We end our series on 19th century west-side industries where west-side industry began – at the Princeton mill.

First, a word – or a few hundred – about the mill’s founders. You could not find a family in 19th century Princeton more American than the Flints.

Waldo and Alvin Flint, or W.S. and A.L. as they are most often referred to in the early newspapers, were born in Vermont in 1820 and 1822, respectively, of “Revolutionary stock” on both sides of the family and were seventh-generation descendants of Thomas Flint, who settled in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1650.

Their father died when the boys were 6 and 4, and both were living on their own and working their way westward along with many other Americans by age 15. Waldo taught school for two years in Michigan before arriving in Princeton – founded in 1848 and open for business in 1849 – in 1850. Alvin joined Waldo to create the Flint Bros. orchard and nursery on the west side of the Fox River.

This illustration, based on the illustrated map of Princeton published in 1892 by C.J. Pauli, of Milwaukee, shows the industrial west side in the 19th century.
A clearer view of the mill channel north of Main Street, 1892.

The “Bird’s-Eye View of the History of Princeton as Related by Old Settlers” published by the Princeton Republic in January 1869, tells the Flints’ story: “In the summer of 1850 Princeton took rapid strides toward becoming a lively place of no little importance. … It was this summer that W.S. and A.L. Flint laid the foundation for the Princeton nurseries, which since have become famous for producing some of the best fruit, and certainly the hardiest trees, in the state, a name which their proprietors have justly earned by their persistent and successful efforts in the cultivation of fruit trees which abound and have withstood the severities of our long cold winters, affording every dweller within a radius of fifty miles ample opportunity to secure a bountiful supply of luscious, ripe apples at their doors, with as much certainty as in much milder and more favorable localities. In this W.S. and A.L. Flint will long be remembered as public benefactors.”

The Flints also built the sixth store building on Water Street in the summer of 1850. Waldo and Princeton founder Royal Treat platted the Treat & Flint Addition on the west side in 1857, and Waldo platted another west side addition in 1875.

The brothers, especially Waldo, were among the leaders of the Marquette and later Green Lake counties agricultural societies and the county fair held at the grounds in east Princeton (east of the intersection of Fulton and Main streets) for nearly 20 years.

The Flints provided the land for the St. John’s Catholic frame church on the far west side in 1867 and the German Lutheran school in the old “Flint Park” on the west side in 1882.

Waldo was on the school board that approved replacing the frame school on Wisconsin Street with the two-story stone building on Main Street in 1867 and on the committee appointed to appraise lands taken by the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad for depot grounds, warehouse, etc. when it came to Princeton in 1872.

Both brothers served as village president; Waldo in 1866 and 1870 and Alvin in 1867 and 1868. Alvin was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1861. Waldo served in both the state Assembly (1876) and state Senate (1871 and 1872).

The newspaper included the Flints’ business in a series of profiles on local industry in 1870.

Princeton Republic, March 26, 1870 – “… About twenty years ago the Messrs. W.S and A.L. Flint came here in search of the best location for a nursery, having in mind to get into a climate suitable to propagate trees that would be sufficiently hardy to endure the hard winters of the northwest, and also to find suitable soil on which to grow a tough, hardy tree. This they judged they found here, and twenty years’ experience has fully justified them in their decision. Two years since, A.L. Flint left this state and settled in Iowa, since which time W.S. has continued to drive the business in the same energetic manner that has forced their success from the first. The Princeton Nursery now is one of the largest in the northwest and bids fair very soon to become, not an institution of our town only, but of our state, as nearly every good farmer in this part of our state points with pride to his orchard and says, ‘these hardy varieties of good fruit trees came from Flint’s Nursery at Princeton.’”

Alvin moved to Nashua, Iowa, after his stint in the state Legislature. Waldo tarried longer in Princeton, not departing for Iowa until 1876.

Princeton Republic, May 20, 1876 – “Mr. J.B. Morley & Son purchased the fine nursery of W.S. Flint. The trees are in remarkably good condition.”

