The early history of the east half of Water Lot 29, now 501 West Water Street and home to River Bank Dry Goods, is one of the easier to research because the main floor has housed far fewer tenants than most buildings. One business – a bank – occupied the space for more than 60 years.
The two-story brick bank building is the third building to occupy that half of the lot.
The history of Princeton published by the Princeton Republic in 1869 reported the fate of the lot’s first building: “The next and second store room was put up on the southwest corner of Water and Pearl* (correction: Washington) streets, now the site of A.G. Hopkins & Son’s hardware store. The building was erected by Byron Chute only a few weeks later than Durand’s store (527 West Water), for a Dr. Sargent, who rented it to A. Randall & Bro., who occupied it with a stock similar to Durand’s. This firm continued in business some years, when the building, stock and all, was consumed by fire. The town records were also destroyed at the same time, being in the same building.”
(*See post “Correcting the Bible.)
We don’t hear of the lot again in the 1869 history until, “The twelfth building that loomed up to the view of the astonished Princetonites of other days was built by Davis H. Waite (who seemed to have considerable weight in building up Princeton) and Orin Parsons, in the fall of 1855, for a warehouse and is now occupied by A.G. Hopkins and occupied by Hopkins & Son as a hardware store, tin shop, residence, ware rooms, etc.
“It was first occupied by Waite as a dry goods store, having abandoned his warehouse ideas. We next find A.C. Nye with a small stock of groceries, among which our informant remembers some ‘superb ground coffee and splendid Worcestershire sauce.’
“Thompson & Carman came next with a stock of goods from Indiana but remained only a short time. Two or three other parties occupied the building at one time or other until Gottlieb Liek (Lueck) appeared upon the scene and, having previously bought the building, put in a miscellaneous stock. He soon, however, conceived the idea that beer making in the new state of Minnesota would be more congenial to his early training and matured habits, besides being more remunerative, so he sold building and all to A.G. Hopkins, who has owned and occupied it ever since.”
According to documents at the Green Lake County Register of Deeds office, Henry Treat, who bought the land that became Princeton’s original plat from the federal government, sold Lot 29 to Thomas Sargent, who sold it to Anson Randall, who had opened the young community’s second store, in February 1852 (Deeds, Volume E, Page 450).
Randall sold the east half of Lot 29 to Parsons in April 1855 (Deeds, Volume I, Page 541) for $100, which is when Parsons and Waite erected the frame building.
According to the county documents, the east half of Lot 29 was sold at sheriff’s auction to Lester Sexton in July 1860 for $500 (Deeds, Volume S, Page 550). Sexton sold the property to Liek for $1,800 in December 1862 (Deeds, Volume U, Page 225).
A.G. Hopkins paid $1,000 for the property when he bought it from Liek on April 11, 1865, two days after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox (Deeds, Volume 24, Page 533).
A.G. Hopkins, who served as Princeton’s postmaster for several years, brought in his son, Harvey, as partner in the hardware business, which remained at 501 West Water until H.H. Hopkins sold his stock of hardware to Frederick T. Yahr and Gottfried Schall (Yahr & Schaal) in September 1874.
A.G. Hopkins passed in 1876. H.H. Hopkins moved to Nashua, Iowa, but retained ownership of the building for a few more years. The Republic reported that John Warnke, later Warnke Bros. with Julius on board, was reopening his general store in the Hopkins block in September 1876 and the block was to be turned into a billiard saloon in July 1877.
In April 1879 August Bartz sold his Princeton cigar-making business to Charley Crane. A week later the Republic announced O.B. Crane, Charlie’s father, had purchased the Hopkins block. ($1,450, Deeds, Volume 40, Page 322).
Princeton Republic, June 5, 1879 – “Charlie Crane is putting up some very fine cigars at his shop in the Crane block.”
Crane’s wife opened a dressmaking shop in the building’s other room.
