Anyone who has even the most basic knowledge of Princeton history knows the name Elaine Reetz.
Reetz published articles about history of the Fox River region in area newspapers, including the Oshkosh Northwestern, Portage Daily Register, Princeton Times-Republic and Fox River Patriot, for nearly 40 years beginning in the mid 1960s. She was still writing for the Waushara Argus when she passed at age 83.
She is best remembered, however, for her books. She wrote eight!
The books of most interest to Princeton residents are “The Trail of the Serpent,” published in 1973 and co-written with Robert E. Gard, a University of Wisconsin professor who specialized in lore and legends of American regions, and Volumes I (Communities), II (Business & Commerce) and III (When Pioneer Farming Was a Way of Life) of “Come Back in Time,” compilations of Reetz’s writings, published in 1981, 1982 and 2000, respectively.
Elaine Augusta Sommer was born in 1920 in East Troy and moved with her family to the Neshkoro area in 1942. She married Herbert Reetz, and the couple farmed on the family homestead for more than 40 years.
In addition to her writing career, which began in 1965, Reetz hosted a radio program on area history on the Ripon radio station in the 1970s and spoke at numerous schools and community meetings over the years. She also helped form the Princeton Historical Society in the 1980s.
Before being a book author, Reetz was a newspaper correspondent, feature writer and columnist focusing on the Upper Fox River region in addition to being full-time farm wife and mother.
I first found Reetz’s byline in the Princeton Times-Republic in 1966. She wrote profiles of Edwin Daye, John J. Bartol and others before penning her first general history article in April.
(We will save further discussion of St. Marie and the Legend of the Cross for another day, but Reetz also did much to revive “The Legend of the Cross” in the mid 1960s and was largely responsible for the historical marker recognizing Father Marquette’s visit to the area being erected for the quas qui centennial celebration in 1973.)
The articles she published in the local newspaper over the next several months were the foundation for what she wrote about Princeton history over the next two decades in her books and helped form significant portions of the souvenir booklet published to commemorate Princeton’s 125th celebration of its founding.
I apologize for the blur to the microfilm scans, especially the first one. I will try to get a better scan at a future date. Nevertheless, let’s take a peek at Elaine’s earliest writings about Princeton history.
The April 1966 article above provides a good introduction to the history of Princeton. The only errors are the year of Princeton’s first village charter (1865, not 1867), the year Turner Hall was built (1880 not 1905, though it was renovated in 1905), and the year the first bridge across the Fox was erected here (1850-51 not 1867).
Here’s the photo from the above story:
The above article published in May 1966 contains an accurate report on the fire of 1880 but includes significant errors regarding the 1897 fire which is incorrectly reported as occurring in 1895. The fire destroyed the buildings at 521 and 523 West Water. It was contained between the brick buildings at 519 (Hennig’s bakery) and 525 (Yahr hardware). Budnick’s saloon, Whittemore’s jewelry store and Hennig’s barber shop were destroyed. Hennig’s bakery was not. Hennig rebuilt the barber shop (521) in 1897. Wm. Yahr filled the remaining gap created by the fire with a brick building (523) in 1901. The Knobloch story is also inaccurate. He had been bedridden with a back injury but died four months before the fire occurred. A woman with a broken leg was carried to safety during the American House (444 West Water) fire in 1895. The fire story was repeated in Volume I of “Come Back in Time” and the quas qui booklet.
I have not found a good reproduction of the above photo, which comes from the Herman E. Megow glass plate collection donated to the Princeton Historical Society.
The above article published in April 1966 serves as the basis for Reetz’s articles about Princeton celebrations in “The Trail of the Serpent” and the “Come Back in Time” books. The only corrections I would make would be explaining German Day celebrated the arrival of Germans in the U.S. not Princeton, and Fred Schendel was proprietor of the City Hotel, aka Commercial Hotel, not the Princeton Hotel. A week after the Times-Republic published Reetz’s article and photo, the editor received a letter from the Marquette Historical Society pointing out that the band in the photo was not just the local brass band but rather a combination of the Germania and Princeton bands.
Here is the band photo:
Reetz would do several other articles on Princeton personalities over the years, including Edmund Bednarek, Mike Marshall, Herman E. Megow, Silas Eggleston, and others, and more general history pieces.
Reetz passed away in 2003.
In November 1982, Reetz received an Award of Merit from the Wisconsin Historical Society for her first two volumes of “Come Back in Time.”
“History is for the people,” she told the Oshkosh Northwestern. “You have to live it and feel it to be able to write it.”
None have written Princeton history any better.
Amen. Elaine Reetz helped to jump-start me to want to learn more about the history of this area, and she is responsible for sending me down any number of rabbit holes looking for more. I know she wrote mainly for newspapers where you don’t uses footnotes and list resources, but I wish I had a dollar for all the times I have asked, “how did you know that…where did you learn that…where is that today” etc.