Princeton Republic, May 20, 1876 – “Hon. W.S. Flint and family left Princeton on Tuesday morning for their new home near Nashua, Iowa. A crowd of friends gathered at the depot to say the sorrowful good-bye. All seemed to appreciate the fact that Princeton was not only losing a family of old settlers, but one that had taken a leading part in every improvement, as well as in every social and educational interest of the village, for more than twenty-five years. … We agree with the popular expression, that Green Lake County has lost one of her best families, and only hope that in Chicksaw County, their new home, they may find as warm friends as are left here.”

Waldo Flint returned to Princeton in August 1882 to dispose of his family’s final holdings here. It might have been his last visit to the village he helped create.

Princeton Republic, Aug. 31, 1882 – “Hon. W.S. Flint started for home this morning via Oshkosh and Chicago. He succeeded in selling all of his Princeton property as also a part of the Rosebrook (wife, Sarah) estate, consisting of the large Rosebrook residence in the northeastern part of town, together with some four lots. Besides doing the above business during the week, he was able to visit many old friends, making all happy.”

Princeton Republic readers last heard from Waldo Flint in March 1889.

Princeton Republic, March 23, 1899 – “In a recent letter from Hon. W.S. Flint at Nashua, Iowa, to Gustav Teske, Esq., of this village, he says ‘he is enjoying usual health, and glad to notice advancement and prosperity of the village of Princeton and the success of canal improvement by Teske & Zierke’ that assures their mill plant of a never-failing volume of water. It will be remembered that Mr. Flint and brother built the present mill in 1856. The brother, Alvin, died in Nashua some years ago. Mr. Flint remarked in his letter that he ‘would like to visit this place once more, and may, but at his age (79) it is quite uncertain; that many of his old friends are passing away; that he would be almost a stranger.’”

Alvin Flint passed in February 1890. Waldo died in October 1900. They are buried in Nashua, Iowa.

The Princeton mill

The Flint brothers, who arrived in Princeton in 1850, founded the Princeton grist mill about 1857.

The best information we have about the mill is a history published in the Princeton newspaper in 1894. Profiles of the mill were also printed in 1902 and 1936 but both contained inaccurate information.

The Wisconsin Legislature in 1852 authorized Davis Waite, a future governor of Colorado who lived in Princeton for about ten years and was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly for one term, and associates to construct a canal or mill race “for the purpose of taking from said Mecan River so much water as may be necessary for the use of such mill and machinery as they erect at the termination of said canal or race on Fox River.”

The mill was built in 1857.

The Ripon Home, January 23, 1857 “Princeton, situated on Fox River, in Marquette County, 18 miles above Berlin, is surrounded by a rich and fertile farming country. … The Fox River Improvement Company are making preparations to put in a dam at this point, which will insure the navigation of the river in the future. There is also being built a good stone flouring mill, which will be in operation this season.” Rowen

Several factories operated in Block 9 of the Treat & Flint Addition in the 19th century because of the waterpower provided by the mill stream.

Here’s how the newspaper recounted those early days as the mill was being razed in 1936:

Princeton Times, May 28, 1936 – “A flour mill back in the fifties was almost indispensable for the growth of a community, and as the Fox River which flows through Princeton had not fall enough to furnish waterpower such as the neighboring towns of Dartford, Kingston, Montello and Germania had, the idea was conceived by a number of men to divert one of the nearby streams into the village for that purpose. … The company headed by W.S. And A.L. Flint chose the Mecan, seven miles away. The canal, or mill ditch, as it was commonly called, was started about a mile southeast of the village of Germania in Marquette County, and as all the work of digging was done by pick and shovel, it consumed the most of 1856 and 1857. The canal formed a natural flow, and it took only a small dam in the Mecan where the stream was diverted.”

The original mill included a three-story building “substantially of stone” and a large frame building moved here from St. Marie. It had two runs of four-foot stones, two eighteen-foot hexagon reels and a smutter, and could turn out 50 barrels of flour per day. The power was an eighteen-foot over-shot wheel under a twenty-foot head until a turbine was installed in 1869. 

