LOTS O’ HISTORY – WATER LOT 27 (523 & 525 wEST wATER STREET)

Water Lot 27 today is home to Green 3 at 523 West Water Street and Daiseye at 525 West Water Street.

A fire destroyed the first building moved to Water Lot 27, which later became home to two of the 28 buildings in Princeton’s downtown district included in the Federal Registry of Historic Places: the F.T. Yahr building, built in 1875, at 525 West Water and the William Yahr building, built in 1901, at 523 West Water.

Today the buildings at 525 and 523 West Water are home to Daiseye and Green 3, respectively.

The first floor of the F.T. Yahr building housed Princeton’s first hometown bank. Other prominent tenants of the Yahr buildings included furniture dealers and undertakers, a saloonist or two, and hardware merchants. Professional (doctors and lawyers) offices, club rooms and millineries were the most common tenants of the buildings’ upper floors in the early days.

Here’s a look at highlights of Water Lot 27’s first 100 years, beginning with Princeton’s founding in 1848.

Lot 27 went from Henry Treat, who bought the land in Princeton’s original plat from the U.S. government in June 1849 for $1.25 per acre, to John and Harriett Winchell on June 19, 1850 (Deeds, Volume E, Page 95), and then to Eli Phinney as part of a 56-foot lot in January 1855 (Deeds, Volume I, Page 351).

Phinney, who paid $1,000, sold the property to Alvin and Waldo Flint for $1,500 in September 1855 (Deeds, Volume J, Page 536). The property passed to Waldo Rosebrook in 1856 and then Joseph Fish and Thomas Countryman in 1857, who sold to Jerome Fischer in May 1859 for $1,000 (Deeds, Volume T, Page 332).

Jerome Fischer split the property into approximately two 28-foot lots, selling the west 28 feet to Gustav Teske and F.T. Yahr for $400 in May 1869 (Deeds, Volume 30, Page 461) and the east half to Frederick Dargatz for $1,000 in September 1869 (Deeds, Volume 30, Page 628).

This photo, circa 1874, is the earliest I have seen of Old Princeton. The two-story white frame building second from left, a hotel moved here from St. Marie-Hamilton in the 1860s, burned in 1897 and was replaced in 1901 by the brick building that now stands at 523 West Water. F.T. Yahr erected the small building to the right of the former Fox River House in 1868 and replaced it with a two-story brick building in 1875 that still stands today at 525 West Water. Other than the brick Harmon furniture store building at left, none of the buildings shown here in the 500 block remain today.

Lot 27 – East (523 West Water Street)

Jerome Fischer was able to get $1,000 for the east half of the lot because it contained a building – the former Fox River House – that had been moved to Princeton from St. Marie-Hamilton earlier in the ’60s.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 2, 1876 – “The old Fox River House, Dargatz building, is having a new roof put on.”

Dargatz operated a saloon in the building. In 1878 he built a small store between his saloon and the F.T. Yahr brick block to the west. The walls went up in June and the building was enclosed by the end of July. Otto Giese moved into the west room with a stock of jewelry and clocks in September.

Princeton Republic, Aug 19, 1880 – “Fred Dargatz is painting his block.”

After Dargatz died in February 1882, his widow, Florentine, sold the property (east 28 feet of Lot 27 and west 2 feet of Lot 28) to Herman J. Warnke for $1,785 in April 1882 (Deeds, Volume 41, Page 560).

Princeton Republic, May 4, 1882 – “Herman Warnke has purchased the Dargatz block and moved in May 1. Herman will run a saloon.”

Princeton Republic, August 23, 1883 – “Herman Warnke is making extensive repairs to his saloon building.”

Warnke sold in April 1884 to William F. Krueger, of Manchester, for $2,475 (Deeds, Volume 42, Page 52). Following Krueger’s death, his widow, Mathilda, and children inherited the property. Mathilda remarried and became Mrs. Charles Clark. John Radtke occupied the saloon.

The newspaper reported in June 1889 that Radtke was interested in the Clark property and followed that report with another in September.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 5, 1889 – “It is said that at the close of certain negotiations now pending another brick and stone block costing some seven or eight thousand dollars will be erected by Mr. (F.T.) Yahr just west of the building now occupied by him. Princeton is surely moving ahead on a permanent basis. Business property holds to a firm price in Princeton.”

The talk was premature.

Princeton Republic,August 7, 1890 – “The building owned by Chas. Clark just east of Yahr’s bank has been reshingled.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 28, 1890 – “Geo. Lawrence has just completed a job of painting on the front of Chas. Clark’s building on Water Street occupied by John Radtke.”

