LOTS O’ HISTORY | YAHR CASTLE, TREAT HOUSE

Today we’re looking at two lots in the massive Block 1 of the (Waldo ) Flint and (Royal) Treat Addition platted in 1857 on Princeton’s west side. Block 1 stretched from the Fox River to Second Street, south of Main Street.

Lot 15 is home to the brick mansion built by local banker Ferdinand T. Yahr at 867 West Main Street in 1883-1884 that served as the local American Legion home for 50 years and then as the Evergreen Mansion restaurant for several more before returning to its original state as a residence.

Some local historians, meanwhile, speculate Yahr’s previous house on Lot 16 at 903 West Main Street stands on the site of the house built by Princeton founder Royal Treat and his brother, Henry, in 1849 to fulfill pre-emption requirements for their claim to about 147 acres west of the Fox River. I agree.

This clip from a 1901 map of Princeton shows the “Yahr Castle” on Lot 15 and a smaller residence on Lot 16 of Block 1 west of the Fox River.

I’ve also been told a house was moved here from St. Marie in the 1860s and attached to the Treats’ original kitchen. I’m skeptical, but it’s possible. Newspaper reports indicate Yahr built a new house in 1873 and an addition in 1874.

Both residences are owned in 2023 by William Zamzow, former longtime president of the Princeton Historical Society who once told me that his dream as a child was to own a museum.

Yahr’s Castle

Princeton founder Royal Treat sold an eight-lot parcel in the middle of Block 1, including Lots 15 and 16, to William Watson for $550 in November 1859 (Deeds, Volume T, Page 72). The property then went to A.P. Carman in April 1861 (Deeds, Volume U, Page 16), Jonathan Pierce in May 1862 (Deeds, Volume 25, Page 288), F.T. Yahr in January 1866 (Deeds, Volume 25, Page 295) and J.O. Borst in January 1867 (Deeds, Volume 27, Page 269) before being re-purchased by F.T. Yahr for $1,000 in March 1867 (Deeds, Volume 27, Page 431).

Yahr is remembered in local history as co-founder of Princeton’s first hometown bank, a state Senator, farm implement and hardware salesman, and buyer and seller of wheat, lumber, and other goods. He was one of early Princeton’s financial lions. But in 1867 he was just getting traction in business after working as a blacksmith.

Princeton Republic, March 5, 1868 – “Fred T. Yahr has commenced the sale of farm implements of all kinds as a business, associating therewith the sale of passage tickets from German, and a land agency.”

If there was a house moved from St. Marie on Lot 16, it likely was replaced by a new house in 1873 and addition in 1874.

Princeton Republic, May 24, 1873 – “F.T. Yahr buildeth a small house.”

Princeton Republic, June 20, 1874 – “We hear it said that F.T. Yahr has been fitting up the finest rooms in Princeton in the new part just built onto his residence.”

Princeton Republic, March 17, 1877 – “The Schumacker Piano: Our townsman Mr. F.T. Yahr has just put into his parlor one of the above make of instruments. Miss Dora Lichtenberg, favorably known to musical circles as the ‘Blind Pianist,’ and an old acquaintance of Mr. Yahr’s family being in town, our music-loving citizens in goodly number gathered at Mr. Yahr’s residence on Wednesday evening to enjoy the sweet tones of this truly unsurpassed instrument.”

By 1880, Ferdinand and Emilee (Schaal) Yahr had six children and needed more space for the growing family. According to the newspaper, Yahr prepared plans in April 1881 for a new house, estimated to cost $5,000, to be erected “on the lot where he now lives, west of the bridge, but a short distance this way of his present residence. The contemplated improvement will add much to the appearance of the west side.”

Yahr delayed the project, however, citing a lack of affordable seasoned or dry lumber. “Mr. Yahr is bound to have just such material as he wants, even if he waits a year,” the newspaper said.

Yahr waited two years.

Princeton Republic, March 8, 1883 – “F.T. Yahr will commence the erection of a beautiful residence soon. Several carloads of materials have arrived.”

Princeton Republic, May 24, 1883 – “F.T. Yahr has moved the barn on his premises to make room for that new residence. We hear it will be commenced forthwith.”

Princeton Republic, June 7, 1883 – “Men have commenced the preliminary work toward erecting the new residence of F.T. Yahr.”

The Republic reported in September that “the first conspicuous object that arrests attention” west of the Fox River was “the elegant residence now being constructed by F. T. Yahr. When completed, this will be a magnificent home. We shall ultimately give a more extended notice of this improvement.”

The newspaper, however, did not provide more details of the city’s largest and most expensive house, as it did with other building projects. From reading between the lines of the Republic, I don’t think Yahr got along well with the early newspaper editors, but that’s just a hunch.