The Princeton mill, date unknown.

The mill passed through multiple owners, who leased it to multiple operators, over the next 80 years.

The Flints took in David Green as a partner in January 1866, selling one half of Lots 6, 7 and 8 in Block 9 for $3,500 (Deeds, Volume 28, Page 318) and sold their remaining interest as well as shares in two Water Street lots to Philemon Wicks for $4,000 in May 1866 (Deeds, Volume 25, Page 513).

Princeton Republic, June 6, 1867 – “We understand that Green & Wicks will shortly shut off the water, stopping the mill for the time to repair the race so as to increase the volume of water. By a comparatively small outlay four times the present supply of water can be obtained. We wish some enterprising man would join Messrs. Green & Wicks and open the ‘ditch’ to its lawful width, forty feet, then Princeton could boast of one of the largest and cheapest waterpowers in this part of the state.”

Green and Wicks made extensive repairs to the mill and widened the ditch enough to nearly double the volume of water. Wicks leased his half of the mill to James Millard Wicks before selling his interest in the mill to J.C. Weiss in September 1867 (Deeds, Volume 31, Page 37).

Princeton Republic, August 22, 1867 – “Green & Millard are determined to make 5,000 barrels of flour at the Princeton Mills besides doing all the custom work that comes between this and the first of January.”

Princeton Republic, Sept. 19, 1867 – “The Princeton Mills again receive a new half-proprietor. Mr. P. Wicks has sold out his interest to John Weiss of Ripon for $6,000 – clearing $1,700 in one year. Seems to us he’s disposed of a good investment, possibly not easily duplicated. Neither Messrs. Weiss nor Green would take $7,500 for an individual half-interest in the mills. Mr. Wicks has gone to Iowa.”

The newspaper in February 1868 published the mill’s earnings and expense report for the previous six months. The mill’s revenue included $1,905 for 3,810 barrels of flour and $1,284 for 910 bushels of wheat, for a total of $3,189. Expenses totaled $773.45 (miller, $630; other labor, $96; sundry, $47.45), leaving a net profit of $2,415.55. “We call that good property,” the article concluded.

Princeton Republic, Nov. 16, 1868 – “The Princeton Mills run by those capital millers, Weiss & Colburn, have we learn turned out 7,000 bushels of custom grinding in the three months ending today, besides the usual merchant work.”

Green and the millers upgraded the mill’s technology in 1869.

Princeton Republic, June 5, 1869 – “The Princeton Mills will soon have a new Leffle wheel of 50 horsepower. Then the old overshot which has done noble work so long will have rest.”

Princeton Republic, March 26, 1870 – “The Princeton Mills were repaired last summer and put in complete order. A new Leffel wheel was put in, which furnishes the motive power, and is now in the best running order. It has probably the largest custom trade of any mill in the county. Weiss & Colburn are on hand to do their part, toward pleasing their customers. The mill has a capacity for flouring of about sixty barrels per day, and during the flouring season is stocked by D.M. Green, who for several years has been our principal wheat buyer and shipper. The wheat trade is not very large, reaching only about 60,000 to 100,000 bushels per year, but as to quality, there is no point in the state, nor in the northwest, where the average quality is better.”

Princeton Republic, June 1, 1872 – “The Princeton Flouring Mill, John Weiss and J.C. Lemke, proprietors, is doing a splendid business. They have improved the capacity of the mill lately and are doing a large amount of gristing to the satisfaction of their customers. Besides, they have 400 bushels of old wheat on hand, which they are flouring for home trade. This will give our people a chance to get better flour than can be had from the late crop.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 29, 1874 – “The Princeton Mill is now at full blast with three new wheels, new smutter, middlings separator, and all the modern improvements.”

Weiss sold his interest in the mill to wagon manufacturer August Swanke in 1878. (Deeds, Volume 25, Page 514, Volume 40, Page 80)

Princeton Republic, June 27, 1878 “The largest real estate transaction that has occurred in Princeton in some time took place last week, being the sale of John Weiss’ interest in the Princeton Flouring Mill to August Swanke for the sum of $5,000.”

