Discussion of the former German Lutheran school on the west side in a recent post turned my gaze to another dearly departed building that generations of Princeton residents remember fondly – The Dizzy Bar.
The tavern, which included a hotel from 1898 to the 1930s, was razed during construction of the new Main Street bridge in 1984. It sat just east of the bridge on land originally platted as part of Water Street extending north of Main Street.
DeWitt Eggleston, son of Princeton pioneer Silas M. Eggleston, opened The Dizzy Bar following the end of prohibition in the 1930s. Its last owners were Dolores and Paul Ladwig, DeWitt’s grandson. They took over the business after World War II.
Silas Eggleston was enshrined in the annals of Princeton history by area historian Elaine Reetz, who profiled him for The Fox River Patriot newspaper and reprinted the column in Volume II of her “Come Back in Time” book series, published in 1982 by Fox River Publishing Company.
Unfortunately, Reetz’s stories also enshrined two significant errors in the annals of Princeton history: 1) that Princeton founder Royal Treat built a cabin just west of the future Dizzy Bar site in 1848 and 2) that the former bar room was originally an Indian trading post built by Eggleston about 1860 on land he purchased from Treat.
The errors (George Santos would term them mere embellishments) have become deeply engrained in Princeton historical circles over the last forty years. The City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour plaque erected near the former Dizzy Bar site mucks up the history even more with this nonsense: “In 1860, Silas Eggleston built the first small Indian Trading Post along the Fox River. … .”
Deeds and newspaper articles tell us a different story. Treat’s cabin was likely about a block east of the Dizzy Bar site, and Eggleston did not build a trading post near the bridge in 1860 or any other year. He did not purchase the property until 1875, when it already included a small building, did not purchase the property from Treat, and did not operate a trading post there.
Even the term “trading post” is misleading; it conjures up an image of a cabin or shanty. Eggleston mostly operated from a three-story general store made of stone in the heart of the downtown. For more details – and aggravation if you care about historical accuracy – see the earlier post “Fact check: Megow and Eggleston.”
We should remember Eggleston for what he did rather than what he did not do.
The real story
Here’s the real story of Silas Eggleston and The Dizzy Bar:
Eggleston was born in 1835 near Busti, New York. He listed his age as 15 and occupation as farmer in the 1850 census while living on a large farm owned by John Aiken. He arrived in Princeton in 1856, when he was 20 or 21 years old.
“He is said to have entered the growing settlement poor – and he died poor – but in the intervening years he was known as one of the wealthiest men in the bustling community,” Reetz wrote.
A history of early Princeton published in the local newspaper in February 1869 says Eggleston “commenced his prosperous mercantile career” with a small saloon in a wood frame building (at about 539 West Water Street – today east half of Megow Park, by my reckoning) about 1856. He built a two-story building next door west a couple of years later.
“The fourteenth building in the line of business progression was put up by the indefatigable Silas M. Eggleston in ’58 or ’59, who like Banquo’s Ghost, would not back down at the bidding of sturdy opposition,” according to the 1869 history. “The principal business carried on for perhaps a year could best be gathered by the traveler as he closely scrutinized a moderately sized sign, groundwork dark green, upon which were traced in backwoods characters of a brownish yellow ochre, the words, ‘Princeton Saloon,’ honestly reminding those who were green enough to enter that they would come hence, ‘done brown.’ Soon after he purchased a small stock of goods at Portage and has continued in the dry goods, grocery, crockery, and notions trade, doing a remarkably successful business until now. Something over a year ago, A.C., son of A.G. Hopkins, Esq., of the hardware firm of Hopkins & Son of this village, became a partner with Eggleston, the firm name being Eggleston & Hopkins. They now have one of the largest stocks in town and are doing a driving business.”
(Hopkins is an interesting character, as well. See earlier post, “The Princeton Messiah.”)
I assume “sturdy opposition” to Eggleston’s first business refers to the temperance-minded early settlers.
Eggleston, 23, married Nancy Clark, who had just turned 15 a month earlier, in July 1858. She reportedly was the daughter of a wealthy Kansas City businessman who owned property on Green Lake.
Paul Ladwig told Reetz a story passed down from his great-grandfather relating that “Nancy didn’t believe the ‘carousing’ of saloon life a suitable existence, and Silas sold his business when in his words, ‘I had my boots full of money.’”
