The Princeton State Bank building, built in 1894, is home to Princeton Acupuncture in 2021. Princeton’s first store was built on this lot.

We will go from the First National Bank building at 501 West Water Street described in the most recent post to what I consider the heart of downtown: the Princeton State Bank building at 527-529 West Water.

The unique building that now houses Princeton Acupuncture was built in 1894, which is noteworthy, but the lot it sits on is even more historic. It was the site of Princeton’s first store, built in 1849.

The history of Princeton published by the Princeton Republic in 1869 describes the scene: “Princeton shared with its now three rivals, Hamilton, one mile, St. Marie, two miles, and State Center, three miles below, in the influx of emigration, and went to work with dead earnest, building stores for the accommodations of increasing trade. So, we find Byron Harmon, an Indian trader, and Charles Stacy, lately removed from the town of St. Marie to Rochester, Minn., putting up a new frame building one story and a half high, which when finished, they sold to Ferdinand Durand, who put in an assortment of dry goods, groceries, boots, shoes, hardware and, indeed, a little of everything wanted in a new country, not omitting the all-important extract of corn.”

Durand stayed in business for about two years before selling out and moving to McGregor, Iowa, where he died from stab wounds inflicted by a former clerk. He had sold his Princeton store to Josiah Luce and Philo  Knapp. They were followed by Knapp & Joseph Pease, and Knapp & (R.P.) Rawson.

“Knapp & Rawson sold goods for a year or two,” according to the 1869 history, “then sold out to Elder Henry Hovey, a Baptist minister of more or less notoriety as a too ardent follower of Brigham Young. Hovey’s career ended in a lawsuit, his creditors taking his goods.”

The line of tenants leading to 1869 continued with Philo M. Knapp – again – and C.W. Loomis.

County records at the register of deeds office for the most part match the Republic’s history of the property: April 26, 1850, Henry Treat to Charles Stacy, $125 (Deeds, Volume C, Page 267); June 27, 1850, Stacy to Durand, $150 (Deeds, Volume C, Page 346); June 28, 1851, Durand to Knapp and Pease, $200 (Deeds, Volume E, Page 61); Pease to Philo Knapp (Volume E, Page 299).

C.W. Loomis sold to Henrietta and Christopher Ponto for $950 in February 1872 (Deeds, Volume 33, Page 314). I believe they operated a saloon. They sold for $970 to Joseph Frotzenske in November 1875 (Deeds, Volume 34, Page 40). Frotzensky sold to Frederick T. Yahr for $1,000 in April 1874 (Deeds, Volume 34, Page 62).

Jacob and Maggie Bartol paid Yahr $800 for the property in September 1874 (Deeds, Volume 36, Page 135) and sold to Charles Schwederski for $900 in January 1875 (Deeds, Volume 36, Page 285). He sold it to August Swanke for $900 three months later (Deeds, Volume 36, Page 318).

Swanke sold the property to John Hennig for $800 in August 1875 (Deeds, Volume 37, Page 105). Hennig operated a bakery on the first floor and lived on the second floor for several years.

The Republic wrote this profile of the Princeton Bakery in August 1876: “This institution, owned and operated by John Hennig, has been a part of the business of Princeton for the past two years. … The usual process is used in making bread, cake, pies, etc., but the manner of baking is after the old Dutch-oven style, which, by the way, when you talk of getting a nice bake on bread, is the best way in the world. The fire is built right in the oven, and when it has burned down, the coals and ashes are carefully swept out, and the dough is placed into the heated chamber. This hot weather people can avoid the disagreeable atmosphere of a heated stove by purchasing their bread at the Princeton Bakery. Mr. Hennig is a practical baker and wishes us to state that ‘he is a well bre(a)d man’ and hopes that his good works will be in the mouths of everyone.”

Hennig sold the property to Elmer Morse in March 1890 for $1,125 (Deeds, Volume 48, Page 509).

Princeton Republic, April 3, 1890 – “E.D. Morse has become the owner of John Hennig’s place, having bought the same last week. It is hoped that Elmer can be induced to put up a good business block there which would add much the appearance of the street.”