The Warren Bros. leased the mill for three years beginning in October 1878. They hired Leonard Long to put in another run of stone in 1879 and added a new flume to the mill race in 1880.

David Green bought out Swanke for $4,500 in February 1881 (Deeds, Volume 41, Page 128) and sold half the business to his brother Gardner (Deeds, Volume 47, Page 32). (For much more about the Green brothers, see previous post “Lots O’ History | Water Lot 21”).

The Greens leased the mill operation to August Clewein (Klavine) for five years beginning in 1882, made repairs to the mill and deepened the mill ditch.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 4, 1884 – “D.M. and G. Green have between 75 and 100 men employed in cleaning out and deepening the mill ditch.”

Princeton Republic, Sept. 25, 1884 – “D.M. Green says that since cleaning out and deepening the mill ditch that 20 per cent more water can be furnished than ever before ran through the ditch.”

They made a major investment that fall to revolutionize the mill.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 16, 1884 – “The following is important to Princeton if true: Rumor has it that G. and D.M. Green have bought a full line of mill machinery for making roller flour for their mill at a cost of machinery alone of $2,650, and we noticed Mr. Alfred Long, a popular millwright, in town several days this week in consultation with the proprietors.”

This was a major investment for the Greens and reflected a national trend of moving from grist mills using stones to roller mills using a series of corrugated rollers to grind grain. The roller mills were better at extracting uniformly white flour, improving efficiency and profits for mills.

Princeton Republic, March 5, 1885 – “It is true that G. & D.M. Green have bought of E.P. Allis & Co., of the Reliance Works, Milwaukee, a full and complete roller system mill for their mill at this place. The machinery will reach here about the 15th of this month. They have commenced taking down their old machinery for the purpose of giving room for the new. It is probable the new machinery will be put in motion about the first of May.”

Princeton Republic, March 12, 1885 – “Leonard Long came down from Richford Monday to superintend the putting in of rollers at the mill. Leonard is a first-class millwright.”

Princeton Republic, April 9, 1885 – “Several thousand pounds of machinery for G. & D.M. Green’s mill arrived last week and is now being put into shape by a small army of workmen. The proprietors have secured from Milwaukee one of the best millwrights in the country. A man well versed in the milling business says that the roller system G. & D.M. Green are placing in their mill will make it one of the very best mills in the part of the state.”

The Warren Bros. leased the mill in the late 1880s and installed a steam engine.

Princeton Republic, Sept. 30, 1886 – “A steam engine will soon be placed in the Princeton roller mill so as to be ready for use in case of failure of water from any cause. A repairing of dam or any obstruction or accident that interferes with an incessant flow of water will not interfere with the continual running of the mill when the improvements contemplated are in place.”

Princeton Republic, Nov. 4, 1886 – “The new engine in the mill was fired up Saturday for the first time.”

Ed Zierke purchased an interest with Warren Brothers in running the Princeton mill in 1886.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 13, 1887 – “The grist mill, under the manipulation of Warren Brothers & Ed. Zierke, is doing an immense business.”

The Greens dug a new ditch from the race to the river between the mill and foundry in 1890 for use as a wasteway.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 9, 1890 – “Messrs. Gard and D.M. Green are building a brick chimney at their flour mills here, the old sheet-iron smokestack having rusted out. The chimney rests on a stone base eight feet square, which rises about fourteen feet above the ground. It will be about sixty feet in height when finished and will measure three feet across at the top. This is one of the finest pieces of mason work in our city and will be built at a cost of over $250.”

Princeton Republic, April 23, 1891 – “The Green brothers have recently placed a set of rollers in their mill for grinding rye flour.  … They have now a mill complete in every particular and cannot help giving universal satisfaction in the grinding of wheat or rye.”

1892 Sanborn fire insurance map.

The Green brothers sold the mill and several other lots to Edward Teske Sr. and son-in-law Edward Zierke for $10,800 in March 1893 (Deeds, Volume 50, Page 419, Volume 53, Page 51).