Here are a few of the highlights of the Queen Anne style home that the newspaper could have reported. Yahr’s name was etched in glass on the double front doors that opened to reveal marble floors in the vestibule and atrium, 10 ½-foot ceilings with ornamental cove, two carved Italianate marble fireplaces, double-pocket doors built into the walls, detailed brass hardware, a grand staircase made of wood with a stained glass window at the top landing, and floors of varying designs, including one room with a parquet border in Greek Key design.

Princeton Republic, Feb. 21, 1884 – “F.T. Yahr is absent this week in Milwaukee and Chicago, purchasing a furniture outfit for that splendid dwelling.”

Princeton Republic, May 13, 1886 – “The grounds surrounding the palatial residence of F.T. Yahr has been tastily improved this season.”

Yahr sold his private bank, which was reorganized as Princeton State Bank, passed the hardware business to his sons, and became more involved in a Milwaukee-based wholesale drug company in the early 1890s. After serving one term in the state Senate, Yahr announced in September 1894 that he would move to the Cream City.

The family did not move until 1898. A sale was held at the residence to dispose of a piano, household furniture, plants, and flowers, and more. The remaining items were sold at an auction at the next Cattle Fair

Princeton Republic, Nov. 3, 1898 – “Ex-Senator Yahr and family are making preparation to move to Milwaukee. They will start the last of the week. Mr. Yahr has been identified with this city for nearly forty years as an active and successful businessman and we regret his removal.”

Yahr Mansion, 2023, looking west.

Yahr, however, did not immediately sell the Princeton property.

Renters of the mansion over the next few years included Dr. Nettie Randall, who retired in 1910 and migrated to Seattle and then California; Henry Dehde, first clerk at the First National Bank of Princeton formed in 1901; Edw. Radtke, local businessman; and Oscar Olman, principal when Princeton High School held its first graduation ceremony for a four-year high school in 1906, postmaster from 1912-1916 and cashier at First National Bank from 1916-1921.

Princeton Republic, May 6, 1909 – “Monday morning at about 3 o’clock the people of the city were aroused by the sound of the fire alarm. The barn belonging to F.T. Yahr on the west side was found all ablaze. The fire department turned out but could do no good as the red fiend had charge of the building. The building was covered with insurance.”

After Yahr passed in May 1910, the property passed through executor Charles Forster’s hands to Magdalena “Lena” (Yunker) Herzke for $4,500 in January 1914 (Deeds, Volume 75, Page 260). The 1920 census shows Herzke living there with her daughter and son-in-law, Anna and Carl Warnke, and their five children.

Herzke kept Lot 16 but sold the rest of the property to Warnke, who bought and sold grain with his father, J.F. Warnke, in December 1918 (Deeds, Volume 78, Page 587). The John Warnke that ran Warnke’s Lumber Yard in the 1960s was born in the mansion.

The property returned to Herzke following Carl’s death in 1927. She sold the house at 903 West Main Street to Martin Bartel, a retired farmer – and my great-grandfather – in August 1927 (Deeds, Volume 89, Page 45). He passed in 1936, and the property was sold to Hazel Weiske, widow of Princeton Motors founder Paul Weiske and mother of three children (Deeds, Volume 95, Page 426). Joyce Weiske owned the property as late as 1974. Today it is owned by Bill Zamzow.

The former Yahr Mansion, left, sits at 867 West Main Street and Yahr’s previous house at 903 West Main Street.

When Herzke passed in 1934, the remainder of the former Yahr property, including the mansion at 867 West Main, passed to her daughter and Carl Warnke’s widow, Anna. She sold the parcel of eight-plus lots to the Kasierski American Legion Post 366 of Princeton in June 1936 (Deeds, Volume 95, Page 313).

The local American Legion post formed in 1922 and met in the upstairs rooms of the Nickodem building at 545 West Water Street until purchasing the former Yahr mansion for $2,500. Members of the Legion and Auxiliary, formed in 1923, painted walls, varnished parquet floors, made draperies, furnished the kitchen, and made other improvements at the American Legion Memorial Home. Home talent plays at the local theater helped finance some of the projects.

Princeton Republic, March 17, 1938 – “An attractive new electric sign has been placed in front of the American Legion home on the west side. The lettering, which reads ‘Legion Memorial Home, Post 366,’ is in white and red on a black background. The sign was designed by John P. Hotmar.”

The Legion and Auxiliary used the home for monthly meetings, social events, card parties – Old Base and Smear were popular – and more. During World War II, Auxiliary members in white starched uniforms and caps made surgical dressing for the Red Cross two afternoons each week. The work sessions were usually followed by a potluck supper including the families.

