LOTS O’ HISTORY: THE WESTERN HOUSE

The building at 1002 West Main Street in Princeton, today home to Drunky Brewsters Bar & Grill, is perhaps best known to local historians as the Western House.

My generation, however, can also recall good times and savory beef sandwiches at The Place. Some of our parents probably enjoyed the old-time music at Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And our grandparents might have cooled off with soft drinks – and perhaps more – at the West Side Inn during Prohibition.

The building sits on Lot 6 of Block 7 in Flint and Treat’s Addition, platted in 1857 and owned initially by Waldo and Alvin Flint, who started an orchard and nursery on the west side before opening a grist mill after completion of the mill race that brought water from the Mecan River to the Fox to help power the mill and other factories.

The Flints sold Lots 5, 6, 7 and 8 in Block 7 to Robert Hacklander, who listed his occupation in the 1860 census as laborer, for $225 in August 1857 (Deeds, Volume S, Page 231). When Hacklander sold the four lots to Chris Piper for $300 in May 1863 (Deeds, Volume U, Page 426), the deed temporarily exempted the “one-year-old apple and pear trees now standing and growing on the east side of said premises.”

Lot 6 passed from Piper, who was a street superintendent, constable and grocer/restaurateur for several years here in the 19th century, to Moses Marx ($425, Deeds, Volume 24, Page 226) and then Lucy Jane Radway ($514, Deeds, Volume 24, Page 396), who sold the east half of Lots 6 and 7, 35 feet wide, to wagon maker August Swanke for $75 in February 1865 (Deeds, Volume 24, Page 504).

The Western House hotel was located on the east half of Lot 6 in Block 7 of Treat & Flint’s Addition, platted in 1857.

The intersection of Main and Second streets became home to Princeton’s Cattle Fair in 1874, with Swanke, Princeton’s leading manufacturer for many years, among its strongest supporters. Swanke’s strip of land on Lots 6 and 7 hosted many of the fair’s sellers as the event spread out over Second Street.

The Western House did good business during Cattle Fair, which moved to the west side from the downtown triangle in 1874.

Swanke began erecting a building across Main Street and north of his wagon and blacksmith shops, in the heart of the Cattle Fair space, in June 1891. The local newspaper called the building “the first house opened on the west side for mercantile traffic.”

Princeton Republic, June 25, 1891 – “Aug. Swanke has commenced the erection of a building just across the street north of his wagon shops, which he will fill with a stock of groceries and other goods. He will build 22×70 feet in size. The building will be put up in substantial manner … and we presume will be a paying venture.”

Princeton Republic, July 30, 1891 – “A good, substantial foundation shows that Aug. Swanke will have a good building for business purposes on the west side.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 27, 1891 – “Swanke’s building on the west side is being pushed to completion. … The fine building that is in course of erection on the west side by Aug. Swanke is about ready for a tin roof that will be put on by Mr. Schaal and son.”

Swanke veneered the building with brick.

Princeton Republic, Nov. 12, 1891 – “Alex Paleski, a mason, fell from Swanke’s building Monday, the scaffold giving way. He dropped some twenty feet, the scaffold falling on him after he was down.”

The Western House on the northwest corner of Main and Second streets was built but not fully occupied when the 1892 Sanborn fire insurance map was published.

Swanke opened a saloon in the rear of the building. August Zellmer was the building’s first paying tenant.

Princeton Republic, March 23, 1893 – “Aug. F. Zellmer has moved his stock of groceries into the new building lately erected by August Swanke on the west side. Zellmer secures a good location over there.”

In fall 1896 James Maitland, former proprietor of the City Hotel in Berlin, converted Swanke’s building into a hotel.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 15, 1896 – “J.A. Maitland has his new hotel, The Western, in running order, and solicits a share of the patronage. His place is newly furnished throughout and there are good stable accommodations. The Western is located opposite Swanke’s wagon manufactory, in the brick block formerly occupied by F.A. Zellmer.”