Reetz wrote that Eggleston developed a reputation as “an honest man who never touched liquor or tobacco.”
Eggleston listed his occupation as saloon keeper in Princeton in the 1860 census with real estate valued at $1,000 and personal holdings valued at $600. By 1870, when he was dealing mostly in dry goods, his declared holdings had increased to $10,600 and $4,000, respectively.
Eggleston in December 1865 purchased the three-story stone building at 535 West Water Street (today Sondalle Law Office), built by Christopher Krueger in 1860. This is where Eggleston traded with the American Indians.
Or as Reetz put it so poetically: “When the leaves on the willow trees were as large as a squirrel’s ear, Indians visited Princeton every spring, coming by way of Lake Puckaway and the Fox River to barter their winter’s catch of fine furs for Si’s merchandise.”
Princeton Times-Republic, Aug. 5, 1937 – “Ernest Eggleston, of Madison, who is visiting relatives here and renewing old acquaintances, recalls early days in Princeton dating back half a century when his father, S.M. Eggleston, conducted a store where the Vic Yahr store is now located. He remembers how the Indians paddled their canoes almost to the back door of the store and brought in their furs to trade for groceries, tobaccos, traps, and other necessities.”
Reetz reported Eggleston capitalized on trade coming from west of Princeton by going to meet the ferry, directing passengers to his Water Street store, “swinging his gold-tipped cane and calling, ‘Come to my place! Merchandise of all kinds.’”
(I believe the ferry crossing was about two blocks north of the floating bridge built across the Fox River at Main Street about 1851; from below the foot of Harris Street on the west to what today is private property east of the river near the former Gean-Edwards factory. One early settler’s reminiscences suggest that area also was Treat’s original landing point.)
The Republic reported in May 1868 that Eggleston “has also commenced the provision and commission business in Chicago, where he is now busily engaged in getting his new business in running order.”
After the arrival of the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad in the 1870s, Eggleston dealt in wheat, white beans, wool, potatoes, hides and anything else he could buy and sell at a profit. He owned a large farm in the town of St. Marie.
Princeton Republic, Jan. 26, 1882 – “Si Eggleston is moving the huge barn down on the old Shipley ranch and will locate it on his premises on the opposite side of the Fox, moving it across the river on the ice.”
Princeton Republic, Aug. 17, 1882 – “Si Eggleston says he has that mammoth barn down on his farm about full of hay. Si is on the tide of success.”
Princeton Republic, April 30, 1885 – “Si Eggleston has fed over forty head of steers on his farm during winter, until prime, and has recently sold the same to Ed. Martin, of Fond du Lac.”
Eggleston and Hopkins dissolved their partnership in September 1870. Eggleston partnered with several others over the years, most notably the Nickodem brothers, Charles and Fred, as Eggleston & Co., in the general store business, and others in the shipping business.
Eggleston purchased Lot 13 of Block B, site of the future Dizzy Bar, in December 1875 from George Long, who had operated a carpentry business from a small one-story building there as early as 1870. Eggleston used the building for an office, occasional shop for excess inventory from his Water Street stores, and storage (I’m sorry that’s not as romantic as a trading post, but it’s more accurate) and added a warehouse in 1881.
Princeton Republic, Aug. 25, 1881 – “The report is extant that Si Eggleston will create a new warehouse forthwith somewhere near the railroad track.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 8, 1881 – “Si Eggleston’s new warehouse is being rapidly pushed to completion.”
Long’s old building, meanwhile, was falling into disrepair.
Princeton Republic, April 21, 1881 – “Eggleston’s old storehouse building near the depot has had its foundations saturated by water until it is about toppled over.”
Princeton Republic, Aug. 9, 1888 – “The boys have taken particular pains to knock out the glass in Eggleston’s building at the bridge, and recently broke into the structure and stole all the paper rags stored there.”
The newspaper reported in March 1889 that Eggleston was planning to convert the old building at the east end of the bridge into a dwelling for his son, DeWitt, also known as Dewey, who had attended Oshkosh Normal to become a teacher but listed his occupation on his marriage license as produce shipper.