Princeton Times-Republic, April 6, 1950 – “The Legion Memorial Home has been remodeled. Legionnaire Frank Moore did an excellent job in laying out, planning, and supervising this project. With the help of A.A. Sommerfeldt and Louis Schroeder the partitions and sliding doors between the two front rooms were removed, a supporting beam erected, and arches built, converting these two rooms into one large room. This has made a wonderful change both as to the appearance of the one large room and its availability as a meeting hall.”

Princeton Times-Republic, August 24, 1950 – “The Princeton post of the American Legion and the Legion Auxiliary Tuesday dedicated a memorial to the men in service who gave their lives for their country in the last war. The Rev. Ralph Holliday gave the dedicatory address before a good crowd of Legion and Auxiliary members. The memorial commemorates the service of the eight men from Princeton who lost their lives in the services: Edmund Darnick, Roman Jankowski, Donald Kannenberg, Leonard Kozlowski, Steve Resheski, Edmund Wielgosh, Conrad Zielke and Alvin Mlodzik.”

The Legion paid off its mortgage in 1955.

Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 17, 1955 – “Friday evening, members of the American Legion and Auxiliary witnessed an event they have looked forward to for twenty years, when the first commander of the Princeton post helped the present commander burn the mortgage on the Legion Memorial Home. The burning of the mortgage was a highlight of the annual Veterans Day celebration in Princeton. Present for this momentous occasion were Judge George Ostrander, first commander, and Mrs. Lynn Merrill, Beaver Dam, the Auxiliary’s first president. … The present commander is Kenyon Krueger, the first Korean War veteran to head the post, and president of the Auxiliary is Mrs. Frank (Peggy) Moore.”

National Guard Unit

Members of a medical unit of the Wisconsin National Guard were among those who welcomed the good news. They had used the third floor of the Legion’s mansion since the unit formed in 1950.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 4, 1950 – “The Wisconsin National Guard has accepted the offer of Post 366 of the American Legion to do their training in the Legion Memorial Home. A medical unit or detachment of the guard will be formed here very shortly with Dr. A.C. Theiler as the commanding officer. The Legion has made arrangements to put plumbing on the second floor and remodel the building in order to provide a place for the National Guard. It is expected that the National Guard will bring over $7,000 into the community in the form of pay, rent and other items.”

Theiler had moved to Princeton in 1949 following the departure of Dr. William Strutz. He had previously been on staff at Wood Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee. The unit officially formed on June 5, 1950.

Princeton Republic, June 8, 1950 – “A medical detachment of the Wisconsin National Guard was activated in Princeton Monday night with the swearing in of six men under the command of Dr. A.C. Theiler. Sworn in Monday night from Princeton were George Mueller, Robert Mueller, Melvin Otto and Marvin Dugenske. Two men from Ripon were also sworn in. The detachment is part of the National Guard unit housed at Ripon.

The unit grew to 15 men within two weeks and reached its full authorized strength with the enlistment of Elmer Rosanske in 1955. Princeton’s platoon was one of three medical units of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division.

The platoon’s two-week tour of active duty with the Red Arrow Division in summer 1954 was its first at Camp McCoy. Men and equipment were moved to and from camp by truck and bus. The men from Princeton who attended the camp were Sergeants Edmund Bednarek, Emil Gruber, Clarence Klapper, Donald Marshall, George Mueller, Robert Mueller, Frederick Nickodem and Richard Schultz; Corporals Gordon Bartol and Roman Naparalla; Privates Gordon Krentz and Edward Schultz. Private Howard Bartol was granted leave due to a recent stay in the hospital. The unit’s second commander, Second Lieutenant Henry Steinbring, of Ripon, left camp early to return to work as a mail carrier.

Kenneth Bentley was the next platoon commander, with George Miller in charge of administration and Donald Marshall in charge of supplies. Under Bentley, the Princeton platoon received its second Superior rating, the highest rating available, following an inspection in 1958. It would be the last inspection for the Princeton unit, which was folded into the Ripon company as part of an Army reorganization in 1959.

