We can trace the origins of two buildings in Princeton to New Deal programs designed to help put America back to work during the Great Depression: the Princeton Water Works building erected at 438 West Main Street as part of the sewer and water project in 1935 and the former National Youth Administration building erected at 621 South Fulton Street in 1941.
Today’s post traces the history of the NYA building, which sits on Lots 5 and 8 of Block Z in the southeastern corner of the city.
The National Youth Administration was a Depression era government program designed to help young men and women ages 16-24 learn job skills and find work. It launched in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration and ended in 1943 as a War Manpower Commission program, when its goal was preparing workers for the defense industry.
During that time, the NYA provided part-time work to more than 2.1 million students and nearly 2.7 million young people who were out of school. I have found little evidence of student aid here other than at County Normal, the teachers training school in Berlin attended by several Princeton women over the Depression years.
The annual report of the Green Lake County Normal delivered to the county board in January 1940 noted, “The unfavorable prices received by farmers during the past year is reflected by the increase of the number of students requesting employment of one form or another. The National Youth Administration still renders aid to needy students. This year they increased their aids to students at our school from $60 to $90 per month. Ten students receive aid under this program at present. Five students do housework in return for room and board; 24 do light housekeeping; three live at home; three pay for room and board; and one drives into school from the country.”
NYA provided part-time jobs in 1938 for the city’s summer recreation program.
Princeton Times-Republic, May 5, 1938 – “Miss Marguerite Pomeroy, who attended the WPA Institute at Wausau last week, has returned to her duties as recreational director here, and announced that Princeton is to have a supervised playground during the summer, commencing June 12 and continuing for 12 weeks. … Miss Pomeroy announces that there will be six positions open in NYA.”
As the country moved slowly from the Depression, NYA shifted from a relief program to vocational training.
Princeton Times-Republic, Aug. 8, 1940 – “Youth desiring employment with the National Youth Administration may make application at the courthouse at Montello every Wednesday, or write to the National Youth Administration, city hall, Berlin. Any unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 24 is eligible for NYA employment. Since the NYA is no longer a relief program, youths are certified at the NYA office for employment. The money that is earned on the NYA job is given to the boy that he may attend school, learn a trade, gain employment experience, obtain private employment. The three major purposes of the NYA program are: 1. To provide unemployed and out-of-school youths with part-time employment on socially useful projects which provide work experience and related training that enhance his chances of obtaining private employment. 2. To assist needy young people in earning their way through school and graduate work. 3. To provide them with vocational guidance and help them find suitable jobs in private employment.”
NYA helped young men and women find work in fields such as construction, clerical, recreation, and home economics.
Norbert Luzenski, of Princeton, was hired in October 1940 to assist and learn bookkeeping procedure in the city electric light and water departments as well as the city clerk’s office, through NYA. He was also tutored by Principal C.J. Kreilkamp.
Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 10, 1940 – “Youths interested in work experience and training may make application to the National Youth Administration. There is a possibility that a project involving work experience for boys may be started in Princeton. There are now several openings for girls to learn machine operation and sewing. Youths between 18 and 24 are urged to apply to the NYA office at Berlin.”
Five young women from Princeton were among the enrollees when the NYA opened its first “resident center” for women ages 17-24 in the Fox River Valley at 820 Broadway in Berlin in June 1942. The women lived at the center for ten weeks while learning to operate power sewing machines at the Berlin glove project.
The group included Virginia Nowatzski, Mary Mlodzik, Esther Michalowske, Marjory Huber and Esther Kallas, all recent graduates of Princeton High School.
The women were all offered jobs at a plant in Ripon even before their training was complete.
NYA officials worked with the Princeton Rod and Gun Club to create a fishpond in 1940-1941.
The city signed a lease with the Wisconsin Power & Light Company in September 1940 to obtain a site for a fishpond below the utility’s powerhouse on the west side. The Princeton Rod and Gun Club agreed to sponsor the project, and Dr. G.G. Mueller agreed to be the supervisor. Organizers said the state conservation department would provide pan fish for the pond.
Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 21, 1940 – “Dr. G.G. Mueller, secretary of the Princeton Rod and Gun Club, announced that there will be an opportunity for five boys between the ages of 18 and 25 to work on the new fishpond which will be built as a NYA project.”
The NYA workers began clearing and grading the site behind the power station before Christmas to prepare for the next fishing season. Work in March 1941 included construction of a dam and the pond. It was completed and stocked in August.
“Much credit is due to Ed Norton who has given generously of his time to supervising the construction of the retaining wall for the pond,” the newspaper said.
Officials said it was the second fishpond in the state built especially for children.
Princeton Times-Republic, August 21, 1941 – “If Tom Sawyer lived in Princeton, we think we know where he would go Sunday afternoon – to the new fishing pond for kids, recently completed as a NYA project sponsored by the Princeton Rod and Gun Club. The pond is located below the spillway of the power plant on the west side, an ideal spot. Yesterday, state conservation employees brought a truckload of feeder fish for the pond and today a load of full-sized crappies, bluegills, sunfish, bass, perch and pickerel. The formal opening will be Sunday at two o’clock when all youngsters up to 12 can fish, with a bag limit of five to a family group. … After Sunday, the fishing will be from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Saturdays and Sundays only.”