Princeton Republic, March 23, 1893 – “One of the largest deals in real estate that has been made in Princeton for some time has just been consummated. The roller flouring mills has changed hands, D.M. Green & Co. having sold the property nominally to the Teske brothers, but we understand that eventually E. Teske and Ed Zierke are to be the sole owners. The consideration was between $10,000 and $11,000. It is expected the new firm will make a number of improvements, such as they may deem proper to add. D.M. Green has been the owner of the property for many years. His age and health are both obstacles in the way of managing such property as he would wish, and hence he has disposed of it and let it go into younger hands. Gard Green has of late years had an interest in the concern, but his health would hardly permit of his taking a very active part in the running of the mill.”

The new owners created a new flume, deepened the mill ditch, added new machinery, and built a bin capable of holding a thousand bushels of grain in 1893. More improvements at the mill followed in 1894.

 “This summer it has been thoroughly overhauled and modern improvements and additional machinery added to the system of rollers,” the Republic reported on July 26. “New wheat and flour bins have been built. These new improvements and changes were added under the supervision of C. Moyer, an experienced millwright of Stevens Point. Six machines have been added in the shape of reels for separating the flour in its different grades and manipulating it until the highest grades of super-fine flour is reached after it leaves the rollers. In connection therewith are the dustless purifiers, two machines that eliminates every foreign substance from the crushed material after it leaves the rollers and which is necessary to be freed from making a flour that is as near perfect as flour can be made – all modern inventions that are now considered necessary for first-class work. Then there is the Cyclone dust collector, another piece of new machinery that still adds to the process of a perfect machine, complicated in their use to those who have not had their workings fully explained but still doing a necessary part in arriving at the stage of perfect work. This is the Princeton mill as it stands today. It is now placed in a shape and condition that grades it as one of the best establishments in the country for the manufacture of flour.”

In addition to upgrading the mill, Teske and Zierke also further developed the mill race with a steam dredge purchased in 1895 and kept busy for four years. With additional power available, Teske and Zierke bought a 100-barrel plant with a Barnard & Leas plansifter from a Minnesota company.

1898 Sanborn fire insurance map.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 19, 1899 – “Teske & Zierke have not run their mill during the past ten days, as they have been putting in some of the latest improved machinery.  …  New machines are continually coming forth, and the mill that keeps up with the times must often throw out machines, not because they are worn out but because better ones have been produced that do a grade of work which the old machine cannot do.  … A large new machine called a plansifter is being put in. This machine does away with most of the bolting chests and is very complicated, having 24 spouts that lead to it. When this work is done our mill will be fitted to turn out work of the very best grade.”

The remodeled mill was started November 9, 1899. A profile of the Princeton Mills in the “American Miller” magazine in 1902 noted it was the only plansifter mill in Green Lake County. Its products included Victory, Golden Rod, Daily Bread and rye flour.

“The mill now has an easy capacity of one hundred barrels daily,” the Republic reported in June. “On the roller floor are five double stands of rolls, one receiving separator, one steam generator and one steamer. On the second floor are two dustless purifiers, one dust collector and one flour dresser. On the third floor are one close scourer, one plansifter, one centrifugal reel, and one cockle machine. The main building is of stone and 32×40 feet in size. The addition on the south end is a frame structure 25×40 feet in size. It contains the feed mill and feed bins.”

1904 Sanborn fire insurance map.

With the community focused on maximizing the mill channel’s potential to generate an electric system, Teske leased the mill operation to William Yunker, who had worked there for about 15 years, and spent considerable time with crews repairing washouts on the mill channel. A washout near the St. John’s Polish picnic grounds in 1917 idled the mill for a few weeks and forced the electric plant to turn to steam power.

When Yunker headed to Theresa to run a flour and feed mill, Teske resumed managing the Princeton mill. He sold the mill race to a group of local businessmen, Erich Mueller, W.A. Gorr, William Seidel and Barney Priskey, for $8,000 in April 1917 (Deeds, Volume 78, Page 20).