Former Republic publisher J.C. Thompson moved a stock of goods into “the first room west of Yahr’s bank (525 West Water)” in 1892.

Morse sold the property to Fred E. Yahr for $1,001 on March 14, 1894, and F.T.’s son sold it to the Princeton State Bank for $1,100 (Volume 52, Page 99) the same day.

Princeton State Bank had formed from the private banking house of F.T. Yahr in 1893. Yahr issued the following announcement dated May 4, 1893: “To my Friends and the Patrons of the Bank of F.T. Yahr: A meeting of the businessmen of Princeton, Wisconsin, has this day been called to organize a State Bank in place of the private bank owned and operated by myself and Eugene F. Yahr and known as the Bank of F.T. Yahr. This move has been deemed necessary to bring the businessmen of Princeton and the patrons of the bank in closer relationship with the bank. An opportunity will be given for all those wishing to become stockholders in the new organization to secure shares.”

The Republic provided another look at the history of Princeton’s first store lot as it was prepared for the new bank building.

Princeton Republic, April 5, 1894 – “And now another old landmark is being moved to give room for a new bank building, we understand. The one referred to is the building lately vacated by J.C. Thompson, who has until recently occupied the same as a general store. This building was built in 1849 by Stacy & Harmon, the former a carpenter, the latter an Indian trader. When the edifice was completed, Mr. F. Durand purchased the same and removed his stock of goods from Hustisford to this place, being the first store in Princeton. … Years afterwards Durand sold out to Luce & Knapp. Since then, John Henks, Knapp & Rawson, Philo M. Knapp, Loomis Bros., S.M. Eggleston and, for several years owned and occupied by John Hennig as bakery and dwelling, it finally fell into the hands of the present owner, E.D. Morse, who now is moving the same to his lot on Main Street.”

Princeton Republic, April 19, 1894 – “And still the improvements go on. The next on the schedule of fine buildings that are to be reared in Princeton is the new bank building, the erection of which will soon be an accomplished fact. The structure will stand just west of F.T. Yahr’s building, so long used as a business block. The new home for the bank will be 22×50 feet in size and two stories high. The front will be fine. Duck Creek stone of a beautiful brownish cast, and St. Louis pressed brick will be the material used. The finest plate glass, mirror like in its beauty, will be set in front, and the entrance to the business rooms will be on the west corner of the front and on the east corner will be the entrance to a fine iron spiral stairway leading to the upper floor. These entrances will be under heavy arches of stonework, the designs of the arches presenting a substantial appearance but in exquisite taste. Architectural designs will surmount the top of the front over the east entrance, and a tower, complete in architectural appearance, will finish off the top over the west entrance. The building will present the finest appearance of any building in this part of the state. The inside fixtures and finish will be of cherry and very fine. The excavations for the foundations are now in progress and the erection and completion of this structure will be a matter of but a few months and will be a magnificent and palatial home for one of the most substantial banks in the state.”

The contract for erecting the bank building was let to Joseph Hatter of Fond du Lac. Work began in May.

Princeton Republic, June 14, 1894 – “A heavy cap stone weighing some 4,000 pounds, was put in place over what will be the large plate glass window in the front of the new bank building today.  … The laying of the stone front of the bank building was well under way last Saturday and began to show the outline and effect which will be apparent when completed.”

Princeton Republic, July 26, 1894 – “The steel roof is being laid upon the tower of the bank.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 23, 1894 – “The new bank is having its outfit put in place. The fixtures are elaborate and fine indeed. The desks, framework, etc. are of marble and Pennsylvania cherry, bearing a mirror-like polish that is exceedingly beautiful. This fine work is furnished by Robt. Brand & Sons of Oshkosh and being put in place under the supervision of that firm.”

The Princeton State Bank, with its pyramid tower, stands sentinel in the middle of the 500 block of Water Street, circa 1907-1909. It was built in 1894 on the site of Princeton’s first store, built in 1849.

Not all improvements at the bank over the years were so grandiose.