About 500 plump adult perch were added to the pond in September.
Princeton Times-Republic, April 30, 1942 – “That the children’s fishpond was a popular feature last year is shown by the fact that 52 children were counted there at one time last season. The pond will be stocked again and ready for the kiddies on May 15th.”
I do not know how many years the club sponsored the fishpond after the demise of NYA.
NYA farm shop
NYA’s primary focus had already shifted from relief to vocational training by 1941 when Princeton got some good news. Partly because Princeton High School was already offering a vocational agriculture course, officials selected the city from among more than 100 applicants as one of the final eight sites of a new NYA shop.
Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 9, 1941 – “Lester B. Eberlein, area director of the NYA, announces that Princeton has been selected as the site for a new NYA farm shop, providing that a building site is furnished by the city and $700 appropriated to match a like amount already appropriated by the county board. The farm shop will afford an opportunity for boys of Green Lake County between 18 and 24 to secure training in wood and metal crafts and leather work. … It appears to be the consensus of opinions among those familiar with the NYA that this is an excellent opportunity to secure a worthwhile activity for our city. The program not only furnishes training for boys who will apply their knowledge in the operation and maintenance of the fam machinery and in building crafts, but also helps prepare them for jobs in many defense industries.”
The school board held a special meeting of district voters on Friday, January 17, 1941, to discuss plans for a 32-by-52-foot building and equipment, estimated to cost about $8,000, with the federal government picking up most of the cost. NYA officials said the program could handle up to 50 boys at a time. The government paid for the instructors.
Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 23, 1941 – “At the special school district meeting held last Friday evening the resolution to appropriate $700 toward the cost of materials for the proposed NYA farm work shop and to furnish a site for the shop was carried by a vote of 69 to 11. Several sites are being considered for the shop, among them the old creamery site and a lot south of the A.A. Humphrey property on the southeast corner of the city limits. … The building will be constructed with NYA labor under the supervision of a professional building contractor. Fifty young men between the ages of 18 and 25 will work 46 hours per month for 40 cents per hour. The shop will be of plastic tile construction, and, when completed, will be equipped with facilities for various wood and metal crafts, repairs of farm machinery and engines, welding, and so forth. Instructors will be paid by the government.”
Princeton Times-Republic, Feb. 13, 1941 – “In a radio news broadcast this noon, it was stated that Princeton was among the last group of eight Wisconsin cities which are officially approved as sites for NYA shops. The national defense program for out-of-school youth is offering courses for farm and village youths in the Princeton area. The following courses are being offered: automotive mechanics, elementary electricity, and woodworking.”
Each course met for a minimum of 15 hours per week for a period of eight weeks. The course in automotive mechanics included the operation, servicing and repair of automobiles, trucks, and tractors. Students could bring their vehicles or machines to work on in class.
Pending construction of the new shop, teacher Leslie Mosolf conducted the first automotive class on February 12, 1941, at the Mosolf garage on the old Montello Road (408 Canal Street today). Workworking classes were held temporarily at Arthur Bierman’s cabinet shop. (I’m unsure of location.)
The school district purchased all of Lot 8 and south 18 feet of Lot 5 from A.S. and Elnora Humphrey for $200 in March 1941 (Deeds, Volume 103, Page 484).
Princeton Times-Republic, Feb. 20, 1941 – “C.L. Smith, NYA supervisor, of Berlin, announces that there will be an opportunity for from fifty to sixty young men between the ages of 18 and 25 to work on the new NYA shop building which will be located on the south end of the A.S. Humphrey property near the city’s southern limits on county trunk D. These workers will receive 40 cents per hour and will be employed 46 hours a month, in shifts.”
Work on the shop began on Wednesday, March 5, 1941, under the supervision of John Schneeberger.
Princeton Times-Republic, August 28, 1941 – “Princeton’s new NYA building is just about completed, and, according to an announcement by Lester B. Eberlein, area supervisor for the NYA, plans are being drawn to provide the building with facilities for teaching auto mechanics as part of the national defense program. … The shop was originally planned to aid school districts to make farm machinery repairs and related subjects, but due to the great national emergency, it is now considered wiser to also use the building for teaching subjects that will be of value to the defense program.”
The winter session of classes drew fourteen students. They held their first class on December 1, 1941. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, pulling would-be students and instructors into the war and away from Princeton.
With the NYA program funding waning, school district residents at the annual meeting voted in July 1942 authorized the school board to use the NYA building for defense work if possible.
Princeton Times-Republic, March 30, 1944 – “The NYA shop is a busy place these days the facilities being devoted to the repair of farm machinery. Henry Grams, the instructor, is devoting three nights a week, Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, to the work and has classes of upwards of 20 men engaged in repairing farm machinery of all kinds. The success of this project alone appears to more than justify the investment in the building and equipment, and it is being used to very good advantage in helping our farmers to keep their machinery in shape to produced needed food for our fighting men.”
