The best source we have for tracing the development of the Water Street business district is the history of early Princeton published in 1869 by the Princeton Republic. The history includes a listing of the first 20 or so buildings erected in Princeton for retail trade.
The history does not, however, chronicle construction of the hamlet’s early hotels other than John Knapp’s inn at Water and Pearl streets – the first frame building in Princeton. Nelson Parsons, the second white settler in Princeton, established a hotel on Farmer Street in 1849-50, and Gaines and Louis Lamont began construction about the same time of a hotel at the northeast corner of Water and Washington streets, Lot 1 of Block E in the original plat.
After purchasing the land that became Princeton’s original plat from the U.S. government in 1849 for $1.25 per acre, Henry Treat sold Lots 1, 3 and 4 of Block E to the Lamonts for $65 in April 1850 (Deeds, Volume C, Page 311).
They received $700 from Chapin Hall for Lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Block E in July 1850. Davis Waite, who arrived from New York with Hall, finished the hotel started by the Lamonts and in 1852, with Albert G. Hopkins, purchased Hall’s four lots for $2,000 (Deeds, Volume E, Page 583).
According to the deed, Lot 1 at the time included a two-story house and buildings attached known as the New York House. Lot 2 included a barn, the hotel stables and houses connected therewith. A one-story office occupied by Holmes, Rawson and Millard on Lot 4 was not included in the sale.
Hopkins sold his interest in Lots 1 and 2, the New York House, to Waite for $1,500 in August 1857 (Deeds, Volume N, Page 542). Waite got out of the hotel business in December 1858, selling to Kasson and Lodemia Freeman, who changed the name to the Freeman Hotel, for $,5000 (Deeds, Volume Q, Page 236).
The Freemans lasted but two years, found greener pastures in Michigan and sold to August Thiel for $1,000 (Deeds, Volume R, Page 151). When Thiel sold to Morris Marx for $1,500 (Deeds, Volume T, Page 15) in February 1861, the deed stated the property included the hotel and barn “formerly known as the New York House property and now the Freeman Hotel property.”
The Marxes sold to John C. Thompson for $1,000 in March 1863 (Deeds, Volume 22, Page 100). Thompson operated the Temperance House, which he sold in December 1866 for $1,900 to John D. Jarvis, who renamed the hotel the Jarvis House.
The Berlin Courant reported “evidence of enterprise and prosperity exhibited on every hand” when it visited Princeton in September 1868.
“Some changes are noticeable among the business firms,” the newspaper noted. “Among them, Thompson left the Freeman House, which latter has been transmogrified, and is now known as the Jarvis House, and is presided over by a modest man named Cooke. F.W. Cooke knows his business and keeps an excellent house.”
The Republic described Cooke “as jolly as an alderman and about as fat. The good Lord made him a natural landlord.”
But the aging Jarvis House building was a problem by 1870. When it published short profiles of the establishments on Water Street (other than saloons) in 1870, the Republic offered this description of the hotel: “And now we come to the hardest part of our task and that is to speak justly of our hotel. We don’t mean the generous host of the Jarvis House, for he is a borne landlord, on hand in the morning, on hand in the evening and at all times of day and night, ready to take ‘the stranger in’ and go for his ‘bottom dollar’ leaving the stranger all the balance. But of the house, the building, dilapidated though it may be, we will not remark.”
Jarvis sold to John P. Schneider, of Berlin, for $2,175 in February 1871 (Deeds, Volume 31, Page 597). He changed the name to the American House.
“A Mr. (John P.) Schneider, of Berlin, has bought the Jarvis House and we understand will thoroughly repair and renovate it,” the Republic reported. “It ought to be made into a new house entire.”
The Republic reported Jarvis moved to Muscatine, Iowa, to open a hotel in November 1872. He died in March 1885 in Chicago.
Cooke moved on, and Schneider and his wife managed the hotel. They bought new furniture and made other improvements.
Cooke’s time as landlord at the American House ended in July 1873. He was elected county sheriff and led the young fire department for a time before passing in 1890.
The Schneiders sold to Henry and Sarah Priest in October 1883 for $5,000 (Deeds Volume 42, Page 320).
Princeton Republic, Oct. 23, 1884 – “Another change! J.P. Schneider, esq., for so many years proprietor of the American House, has sold to Mr. Priest, whose hotel was recently destroyed by fire in Berlin. The new proprietor takes possession the first of next week. Mr. Schneider has so long been connected with the American House that it seems like parting with an old friend when he vacates the premises. We extend a cordial welcome, however, to the new proprietor.”