The Cranes dodged disaster in April 1880 when fire destroyed 11 buildings, from the Hubbard House at the southeast corner of Water and Washington streets to nearly Harvard and Short streets.
Princeton Republic, April 15, 1880 – “The devastating hand of the fire fiend has been laid heavily upon Princeton. … O.B. Crane’s block, across the street west from the Hubbard, was also in great danger from the heat, but a deluge of water saved it. … Otto Lichtenburg, who had to vacate his premises so unceremoniously last Sunday on account of the fire, moved his stock of drugs into O.B. Crane’s east room. … T. J. Jakeman will occupy the corner room of O.B. Crane’s block, as soon as O Lichtenburg gets his drugs moved out.”
Lichtenberg soon moved across the street to 502 West Water Street, and the Jakemans relocated to Westfield. Mrs. Crane reopened her shop with a flourish and perhaps a Princeton “first.”
Princeton Republic, May 13, 1880 – “Mrs. C.A. Crane held ‘grand opening’ and fine millinery display at her millinery and dressmaking rooms Saturday of last and Monday of this week. … Mrs. C. may well feel proud of her success, as it was the first opening ever in Princeton.”
Charlie Crane sold his cigar business to H.E. Megow in March 1881. W.J. Frank filled the east-room vacancy with his grocery store in May. When he left in October 1882, Chittenden & Morse moved their office into the block.
O.B. and Charlie Crane traveled to the Dakota territory in 1882 to check opportunities there and soon began making plans to move. One of O.B. Crane’s trips produced a perfect Valentine’s Day story in February 1883, one of the more severe winters in early Princeton.
Princeton Republic, Feb. 22, 1883 – “A crane would fly from Dakota over to Wisconsin in an incredible short time, but O.B. Crane had quite a different experience in his recent return from the western paradise. It was during the snow blockade and he started and returned home several times before he succeeded in getting out of elysian Dakota. He reached Wisconsin just in time to find snow piled up everywhere, but having friends in Fond du Lac, he could put the time in very comfortably visiting, however much of his heart yearned for the flesh pots of Princeton, where wife and children awaited anxiously his coming. A telegram invited Mrs. C. to come to Fond du Lac; that there was company at a sister’s house that she would be glad to see. ‘Take the first train down,’ it said, which, by the way, seemed something like mockery, as at that time the running of trains was like catching the festive flea – mighty uncertain. Days hurried by, but the blockade continued. Finally, trains moved spasmodically from each end of the space that so unmercifully separated man and wife. Both started, and both trains were stuck in the snow near each other for a time, but the perseverance and energy of the crews after a lapse of time brought relief and the trains sped on their way, each having on board one happy, though longing heart. In time each arrived at their destinations, and Mr. O.B. Crane was in Princeton, once more at home, the place that ever brings to the heart a thrill; what happiness, what ecstasy of bliss! He hurried to the house. It was past midnight. He shook the door; he aroused the inmates. He found that Mrs. C. had flown – was not in. His heart sank within him, but the train would start back to Fond du Lac in a few hours, and he would go – would go to explain to Mrs. C. his disappointment at not finding her at home and would hear her story of a greater disappointment when she arrived at her sister’s house. He went – that is, he went to a point about halfway to Fond du Lac, and as the train could go no farther, he walked the balance of the way. He saw, he loved, and he came home with Mrs. C. on Monday of this week, both happy.”
O.B. Crane sold the property at 501 West Water to Julius E. Hennig, who moved to Princeton in 1881 from Chippewa County, in March 1883 for $1,500. (Deeds, Volume 44, Page 208)
Princeton Republic, March 15, 1883 – “O.B. Crane has sold the property known to the old citizens as the Hopkins block to Jule Hennig. It is the intention of Mr. and Mrs. Crane to move to Dakota ere long, a fact we are sorry to record. Mrs. Crane will, however, keep business running until she vacates sometime next month. … Jule Hennig says he is going to make that corner property shine.”