Princeton Republic, June 25, 1891 – “Conductor Clark is having the upper story of his block now occupied by John Radtke remodeled and fixed over in a better shape than before.”

Radtke got a new neighbor that summer when John Hennig erected the “10-foot building” at 521 West Water Street.

The 1892 Sanborn fire insurance map shows John Radtke’s saloon and Will Whittemore’s jewelry store at 523 West Water and F.T. Yahr’s hardware store at 525 West Water.

Radtke moved to 538 West Water Street in 1894, and R. Tonn took the saloon at 523 West Water.

Princeton Republic, Jan. 2, 1896 – “R. Tonn has sold his saloon to John Buddenick (Budnick).”

The old Fox River House and Hennig’s building at 521 burned in 1897.

Princeton Republic, June 17, 1897 – “About 1 o’clock Tuesday morning, fire was discovered in the rear of the two-story wooden structure in which John Budnick’s saloon is situated. It was far past extinguishing before the fire department reached the spot. John Hennig’s adjoining building on the east had to go, leaving a gap of smoking ruins from Yahr’s hardware store to Demell and Hennig’s block. … The building where the fire originated belonged to the Clark estate, those most interested residing in Fond du Lac. The west room was occupied by Wm. Whittemore, a jewelry store and bicycle shop. The next room east was occupied by John Budnick as a saloon. …  The old building now gone has a bit of history. It was once a hotel at the village of Hamilton, a mile down the river and was moved to Princeton when Hamilton’s high hopes were blasted by the want of people the originators expected when they set their stakes to build a mighty city. The hotel was, we believe, called the Fox River House at Hamilton and retained its name when it was moved to Princeton. It became a noted place in this village as a hostelrie. Ed. Harroune, Sib. Stevens, George Hamer, Peter Fischer and a score or more of the older stock who belonged to those times, can tell more than we can write of the unwritten history of the old Fox River House.”

The Clarks and Krueger estate sold the east half of Lot 27 to Joseph Leimer, cashier of the Princeton State Bank, for $1,475 in 1901 (Deeds, Volume 60, Page 98 and Volume 57, Page 317). Leimer sold to William R. Yahr for $1,750 in July 1901 (Deeds, Volume 56, Page 164).

Willy was F.T. Yahr’s oldest son. He had left Princeton in 1883 to try his hand in business near Iroquois, South Dakota.

The 1898 Sanborn fire insurance map shows an empty lot at 523 West Water, following a fire in 1897, and F.T. Yahr’s hardware store at 525 West Water.

Princeton Republic, July 3, 1901 – “W.R. Yahr has purchased the lot east of his hardware store and will erect thereon a 30×70-foot, two-story brick building, with plate glass front, two rooms on the first floor, and will stock one of the rooms with furniture and rent the other for a jewelry store. He has a crew of men at work getting things ready for the foundation.”

Princeton Republic, August 22, 1901 – “W.R. Yahr expects to have his building completed by the 15th of October. All in need of furniture will do well to wait until above date.”

Princeton Republic, Oct. 31, 1901 – “W.R. Yahr has the plate glass front in his building and will have the handsomest show window in the city. The interior of the building is about completed, and he advertises to open up with a complete line of furniture and caskets November 10th.”

Yahr hired D. Christiansen, of Milwaukee, to oversee the furniture and undertaking business. F. Hiller, who worked for nearly 20 years in Oshkosh, was hired as the undertaker and embalmer in May 1902.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 10, 1903 – “George H. Harmon & Co. have purchased the furniture and undertaking business of W.R. Yahr and will conduct the business hereafter at the same place of business.”

Yahr passed suddenly in 1907. His widow, Laura, retained the building.

I have not found any good vintage photos that focus on the buildings of 523 and 525 West Water Street, or Water Lot 27. They are the two buildings to the left of the Princeton State Bank building with the pyramid cupola, if that’s a term, in this photo, circa 1906-07.

Carl W. Dumdey led the furniture and undertaking business in 1908.

Princeton Republic, March 2, 1911 – “Carl Dumdey, who has been in the furniture business the past 3 years in this city, sold his stock of goods to Herman Warnke & Son who will conduct the business. Mr. Warnke is well known to our citizens as a dealer in furniture and will give one and all the best of treatment and service in this line.”

H. Warnke & Son advertised “The New Edison” in October 1916: “The man whose discovery of the theory of the incandescent light has dissipated darkness and made night as bright as day … This man has now given the world The New Edition, the ultimate phonography.” The newspaper said the phonograph re-creates the human voice far superior to talking machines.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 27, 1917 – “The furniture and undertaking establishment which has been conducted under the firm name of H. Warnke & Son since the opening of business in February 1905 has changed its name last Monday afternoon and is now conducted by Alfred F. Warnke, the junior member, who through a deal has become sole owner, he having purchased his father’s interest.