Princeton Republic, July 25, 1895 – “It has lately leaked out that DeWitt Eggleston and Jessie Jacowski were secretly married two years ago. They will live in the Eggleston building near the bridge which is now being made habitable.”
They not only lived in the building, but they also opened a grocery store. In December 1896, DeWitt Eggleston announced that “hereafter on the occasion of a dance or like entertainment D.W. Eggleston will serve supper and oyster stew at his store near the bridge. He will also serve meals and lunch at any time.”
In March 1897, Eggleston advertised groceries, fish, meat, etc. at DeWitt’s Place “down by the bridge.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 2, 1897 – “A few days ago S.M. Eggleston banteringly told David Messing that if he would take a bag of beans home on his shoulder, he could have them. With a bystander’s help, Uncle Dave got a bag full on his shoulder and won the beans. They were carried a distance of three blocks or farther.”
DeWitt Eggleston moved the old Long building to make room for a two-story addition with new front in March 1898. John Shew did the brick work for a furnace as the building progressed quickly.
Princeton Republic, April 28, 1898 – “DeWitt Eggleston is about finishing his new building at the bridge. It is a substantial improvement for that part of the town.”
Princeton Republic, Sept. 29, 1898 – “A new hotel sign adorns DeWitt Eggleston’s place.”
Eggleston had to adjust to the times when the railroad depot moved from just outside his front door, at Main and Mechanic streets, to North Farmer Street in November 1901.
Princeton Republic, April 10, 1902 – “Hotel accommodations are excellent, there being two that send buses to the depot to meet the trains – the American House in charge of H.K. Priest and the DeWitt House in charge of D.W. Eggleston.”
“The six numbered hotel rooms on the second floor were rented every night, and the knotty pine paneled third floor was used by the maids who cooked and cleaned for the hotel guests. …,” Reetz reported. “… Traveling men stayed overnight and had breakfast for 25 cents. On Cattle Fair days huge meals were served family style, again only a quarter.”
Families gathered at the hotel for weddings and other celebrations. Reetz reported that John Roberts, a well-known Princeton barber, was married in the hotel lobby.
DeWitt Eggleston hired James Mulheren (Mulhern) to manage the hotel in 1905.
Princeton Star, June 21, 1905 – “Landlord Mulheren is making considerable improvement to his hotel, the Riverside, in painting and general cleaning up.”
It appears Mulheren managed the Riverside for about five years. He also served as the village policeman and landlord of the American House for several years.
Silas Eggleston sold the Lot 13 property to DeWitt in February 1907 for $100.
As best I can tell, the hotel went primarily by the name DeWitt House from 1899-1902, Hotel DeWitt from 1903-1905 (advertised as first-class accommodations with electric lights and furnace heat for $1 to $1.50 per day), Riverside Hotel from 1905-1925, and First Chance Last Chance into the 1930s.
“Dozens of tramps were fed at the back door of the hotel” during tough times, Reetz noted.
The Egglestons for many years after the Civil War lived in a large home on the west side built by David Green in 1858 and occupied before the Egglestons by Republic publisher John C. Thompson and family. (I don’t know exactly where, but I expect within a block of the old mill.) The house burned along with most of the Eggleston family’s possessions collected over nearly 30 years in October 1896. Losses were estimated at $2,000. Eggleston did not have insurance.
Princeton Republic, Aug.3, 1899 – “S.M. Eggleston and family have moved into the old foundry building.”
Princeton Republic, Aug. 24, 1899 – “S.M. Eggleston is doing some extensive remodeling of the old foundry building, which will make a comfortable residence when finished.”
Eggleston had purchased the former Yunker (Junker) foundry at the northeast corner of West Main Street and River Road in 1892. He reshingled it and said he would use it as a wool warehouse before it became the family residence. He also operated a meat market there briefly in 1897 (service included a delivery wagon), a millinery store and upholstery shop in 1900, and grocery store in 1919.
Eggleston used dredge dirt from the mill channel to fill in land east of the former foundry in 1895, which he sold one year later to organizers of an overall and shirt factory. He began selling off his ranch seven miles northeast of Princeton in 1901. (A large moonshining operation was found on the former Eggleston ranch property during prohibition in the 1930s.) Silas was still buying and selling hides and furs in the early 1900s when neighbors complained they were blocking the right-of-way near the bridge. The stone store at 535 West Water, last owned by Ernest Eggleston, was sold at sheriff’s auction in 1920.