“His place is newly furnished throughout, and there are good stable accommodations,” the Republic reported. Maitland, who led a traveling vaudeville show for a time, sold the hotel in 1897.

Princeton Republic, June 3, 1897 – “J.A. Maitland, having sold the Western Hotel to Mr. Albert Humphrey, of Omro, has returned to Berlin.”

Princeton Republic, May 17, 1900 – “The village board has leased the triangular piece of ground on the west side owned by August Swanke, for the use of farmers on the regular monthly cattle fair day, and will at once build pens and set posts, and otherwise place the grounds in the proper shape. This is what has been needed, and the board is to be congratulated for its enterprise.”

It’s unclear how long the hotel remained in business, but the saloon kept going as Swanke sold the property to August Schiefelbein for $4,000 in June 1900 (Deeds, Volume 58, Page 327).

1898 Sanborn map

Princeton Republic, June 7, 1900 – “August Schiefelbein has purchased of August Swanke the brick building on the west side, which has been occupied by Joe Hansen as a saloon. Mr. Schiefelbein will conduct a saloon in the building.”

Princeton Republic, April 4, 1901 – “Emil Klawitter has rented August Schiefelbein’s saloon on the west side and took possession Tuesday.”

Princeton Republic, Dec. 12, 1901 – “Emil Klawitter has sold his saloon on the west side to George Cassler and Joe Swederski.”

Schiefelbein sold the property to Albert Oelke for $2,000 (Volume 54, Page 464).

Princeton Republic, Dec. 4, 1902 – “Albert Oelke is the genial proprietor of the Western House.”

1904 Sanborn map

Oelke sold to August Bahrke for $4,200 in October 1906 (Deeds, Volume 67, Page 285).

The newspaper reported in June 1911 that Bahrke was trying to sell his saloon on the west side. He sold to L.A. Merrill and W.H. Wyse in April 1912 (Deeds, Volume 72, Page 525). They sold the property to John Lehman in December 1912 (Deeds, Volume 73, Page 139).

Western House, at right, circa 1910. August Swanke’s wagon shop is at left.

Lehman held the liquor license of the Western House building until Prohibition took effect in 1919. He sold the property in March 1925 to Charles O’Brien, of Fond du Lac (Deeds, Volume 87, Page 33). The saloon was rented out as a soft drink parlor.

Norb Klawitter operated the parlor in 1926. Peter Malson purchased the property in February 1927 (Deeds, Volume 87, Page 511).

Princeton Republic, March 17, 1927 – “Peter Malson, Fond du Lac, who recently acquired the ownership of the brick business, corner West Main and Second street, West Side, was a caller at this office last Monday and informed us he would take possession in the near future and conduct a soft drink parlor and restaurant. Later if business conditions are favorable, he will provide for a stock of groceries. Mr. Malson is a constructor by profession.”

Princeton Republic, July 28, 1927 – “Last Tuesday forenoon, federal men came to this city and raided the soft drink parlors of Henry Stelmacheske (in Messing building at about 931 West Main Street) and Edw. Sullivan (in Western House), both located on the West Side. It is alleged that illicit liquor was found.”

The property passed from Malson to Adolph Gendrich in August 1927 (Deeds, Volume 87, Page 640) and W.L. Stillman (Deeds, Volume 89, Page 1).

Princeton Republic, Sept. 22, 1927 – “For sale – Saloon building located on west side, also suitable for grocery and dwelling. Building in fine condition. Must be sold within ten days. Inquire of W.L. Stillman.”

Ella Hopkins purchased the property at a sheriff’s sale for $1,500 in August 1929 (Deeds, Volume 91, Page 269). She sold to George Conlin in March 1930 (Deeds, Volume 89, Page 550).

Princeton Republic, March 13, 1930 – “George Conlin and A.P. Archer, of Waupun, came here last week and engaged in the grocery business and temperance drink parlor in the brick building on the west side, corner of Main and Second streets.”