Princeton Republic, May 9, 1918 – “Alfred Warnke, who has been conducting a successful furniture and undertaking business in our village for the past fourteen years, recently made a deal with Alfred Sommerfeldt whereby the later took over the ownership.”

Alfred’s brother William took over the business when Alfred went into the Army in 1918. He survived the war and the Spanish flu.

Princeton Republic, March 11, 1920 – “A splendid display has adorned the spacious and beautiful show window of our hustling furniture dealer A.A. Sommerfeldt the past week. So that our citizens could become acquainted with the contents of the new Honor Roll about to be published. Messrs. Starks and O’Connell of Berlin were here a week ago and arranged and decorated the window with flags, bunting and many pictures of our county boys who are to appear in this grand book about to come from the press. … Our citizens have had a chance firsthand to see how this great history will be made up.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 10, 1922 – “Last week Friday, Sommerfeldt Bros., universally known under the firm name A.A. Sommerfeldt, sold their furniture and undertaking store to R.G. Wachholz who took immediate possession. Sommerfeldt Bros. have conducted the business successfully for the past number of years.  …  Mr. Wachholz, formerly a resident of our neighboring village Neshkoro, but of late in business at Westfield, comes here as a man of most excellent business qualifications. He has conducted a business of same nature while at Neshkoro and Westfield and has met with splendid success. It is his intention to continue the business in the former manner, namely, furniture, upholstery, undertaking and funeral director.”

Laura Yahr sold the property at 523 West Water to R.G. Wachholz for $5,500 in March 1924 (Deeds, Volume 82, Page 76).

Princeton Republic, April 10, 1924 – “R.G. Wachholz, who recently acquired the ownership of the furniture store building he is now located In, is busily engaged in remodeling the interior. The stock of furniture is now located on the second floor and the first floor is being fitted with counters, tables and shelving and when completed a new stock of general merchandise will be on display.”

Wachholz purchased the former F.T. Yahr building at 525 West Water Street in 1927 and remodeled the side-by-side buildings in 1930.

Princeton Republic, July 10, 1930 – “In a deal recent consummated between R.G. Wachholz and a Chicago company, the latter took over the general merchandise line of the former and transported same to Chicago last Tuesday. Mr. Wachholz, in connection with his son Herbert, will cater only to the furniture and undertaking business in the future. The building just cleared (523) will be refilled with a full stock of new and up to date furniture of all kinds. … They intend to carry one of the most complete and largest furniture and coffin stocks in this section of the state.”

Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 18, 1930 – “Mr. and Mrs. R.G. Wachholz, residents of this city for the past number of years, left for Westfield last Saturday to make that city their future home. Mr. Wachholz was engaged with his son Herbert in the furniture and undertaking, also in the general mercantile business. The latter, however, was dispensed with recently and he and his son devoted their time in the exclusive furniture and undertaking line of business. … Their son Herbert Wachholz will conduct the furniture and undertaking in Princeton.”

Princeton Republic, March 21, 1935 – “R.G. Wachholz and Son finished their auction sale last Saturday and selling out their complete stock. … It is the intention of Mr. Wachholz to thoroughly refinish the interior of the store and remodel the front. Herbert Wachholz and Arthur Jaster left for Milwaukee, Chicago and other points the fore part this week to buy an entire new stock of goods.”

The last note I have about 523 West Water Street’s first 100 years comes from October 1944 when new cement floors were laid in the Wachholz buildings.

The east building remained a Wachholz store into at least the 1970s. According to the Princeton quas qui centennial booklet published in 1973, Herbert’s sons Herbert Jr. joined the firm in 1954 and Warren in 1959. I will update and verify the information on 523 West Water as my research proceeds.

Now, back to the west half of the lot, 525 West Water Street, today home to Daiseye.

This woodcut from an 1895 atlas shows the F.T. Yahr building, built in 1875, at 525 West Water Street.

Lot 27 – West (525 West Water)

Princeton Republic, March 19, 1868 – “Fred Yahr will soon put up a room on Water street, between the post office and Charley Loomis’ store, where he will keep all kinds of farm machinery. Fred is a tiptop fellow, understands his business and will succeed.”

As noted earlier, Jerome Fischer had sold the west half of Lot 27 to Gustav Teske and F.T. Yahr in 1869. Teske sold his share to Yahr for $300 in January 1872 (Deeds, Volume 33, Page 351).