Princeton Republic, June 26, 1902 – “One of the greatest wonders of the age was placed in the State Bank this morning. It is a machine to keep daily computation. With the pulling of a lever a column of figures 100 feet long can be instantly added. If you want to see a wonder, just drop into the State Bank.”

Princeton Republic, June 30, 1904 – “Mr. J.J. Maxwell, the genial cashier of the Princeton State Bank, informs us that after several weeks trial, he is more than pleased with the Automatic Electrical System and Steel Vault Lining, which was installed a few weeks ago by the American Bank Protection Company of Minneapolis. Before equipping their vault with this system, these bankers had given their depositors the best protection that had been offered, but after the invention and production of this device, they concluded they could not afford to be without it. When burglaries are of such frequent occurrence as they are at the present time, it is the shrewd conservative bankers that provide all the protection available for themselves and their customers. The vault of the Princeton State Bank is lined, top, bottom and all sides with double plates of steel insulated and charged with electricity. The vault door is also thoroughly lined with steel and all parts are so adjusted that any attempt to tamper with the vault will be the means of starting several large gongs ringing furiously. The powerful batters which furnish power for this entire system are in a beautiful hardwood cabinet which stands inside the vault; this cabinet also contains the switchboard, two large alarm gongs, two test bells and two electrical timers which automatically control the whole system, setting as time locks for the vault, making it impossible for even the banker to enter the vault during the hours of the night without turning in the alarm. The fact that the bank has procured at considerable expense the best-known protection, should be a factor in increasing their already large list of depositors.”

Princeton Republic, Oct. 27, 1904 – “A fine steel ceiling is being placed on the ceiling of the Princeton State Bank.”

But more significant improvements were needed within a few years.

Princeton Republic, Feb. 29, 1912 – “Owing to the need of more vault space and for the purpose of giving its patrons a great number of conveniences and better service, the Princeton State Bank will build an addition to the back of its present building and entirely remodel and refurnish the first floor of its present banking quarters. Work will be commenced as soon as the weather permits. The management has known for some time that these changes would soon become necessary to take care of the business, and a special fund has been set aside for the purpose of meeting the expense of these improvements. The rebuilding and addition will therefore not in any way effect the rate of dividend upon its stock. Mr. J. Simon Fluor of Oshkosh, an architect who makes a specialty of planning office buildings, is now at work upon the plans and specifications, and says that when completed the State Bank will have one of the best equipped offices in this section.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 22, 1912 – “On German Day the rebuilt offices of the Princeton State Bank will be opened to the public for their inspection, and the officers extend to all a cordial invitation to call on that day, go through the vaults, behind the counters and through the building. This is a good chance for the children to see the banking business behind the counter as well as before it and they will be welcome when attended by their parents. The building has been enlarged and completely refurnished including new vaults and fixtures thruout. The main offices are finished in mahogany and the new addition, used as a director’s room or meeting place for any body of men having business to transact, is finished in quarter-sawed fumed oak.”

The bank had three solid concrete vaults, reinforced with steel; two on the first floor, including one for safety deposit boxes, and one in the basement. The vaults were guarded by heavy steel doors weighing over 2,200 pounds each and were opened and closed by a heavy pressure bar system. The entire building was wired for electricity.

Princeton Republic, June 16, 1921 – “The Princeton State Bank recently installed a burglar proof safe which they procured from the Diebold Safe & Lock Co. of Dayton, Ohio. The safe is of the very latest design and the mechanism is operated by three clocks in the door. The steel of which the body is made is the celebrated Tisco Manganese steel and known as the hardest and strongest steel on the market.  … The body of the safe is one solid casting and the door is also one solid casting and is ground into a jam with alundum and oil so as to make it absolutely liquid tight and proof against nitroglycerine.”

Princeton State Bank was forced to reorganize three times, twice due to illegal banking practices that landed three cashiers in state prison and once during the national Banking Holiday of the Great Depression. In 1937, Farmers-Merchants National Bank of Princeton bought out the state bank’s assets.