Princeton Republic, April 14, 1932 – “Mr. and Mrs. Kolpin and family, Green Lake, came here recently and are occupying the ‘West Side Inn’ building located on the West Side. Mr. Kolpin is conducting a soft drink parlor.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 11, 1932 – “Joseph Tautges and family, Fond du Lac, moved here last week and are occupying the West Side Inn. Mr. Tautges is conducting a soft drink parlor.”

Thomas and Kate Sosinsky moved here from Rio and opened Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A free dance was advertised in the Feb. 1, 1934, Princeton Republic at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, formerly the West Side Inn. A dance in May 1935 featured the music of the “Top Hands of W.I.B.U.,” Pea Vine Shorty and Rattle Snake Slim.

WIBU was based in Poynette and founded in 1925 by William C. Forrest, a Wisconsin radio pioneer who used windmills to generate electricity for his station. The WIBU call letters stood for Wind Is Being Used, according to Wikipedia.

The Sosinskys obtained a liquor license for the premises in 1937 but not without a fight.

Princeton Times-Republic, July 1, 1937 – “The special meeting of the city council held last Friday evening for the purpose of rescinding the ordinance restricting liquor licenses to one for each one hundred of population developed into a stormy session. Wm. Huenerberg, president of the council, led the fight in opposing the rescinding of the ordinance, which it was generally understood was to clear the way for granting liquor licenses to Tom Sosinsky on the West Side and Fred Ponto at the Airport Tavern. Mr. Huenerberg centered his plea around the idea that repeal of the ordinance would throw the town wide open for ‘every Tom, Dick, and Harry to come in here and sell liquor.” His stand was that the young people of our city should be protected from the evils of unrestricted traffic in liquor. And while he was unsuccessful in preventing a vote in which the rescinding ordinance was carried 4 to 2, he was successful in preventing a vote on the question of granting licenses to Ponto and Sosinsky. He pointed out that the licenses could not be granted until the new ordinance was published and was sustained by the city attorney. … Mr. Huenerberg threatened to get an injunction if the board insisted on granting the licenses. As a consequence, we understand that another special meeting will be called on to pass on the two license applications. And at a later meeting a new ordinance will be introduced to place restrictions on the number of liquor and beer licenses.”

With the return of alcohol, Uncle Tom’s Cabin became Uncle Tom’s Tavern.

The Sosinskys: Kate, Tom Sr., Bob, Bill, Phyllis. (Photo courtesy of Joe Wyse)
We know three of these guys hanging out at Uncle Tom’s: left, Ted Marshall; center, Lee Bednarek; right, John Wyse. Please let me know if you can help with the other two. (Photo courtesy of Joe Wyse)

WWII veterans Verne Ruhl and Nobert Wielgosh purchased the business at Main and Second streets from the Sosinskys in 1946. (After Tom Sosinsky passed in 1947, Kate built a small building at 200 South Fulton Street, on the southeast corner of Water and Fulton streets, and launched the Little Market. See earlier post for history of the Little Market.)

Princeton Times-Republic, April 24, 1969 – “Back during the second World War, two Navy buddies decided what when the war was over, they would go into business together. This came about in July of 1946 when Verne “Muddy” Ruhl, who originated from Webster City, Iowa, and a likable hometown boy, Norb Wielgosh, purchased The Place Tavern from Tom and Katy Sosinsky. Norb and Mud’s dream proved most successful, as their tavern became one of the most popular in town. … The Place Tavern has long been a landmark in our community, having been in existence since 1890. It is also well known throughout the state and neighboring states to pig buyers and other buyers and sellers because of the monthly Cattle Fairs are held on that corner the first Wednesday of each month.”

Princeton Times-Republic, September 27, 1951 – “The Place Tavern, Princeton, was burglarized Friday night, and according to Undersheriff Joseph Walker who is investigating the case, an estimated $117 and a .50-.50 Winchester rifle were taken.”