1914 Sanborn fire insurance map (north part of Block 9)
1914 Sanborn fire insurance map (south part of Block 9).

Princeton Republic, April 26, 1917 – “A deal was transacted the latter part of last week between Edward Teske Sr. and Erich Mueller, Wm. Seidel and W.A. Gross whereby the three latter took over the ownership of the mill channel. The deal also includes the real estate where the electric power plant and tub factory are located. The consideration involves in the neighborhood of $10,000. Mr. Teske retains the mill title and, in the deal, it was stipulated that the present owners are obliged to furnish sufficient power to run the mill.”

Edward Teske Sr. passed in May 1923. H.O. “Harry” Teske succeeded him at the mill.

Princeton Republic, Dec. 11, 1924 – “In a deal recently transacted between Teske Milling Co. and Harry Teske the latter takes over the entire stock of the mill and will continue the business in his own name.”

1927 Sanborn fire insurance map.

Princeton Republic, May 22, 1930 – “The Princeton Milling Company who of late have experienced difficulty with their flume and water wheel have adopted the plan of furnishing their power with electric motors. Mr. Teske informs us they will be first-class equipped and will be in running order in about two weeks.”

Teske sold the Princeton mill a short time later.

Princeton Republic, June 12, 1930 – “In a deal made last week between the Teske Milling Company and the Wisconsin Power and Light Company, the latter became the owners of the former’s mill. We are informed the property will undergo improvements after which it will be rented. H.O. Teske, who had management of the mill, has not yet decided the vocation he will pursue.”

WP&L hired Harry Lunow to run the mill but shut it down a short time later. The mill stood vacant for several years.

In April 1936 WP&L sold a mill warehouse to Max Ladwig, who razed it and used the lumber to build a tavern just east of his Pleasant Valley pavilion, aka Py Alley, about three miles east of Princeton.

The mill was torn down in May 1936 – more than 80 years after it was built – under the direction of Harry Teske.

Approximate site of the Princeton mill, 2022.

Lots 4 and 5 | Power plants

It would be remiss to leave the mill history without reflecting on how the improvements made by the Flints, Greens, Teske & Zierke and others to the mill race/channel/stream in the 19th century paid dividends for the community in the 20th century.

Lots 4 and 5, which had been largely undeveloped from the time Block 9 was platted in 1857, became home to power plants in the 1920 and ‘30s.

The mill owners survived a legal battle with the Germania mill over the mill race and Mecan water in 1875. The settlement ensured the Princeton mill owners could maintain water at the height needed above the dam and get as much water as needed.

The Greens improved the mill ditch to increase waterpower, and the Teske & Zierke dredge’s work from 1895-1898 finally gave the channel owners more than enough power to operate their mill. The newspaper estimated the improvements could furnish 125 to 150 horsepower, with the mill only requiring about 50 hp, leaving a large surplus for improvements such as electric lights, waterworks and sewer.

“Can it be that the projectors of the canal away back in the ‘50s or ‘60s foresaw all the improvements in the future of their little town?” the newspaper marveled in 1899.

With Zierke taking the lead, the mill owners showed the community what was possible.

Princeton Republic, August 8, 1901 – “W.B. Voth, an electrical engineer of Milwaukee who has been in the city the past week has made a contract with Teske & Zierke to put in an electric light plant on the west side. They will put in between fifty and a hundred lights to commence with in Teske & Zierke’s mill and in the residences of E. Teske Sr., E.A. Zierke, C. Dahlke and C. Terwedo and a 1,200-candle power arc light between Messrs. Teske & Zierke’s residences.”

Princeton Republic, Oct. 17, 1901 – “Teske & Zierke have their electric light plant in running order now. It throws an excellent light, and they will be able to run the mill during the busy season at night now without any more inconvenience than in the daytime.”

The Village Board on November 21, 1901, approved Teske & Zierke’s application for an electric light and power franchise 4-3. Within a week, a company was incorporated – Citizens’ Electric Light & Power Company of Princeton, Wisconsin – with capital stock of $7,500. Zierke was named to the board of directors and Teske a stockholder.

