Since I was in the neighborhood tracing the history of the US Bank lot at Pearl and Main streets last week, I decided to make the post office at 111 South Pearl Street my next stop.
The history of the Princeton post office begins with the first frame building erected in Princeton.
John Knapp moved here from his farm in Pleasant Valley shortly after Royal Treat founded Treat’s Landing in July 1848 and before Henry Treat purchased the land that would comprise the original plat of Princeton in June 1849.
Knapp erected a building near the northwest corner of Water and Pearl streets that became Princeton’s first inn, or tavern, and his wife became the hamlet’s first professional cook. Knapp was named Princeton’s first postmaster in July 1849. He distributed and collected mail, transported by stagecoach, at his inn. He gave up the post in 1850 and the post office moved across Water Street to the Randall Bros. building, which later burned.
Knapp’s building passed to Chauncy Boylan and then to J. Wm. and Carl Worm. It was used as a boarding house and residence. It was moved north to about the middle of the block, today 111 South Pearl Street, when Gottfried Schaal built his hardware store at what today is 602 West Water Street (Twister) in 1882.
Princeton Republic, March 9, 1882 – “Gottfried Schaal will veneer his new store building with brick. … He will build a two-story building this spring on the lot recently purchased from Carl Worm for $1,500, formerly known as the old Boylan corner. The dwelling house is to take a back seat and will be fitted up for residence.”
The building appears to have remained unchanged in the 1892, 1898, 1904, 1914 and 1927 Sanborn fire insurance maps. I don’t know when it was razed or moved.
Tracking the local post office’s earliest days is difficult because Princeton did not have a newspaper until 1867, leaving us with minimal information about the post office for nearly two decades. However, we can identify at least nine post office locations in Princeton between 1849 and 1916. (See map below.)
From 1917 to 1957 the post office was housed in the east room of the American House, 440 West Water Street (today Whimsey Mountain’s east room).
Princeton Republic, Jan. 25, 1917 – “Postmaster J.E. Hennig is at the present time busily engaged in remodeling and beautifying the front sample room of the American House. The room has been neatly paneled and adorned at the ceiling with stucco work. The side walls are also prettily decorated with stucco work at the upper part, while the lower part is made to resemble glazed brick. At the present time the painters are engaged who are putting the finishing touches to it, and when their work is completed and upon the arrival of the new lock boxes, which are of the combination lock type the post office will be moved into said room. Mr. Hennig having rented same to the post office department for a period of 10 years.”
Princeton Republic, Nov. 18, 1926 – “Ex-Postmaster J.E. Hennig is busily engaged in remodeling and changing the interior of the post office. Several new cases and a large new safe have been added and the room of the postmaster and his employees is to be enlarged and the room of the lobby somewhat reduced.”
Princeton Times-Republic, July 1, 1937 – “Patrons of the local post office were pleasantly surprised Monday morning with improvements made over the weekend. Improvements included the installation of new combination lock boxes, steel equipment throughout, and a more convenient arrangement of postage stamp, money orders, and parcel post windows. The new arrangement of fixtures also gives more working space for post office employees, made necessary by the constantly increasing volume of business handled by this office. The staff has been more than busy this week instruction patrons in the mysteries of operating the combinations of their lock boxes. The lock box facilities have been more than doubled, and the combination lock is a great advantage over the old key system. No more looking for lost or misplaced keys.”
Hennig’s room – about 900 square feet – remained the post office through several building owners and postmasters but eventually was simply too small to support Princeton’s growing population.
The first sign of a new post office arrived in December 19, 1955, when the U.S. Post Office Department began soliciting proposals “to furnish quarters suitable for post office purposes in Princeton, Wisconsin, under a lease subject to the provisions of the standard form of lease used by the Post Office Department, at a stated price per annum, including heat, light, power, water, toilet facilities, and plumbing heating and lighting fixtures; for a term of five or ten years from February 1, 1957.”
Proposals were due by January 18, 1956. A decision was made in June.
Princeton Times-Republic, June 28, 1956 – “Princeton will have a new Post Office by February 1957. Mr. and Mrs. John Hotmar have signed a 10-year lease with the Federal Government for a new Post Office building. Construction of the 38×44 foot building is expected to begin about the first of August after the complete plans are approved by the State and Federal Post Office Department. The Hotmar lot on Pearl Street will be the site for the building which will feature a stone and brick front.”
