Lots o’ history – Water lot 20 (637 West Water Street)

The sprawling business that occupied the buildings on Water Lot 20, about 635-639 West Water Street, began with Gottlieb Luedtke’s stone wagon shop, left, built in 1873.

The wagon shop that Gottlieb Luedtke opened in 1871 at about 637 West Water Street would remain a family business for four generations, well beyond this survey of the first 100 years of Water Lot 20.

Water Lot 20 passed in 1850 from Henry Treat, who purchased all the land in the original plat of Princeton from the U.S. government in June 1849, to John Stimson, who sold in January 1851 to Seymor Hake, who sold Water Lot 20, for $30, in September to Charles Alexander (Deeds, Volume D, Page 166).

The lot remained undeveloped until Luedtke, who had worked at August Thiel’s wagon shop, went into business for himself and purchased the property in 1871. Two years earlier, Luedtke had patented his axle gauge.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 9, 1869 – “Gottlieb Luedtke’s axle gauge is a new Princeton invention which Mr. Luedtke has recently patented, and which is represented as a first-class contrivance, doing away with any guesswork in settling thimble skeins.”

Luedtke, who officially received a patent for his axle gauge in December, according to the 1869 annual report of the commissioner of patents, paid $62.50 for Water Lot 20 in August 1871 (Deeds, Volume 32, Page 359).

Princeton Republic, Oct. 21, 1871 – “Mr. Luedtke is putting up a shop on Water Street for manufacturing wagons.”

Luedtke opened his shop, but “the fire fiend” disrupted his plans in 1873.

Princeton Republic, March 1, 1873 – “On Tuesday night last, between 12 and 1 o’clock, fire was discovered in the wooden building formerly occupied by the Teske Brothers; it being the same building fired about a year ago, of which we made mention at the time, that came rather too near the Republic office to be altogether comfortable. However, the building had been removed since to a location on the riverbank, just west of Green’s elevator, and was not occupied. As we hear, the fire was discovered in this vacant building, but by the time a general alarm was sounded, the wagon shop of Gottlieb Luedtke was also well on fire, especially in the roof. It was found impossible to save the buildings, and by the timely exertions of a few of the large crowd, a good deal of material was got out of the shop, though it is claimed a large amount was burned. The fire next caught in the blacksmith shop of Mr. Tagatz and burned a small addition to the shop; but the main shop was saved. … The entire damage did not exceed $1,500. There was very little wind at the time of the fire, which accounts for so little loss.”

Princeton Republic. March 15, 1873 – “Gottlieb Luedtke whose wagon shop was burned about two weeks ago, has already bought a large amount of building stone and other material and will put up a much larger shop in early spring.”

Princeton Republic, May 3, 1873 – “Gottlieb Luedtke is building a two-story stone shop, 35 by 65 feet, for wagon making.”

This photo, circa 1874, shows the stone wagon shop Gottlieb Luedtke opened at about 635-637 West Water Street in 1873.
The stone wagon shop built by Gottlieb Luedtke in 1873 is visible at the “crooked end” of Water Street in this photo, circa 1920s.

Luedtke remained in the new shop for the next 30-plus years. He also found time to sit on nearly every elected board in Princeton as well as the county board. He was a Democrat and served several terms as village president.

Princeton Republic, Nov. 1, 1900 – “Louis Meyer has recently opened a trimming department in the carriage and wagon works of G. Luedtke.”

Luedtke brought son-in-law Erich Mueller, who was born and raised a short distance from Princeton, into the business in 1902-03, after Mueller dissolved his dry goods partnership with G.J. Krueger, doing business at 536 West Water Street.

Before partnering with Krueger, Mueller had worked as a clerk for J.F. Warnke and Krueger.

“Mr. Mueller likes to tell of the days when he first came to Princeton and was only glad to accept a job at $3 a week to work in a store and learn the merchandising business,” the Princeton Times reported in 1936. “Those were the days when the junior clerk slept in the store, got up bright and early to build the fires, sweep the floors, and have everything ready for business long before the other clerks arrived.”

Princeton Republic, Feb. 12, 1903 – “Krueger & Mueller have dissolved partnership, and G.J. Krueger will hereafter conduct the business alone. Mr. Mueller will go in business with President Luedtke.”

In March 1905, Luedtke was selling buggies, carriages, and surreys. Erich Mueller was selling Singer sewing machines, organs, pianos, washing machines and gasoline engines. The firm also began selling farm implements in the early 1900s, about the time Mueller took charge of the business and Luedtke stepped back.

Princeton Republic, March, 1905 – “B.J. Oelke recently installed a three horsepower Fuller & Johnson gasoline engine in his meat market. Erich Mueller sold the engine and did the work of putting it in shape.”

In March 1906, Luedtke advertised McCormick harvesting machinery and farm implements of all kinds, as well as wagons, carriages, and buggies.

In March 1909, Mueller was advertising buggies, cream separators, pianos and sewing machines. He purchased the building at 630 West Water Street in 1913 and used it primarily for his pianos, organs and sewing machines.

Princeton Republic, June 4, 1914 – “Gottlieb Luedtke went to Neshkoro last Tuesday noon on a business trip and in that village was taken ill with heart failure from which he succumbed shortly after. His age was 73 years.”

Luedtke was survived by his widow, Henrietta (Behm) Luedtke, and the four children of first wife, Wilhelmine: Elizabeth, Lucile, Gustav and Emma.