Princeton Republic, Jan. 22, 1885 – “Mrs. Priest, landlady of the American House, fell and broke one of her limbs. – Stepping from one room to another she stepped upon a small piece of ice, and her whole weight came full upon the unfortunate limb in such a way as to fracture it just above the ankle.”
When fire destroyed the landmark American House in February 1885, the Republic noted “considerable furniture was carried out of the lower story, and perhaps more could have been saved had Mr. Priest been able to leave his wife and attend to the matter. But by the time he had got Mrs. Priest to a place of safety it was too late to secure much from the house. The erection of the American House was commenced about 35 years ago. It was first a small building compared to what it was when the flames laid it in ruins. It has been changed over and enlarged several times since first built until it had become a large and roomy building.”
The Priests rebuilt the hotel with brick and reopened in October.
Princeton Republic, Oct. 29, 1885 – “The American House opening last Friday night was a very successful affair, well-patronized and one of the most pleasant occasions that has transpired in Princeton for many years. The supper was excellent, reflecting great credit upon the worthy landlady, Mrs. Priest. The social and friendly intercourse of those present and the dancing all contributed to make the occasion a pleasant one.”
The Princeton Times in April 1936 shared an invitation provided by Herman A. Megow to the formal opening of the American House held October 23, 1885. All of the surrounding communities were represented on the committee planning the elaborate celebration. Princeton’s representatives were F.W. Cooke, F.H. Yahr, Dr. G.C. Hoyer, G. Teske, E.T. Frank and Richard Mueller. Supper tickets were $1 each, as were dance tickets. The dance was held in the east room later used by the post office.
Princeton Republic, Feb. 25, 1886 – “The proprietor of the American House has had the name of that popular hostelry painted on both the Water Street and Washington Street fronts.”
Princeton Republic, March 18, 1886 – “On past Cattle Fair day, dinner for 150 persons was served at the American House.”
Priest rented out the east room of the in March 1886 to W.A. Alexander, with a stock of dry goods, boots and shoes, and more. A couple of Berlin men rented the space in May 1888 for a saloon.
Princeton Republic, March 22, 1894 – “The work of excavating for the foundation of the new addition to the American House commenced Monday. … That American House will soon reach the dimensions of a traveling man’s palace if Landlord Priest keeps on at the present rate. … The addition to the American House will be 20 feet in front and 116 feet in depth. It will project five feet farther than the main building, and the front or street entrance will be on the west side of this projection. Plate glass will adorn and set off to advantage and complete the front. The design of the building is very fine and the arrangement in connection with the other building will be complete. Arrangements are contemplated to heat the hotel by furnace.”
Princeton Republic, Aug. 2, 1894 – “The American House addition is nearly completed. The floors above in the whole building will eventually be floored with a fine maple flooring, as is the new part already. The American has about 40 rooms, and hence accommodations are ample for most any emergency. Every room is being furnished in superb style. The dining room is one of the finest in appearance the traveler will find this side of Milwaukee. Some 80 or 90 guests can sit at the tables without inconvenience or crowding. In fact, this caravansary is complete in all its appointments, and its proprietor, H.K. Priest, and his estimable lady know, in the full sense of the term, how to run a hotel, its widespread popularity proving that fact. George Holliday is also a necessary adjunct at the hotel and can fill any position, from clerk to waiter, in a way that always proves satisfactory.”
A sewer was laid from the American House to the river in November 1894, and Priest installed a steam heating plant in December. “All the stoves have been taken down and stored away and their work is now done by the more slightly pipes and radiators, which have been gilded and painted in an artistic manner,” the Republic said. “Landlord Priest thinks he can make quite a saving each year in the amount of fuel burned, besides getting a more uniform and more satisfactory heat than in the old way, with much less labor and dirt.”
Lightning splintered the American House’s cupola in May 1902. “And had it not been for the connection of the house with electric light wire, which caught the current of electricity and conducted the bolt to the ground, in all probability the building would have been destroyed by fire,” the Republic surmised. “As it was, only slight damage was incurred.”
Wm. Krause moved his stock of groceries into the store room in the American House in September 1901. Otto Maulick was the proprietor in March 1903. He was followed by F.O. Klingbeil in July 1903.
The Wisconsin Telephone Company office moved from the American House to the First National Bank building in 1910, and R.W. Harmon opened a fancy crockery and glassware department in the sample room.