Work on the 1,512-square-foot, brick and cement-block building progressed on schedule, though new fixtures and other equipment did not arrive until after the move was completed. The Hotmar Hardware Company, owner of the building and site, served as general contractor. Jerome Marshall did the masonry work. Other local contractors included George Ladwig, interior decorating; Alvin Severson, carpentry; Herb Wedell, electrical.
Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 31, 1957 – “The Princeton Post Office moved to its new location in a new building on Pearl Street over the weekend and was all set up for business-as-usual Monday morning. The transfer of equipment was made without mishap of any kind, and everything went smoothly, according to Postmaster John Nickodem. Originally the move was scheduled for Feb. 1. However, since the building was ready for occupancy, it was thought that the transfer could be make with less inconvenience on Saturday preceding the deadline. The earlier moving time brought about little confusion as nearly everyone learned about it through observation or the ‘grapevine.’ Only a handful of persons were seen going to the old location early this week.”
The most unique feature of the post office, in my opinion, arrived five months after the opening.
Princeton Times-Republic, May 2, 1957 – “Princeton residents have been pointing with pride to the attractive new post office building for some time. Now they can point with equal pride to an unusual sign which went up on the front of the building over the weekend. It is somewhat out of the ordinary, and possibly the only one of its kind. The large letters forming the words ‘U.S. Postoffice, Princeton, Wisconsin’ were made by Mrs. John (Lilian) Hotmar out of native clay from the family property on Highway 23 east.”
The post office building, now a venerable 65 years old, continues to serve Princeton residents today. The lock boxes are the ones that arrived in 1937, I believe. Mrs. Hotmar’s ceramic letters have been replaced
This post is about the building history, but here’s a quick look at the postmasters who have served local residents. For about the first 90 years of Princeton history, postmasters were political appointees who changed with the tides of congressional and presidential elections.
Mail distribution and collection followed the postmaster to whatever building he used for his business. Early shop keepers competed for the honor not only for the prestige but also because area residents would come to the store to send or receive mail.
The drive to go farther west and the diverse business interests of the early settlers led to short terms for many of the early postmasters.
This list of Princeton postmasters comes from the National Archives, M841, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, accessed through ancestry.com. (I cannot explain why there would be three postmasters listed in 1856 and 1861 with two appointments only a day apart.)
John Knapp July 14, 1849
Isaac P. Randall April 26, 1850
Albert G. Hopkins April 8, 1852
Davis H. Waite June 15, 1853
Lafayette Fisher April 3, 1856
Samuel C. Dewey May 16, 1856
Joseph M. Fish Sept. 4, 1856
Ira Sherman March 30, 1861
Albert G. Hopkins April 8, 1861
Ira Sherman April 9, 1861
Albert G. Hopkins Sept. 8, 1864
Wm. J. Frank Oct. 12, 1866
Albert G. Hopkins April 13, 1869
J.C. Thompson June 16, 1873
C.P. Rawson May 2, 1883
Wm. J. Frank June 15, 1885
Edwin R. Beebe May 25, 1889
Edward T. Frank May 31, 1893
Frank Tucker June 17, 1897
Frank Tucker Jan. 23, 1900
Frank Tucker Jan. 18, 1904
Oscar C. Olman Feb. 21, 1912
Julius E. Hennig Jan. 28, 1916
Julius E. Hennig June 5, 1920
Lynn L. Merrill Feb. 26, 1925
Lynn L. Merrill May 10, 1929
John V. Nickodem April 28, 1934
John V. Nickodem May 13, 1938
John V. Nickodem Dec. 16, 1942
James E. Wyse Aug. 19, 1964
Jerome J. Zodrow Dec. 3, 1965
Jerome J. Zodrow July 19, 1968
Mary Allen March 1, 1993
John Nickodem was the longest-tenured postmaster – 29 years – and the first who took a civil service exam for the position. Others who went to Ripon in October 1933 to take the exam were H. A. Megow, Martin M. Bednarek, Frank Wyse, Otto Warnke, Dr. Alfred Giese, Leo Bartol, John Nickodem, Mrs. Minnie Bednarek and Louis Schroeder.
Princeton welcomed its first female postmaster when Mary Allen took the keys in March 1993. My research thus far ends there.
More recent postmasters that I’m aware of include Cynthia Daye and Richard L. Smith (April 20, 2005). The office has been supervised by “officers in charge” at times as well.
This map shows known post office locations from 1849-2022. There were others prior to 1867 that I have not yet documented.
Please let me know if you have any corrections or additions.
Thank you for caring and reading about local history.