Princeton Times-Republic, Feb. 19, 1959 – “Princeton National Guardsmen will do their training with the Ripon Company of the Second Battle Group under the new Pentomic arrangement that went into effect for the famous 32nd Infantry Division on Sunday. Only four communities lost guard units entirely, Princeton being one of these four. Other cities without National Guard personnel for the first time in many years will be Ladysmith, Columbus and Park Falls. For the Princeton men, this will mean a big change as they will no longer operate under a medical platoon but will become part of Company A of the Second Battle Group. Under this new setup the men from Princeton, now drilling at Ripon, will come under the command of Col. Francis Schweinler, father of William Schweinler, editor of the Times-Republic. … Under the new setup of Pentomic organization, the Red Arrow Division of yesterday has changed in the effect that it can now fight as one battle group alone, as it will consist of every type of fighting branch. Each battle group will have infantry, artillery, heavy weapons, and atomic weapons, in the form of rockets and eight-inch guns. Operating under the old system of a division, Ripon was Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the Second Battalion of the 127th Infantry Regiment. Princeton was operating as a medical platoon of that company. Most regular Army units have been operating under this Pentomic system for some time, but the 32nd Division is one of the first guard units to fall under this setup.”

The Auxiliary

While the National Guard made good use of the Legion home’s attic as its headquarters, the Legion Auxiliary focused on myriad projects in its workspaces.

Lillian Hotmar was the driving force behind efforts to help veterans and their families, orphans, seniors, and others from the 1940s-1990s. Beginning in 1948, with a sewing machine, Mukluk seconds, socks and materials donated by The Handcraft Company, the Auxiliary fashioned footwear for veterans at Wood Hospital. The women would also create toys, dolls, puppets, purses, scarves, and more over the years.

Hotmar organized an open house in October 1961 to show the Auxiliary’s projects to the community. More than $15,330 worth of items reached people in seventeen states that year, she said. Club records indicate 41,000 pounds of used clothing were sent to Save the Children in the 1960s. From 1959-1995, merchandise worth an estimated $716,855 was sent to veterans hospitals, children’s homes and other charitable organizations across Wisconsin and the U.S., unit historian Mary Swed reported in 1995.

Meanwhile, despite the Legion’s best efforts to maintain its aging building through the 1960s and 1970s, which included new chimneys in 1969, and faced with rising heating costs, the Legion reluctantly put the home on the market in June 1983 and accepted an offer in June 1984.

Princeton Times-Republic, July 4, 1984 – “Commander Robert Klotzbuecher has announced the sale of the Princeton American Legion Home. The building has served as the headquarters for the local Legion Post for the past 48 years. Continued high energy costs during the past five years, causing limited use of the facility, were cited as the reasons the membership decided to accept an offer to purchase the building at its June 7th meeting. Thus passes an era which covers the period from June 19, 1936, when the Princeton World War I Legionnaires purchased the building from Anna Warnke to the present.”

Legion on the move

After selling the property to the Bill and Rita Zamzow for $35,000, the Legion and Auxiliary met at the Senior Citizens Center on Howard Street until a new building could be prepared. The seniors first met at the Legion home after they organized in 1974.

Princeton Times-Republic, March 14, 1985 – “Commander Robert Klotzbuecher has announced that the Princeton American Legion Post No. 366 will erect a new headquarters building adjacent to their old property which was sold in 1984. Final plans for the building have not been completed, however, the basic plans call for a 40-by-80-foot building with a kitchen, lavatories, utility, and storage room, and a 2,500-square-foot meeting room.”

Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 12, 1985 – “The laying of the foundation of the American Legion Hall on Main Street in Princeton began last Wednesday. Everyone is anxiously waiting to see what the finished building will look like.”

The American Legion building at 853 West Main Street stands just east of the group’s former home and near the former site of the K-Car Wash, which was built in 1968. The new clubhouse was dedicated on Jan. 12, 1986.

The Legion moved into its new home at 853 West Main Street in 1986.

Evergreen Mansion

While the Legion prepared its new building, the Zamzows converted the first floor of the former Legion home into the Evergreen Mansion restaurant.

“They purchased the American Legion Home in Princeton last year and have been busy restoring it,” the Times-Republic reported in October 1985. “William and Rita Zamzow with the help of their children have restored the hardwood floors to their original shine. They have sanded and varnished the woodwork, installed plumbing, added to the inside of the original kitchen, and painted. They have been working converting the old house into a restaurant that will cater to the breakfast and lunch crowds. … Evergreen Mansion, as the Legion will soon be known, has retained much of its original beauty, nestled in among the sturdy evergreens.”

A large room and closets were converted into first-floor restrooms, and the Evergreen Mansion opened for dining in December 1985. It operated into the 1990s, but I am unsure when it closed. Bill Zamzow eventually converted most of the house’s many rooms into the museum he had dreamed of as a child!

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

Thank you for caring and reading about local history.

Corrections: Future historians, beware. You will find at least two reports in the Times-Republic (July 19, 1979, and April 10, 1986) mistakenly reporting the Legion post is named in honor of the first two Princeton men killed in action in World War I. The post is named for Bernard Kasierski and Leonard Kozlowski, the first men killed in action in World War I and World War II, respectively.

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