THE DISTILLERY, TANNERY & SLAUGHTERHOUSE

Three significant 19th century sites on Princeton’s west side have received scant attention in local histories: a distillery completed by Herman Scovill in 1872, a tannery built by Louis Kunz in 1874 and a slaughterhouse built by Gustav A. Krueger in 1883.

They were grouped on South Second Street near August Swanke’s planing mill and the creek that ran from the mill race to the Fox River.

The discovery that has surprised me the most during my research of local history was the role that a former Princeton man played in the events leading to the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1890. (See “The Princeton Messiah” post.)

The recent discovery of the location of the Princeton “distillery” probably ranks second. This fall marked the 150th anniversary of the completion of the stone building today home to Jan and Roy Manweiler.

(For those keeping count at home, finding direct descendants of Princeton founder Royal Treat is probably the bronze medalist.)

The distillery

I found three briefs about the distillery building, and three spellings of Scovill, in the Princeton Republic.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 9, 1871 – “Hiram Scovil has commenced a building on his farm just south of Swanke’s shop west side for a distillery. It is of stone and the first story is nearly up.”

Princeton Republic, May 11, 1872 – “H. Scoville on the west side is putting up a large stone building. A distillery is hinted at. Hiram says it will be named after it is up.”

Princeton Republic, Sept. 28. 1872 – “Mr. H. Scovel is roofing his large stone building on the west side. It has been talked for some time that a distillery was to be put in, but if so, the matter is kept very quiet. We have no doubt a distillery would do a thriving business, though the ‘rye’ might taste old.”

This is the best view I found from the highway of the stone building at 264 South Second Street. I felt like a stalker, so I contacted owner Jan (Gruenwald) Manweiler, who said she would get me a better photo. I will post when it’s available. The 150-year-old building was described in the newspaper as a distillery, but I have no evidence at this time it was ever operated as a business.

The “Only Murders in the Building” sleuth in me organized the clues: the building was started by Scovill in 1871, it was made of stone, and it was located south of August Swanke’s wagon and blacksmith shops on Princeton’s west side.

I learned by comparing 19th century plat maps that the Scovill property had passed to Swanke, and I learned from the newspaper that Swanke converted the building into a dwelling.

Princeton Republic, Nov. 28, 1878 – “August Swanke is doing good job fixing up the old distillery building built by H. Scovel. Besides finishing it inside for a dwelling, he has left a very respectable hall for use of the Schuetzen (Schuetzen Verein, German shooting club) for dancing.”

I have found no evidence that Scovill conducted business as a distillery. I have found no mention of liquor being distilled at the site before the building was converted into a residence – no advertisements or business profiles, for example, but the newspaper’s temperance-minded editors also did not include the brewery in its industry profiles during the ’70s.

I believe the building has remained a residence since 1878.

Local historian LaVerne Marshall’s map of Old Princeton, published in the quas qui booklet in 1973, indicates the house was used as a school. The Princeton school district operated a school for west side students from 1880-1884, but I cannot verify its location. We do know when the school was built and when and where it was moved.

Princeton Republic, July 29, 1880 “The (annual school) meeting voted to build a schoolhouse on the west side for a primary department, the site and building complete not to cost to exceed $700.”

Princeton Republic, Jan. 17, 1884 – “The schoolhouse on the west side is being moved over and will be placed on the grounds occupied by the public school building (Main Street). Tim Paull has the job.”

The Lutherans conducted classes in a building “near Swanke’s shops” when flooding temporarily closed the German school on Main Street in 1881. Perhaps that’s why Marshall added the school icon on her map.

Swanke passed in 1903. His will stipulated that his daughter Alice would inherit the old stone house known as the Hiram Scovill place south of the creek flowing from the mill race to the Fox River (Deeds, Volume 66, Page 102).

There is only one building south of the creek in the early maps, the location identified today as 264 South Second Street.

Alice had already been renting the home with her husband and son for some time. Professor Theodore Voss, who taught at the German Lutheran College in Watertown before coming to Princeton, taught at the St. John Lutheran German school for nearly 25 years, from 1880 (age 20), when it was located in the 500 block of West Main Street, to 1904, when it was on the triangle created by First and Harris streets and the Black Creek road (now River Road). He was the school’s fifth instructor, following M. Hodtwalker, Jul Voss Sr., John Mohr and L. Hansen.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 17, 1891 – “Prof. Voss has about 80 scholars to manage in the German school. He has his hands full.”

Voss left Princeton in April 1904 for work in Oshkosh.

Princeton Republic, July 7, 1904 – “Prof. Theo Voss is meeting with excellent success as principal of the German schools at Oshkosh.”

The 1910 census shows Voss still teaching in Oshkosh. Alice passed in 1910 and Theodore in 1923. They are buried in the Princeton City Cemetery.

I did not need to research the deeds beyond Voss. I was able to track the property with the plat maps online. We can trace ownership of the property from H. Scovill on the 1860 county map, to August Swanke on the 1901 plat map, to Frank “Wilgush” on the 1923 plat map.

