lots o’ history – Block E, Lot 5 (424 West Water)

Jennie (Shew) Roberts and her daughter, Mildred, sit outside the family restaurant, which Thomas and Jennie Roberts opened in 1909 at about 424 West Water Street.

(Editor’s note: With this post, we’ve completed surveying the first 100 years of each of the lots, buildings, key owners and best-known occupants for the properties on the north side of the 400, 500 and 600 blocks of West Water Street – our historic downtown. Time to celebrate! This information has been gleaned from original newspaper accounts, property records and the Sanborn fire insurance maps – the trifecta of primary local historical sources.)

Lot 5 of Block E today is home to the Princeton Public Library, 424 West Water Street. Prior to the library being built on the site in the 1980s, the building that stood just west of the present library’s entrance had housed restaurants for several years and served as office space for local attorneys and judges in its earliest years.

The first building on Block E was built in 1850-51 and was the fifth or sixth store (depending on whether you count a burned building) erected in Princeton.

We first learn of the building in the history of Princeton published by the Princeton Republic in 1869: “In our last, we closed with Seeley & Hall’s building, it being the fourth. The next, put up in the summer of 1850, occupied the ground upon which August Thiel’s residence now stands and was built by Richmond Tucker, who filled it with a miscellaneous stock of merchandise, but was burned out in little over a year, when he erected the building now owned and occupied by Esq. Myers as a law office and residence on Water Street.”

I believe, but am less than certain, Myers’ 1869 law office is the building referred to in early deeds of Lot 4 of Block E as the office of attorney S.W. Holmes, insurance agent R.P. Rawson and attorney J. Edmund Millard.

The deeds noted the building was excluded from the sale, indicating it was sold separate from the property.

Myers building (428-424)

Richmond Tucker, who built the Myers building, sold the west part of Lot 5 to a New York group led by Charles Connors, and the property passed on to John Wheeler and, in June 1864, to William Jackson for $300 (Deeds, Volume 23, Page 400). 

Jackson sold to Abram H. Myers for $750 in September 1864 (Deeds, Volume 24, Page 243), which is when I believe Myers moved his office building to Lot 5.

Myers built an addition and updated the original building in 1885.

Princeton Republic, June 18, 1885 – “Judge Myers is going to build on an addition to the building he has occupied so many years as office and dwelling. It will be a material addition to his home and add much to the looks and value of his property.”

Princeton Republic, June 5, 1890 – “R.P. Rawson has moved his insurance office into J.H. Davidson’s law office. Mr. Rawson has had a desk in A.H. Myers’ office for twenty years. It is like leaving an old friend to move, but Mr. Myers was in want of the room, hence the removal.”

North side of the 400 block of West Water Street, 1892 Sanborn fire insurance map. 424 West Water is at far right.

Myers was born in June 1829 in New York, moved to Wisconsin in 1851, worked as a teacher and farmed in Marquette County, and arrived in Princeton in 1864. He was a justice of the peace for several years and served as county judge for four years. His legal work focused largely on probate court. He was a major force in the construction of the stone school on Main Street in 1867 and served as school board director for several terms. He was involved in most major village projects of the 19th century.

Myers died from heart failure on Nov. 24, 1894. His property passed to his three daughters. Ellen Long, of Milwaukee, Elizabeth Warren, of Juneau, and Henrietta Whittemore, of Princeton. Long and Warren sold their share of his holdings to Henrietta and Washington Whittemore for $2,400 a few years after Myers’ death (Deeds, Volume 68, Page 7).

The holdings by that time also included the east 37.5 feet of Lot 5 and the west 2.5 feet of Lot 8, which had passed from Henry Treat to Alta. Knapp, to Charles W. Loomis, to Laura and Lafayette Fisher to Myers, for $650 in May 1873 (Deeds, Volume 24, Page 182).

Princeton Republic, April 22, 1897 – “R.P. Rawson has moved his office from the second floor of Mittlestaedt’s block back into the old corner he occupied years ago in the late Judge Myer’s office, now Wash. Whittemore’s place.”

The “Industrial Review of Princeton, Wisconsin,” published by A.I. Lord, of Milwaukee, in 1897 offered this description of Rawson: “Mr. Rawson is one of the pioneer residents of Wisconsin, having come to this state in 1844 and settled in Dane County where he held several offices. He removed to Princeton in 1850, when she consisted of six or seven families. During this time, he has held many positions, such as president of the village, clerk, supervisor, coroner, etc. Mr. Rawson is one of the most beloved and respected men of the community in which he has always been a prominent figure.”

North side of the 400 block of West Water Street, 1898 Sanborn fire insurance map. 428 West Water is at far right.

After Rawson died in 1899, Washington Whittemore took on his insurance business and continued to operate from the same building until 1909. At one point he advertised insurance and “notions,” another time as a gift shop.

North side of the 400 block of West Water Street, 1904 Sanborn fire insurance map. 428 West Water is at far right.