Princeton Republic, March 27, 1902 – “Mr. Meyer and crew of Appleton have been here the past few weeks perfecting the new electric light plant in our city. The new dynamo has a 1,200 light capacity or 80 horsepower. Water will be used to run the dynamo and the engine will be kept for reserve force. The switch board is a beautiful thing and is set on a white marble board. The plant is located on the west side of the Fox River in a building 20 by 32. It has a beautiful site. Meyer & Co. are hustlers and they will put in a great many more lights before they leave the city. Mr. Meyer turned on the lights in our city for the first time at 5:30 o’clock last evening.”

Princeton Republic, April 10, 1902 – “The electric powerhouse is nearly completed and is a substantial and pretty brick building.”

In April 1905 Princeton residents voted 166-123 to spend up to $12,000 to buy the steam plant, lines, poles and other rights from the Citizens Electric Light & Power Company, which disbanded and surrendered its charter in January 1906.

Princeton Republic, August 10, 1911 – “Mr. Edward Teske Sr. is busily engaged at the west side to increase the strength of the water power leading to the electric power house and to replace the old water wheel with a new one of much more capacity. Also, a new tunnel leading from the channel to the powerhouse is being built of cement. Same will be under course of construction for several weeks and when completed Mr. Teske will have one of the best power systems in this part of the state.”

Teske sold the mill channel to the Princeton Power & Light Company, headed by Erich Mueller, William Seidel, W.A. Gross and Barney Priske, local businessmen and village officials, for $8,000 in April 1917 (Deeds, Volume 78, Page 20). The deal included the real estate where the electric power plant and tub factory were located but not the mill or mill property.

The company offered to sell the mill channel to the village in 1918, but voters rejected the proposed $12,000 price tag, 201-74, in April.

The electric plant, circa 1920s.

The Princeton Power & Light Co. purchased a dredge in 1920 to enlarge and improve the mill channel and broke ground for a new cement-block powerhouse directly south of the original plant.

Princeton Republic, Oct. 7, 1920 – “The Princeton Power & Light Co. last Tuesday began operations on the West Side in breaking ground for their new power plant. Their engineer arrived here on last Monday morning and has a crew who are making preparations for the new concrete building and concrete water tunnels. About seven carloads of cement will be consumed to complete the work. We are informed by the company that a 24-hour electric light service will be furnished within a few months.”

Princeton Republic, July 21, 1921 – “The Princeton Light & Power Co., who had under construction, the building of their new electric plant since last fall, put on the finishing touches Wednesday last. The new machinery, all of the very best obtainable and of the newest type, arrived here several weeks ago and was installed by the expert electricians sent here from the factory. The company, composed of city people, have spared no pains in giving Princeton one of the best equipped power plants of the state. At present they are also engaged in widening and deepening the channel, and this work, if nothing unforeseen happens, will be completed by next fall. The first day current was turned on Wednesday afternoon and the citizens are given the opportunity to install their motors, flat irons, electric stoves, etc. and may now use the current twenty-four hours each day.”

The Wisconsin Power & Light Company succeeded the local firm in 1925.

Princeton Republic, Feb. 26, 1925 – “The Wisconsin Power & Light Company have taken options on the stock of the Princeton Power & Light Co. with the idea of taking over the local plant and ditch and later tying in the local plant with their high-tension lines. Mr. W.A. Exner, district manager with offices at Ripon, and A.A. Kreiter of the investment department, have been at work here since Friday and finishing Monday by getting the controlling stock. When this deal is consummated and Princeton receives the extra power from the high lines of the Wisconsin company, people of Princeton will not be limited in their use of electricity, but will be able to use it for any and all purposes including such as cooking with electric ranges, power, etc. Another feature of this connection will mean the extending of electric lines to the rural communities around Princeton. The use of this power is become very useful and popular on the farm. The contract between the Princeton Power & Light Co and the city of Princeton will be assumed by the Wisconsin Power & Light Company.”

