Tilting at plaques

This is one of the 13 incorrect plaques on the walking tour in the three-block Water Street business district. The building at 630 West Water was not moved here from St. Marie or used as a feed store for about 100 years.

Sancho has saddled my trusty steed. The lance has been mended. I see the giants on the horizon. Just call me Don.

Much to my chagrin, I have again been roused from my happy sojourns into property deeds and newspaper clippings to address a project that has grown from pet peeve to cause: The City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour.

I have called the plaque project a great idea but badly executed. My evidence regarding the execution is the fact – not opinion – that at least 13 of the 23 plaques in the three-block Water Street business district contain verifiable errors. These are documented facts.

In a meeting with the historical society president last year, in emails and in this blog, I have volunteered to help pay for replacements and to provide the correct information with documentation and 100-word summaries that would retain info from sponsors if verifiable.

When I purchased a copy of the Princeton Times-Republic to see the St. Patrick’s story a couple of weeks ago, the top story was about the plaques! I was hoping for good news.

There really wasn’t much news, just that the Community Development Authority viewed the plaques as an important fundraising tool and was continuing to seek sponsors.

To illustrate the story, the newspaper included a photo of one of the walking tour’s most blatant errors!

The plaque claiming that the historical society building at 630 West Water was moved here from St. Marie by teams of oxen and horses is incorrect. It wasn’t. It was built in 1876 by Gardner Green. My documentation is included in four of the posts here (Block C and three earlier on 630) and the Wisconsin Historical Society historic property inventory.

When I asked the local historical society for documentation of its plaque’s claims when I started work on my book, it could not be found.

Nor could anyone explain how we misplaced the Commercial Hotel in the heart of downtown. It’s clearly visible in old photos of Water Street.

Or why we said there was no bridge here until 1867 when we had research that indicated that was not true. Or how we got construction dates wrong on buildings that are described in great detail in newspapers of the day. Or had businesses in 1876 in a building not built until 1901. And so on.

I started this blog largely to address the plaque problems when I could not get the historical society or city officials to listen, much less to act. Some continue to stick their heads in the sand, but there are hints that others agree we need to fix the plaques.

The blog has really evolved from a vehicle to point out the plaque errors when no one was listening to a well-rounded resource for future historians. It includes key documents, history corrections, early Princeton timeline, old photos, corporate reports and more – resources that were not available to me when I began researching my book. I don’t want future historians to face the same roadblocks I did.

I still think the walking tour is a great idea, but the approval – and writing – standard must be much higher for any new plaques. And we should prioritize correcting at least the worst 10 offenders of the old plaques.

I appreciate the role CDA plays in the community as well as the difficulties involved in fundraising. But I fear some leaders are more interested in the sale than the history. I pray we no longer will let anyone put whatever they want on a plaque on our historic walking tour without verifying it.

We should not continue to sell our historical soul for $200 a pop.

And now back to the property deeds and newspaper clippings!

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