Verne and Gladys Ruhl and Norbert and Josephine Wielgosh, who remained partners for nearly 20 years, purchased the building and property from Rufina Conlin in September 1958 (Deeds, Volume 146, Page 607).

Ruhl traded bar hours for office hours in 1965.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 6, 1965 – “The Place Tavern, located at the junction of Highways 23 and 73 in this city, has become a one-owner operation after having been run jointly for 19 years by Verne “Mud” Ruhl and Nobert Wielgosh. The change took effect on April 1st when Wielgosh bought out Ruhl’s interests. (Deeds, Volume 187, Page 375) The latter will be selling insurance in this area now for the Rural Mutual Insurance Company. … The two men were Navy buddies and decided to go into the tavern business together in 1946. The Place underwent a major remodeling change four years ago. It has always been one of the popular taverns in the area.”

The Wielgoshes resurrected the Western House name. The beef sandwiches and chili were among customers’ favorites.

The Wielgoshes sold to the Gast Haus Corporation (Ann Proper, president, Janette Kapp, secretary) in July 1980 (Deeds, Volume 304, Page 386). Marty and Edie Joyce operated the bar.

Princeton Times-Republic, Sept 11, 1980 – “Hundreds of people greeted Edie and Marty Joyce, new owners of the Western House, at their grand opening Sunday. There was live music and plenty of food and spirits to keep people happy. About 3 a.m. J.J. Wheaton began roasting the pig which was 193 lb. live weight. … The couple took over the Western House on July 1. They purchased the business from Joey and Norb Wielgosh who had the business in the past.”

The tavern changed hands again a year later.

Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 8, 1981 – “’I always wanted to own my own saloon,’ Duane Kuglin said when asked about his new business. Duane and his wife, Lowita, bought The Western House on West Main Street from Mary and Edie Joyce and opened it Sept. 11. Kuglin said he was quite interested in the business when Norb and Joey Wielgosh were selling out, but he was too busy with construction work at the time. This seemed to be a ‘right time.’”

The business changed hands again in 1985.

Princeton Times-Republic, July 11, 1985 – “Mary Lynn and Dick Hilgendorf are in the process of buying the Western House Tavern on the corner of Hwys. 23 and 73 in Princeton. They have been operating the tavern since April 10, 1985. Dick and Mary Lynn before coming to Princeton lived in Milwaukee. Mary Lynn, however, is a native of Princeton and the daughter of John and Evelyn Sebert.”

Ads promoting “Wicks Western House” under “new management” ran in the Princeton Times-Republic in fall 1986.

Proprietors Dan Kallas and Bonnie Steinberg took over in May 1987 and operated the Western House until selling to Dave and Karen Bednarek in May 2001.

Bednarek’s Western House quickly gained a reputation for good food. Fans on Facebook fondly recalled the bar’s bison burgers served during the Bednareks’ 20-year run.

The Bednareks closed in 2021. Dave posted the following message on their Facebook page: “As I leave BWH for the final time as the owner, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad. A lot of wonderful people supported this venture, a lot of good friends were made, a lot of fun was had. I watched my boys grow to men, and a lot of the local families’ kids grow up in the years we were here. Mountains of memories from events that were held here, catered events, and parties. I served tons and tons of food for those hungry patrons! A gigantic thank you to family, friends, and travelers who supported this place over the years. Your patronage was always appreciated! Best wishes to the new owners!”

In February 2022, Dan and Brandy Lameer opened Drunky Brewsters Bar & Grill in the 131-year-old building built where apple and pear trees grew during the Civil War.

Drunky Brewsters, 1002 West Main Street, 2022.

Please let me know if you spot any errors or can fill in any gaps in the timeline.

Thank you for reading and caring about local history.

Next: August Swanke’s west side shops

3 comments

  1. Absolutely fascinated with the history. ..as a grew up in Princeton.
    Thankyou For sharing these incredible details.

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