Princeton Republic, Nov. 7, 1929 – “The mill channel was drained last Sunday forenoon in preparation of installing a new water wheel in the Wisconsin Power and Light company’s plant.”

Princeton’s original power stations sat mainly on these lots, 4 and 5, in Block 9.

The city sold the large brick chimney from the old electric powerhouse in September 1934. John Spott purchased the bricks and planned to use them to erect a brick house on his Fulton Street lot.

Princeton Republic or Times, May 2, 1935 – “An unused part of the mill channel, extreme north of the mill channel, extreme north end on First street, for the past number of years presented an unsightly appearance, is being improved thru FERA project. Many truckloads of filling were required to level that part of the channel. Then, too, many truckloads of black dirt were hauled as a top dressing for seeding of lawn grass. Trees and shrubbery will beautify the spot. It is also planned that the space between the channel and the sidewalk on First Street, extending to W. Main Street will be graded preparatory for a small park. On this, too, trees and flower beds will be provided.”

The mill stream or channel, looking south toward Main Street, date unknown.
The mill stream or channel, looking north from Main Street, date unknown.

Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 3, 1940 – “By authorizing the mayor and the city clerk to sign the lease with the Wisconsin Power & Light Company the council at their meeting Tuesday night cleared the way for obtaining a site for the fishpond to be sponsored by the Princeton Rod and Gun Club. The pond will be under the supervision of Dr. G.G. Mueller. The Rod and Gun Club will develop the site, which is located below the powerhouse, making it accessible for youngsters. It is expected the Conservation Department will cooperate in stocking the pond with pan fish – blue gills, perch, crappies, etc.”

With no major investments in the plant over the previous twenty years, the Wisconsin Power & Light Company informed city officials in February 1955 that it might abandon the canal and hydro-electric plant. The company said the plant was a losing venture, needed costly repairs to address intermittent outages, and was producing less and less power each year, barely enough to serve the west side. City officials complained the company had not continued the improvements and dredging started by the stock company and previous owners.

Wisconsin Power & Light filed its official application to abandon the mill ditch with the Public Service Commission in 1959. The Common Council voted in June to oppose the request, saying it would create a fire hazard and drainage problems, reduce recreational opportunities and land value of St. John’s Catholic school property, and cost the city utility tax revenue. Clerk Clarence Oelke said the city would either have to lay water mains or build a cistern to provide fire protection for that section of town.

The Public Service Commission hearing was held June 19, 1959, at the courthouse in Montello. A WP&L spokesman said the Princeton plant was no longer economical to operate. The company would have to provide a new unit to replace two small generating units that were producing a small amount of electricity, he said, and dredge the ditch at an estimated cost of $1,000 per mile. Groups such as the Izaak Walton League and Germania Rod and Gun Club supported the plan. Mrs. Millard Mosolf spoke in favor of closing the ditch, saying she believed that this was the only way residents along Canal Street were going to get city water and sewer.

Witnesses speaking against the plan included Oelke, who presented a petition from 45 people living along the mill ditch opposed to the plan, and Harold Bartel, treasurer of St. John’s congregation, who had five petitions totaling 353 signatures opposed to the closing of the mill ditch. Petitions opposing the action also came from Mecan and Princeton townships.

The decision came in January.

Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 14, 1960 – “The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has authorized the Wisconsin Power and Light Company to abandon its Mecan River dam and canal and the hydro plant in the city of Princeton.”

One of the conditions imposed by the PSC was that WP&L fill, grade and seed the canal property in the city. The filled-in mill ditch north of Main Street was transformed into a park and named Old Mill Park following a contest in 1983.

Old Mill Park in 2022

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

Thank you for reading and caring about local history.


  1. W S Flint is my great great grandfather. I have been working on my family history for many years. This article adds new information. Thank you to whomever did the research for this story. I wonder if there is a way to have access to the originals of the documents and information uses for this article.

    1. Hi, Vicki: Most of the information came from the local newspaper, the Princeton Republic. Its files are digitized and available through the Princeton Public Library website under the Newspaper Archives tab. If you have any other questions, please contact me at Thanks!

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