Princeton Republic, July 21, 1904 – “H.B. Harris of Fond du Lac has taken the contract from Mr. McCugo and is laying the cement walks in the village. The stretch of walk from Whittemore’s corner to the American House is nearly finished and looks fine.”
The Priests sold to Sarah’s son, George Holliday, for $9,000 in November 1903 (Deeds, Volume 61, Page 417). Holliday sold for $17,500 to Frank F. Krueger in February 1911 (Deeds, Volume 70, Page 607).
Frank F. Krueger Sr. was a Princeton success story.
According to an article published by the Princeton Republic on March 2, 1911, Krueger was born in 1862 “in a log house where the snow would sift through in the winter, and the stars would shine thru in his face at night. This was the best his parents could afford after paying their fares across the ocean for which they had to go into debt.” He was raised about 2.5 miles southeast of Princeton and attended the Countryman school (later Morse school). He passed the teachers examination at age 17 and taught two terms before becoming a carpenter. He bought a couple of Jersey and built one of the county’s best dairy herds on land that became part of the Lawsonia estate. In 1903 he started a dairy wagon in Green Lake, where in 1909 he operated a furniture, paints, wallpaper and undertaking business as F.F. Krueger & Co.
Krueger became owner of the American House on Feb. 18. He gave up his residence in Green Lake, 31 lots in Walker’s south addition there and cash.
“His very successful career in the enterprises that he has been connected with shows him to be a man of excellent judgment and good business ability,” the Republic stated. “Our people have confidence in his ability, and the Republic feels that he will give to the traveling public and patrons of the American House service that will make this hotel a leader in this part of the state.”
Princeton Republic, August 3, 1911 – “The traveling public are agreeably surprised these days on arriving at our depot they are met by an auto representing the American House. Manager Krueger has made several innovations in the noted hostelry since the beginning of his management, but this latest plan of meeting the traveling public with the auto is very popular with the traveling men.”
Krueger sold to Bert H. Shew in January 1913 (Deeds, Volume 73, Page 179).
Princeton Republic, Jan. 23, 1913 – “Last Saturday a deal was consummated by which Landlord Krueger turns over his American House block to Bert Shew and takes over the Shew garage as partial payment. Mr. Shew leased the hotel to James Mulheren for a period of five years. Mr. Mulheren has taken charge of running of the hotel and promises the people of this city and the traveling public first-class accommodations at service equal to the best in the state. Mr. and Mrs. Mulheren have had good experience in the hotel business, and we feel that they will conduct a first-class hostelry. The new proprietor, Mr. Shew, is a hustling architect and is planning improvements that will add to the comfort and enjoyment of the patrons of the hotel.”
Shew sold to Julius E. Hennig and moved to Rio in December 1915 (Deeds, Volume 76, Page 247).
Princeton Republic, Dec. 9, 1915 – “The latter part of last week a deal was consummated between B.H. Shew and J.E. Hennig whereby the later became the owner of the American House, one of the leading hotels in the state. Mr. and Mrs. James Mulheren are in charge of the hotel at the present time and are enjoying first-class patronage.”
Hennig was born in Germany in 1852 and came to the U.S. when he was 16. He arrived in Princeton about 1881 from Fall Creek. Over the years he had been village president, leader of the St. John Lutheran school and congregation, deputy sheriff and then postmaster. He was involved in several local businesses and served on multiple local bank and corporate boards. He became postmaster in 1916.
Princeton Republic, March 9, 1916 – “Last Saturday Postmaster O.C. Olman turned over the books, records and keys of the local post office to his successor, J.E. Hennig. … He is a staunch Democrats and has espoused the cause of his party with steadfastness and unity of purpose in times of defeat as well as times of victory. … He has been a resident of Princeton and vicinity for 40 years. He was in the early days a shoemaker, later a farmer. He has always taken an interest in the business life and interests of the town and has done his share toward building up a larger and better Princeton. … For the past five years Mr. Hennig has been operating a large farm in Montana and dealing in real estate part of the year. He recently sold part of his interests in the West and purchased the American House block.”
Hennig moved the post office from the southeast corner of Water and Washington streets into the east room of the American House.