The Whittemores sold the west 42.5 feet of Lot 5 to Jennie and Thomas Roberts for $3,000 in May 1909 (Deeds, Volume 69, Page 613). The Roberts family opened the first restaurant to grace the site.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 9, 1909 – “W.W. Whittemore and family who have recently sold their place to Tom Roberts are moving their household goods to the place they purchased from T.J. Paull. Mr. Roberts is remodeling the Whittemore place and will soon have same ready for business.”

Jennie (Shew) Roberts and her daughter, Mildred, sit outside the family restaurant, which Thomas and Jennie Roberts opened in 1909 at about 424 West Water Street.

The Roberts family operated the restaurant for several years. Thomas Roberts passed in 1920.

Princeton Republic, July 13, 1911 – “Dr. Griswold and family have moved into the Thos. Roberts residence on East Water St. and has his office across from the Turner Hall.”

There was a millinery at about 524 West Water in 1914, according to the Sanborn fire insurance map.

North side of the 400 block of West Water Street, 1914 Sanborn fire insurance map. 424 West Water is at far right.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 21, 1920 – “Chiropractors Beaver & Beaver (Joseph and Edith), of Milwaukee, have obtained living and office quarters from Mrs. Jennie Roberts opposite the Turner Hall.”

John Shew Jr. operated an appliance store and radio shop in the building in the 1930s, I believe, before moving to his father’s building next door west.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 8, 1939 – “The Pantry is the name of the new restaurant and ice cream parlor opened in the building formerly occupied by the John Shew appliance store. … The Pantry is spick and span and nicely furnished – surely an attractive place to eat. Mrs. Jennie Beaver will be assisted by her daughter, Mrs. Mildred Deau in the conduct of the business.”

Princeton Times-Republic, Aug. 19, 1943 – “The Pantry restaurant is undergoing extensive improvement. A room is being finished in the front of the building which will be used as a kitchen and other improvement have been made in the restaurant.”

Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Gruber formally opened The Pantry’s successor, Gruber’s Restaurant, on Feb. 26. 1944. Four months later the Grubers purchased the former Corenke building across the street at 433 West Water and moved the restaurant there in April 1945.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 10, 1945 – “Mrs. Millie Deau announces that she will reopen the Pantry Restaurant Saturday, May 12th.”

Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 22, 1945 – “The Pantry Restaurant, conducted by Mrs. Millie Deau, has been sold to parties from Mauston.”

Princeton Times-Republic, Dec. 6, 1945 – “Mr. and Mrs. Roy Barber and Miss Artyce Smith are the new owners of the Cozy Café, formerly the Pantry Restaurant. They came here from Tomah.”

The new owners did not find Princeton all that cozy and were gone in seven months.

Princeton Times-Republic, July 11, 1946 – “Two former war prisoners satisfied a dream of starvation-long prison days here in Princeton this month when they opened a restaurant, the Princeton Café, opposite the theatre. The men, William Crabb, former flying fortress ball turret gunner and his brother, Robert Crabb, a newspaper man in the Philippines, have bought the restaurant in partnership with their brother-in-law, Robert Fadner, one of the University of Wisconsin’s boxing greats. … Fadner, formerly from Fond du Lac and Plainfield, was the only boxer at the University of Wisconsin ever to complete his varsity career without a defeat or tie in dual competition. A Green Bay Golden champion in 1934, he went on to win the state Golden Gloves title the same year, and the next year took the Minneapolis diamond belt. In 1936 he won the national intercollegiate championship, the first Wisconsin boxer to win that title.”

Leonard Gruber, owner of Gruber’s Restaurant across the street from the Princeton Café, a short time later sold his kitchen equipment to the café and went into the clothing business.

Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 21, 1946 – “Without bus service for many years, Princeton at last has been included on the schedule of a new bus company (Swenson Coach Lines) operating from Wisconsin Rapids to Milwaukee, with transfer arrangements at Beaver Dam. The service begins Saturday when a south-bound bus pulls into the Princeton Café, the local depot, at 8:12 in the morning. This bus reaches Milwaukee at 12 o’clock noon. Another Milwaukee-bound bus leaves the café at 5:22 in the afternoon. Going north, where Wisconsin Rapids is the terminal, buses leave here at 1:10 in the afternoon, and 9:58 at night. … Much credit for bus service goes to Melvin Parsons and Mrs. Ernest Cernik (formerly Violet Rozek).”

Bob and Marvin Dugenske purchased the restaurant in 1948.

Princeton Times-Republic, April 29, 1948 – “The new dress of stone-faced insulation on the front and sides of the Princeton Café adds greatly to its appearance.”

That’s as far as I have gotten in my research. I will update the more recent information as my research advances. We know the restaurant continued under various names, including King’s Pub and Country Corner, until the 1980s.

Country Corner in the 1980s.

The only information about 424 West Water provided on the City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour plaque, relates to the library, which opened there in 1986 and was rebuilt two years ago.

The early commercial buildings that stood on Lot 5 of Block E occupied what is now the west wing of the Princeton Public Library, 424 West Water. The east part of the lot was occupied by dwellings for its first 100-plus years.

As always, please let me know if you have any corrections or can fill in any of the gaps in our time line. Thanks, again, for reading and caring about local history.

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