Princeton Republic, April 12, 1883 – “Mrs. J.E. Hennig has opened a complete assortment of millinery at Mrs. Crane’s old stand in this village.”
Princeton Republic, June 7, 1883 – “Will Whittemore has fitted up a room, or corner, in Mrs. Hennig’s establishment, and will open his jewelry establishment in that place.”
Tenants in Hennig’s block over the next few years included dry goods merchants Lueck & Manthey, Marrom & Co., J. Lambert and W.F. Viel.
Henry and Ella Behm traded a farm and marshland, totaling 161 acres, for Hennig’s block and $1,500 in April 1895 (Deeds, Volume 52, Page 521).
“Henry retains the farm until fall,” the local newspaper reported. “Hennig will occupy rooms over store until that time, but Behm is to take his stock of goods of Hennig & Page, paying the list price for the same.”
Behm occupied the building for about a year.
Princeton Republic, April 2, 1896 – “Henry Behm has leased his whole building and will soon move his stock to Westfield, going into partnership with his brother. The corner store of Behm’s block and the living rooms overhead have been leased by a barber, J.J. Brandmeyer. Mrs. Weiss will occupy one side of the store now occupied by Behm with a new stock of millinery. The other half will be used for an (American) Express office and produce store of E. T. Frank.”
Princeton Republic, July 22, 1897 – “You will find Will Whittemore’s jewelry and repair shop in Behm’s block, opposite OH Lichtenburg’s drug store. … Whittemore, after battling with a period of sickness and a fire that utterly destroyed his stock at his place of business (523 West Water), is again on his feet and hard at work in Behm’s block.”
Charley Sears fitted up the corner room of the Behm building for a grocery store in March 1898, Fritz Klitzke opened a grocery in October 1898 and J.J. Radtke & Co. opened a liquor store in June 1900 – Radtke handled only bottled goods at the location – and Drs. S.W. and N.H. Randall opened an office in the corner store in July.
The property passed from Behm to Ella Behm and then J.F. Warnke, who sold it for $3,000 to the First National Bank of Princeton for the same price (Deeds, Volume 60, Page 167).
Princeton Republic, June 19, 1901 – “The comptroller of the currency at Washington has approved the application of J.M. Koeser, D.C. Buckstaff, G.J. Krueger, F.J. Yahr and others to organize a national bank at this place, with a capital stock of $25,000. It is said that nearly all of the capital stock has been spoken for and that they will organize as soon as they receive their papers from Washington.”
Princeton Republic, August 1, 1901 – “The Behm block on the corner of Water and Washington streets has been purchased by the new bank.”
Princeton Republic, August 22, 1901 – “The building on the corner of Water and Washington streets purchased by the First National Bank was sold by auction Tuesday afternoon to J.J. Radtke. He will move it onto the lot in the rear of his saloon, facing on Main Street.”
Princeton Republic, August 22, 1901 – “The officers of the First National Bank have the plans and specifications ready for a modern building which they will erect on the corner of Water and Washington streets, and advertise for bids for the erection of same in this week’s issue of the Republic. The building is to be erected on a 34×62 foot foundation, two stories high, with basement, cherry colored pressed brick, made at Akron, Ohio, and buff Bedford stone to be used, the interior to be finished in oil. The ground floor will be divided into two parts, the west side to be a 14×60 foot room to be rented for a store. The east side will be partitioned off into four rooms to be used for banking purposes – a counting room, lobby, office and a director’s room – and 6×8 foot vault built on a solid brick foundation. There will be two large plate-glass windows in the front of the building. The second story will be divided into four office rooms, to be reached from a walk along the east side of the building leading to a stairway. The height of the rooms on the first floor will be 13 feet, and those on the second floor 11 feet. There will be a dome on the northeast corner of the building raised about 15 feet above the roof. The building is to have a hot water heating system. When completed it will be one of the finest bank and store buildings in this part of the country.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 19, 1901 – “The contract for the erection of the First National Bank was let to F.E. Webster of Ripon last week. The contract price is $7,400. Work will be commenced on it tomorrow and it is to be completed by December 1st. The basement is to be of red granite furnished by the Redgranite quarry near Berlin. The entrance and all stone trimmings will be of best raindrop sandstone, which will come from Marquette, Michigan, and the columns to main entrance will be of polished granite. The balance of the exterior is to be of Akron pressed brick. The interior is to be steam heated and finished in oak and birch, and the furnishings throughout will be the very latest. When completed it will be one of the finest buildings in the state of its size.”