Princeton Republic, Jan. 25, 1917 – “Postmaster J.E. Hennig is at the present time busily engaged in remodeling and beautifying the front sample room of the American House. The room has been neatly paneled and adorned at the ceiling with stucco work. The side walls are also prettily decorated with stucco work at the upper part, while the lower part is made to resemble glazed brick. At the present time the painters are engaged who are putting the finishing touches to it, and when their work is completed and upon the arrival of the new lock boxes, which are of the combination lock type the post office will be moved into said room. Mr. Hennig having rented same to the post office department for a period of 10 years.”
Princeton Republic, July 28, 1921 – “Our attention has been called to the fact that during the distribution of the evening mail a large gathering assembles, many of whom converse in a loud manner, causing in a great measure disturbance to those who distribute the mail. If this noisy practice continues the post office will be closed and the evening’s mail will not be distributed. The postmaster is not compelled to distribute the evening’s mail. Mr. Hennig merely does this as an accommodation to the public, and in order to reciprocate we should be willing to refrain from loud controversies.”
Hennig rented the American House to Mr. and Mrs. Albert Polfuss in October 1917. They were followed by Mr. and Mrs. L.J. Whittemore and in September 1918 Mr. and Mrs. Leo Schewe.
Princeton Republic, March 13, 1919 – “Mr. J.E, Hennig, proprietor of the American House and who for the past several months successfully conducted same, has rented the building to Mr. and Mrs. Fred Brievogel of this city and took possession last Monday. Mr. and Mrs. Brievogel have been in the hotel business before.”
The Breivogels ran the American House for about six years before taking over the Buckhorn soft drink parlor in June 1925.
Mr. and Mrs. Leo Schewe took possession of the American House on July 1. Puggy’s Tavern became a popular gathering spot, with good food and good drink, the hotel withstood competition from the City Hotel, aka Commercial Hotel, and Princeton Hotel over the years, and Hennig kept the building in good shape.
Princeton Republic, Nov. 18, 1926 – “Ex-Postmaster J.E. Hennig is busily engaged in remodeling and changing the interior of the post office. Several new cases and a large new safe have been added and the room of the postmaster and his employees is to be enlarged and the room of the lobby somewhat reduced.”
Princeton Republic, May 28, 1931 – “When paying a bill for lodging and meal service last week at the American House a gentleman gave his check and wrote it to ‘Wisconsin’s Best Hotel’ instead of the American House. We feel that this is a fine compliment to the management. We wonder if our local people know that a hotel that stands high tin the estimation of the traveling public for service is a big advertisement to the city. … Let us all appreciate that we have in Princeton a hotel that stands high among the customers of service, courtesy and general management.”
Hennig died in 1931. The American House passed to his widow, Augusta.
The U.S. Postal Department in 1937 signed another 10-year lease to keep the post office in the American House building.
Augusta Hennig sold the property in May 1944 to Ernest and Martha Hiestand for $10,000 (Deeds, Volume 108, Page 499).
Princeton Times-Republic, May 11, 1944 – “One of the largest real estate deals of recent years here in Princeton was concluded last week when Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Hiestand became the owners of the American House building which they bought of Mrs. Auguste Hennig. The building will be used to house the Handcraft Company which is now using three different buildings for storage and manufacturing. This business, which was established about five years ago, has shown phenomenal growth having a market for knitwear in the leading merchandising centers of the United States and is furnishing employment to over 150 people in Princeton and vicinity with a weekly payroll of over $1,500. We understand that the purchase of this large building which has over 11,000 square feet of floor space is but the preliminary step that will permit further expansion of the firm’s operation, especially after the war. And while Princeton people will regret the passing of the American House as a hotel famous from coast to coast for its hospitality, we are sure that most everyone realizes that it is a decided boost for our little city as a manufacturing center for it means the permanent location here of a business that has contributed greatly to the prosperity of the community and holds great promise of becoming one of the leading industrial enterprises of this section of the state. … Mr. and Mrs. Leo Schewe have conducted the hotel for the past 19 years, succeeding Jule Hennig as operators.”
Princeton Times-Republic June 8, 1944 – “The Handcraft Company has moved into its new home, formerly the American House building, where much needed additional floor space will greatly facilitate assembling and shipment of its famous knitwear products. … The American House closed its tavern last Saturday evening although a limited number of rooms will be maintained for the time being by the Schewes to accommodate the traveling public. The site of the American House has been used for hotel purposes since 1852 when it was occupied by the New York Hotel.”
That’s as far as I have gotten in my research. I know the Hiestands built a large addition to the building in the 1950s, and I’ll update each of the lot histories as my research advances. If you can fill in any of the gaps, please let me know.
Thank you for reading and caring about local history.