Yahr told the newspaper in February 1872 that he was considering replacing his frame shack with a large stone building in the spring. It did not happen.

In December 1874, the Republic again said Yahr was preparing to “erect a large and fine stone and brick block” the following spring. This time it did happen.

The building would house the F.T. Yahr Co. hardware store and the Yahr, Thompson & Co. Bank.

Princeton Republic, May 22, 1875 – “F.T. Yahr has commenced laying stone for the foundation of his new block. The building is to be finished with a substantial vault and banking office.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 21, 1875 – “A large safe has been placed in the vault of Yahr’s new block.”

Princeton Republic, Sept. 18, 1875 – “F.T. Yahr & Co. will open for business in their new store Oct. 1.”

The basement was filled with stoves and heavy goods. A handsome new sign with F.T. Yahr & Co. in large gold letters was completed in March 1876.

If you have read my book or blog, you know Ferdinand T. Yahr, most often referred to as F.T. Yahr, ranks as one of the five most important men in the history of early Princeton. He co-founded the first locally owned bank, brought German immigrants here as an agent for a shipping company, sold hardware and farm implements, dealt in grain, lumber and myriad products, owned multiple business lots on Water Street, served in a variety of local offices and in the state Senate, built the large brick mansion just west of the Main Street bridge in 1883, and amassed a considerable fortune before moving to Milwaukee in 1894 to head a large drug company.

For this survey, we’re going to just follow his building at 525.

Princeton Republic, August 10, 1882 – “F. T. Yahr has ornamented the front of his business place with a trimming of green paint. Paint has been used liberally on the inside till his place of business looks neat as a pin.

Princeton Republic, July 5, 1883 – “This part of Wisconsin was again visited by a destructive storm last Monday morning. … The tin roof on F.T. Yahr’s bank building was rolled up into a shapeless mass of tin, boards and other timber, and carried in the air some ten rods was dropped back of Pooch & Hennig’s establishment (southeast corner of Water and Washington streets) on the opposite shore of the river.”

Princeton Republic, July 12, 1883 – “Friday night last this part of Wisconsin was visited with a tremendous rainstorm. The rain fell for hours and at intervals in unprecedented volume. No wind to speak of accompanied the rain. F.T. Yahr sustained considerable damage by rain. The new roof being placed on the building to replace the one blown off the previous Monday was not completed, and the rain fairly flooded his stock of hardware. The damage to the stock, and also to the building, was considerable. The story presented a sorry plight the next day. The law office of Niskern and Leonard on the floor above was inundated, but happily, the damage to them was merely nominal.”

Princeton Republic, March 7, 1889 – “Last Thursday while F.T. Yahr was handling a revolver in his store, it was discharged, the ball going through a bystander’s hat. It was a close call.”

When F.T. Yahr turned his full attention to the Milwaukee drug company, the hardware store at 525 West Water went to his sons Frederick (often referred to as F.E. Yahr) and William, doing business as Yahr Bros. In September 1897 they finished off the front rooms above the hardware store and fit them up for offices.

Princeton Republic. Feb. 1, 1900 – “Notice is hereby given that the firm during business under the name of Yahr Bros. has been dissolved by mutual consent, F.E. Yahr retiring. The business will be continued by W.R. Yahr. F.E. Yahr will remain here until the 15th of Feb. to collect book accounts. Fred will work for his father in Milwaukee after traveling to St. Paul, Duluth and Kansas City.”

William Yahr built the brick building one door east, 523 West Water, in 1901 and oversaw both properties until his sudden death in October 1907.

The 1904 Sanborn fire insurance map shows a furniture/undertaking store at 523 West Water and William Yahr’s hardware store at 525 West Water.

Princeton Republic, Feb. 29, 1912 – “The stock of hardware conducted by Mrs. W.R. Yahr and daughters was recently purchased by hardware dealer Richard Artman. The later who is now conducting a hardware and tin shop business in the store of Rev. A.G. Hoyer (508 West Water) will remove same in the near future into the store of Mrs. W.R. Yahr.”

Richard Artman moved his stock of goods into the former F.T. Yahr hardware store in May 1912 and sold the business in January 1914 to G.J. Knaack.

The 1914 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the H. Warnke & Son furniture/undertaking store at 523 West Water and G.J. Knaack’s hardware store at 525 West Water.

The Knaack hardware store remained at 525 West Water until February 1927, when it moved across the street to 536 West Water Street, the former G.J. Krueger dry goods store.

R.G. Wachholz, who moved into the building at 523 West Water three years earlier, also followed Knaack at 525 West Water.

