I have written previously about the difficulties I encountered in researching the history of “Old Princeton” for my book.
A combination of mistaken “oral traditions,” journalistic lapses, brain hiccups and limited research have created a mishmash of local history that culminated in a “historic walking tour” of the Water Street business district that is more fiction than fact.
I have enjoyed the challenge of correcting those errors and, just as important in my mind, identifying the source of the mistakes to ensure future historians have some guideposts to help separate the grain from the chaff along their journeys through time.
Today we’re looking at an eight-page special section published in February 1959 to celebrate the Princeton Times-Republic’s “92nd birthday edition.” (The first Princeton Republic was published in February 1867.) I found the section among my mother’s newspaper clippings after she passed.
Publisher Keith Van Vuren had purchased the Times-Republic in May 1958 and installed William Schweinler as editor. For the most part, the birthday section, envisioned as an advertising magnet I’m sure, is an interesting and entertaining – in a history nerd sort of way – read.
The section includes a reproduction of the Republic’s first front page, several photos including a couple of nice ones I have not seen online of 505-509 West Water (Horseradish today, Ed Reetz harness shop and Oscar Tassler saloon back then), a letter from founding publisher Thomas McConnell written in 1907 – 40 years after the paper’s debut, clips from the newspaper over the years touching on temperance, suffrage and World War I, an early streets ordinance and more.
I utilized the section for some of the material I used in the book on McConnell and WWI.
Unfortunately, the history contains significant errors that were repeated in various historical efforts over the years – in newspaper articles, the booklet published in 1973 to celebrate the city’s quas qui centennial, Elaine Reetz’s books, and the City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour plaques and website.
I’m including a link to a pdf of the pages from the 1959 section. I have difficulty embedding pdfs, so please let me know if link does not work. I could embed the pdfs as individual pages rather than the section if the viewer is too difficult for readers. I have also included jpgs of the pages within the text for those who don’t wish to view pdfs. I apologize for the soft focus; the pdf seems clearer to my old eyes.
The section’s credibility takes a hit in the second paragraph of its history of the newspaper – when the author lists the first publisher of the Princeton Republic as Theodore McConnell – the newspaper was founded by Thomas McConnell – and then repeats the mistake two more times.
The article’s other errors include listing the first location of the newspaper office as “somewhere near the office of Lehner & Lehner today.”
The Lehner law office in 1959 was located at 620 West Water Street. There was no building there in 1867 when McConnell printed the first edition of the Princeton Republic. Until 1956 Lehner & Lehner had offices on the second floor of the Princeton State Bank building, 527-529 West Water (Princeton Acupuncture today), which was the site of Princeton’s first store but not the newspaper office.
The Republic office was in the Demell building (513-519 West Water Street, today part of Pastimes bookstore) in 1868 and moved to Royal Treat’s building at about 512 West Water (today Beer Belly’s) in 1869.
It is telling, also, that the author states he was unable to find who edited the Republic for most of its final three decades. Albert Rimpler was the well-known editor, and city clerk, during those years and mentioned multiple times in the newspaper.
I did not fact check all the details of the early newspaper history, but I would not trust the info prior to about 1940. I believe it is an accurate report on the newspaper lineage in the turbulent 1950s, which included multiple ownership changes.
Unfortunately, the faulty history of the newspaper is reprinted nearly verbatim, Theodore et al, in the quas qui booklet.
From his newspaper’s history, the editor turned his attention to the history of Princeton, spread over three pages, that he explained was “taken from copies of 1922 Princeton Republics. Its author is unknown.”
The editor apparently did not realize the history he used was a reprint of the “Bird’s-Eye View of the History of Princeton as Detailed by Old Settlers” published first by the Princeton Republic in 1869 and reprinted by other editors in 1895, 1922 and 1940, usually in multiple parts.
Schweinler’s introduction also notes he “changed some reference to buildings when able to locate this information.” Unfortunately, some of those references were incorrect and have gone down in history, so to speak.
Let’s take a look:
- The article includes the second reference I found in local publications that Princeton founder Royal Treat erected his first dwelling “in front of the now Dizzy Bar” (Main Street) on Lot 13, Block B.
The editor of the 1940 history, however, pointed out – correctly – that the site was east of the former Dizzy site near what is now the intersection of Main and Mechanic streets. (See “Fact Check: Eggleston and Megow” post.)
The misinformation was later popularized in the 1960s-1980s in Reetz’s writings of Princeton’s pioneer days.
- “In the following spring (John) Knapp built the first regular house near the railroad bridge.”
Knapp erected the first frame building, which served as an inn, near the northwest corner of Water and Pearl streets. He later had a large farm and house west of the river and future railroad bridge site and northwest of the ferry site (near Harris Street and River Road intersection).
- “His brother, Henry, a successful nurseryman of Atcheson, Kansas, came this spring and the two built a small frame house on the west side of the river and staked out a claim. This house was the kitchen house of Fred Yahr’s dwelling … ” (842 West Main Street, also known as Yahr castle, the Legion home for many years, a restaurant and Bill Zamzow’s residence in recent years).
The 1869 history describes Henry Treat as “now a successful nurseryman of Atchison, Kansas.” The 1922 reprint, however, dropped “now.” In 1948, when Princeton celebrated the centennial of its founding, an article recounting Princeton’s founding, presumably using the 1922 reprint as its source, incorrectly reported Royal persuaded Henry “to give up a lucrative nursery business in Kansas.”
It’s not surprising then that the 1959 report incorrectly concluded Henry came here from Atchison. Henry, however, did not move to Kansas until years after helping found Princeton in 1849. His first wife was the first recorded death in Princeton. Henry married his first wife’s sister, who also passed in a few years, which is when Henry moved to Kansas and married the owner of a nursery. Atchison was founded in 1854.
- “The next and second store was put up on the southwest corner of Water and Pearl Sts., now the site of Hotmar Hardware Store.”
The Hotmar store (Twister building now) was on the northwest, not southwest, corner of Water and Pearl. I also believe the 1869 report erroneously reported the site of the second store. It should have said the southwest corner of Water and Washington streets not Water and Pearl. (See “Correcting the Bible” post.)
- “The next building was put up in the summer of 1850, and was built by Richmond Tucker … but was burned out a little over a year, when he erected the building where the drug store is located on Water Street.”
Tucker did not build the drug store building at 528 West Water. Richard and Dr. Gustav Mueller built the brick building in 1885. Tucker owned, but did not build, a building at 518 West Water that he sold to the Teske Bros. before they built their brick building there in 1872. The former Tucker building was moved near the river at the crooked end of Water Street and burned in 1873.
- “Wilde & McClurg bought out Treat and dealt almost exclusively in drugs at the corner store until October, when they moved into the new store on the northwest corner of Water and Pearl streets.”
Wilde & McClurg in 1868 moved into the two-story stone store erected on the northeast corner of Water and Pearl streets by Green and Carman (544 West Water, Swed’s for many years, Princeton Audio in recent years and soon to be home of the Parlor House hotel).
- “Luce’s building (518) in the mean time had passed into the hands of H. M. Rulison & Co., of Cincinnati, Ohio, and by them sold to R. Tucker & Son, who removed his stock from the Myers building and continued in successful trade until the spring of 1868, when he sold the building and stock to Teske & Bro., now H. Swed Store.”
Tucker indeed sold the store at 518 to the Teskes, but it never housed the Swed store. The building was sold, moved to the river and burned a few months later. Hyman Swed opened his first store at 508 West Water in 1913 and moved his operation to 544 Water in 1918. It remained there for the rest of its days.
Thank you for caring and reading about local history.