The classes ended in 1945, and in August 1946 the school district leased the NYA building to I.J. Craite, who had opened the Princeton Bowling Alley at 433 West Water Street in 1944. He operated a paint-remover business and warehouse in the NYA building for just over a year.
Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 23, 1947 – “Prospects for another industry in Princeton now appear a certainty as arrangements are being completed for a wood working concern, specializing in the manufacture of bowling pins, to occupy the NYA building near the southeast city limits. The school board has agreed to lease the building now occupied by I.J. Craite and Specialty Products company, to the new firm, and it is confidently predicted that operations will be commenced by December 1st. Clarence Benkoski of Ripon is the man who is heading this new enterprise. … The company already owns the heavy machinery required for the manufacture of bowling pins and other articles and will begin operations as soon as equipment can be installed. Some remodeling will be required although the main building will require no alterations. A drying room and boiler room will be built, but it is not thought that they will take very long to erect. The firm has on hand sufficient orders to ensure employment of two shifts when operations commence.”
Benkoski listed Billy Sixty, a well-known Milwaukee sportswriter and athlete, as one of his investors. William Soechting (Soechting means 60 in Dutch) recorded nine holes-in-one in golf and nine 300 games in bowling. He was captain of the Milwaukee Heilman bowling team that won five national titles and a world championship in 1930.
Princeton Times-Republic, Dec 25, 1947 – “Clarence Benkoski announces that he expects to be able to start operations at his new bowling pin factory in a week or so. Equipment is being installed and plumbers and electricians are busy with their installations. The plant is located in the NYA Farm school building.”
The bowling pin factory gave way to Swanson’s Farm Store Inc., which was based east of Fulton Street but rented the NYA building in the early 1950s for its John Deere line of machinery and later as a parts and repair shop.
After the Swansons, the school district used the building primarily for storage, it seems. It housed a truck repair shop in the early 1960s.
Princeton School Board minutes, April 17, 1963 – The board discussed the mater of the need for more storage space in the NYA building. It was moved by Mrs. Hotmar, seconded by Mr. Deibert, that the board terminate the agreement for the renting of space in the NYA building for the storage of a truck, as of June 1, 1963, and that Mr. Calhoun notify the present occupants that the school district has need for the extra space in the building.”
In June 1963 the school board asked Superintendent R.C. Calhoun to inspect the building, compile a list of what was being stored there, and to determine what repairs were needed. Minor repairs were made. The roof was patched in 1971.
Voters at the Princeton School District annual meeting in July 1974 approved a resolution allowing the board to sell the NYA building before preparing plans to construct a new building on school grounds to house and maintain the school buses the district purchased earlier in the year from Harold Hoeft.
The board approved advertising for bids for the building in September 1974. It was listed with every Realtor in town by the school board’s October meeting.
The board held a special meeting on May 31, 1977, to approve the sale of the NYA building to Paul Nikolai for $9,200.
Princeton Times-Republic, December 13, 1977 – “Originally built as a government project called the National Youth Administration, the NYA building has long been a part of the Princeton community. At one time it even served as a bowling pin factory. But now the building has a fresh face lift and goes by the name of ‘American Auto Body.’ Paul Nikolai recently purchased the building from the Princeton Public School where it had been used for years for storage for the school. Now the building is busy again with the sound of machinery and equipment used to restore and improve the great American pastime, the car. The building now boasts bright colors and catchy lettering displaying the name and services offered by Paul. The shop officially opened Monday, Dec. 12. Paul has been doing this work since 1962 and was formerly located north of the city limits on River Road.”
(Nikolai and brother-in-law Gilbert Krentz Jr. had operated Gib’s Shell Service Station before buying three acres, formerly a chicken farm, on River Road next to the Carrier and Container factory for a body shop and lot in February 1964.)
Nikolai sold the Fulton Street business a few weeks later.
Princeton Times-Republic, January 26, 1978 – “Recently, an exchange of ownership took place at American Auto Body, an auto repair center located in Princeton. Paul Nikolai, former owner, transferred ownership to an employee, Scotty Fannes of Green Lake. Paul and Scotty have now reversed roles as owner and employee. The present location is also relatively new. The old NYA building was purchased from the Princeton School District. The Auto Repair Center is located next to Dreblow’s service station and Marion’s restaurant. … Thursday, Jan. 19, one of the first custom projects was completed when a 1955 two-door Chevrolet was custom-painted for its owner, Bob Freitag, of Montello. This vehicle was entered in a national car show in Milwaukee on Jan. 20, 21, 22. It took third place in this division.”
Fannes reorganized his business in 1989, renamed it Motion Auto & Marine, and operated there into the 1990s. He had a body shop and sold used cars and trucks too.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten in my research. Please let me know if you spot any errors or can help complete this building’s timeline.
Thank you for caring and reading about local history.