls the granting of licenses.”

Schwenzer owned the tavern from 1920 to December 1960, when he sold to Stephen and Margaret Aerts for an undisclosed price (Deeds, Volume 158, Page 49).

Princeton Times-Republic, Dec. 1, 1960 – “Two of Princeton’s 17 taverns have changed hands here recently. One of the transactions involves the retirement of Bill Schwenzer one of the pioneers of the tavern business in Princeton. His place was originally a pool hall and is one of the landmarks on Water Street. The tavern business has been purchased by Mrs. Margaret Aerts, Route 1, Greenleaf. … Another tavern on Water Street has been purchased by Arthur Bilfnik, formerly of Lake Puckaway, Town of Mecan. He has has taken over the place formerly known as Mae and Billy’s and has been operating about one month now.”

The Aerts had been in the tavern business for 30 years and had owned three bars in Brown County before hanging the “Steve and Marge” Pabst sign outside 512 West Water. It became known as Aerts’ Antique Tavern. Antiques were displayed in the windows and inside.

After the Aerts departed, the City Council gave the liquor license to Kathryn and Dick Dorsch, of Neshkoro, in December 1974. They operated Charlie’s Pub.

Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 30, 1975 – “Princeton welcomes the two new business owners, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Dorsch, who now have the Aerts tavern, and Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Wenzel, who since the first of the year have the Princeton Bowling Lanes, formerly owned by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard (Andy) Anderson.”

Princeton Times-Republic, July 23, 1981 – “Charlie’s Pub in downtown Princeton was the scene of a shooting Saturday morning at 2 a.m. Russell Dorsch, proprietor of Charlie’s Pub, wrestled and subdued a Ripon man in possession of a .22 caliber handgun. During the struggle, four shots were fired into the front of the building operated by Dorsch.”

The property at 512 West Water was sold at a sheriff’s auction in the lobby of the Green Lake County courthouse on May 13, 1986. Three people submitted bids. Erma Burmeister won with a bid of $33,250.

Burmeister had operated Erma’s Tavern in the Dreblow building at 532 West Water. She opened Erma’s Penguin Club at 512.

“Although Erma has been in business for some years, she moved down the street to a different building and completely remodeled the front and the inside of the building,” the newspaper reported in October.

Burmeister held the license at 512 into 1996. Catherine Bowen obtained the liquor license in 1997. Michael Burton held the liquor license in 1998 and operated Erly Mike’s into the 21st century.

The City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour, which includes wildly incorrect information about the building’s early history but fares better on later history, indicates Erma’s was followed by Turtle Tap, Kasha’s Bar, Erly Mike’s, Whiskey on Water, and Beerbelly’s, which it remains in January 2022. No information is provided regarding dates or owners.

Thank you for caring and reading about local history.


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