Princeton Republic, January 14, 1937 – “At the annual meeting of the Princeton State Bank on Tuesday of this week the stock was represented by 2,317 shares out of 2,400 and the meeting voted unanimously to combine the bank with the Farmers-Merchants National Bank.”

After Princeton State Bank closed, there was talk of using the building for a public library complete with indoor plumbing.

Princeton Times, Jan. 14, 1937 – “Talk among a group of local citizens recently turned to the possibility of securing the Princeton State Bank building for a public library. It was pointed out that the building would also provide rest room facilities. When an objection was made to the expense of the project, the argument was put forth that a community which could support nineteen taverns should certainly be able to furnish suitable library and rest room facilities.”

But the bank board sold the property instead to A.F. Breitengross (Deeds, Volume 100, Page 469), who had purchased Frank Mueller’s drug store at 530 West Water Street in 1919. Breitengross converted the former bank building into a restaurant, Breity’s, which opened in April 1938 and closed in 1952.

Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 11, 1937 – “Through the completion of an important real estate transaction last week, A.F. Breitengross becomes the sole owner of the Princeton State Bank building, and Princeton is due to have one of the most modern and best equipped restaurants in this part of the state. Lunch and back bar have already been ordered from the Stanley Knight Corporation of Chicago. The lunch bar will be equivalent to 43 feet in length and will be finished with Verde marble effect. It will have a seating capacity of 18 people. The back bar includes a complete fountain unit and represents the latest word in equipment for a restaurant. Provisions are made for the refrigeration of forty gallons of ice cream in eight different flavors besides brick and specialties. A salad refrigerator, steam table, hot and cold water, and auxiliary dish washer comprise other modern features of the back bar. The new non-liquid form of refrigeration which has many advantages in convenience and safety is another feature of this equipment. Besides tables in the man room, there will be at least eight tables in the very pleasant private dining room formerly used by the bank as a ‘director’s room.’ Mr. Breitengross will spare neither time nor effort to make the new restaurant one of which everyone in Princeton may well be proud. He will maintain the same high standards of service as in the conduct of his drug store which he has operated for nearly 19 years.”

Princeton Times-Republic, April 14, 1938 – “While the formal opening of the new Breity Restaurant in the ‘state bank building’ does not take place until Easter Sunday, this beautiful new eating place is already open for business and enjoying an excellent patronage. … It is said that one picture is worth ten thousand words, so we refer to the picture in this issue (see below). And the food – ah, after all, that really is the important thing in a place of this kind; and the fact that Mrs. Mike (Maggie) Blankavage is the chef is assurance that the food will be well-cooked, tasty, and of variety that will never cease to tempt the inner man. … For their formal opening on Easter, Breity’s will give their patrons the choice of a delicious baked ham or chicken dinner with all the trimmings.”

This photo of the inside of Breity’s Restaurant appeared on the front page of the Princeton Times-Republic on April 12, 1938.
Breity’s staff, date unknown.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 1952 – “Mr. and Mrs. Ronnie Henell of Milwaukee announced today that the Breity Restaurant will be reopened for business on Saturday, June 21. The Henells, Mrs. Henell is the former Shirleyanne Manthey of Princeton, will keep the business under the Breity name and have engaged the services of Mrs. Mike Blankavage as cook for the restaurant. The restaurant has been redecorated for top to bottom and addition equipment has been purchased to make Breity’s a fine place to eat. Closed since late last year, the opening is a welcome sight to the people of this area.”

The Henells closed the restaurant in October 1953.

Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 1, 1953 – “Ronnie Henell announced on Wednesday that the Breity restaurant would be closed until further notice after the first of October. He has accepted a job with the Wisconsin Power & Light Company. The Henells have operated the restaurant for a little over a year. No definite plans are known at this time about the future of the property, which is owned by August Breitengross. Several outside parties have shown an interest in reopening the restaurant, but nothing is definite at this time.”

The Breitengrosses sold the property to Charles Randula in April 1955 (Deeds, Volume 140, Page 1).