Charles G. Dawes, U.S. comptroller of the currency, authorized the First National Bank to commence business on September 26, 1901, but the bank did not officially open its doors to the public until Thursday, January 2, 1902.
William Whittemore rented the west room for his jewelry and sporting goods business, and attorney F.E. Clark moved his law office into the upstairs office.
Princeton Republic, April 10, 1902 – “The First National Bank is being nicely decorated and some beautiful figures are carved in the pillars. R.P. Clark of Milwaukee is doing the work.”
Princeton Republic, Feb. 26, 1920 – “The First National Bank will be remodeled as to size of rooms, furniture, fixtures and vaults in the near future. A committee of stockholders and officers are at work on plans and arrangements to be submitted to a meeting of the stockholders in the near future. The growth in business and deposits the past two years has made it mandatory to arrange for a building and equipment which will be second to none in this part of the state.”
The bank ran into problems, however, that were blamed on investments out west not paying promptly. The First National Bank of Princeton dissolved in 1924 and reorganized as the Farmers-Merchants National Bank.
Princeton Republic, Oct. 9, 1924 – “The newly organized Farmers-Merchants National Bank opened its doors for business last Tuesday morning. A number of our citizens, as well as farmers of this vicinity, spent many days and worked diligently in procuring stockholders and bringing this institution to life. They are deserving considerable credit for their efforts of their labors. The bank is headed by H.A. Miller as cashier.”
Princeton Republic, Dec. 4, 1924 – “The formal opening of the Farmers-Merchants National Bank, this city, took place last Saturday. A large number of farmers as well as merchants visited that day and the evening and got acquitted with the cashier of the bank and its officers. All visits were presented with souvenirs – fancy pen holders for the grown-ups and balloons for the children. The bank opened for business six weeks ago and during this short period has made a fine showing in deposits and business in general.”
Princeton Republic, Dec. 3, 1925 – “The officers and directors of The Farmers-Merchants National Bank, this city, believing that their bank should be immune from a successful burglary attack, have installed the most modern form of burglary protection. The system consists of a mechanical and chemical resistance which will combat the burglars with their acetylene torch or any other method of burglarious attack. … The system was installed by the Anakin Lock and Alarm Company of Chicago, Illinois, who have already prevented 108 bank burglaries.”
I am not sure when the cupola built in 1901 was removed, but we know from the Republic that a fire siren was installed on the roof in April 1927, a cement walk was added along the east side of the building for the first time in 1928, and Dr. G.G. Mueller moved his office from the second floor of Princeton State Bank to the second floor of the Farmers-Merchants National Bank in January 1932.
When the bank reorganized again in 1933 following the national bank holiday amid the Great Depression as Farmers-Merchants National Bank of Princeton, the property was valued at $14,000 (Deeds, Volume 95, Page 338).
My research only extends into the 1940s, but we know the bank built a new facility with a drive-thru lane at the southeast corner of Main and Pearl streets in 1963-64. Ed Mevis, who had led the bank through reorganization following the Bank Holiday and guided its growth into the city’s first million-dollar bank, died just before the move could be completed.
The building at 501 has mainly housed retail businesses and professional offices since the bank’s departure and in 2021 is home to River Bank Dry Goods. I will update occupants as my research proceeds, but if you can fill in any of the blanks, please let me know.