Princeton Republic, March 10, 1927 – “R.G. Wachholz, who has gained the ownership of the Yahr store, recently vacated by G.J. Knaack hardware, is making plans to have the front of the building remodeled. He is having plans drawn and had men here from Oshkosh who took measurement for the large glass.”

Wachholz operated a general merchandise store there until July 1930, when he sold the stock to a Chicago firm and told the newspaper he, in connection with his son Herbert, would deal only in the furniture and undertaking business moving forward.

Princeton Republic. Oct. 9, 1930 – “E.W. Johnson, of Milwaukee, will open a gents furnishing store in the west wing of the R.G. Wachholz store on Saturday, Oct. 18. … Cleaning and pressing will be done in conjunction.”

Johnson managed the city basketball teams and was influential in reorganizing the Princeton City Band. Mrs. Johnson became president of the Women’s Progressive Club. The Johnson Clothes Shop closed in January 1933.

Princeton Republic, Jan. 12, 1933 – “Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Johnson, who have conducted a gents furnishing store in this city, leave for Viroqua, Wis., this coming Friday and will enter in business of same nature in that city.”

Fred Bunce arrived from Minneapolis to run an IGA store – Bunce’s Food Market – in April 1933. He opened first in the Mackowski building at 611 West Water but moved to 525 West Water less than a year later.

Princeton Republic, April 13, 1933 – “The Mrs. S.E. Mackowski store building recently vacated by the IGA store will be reopened on May 15 with a stock of groceries, fruits, etc. The new proprietor is Fred Bunce and comes here from Minneapolis.”

Princeton Republic, March 8, 1934 – “The I.G.A. Store who occupied the Mrs. S.E. Mackowski store, lower Water Street, are now located in the R.G. Wachholz store building.”

Princeton Republic, July 16, 1936 – “Last Monday afternoon an explosion of a gasoline stove in the rear of the IGA store the large plate glass window of the center section was blown out toward the street breaking into thousands of small pieces. People who had just passed by a second or two previous nearly escaped severe injuries. Mr. Bunce, his father and Elmer Rimpler had just left the rear of the store when the explosion occurred. No fire resulted from the explosion.”

Nine months later Bunce returned to whence he had come.

Princeton Republic, April 15, 1937 – “Fred Bunce, proprietor of the IGA store, who occupied R.G. Wachholz’s store for the past several years, moved his stock of goods into the Mrs. S.E Mackowski building.”

The building at 525 did not sit empty for long, however.

Princeton Times-Republic-check paper May 13, 1937 – “R.G. Wachholz is repainting the interior of his store building recently vacated by Fred Bunce. The building will be occupied by an IGA store in the very near future.”

Mel Gerlach occupied the store two weeks later.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 27, 1937 – “Gerlach’s new IGA Store in the Wachholz building will hold ‘open house’ to the people of Princeton and vicinity Saturday afternoon and evening. Workmen have been busy the past few days putting the finishing touches on what is probably one of the finest exclusive provision stores in this section. … Mr. and Mrs. Gerlach, who come here from Elkhart Lake to establish this business and to make their home with us, extend a cordial invitation to the public in general to come in and get acquainted.”

The upstairs of the Gerlach store became the local Red Cross headquarters during World War II. Women helped fold surgical dressings there and organize shipments overseas. The meeting called to organize a local chapter of American War Dads was held there, as well.

Gerlach remodeled the store following the war.

Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 2, 1947 – “Mel Gerlach, in this issue of the Times-Republic, announces the formal opening of his new self-service super food store. …Gerlach’s store, its equipment and its arrangement represent the last word in modern merchandising facilities.”

Mel Gerlach and family ran the IGA store at 525 West Water Street from about 1937-1952.

That brings us to 1948 and completes our survey of the first 100 years of Water Lot 27, today home to Green 3 (523 West Water) and Daiseye (525 West Water).

I will update as my research advances. I already have documented that the Gerlachs sold the store to Mr. and Mrs. Chuck Troike in July 1952. Mel Gerlach passed the following November.

Thanks for reading and caring about local history.

Can you find the factual, historical error in this plaque? It would be more accurate to say F.T. Yahr was co-founder of Princeton’s first hometown bank, but that’s not the error I’m referencing. The plaque says the “Yahr family also opened a grocery and family store at this location.” It did not. Victor Yahr, not a descendent of F.T. Yahr, had a grocery and clothing business a few doors west, at 531-535 West Water, in the mid-20th century. When Fred Bunce opened an IGA store at 525 West Water in 1934, the building was owned by R.G. Wachholz, who also owned 523 West Water for his furniture/undertaking business. At least sixteen of the 23 plaques on the City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour in our three-block Water Street business district contain factual errors.

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