Princeton Times-Republic, April 5, 1956 – “Craite Real Estate informed us that Breity’s Restaurant was sold Monday. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Randula of Hancock are the new owners. They are already busy preparing for the opening of the restaurant.”

Princeton Times-Republic, July 31, 1958 – “The sale and purchase of Randula’s Restaurant has been announced this week by Charles Randula. Charles Hollenback and his wife have taken over the establishment which has been run by Randula for the past two and one half years. The Hollenbacks are from Chicago, when Mr. Hollenback has been a milkman. Before that he was associated with the restaurant business.”

I remember the building as the Hollenback restaurant (Holly’s Cafe) in my youth.

Princeton Times-Republic, April 10, 1969 – “The ‘Fox River Cafe’ is the name given to the restaurant located at 529 W. Water Street, Princeton. It was formerly known as Holly’s Restaurant and prior to that, Breity’s Restaurant. The new owners are Mr. and Mrs. Harley Raatz who recently moved here from Watertown, Wisconsin. They leased the building from Mrs. Charles Hollenback and will be residing in the apartment above the restaurant.”

Charlotte Hollenback still owned the building at 527-529 West Water in 1979, but the Fox River Cafe had closed.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 21, 1979 – “A non-denominational church has opened its doors to the Princeton area people. The Christ Community Church is located at 529 Water Street downtown Princeton, where services have been held the past two weeks. The pastor is Bill Flesher. … Pastor Flesher and his wife, Laurie, came to Princeton on Memorial Day. They have been busy, cleaning, fixing, painting and organizing the facilities which at one time housed a restaurant. Originally it was a bank.”

The newspaper later reported several interesting items from the 1940s were found when the former bank and restaurant was remodeled to house the church, including special tax stamps issued to A.F. Breitengross for coin-operated juke boxes, restaurant permits for Mrs. A.F. Breitengross, 1941 calendar from Luedtke’s Meat Market, a postcard of a trout stream near Princeton and, from the 1930s, a business card from the West Side Service Station operated by W.H. Doyle at the intersection highways 23 and 73, a 1948 Princeton Tigers baseball schedule in the Central State League and several movie posters from the Campus Theatre in Ripon.

The Princeton Auto Parts store at 525 West Water expanded into 527 in 1981.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 18, 1981 – “An attractive and striking red, white and blue decor both inside and outside distinguishes Princeton Auto Parts Inc. in downtown Princeton. The new look came about with the expansion, remodeling and redecoration of the business which just plain ‘outgrew its location.’ The Charlie Wolfes, owners, extend an invitation to the public to visit them at the Grand Opening, June 22-28, to see the improvements and get acquainted with the new brands and services … Charlie and Jeanne Wolfe started the Princeton Auto Parts Inc. here in March of 1978 and in March of this year they almost doubled their space when they purchased the building next door, which from 1893 to 1937 was the Princeton State Bank. Later the building housed a gift shop and a number of restaurants.”

Princeton Times-Republic, September 22, 1983 – “Miller Auto Parts, formerly known as Princeton Auto Parts, celebrated their grand opening last Friday and Saturday with sales galore throughout the store. Bruce Dreger, of Princeton, will be managing the store and servicing customers and their needs. … Miller Auto Parts has 13 stores throughout the state of Wisconsin.”

I do not know when the auto parts business moved out.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 4, 1998 – “Simply Kids is a new business located at 529 Water Street in downtown Princeton. It opened on April 28th. Deb Holling is the owner of this new shop that offers parents slightly used children’s items at a fraction of the cost. Everything from clothing and toys to shoes and furniture can be found at Simply Kids. … Simply Kids was born after Deb got the idea and discovered the building at 529 was available for rent. Her husband had rented this building for his business several years ago before moving it to Sun Prairie.”

The City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour plaque at 527-529 West Water Street is misleading. No Princeton State Bank depositors lost money when the bank closed during the national Banking Holiday in 1933. It was among the first wave of banks allowed to reopen, ironically because it had reorganized and recapitalized about 12 months earlier due to an illegal banking scandal that closed the bank from Sept. 3, 1931, to March 25, 1932.

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