The Mueller ads in June 1915 included automobiles, Singer sewing machines, DeLaval separators, gas engines, Defiance tires, pure copper cable, lightning rods, corn planters, corn cultivators, Oliver gangs, Oliver walking plows, lawn mowers and lawn swings.

I have not verified this information, but according to the booklet published in 1973 in honor of Princeton’s 125th anniversary of its founding, “The Essex, Whippet, Oldsmobile, REO and Maxwell as well as other cars that have long been forgotten were sold. This business also had the first well drilling equipment in Green Lake County, and they also installed lightning rods and constructed windmills in the area. At the height of employment, 16 men were working. The first Standard Oil gas pumps were installed in front of this business.” (As a historian I must question the two ‘firsts’ listed here but have not yet followed up.)

The Mueller ads in January 1920 included the following: “The complete Harvester line is now handled. This I.H.C. line includes the McCormick, Deering and Milwaukee Grain, Hay, Corn and Tillage machines. It also includes the general line which consists of gas and kerosene engines, grain drills, feed cutters, feed grinders, I.H.C. and New Racine threshing machines, Titan tractors, corn shredders, binder twine, etc. … A complete line running from sewing machine needles up to Titan tractors is always in stock.”

When the business was sold in 1968, it was the oldest International Harvester dealership in Wisconsin, according to the quas qui booklet.

Mueller expanded his holdings further in 1920 when he paid $2,750 for Gardner Green’s former empire – all of lots 21 and 22 and west 43 feet of Lot 23 – on the south side of Water Street for $2,750 (Deeds, Volume 80, Page 455).

Princeton Republic, Feb. 19, 1920 – “In a deal consummated on last Tuesday between the Gard Green estate and Erich Mueller, the later took over the former’s entire property fronting Water Street with a frontage of 157 feet. The buildings were occupied by Messrs. Schroeder and family, Priske, Kinkel and Dreblow.”

Princeton Republic, August 9, 1928 – “Mr. Mueller, dealer in automobiles, also contemplates to remodel the building he now occupies for the display of his cars. The front will be provided with large plate glass and the interior will be provided with a cement floor. The room will be lengthened by building an addition to the rear.”

In June 1933, Mueller erected a concrete block building on the west end of his lot to house farm implements and tools.

When the Princeton Times published a special “Progress Number” supplement in December 1936, it noted that “during the 34 years Mr. Mueller has been engaged in the implement business, he has not only witnessed what amounts to almost a revolution in farming methods, but, as a dealer, has taken a prominent part in introducing new machinery so largely responsible for that revolution. … The gasoline engine and the electric motor have replaced the old-time horse powers. The automobile has completely replaced the carriage, and slowly but surely the lumber wagon is being replaced by the truck.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 5, 1937 – “Erich Mueller is making extensive improvements to his repair shop, including the installation of over 500 new bins to hold farm machinery repair parts, as well as new counters and other facilities for improving service. The bins will be numbered in such a manner as to enable the stockkeeper to keep a perpetual inventory.”

Mueller died in July 1945 at age 82. Like his father-in-law, Mueller had served in multiple elected positions, including village president, and on nearly every important board and organization in Princeton. When Princeton went from village to city in 1920, Mueller was elected its first mayor. He was involved in critical decisions regarding bring electricity to Princeton and developing the downtown.

Mueller sold Water Lots 19 and 20 to his daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Henry Manthei in November 1939 (Deeds, Volume 100, Page 143). In 1942, when Lucille (Mueller) Losinski gave up her share of Lots 19 and 20 to the Mantheis (Deeds, Volume 108, Page 32), the Republic estimated Mueller had been in the implement business about 40 years and in the mercantile business for about 14 years before that.

Henry Manthei took over the business in 1945.

Princeton Republic, Aug. 30, 1945 – “Henry Manthei, for many years associated with Erich Mueller & Co. implement dealers, announces that he has bought the business and will continue it under the name of the Mueller Implement Co. An extensive program of improvements is planned, which will include a new display room, an extension of warehouse facilities and the addition of a service department for tractors and farm machinery. The firm will continue to handle the well-known International line of farm machinery.”

Princeton Republic, Sept. 6, 1945 – “It was on the 5th of August 1918, that Alva Mills took over the local Standard Oil Agency. The bulk plant was then located on the track in back of Eggleston’s hotel. In those days, kerosene was shipped here in tank cars and gasoline in barrels. Kerosene was pumped from the tank cars into the storage tanks by hand and from the storage tanks, when they were low, it was also pumped by hand into the delivery truck. In those days practically every store had a 100-gallon kerosene tank. Now there is one such tank. Alva says he made his first delivery here of kerosene with a stoneboat. During the first two years Mr. Mills drove a team, many times four horses on a long haul. On some of his longer trips, like into the Dakota territory, the round trip was forty-four miles. … Of all the early Standard Oil customers here, Erich Mueller and Company was one that never mixed his lines, handling only Standard Oil products from the time Mr. Mills took over the agency until he turned it over to his successor (Oscar Dreblow).”

That completes my survey of the first 100 years of Water Lot 20. I will update as my research advances.

According to the quas qui centennial booklet published in 1973, Arnold and Robert Manthei succeeded their father in the business at 637 West Water Street in 1960. It was the Fredrick Equipment Company in 1973.

Thanks for reading and caring about local history.

One comment

  1. I am Lloyd and Harriet Fredrick’s oldest daughter. I have thoroughly enjoyed your history of this building. I have fond memories of time spent there.

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