Jan and Roy Manweiler, who own the house at 264 South Second Street in 2022, purchased it in 1987. They were preceded by Joe Wielgosh, who inherited it from Frank and Bertha (Bartol) Wielgosh.

Jan said she believed part of the home was rebuilt after a fire, perhaps in the 1950s, damaged the roof and upper story.

The tannery

The tannery is much easier to trace than the distillery. Looking at the 1892 illustrated map of Princeton, I would’ve guessed the tannery was across Second Street from Swanke’s planing mill. But the Republic tells us it was on the lefthand side of the road to Montello, or Canal Street.

Princeton Republic, March 21, 1874 – “A gentleman from Mayville is looking to start a tannery. He thinks the old machine shop on the west side is just the place.”

Kunz decided against the old machine shop, located near the grist/flour mill and mill pond, and built new.

Princeton Republic, April 11, 1874 “Mr. L. Kunz of Mayville is in town this week making arrangements to for the starting of a tannery here. He is spoken of as a man who understands the business perfectly and has sufficient means to carry on a big business. Such men we want to help build up our town, and Mr. Kunz will be welcome.”

Princeton Republic, June 13, 1874 – “Mr. Kunz is progressing finely with his tannery building. A full crew of carpenters under the leadership of Carman and Harmon are driving the work forward and expect to finish in about two weeks. Mr. Kunz expects to be making leather before the month of July is over.”

The tannery opened in July as expected.

Princeton Republic, July 11, 1874 – “The new tannery, we hear, is in operation. If they expect to do anything to speak of, they want to advertise.”

The Republic printed a detailed look at the tannery under the headline “Hold Your Nose!” on July 15, 1876:

“This institution was established about three years ago and has been in successful operation since that time. It is located on the west side of the river, beyond Swanke’s wagon shop on the lefthand side of the Montello road. It is an ordinary sized, two-story structure and is admirably situated.

“The first thing that strikes the visitor’s attention is the heating apparatus, consisting of a furnace and boiler, over which are two immense vats. In these vats the ground hemlock bark is steeped to extract the element used in the tanning process,” the newspaper reported. “The usual number of other vats used in the preparatory process are conveniently distributed about the building. The hides are first thrown into water, where they are thoroughly soaked, after which they are ‘fleshed.’ This consists in taking off, with the proper tools, the fleshy membrane of the hide.

“They are then allowed to stand two weeks in a solution of lime. This loosens the hair, and the hides are then thrown into a mixture of bran and water to remove all traces of the lime. They are then placed in the distillation of hemlock, after which the hair is easily removed by sharp currying knives. The hemlock treatment is again resorted to, and then they are ready for scouring. This consists of placing them into an immense hollow wheel, which is turned with a crank. They are then hung up and dried, greased, and dried again. The finishing process consists in thinning down uniformly, blacking, graining, gumming and rolling. …

“The leather made here is of the most excellent quality and commands a good price on the market. A good deal of it is used here at home in manufacturing boots, shoes, and harnesses.”

Area historian Elaine Reetz, in her book “Come Back in Time, Vol. II” published in 1982, reported Swanke “was known to have purchased hides, storing them in a building that stood west of the foundry. He then delivered them to Berlin tanneries. Rolled up, they were said to ‘give off a terrific stale odor.’”

I do not know when the tannery closed. Kunz, who helped form the Turn Verein, or Turner Club, in Princeton, played an integral role in Princeton’s first cheese factory, which opened in a building at the southeast corner of Fulton Street and Old Green Lake Road in 1886. He left town in 1887.

Princeton Republic, March 24, 1887 – “Louis Kunz will move to Chilton soon and go into business. Kunz informs us that a party from Dartford has forwarded inquiries of renting the cheese factory this coming season.”

The slaughterhouse

The slaughterhouse was built in 1883 by Gustav A, Krueger, who operated a meat market at 524 West Water Street and built the brick building there in 1886.

Princeton Republic, Aug. 30, 1883 – “Gus. Krueger, the live butcher, is about erecting a new slaughterhouse over on the west side, on land purchased of Swanke and Kunz, not far from the latter’s tannery. The dimensions of the building will be sufficiently ample to allow of Gus putting on city airs.”

Princeton Republic, Sept. 20, 1883 – “… Still beyond the planing mill, Gus. Krueger, the lively butcher, erects his ample slaughterhouse, and while it may not be an improvement immediately in the village, it belongs to a village business that is prosperous.”

West side residents apparently grew tired of the operation and successfully lobbied village officials to shut it down.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 13, 1900 – “A special meeting of the village board was held last evening to take action on a petition signed by several west side residents objecting to slaughterhouses being maintained in the village limits. After some discussion a motion was carried to order all butchers to cease slaughtering in the village limits at once.”

If you have corrections, additions, or suggestions, please let me know.

Thank you, again, for caring and reading about local history.

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