Eggleston passed in January 1928 at age 92. He worked well into his 80s.
“In the death of Mr. Silas Eggleston, Princeton and vicinity has lost one of its honored and highly respected pioneer residents,” his obituary in the Republic noted. “His abode here has been a duration of 72 years and by his genial disposition and well-balanced courtesy endeared himself to all those that knew him. … Mr. Eggleston was one of our first citizens engaged in the general merchandise in Princeton and followed this vocation for many years. Later he devoted his time in the grain and produce business.”
The Dizzy Bar
When the government ordered all able-bodied men not in the military or in essential jobs to work a defense job after the U.S. entered World War I, DeWitt Eggleston took a job with an ammunition works in Milwaukee. After the war, he worked as a night watchman in Fond du Lac for several years.
Princeton Republic, April 28, 1927 – “D.W. Eggleston came here from Fond du Lac last week and will remain at his home here, having given up his position as night watch with the Galloway & Moore Lumber Co.”
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation lifting prohibition in 1933, DeWitt Eggleston was among the first to apply for a $75 tavern license from the city. A jury found him guilty of selling adulterated liquor in January 1939, but he received a suspended sentence due to his previous good record.
The newspaper referred to the business as Eggleston’s or Dewey’s Tavern until 1940 when the first ads for “The Dizzy Bar” appeared. Family lore says DeWitt named the tavern after a vaudeville theater in Kansas City.
Eggleston passed in April 1942.
“De Witt Eggleston, 73, one of Princeton’s oldest business men, died at his home here Tuesday evening at 10 o’clock after a long and painful illness,” the Times-Republic reported. “… His father, one of Princeton’s pioneer businessmen, for many years conducted a store on the site of the present Yahr store (535 West Water, today Sondalle Law Office). … The Dizzy tavern operated here by Mr. Eggleston was known not only as a hospitable place to stop but also for the owner’s ready wit and genial personality. He had a good memory and liked to tell of pioneer days in Princeton when Indians brought their furs to trade for supplies.”
Eggleston’s widow closed the tavern and sold the equipment.
DeWitt Eggleston’s daughter, Jessie, married Paul Ladwig Sr. in 1920. Their son Paul was born in DeWitt’s Main Street hotel on February 13, 1923. Paul Jr. graduated from Princeton High School and served in the Civilian Conservation Corps before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was serving overseas when his grandfather passed.
Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 21, 1943 – “Sgt. Paul Ladwig is home on furlough and reports that he has almost completely recovered from his back injuries sustained in a bomber crash several weeks ago somewhere in the Aleutians.”
Ladwig, who inherited the storytelling gene from DeWitt and Silas, after the war worked as a lineman for the Bell System Telephone Company until December 1947 when the newspaper reported that he had obtained the license “to operate the Dewey Tavern formerly conducted by his grandfather DeWitt Eggleston.”
The Dizzy Bar reopened in January 1948. The Ladwigs’ combination of good food, friendly service and family atmosphere proved a recipe for success. Customers years later still remember their chicken dinners, Friday fish fries and tasty sandwiches, and well-stocked bar.
Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 9, 1958 – “Congratulations to Paul Ladwig on his newly remodeled dining room at the Dizzy Bar.”
The Ladwigs raised six children while remaining active members of St. John’s Catholic Church and the community. Paul’s personality was on display when he led the German band at the Polish picnic, participated in community plays, and volunteered at local events. He and his wife were active in the American Legion and VFW. Paul was also a member of a painters union.
The Princeton Lions Club held a special place in Paul’s heart. He held all the offices and recorded, as of 1976, 26 years of perfect attendance at the club meetings, which for many years were held at the Dizzy Bar. (I have not been able to find how long the streak lasted.)
The good times ended in 1984.
Princeton Times-Republic, Aug. 4, 1983 – “With the new modernization that will be starting in Princeton next spring, the tradition of the Dizzy Bar and what the Eggleston and Ladwig families have known all their lives will come to an end. Their business and most importantly, their own home, must be torn down for the replacement and expansion of the Hwy. 23-73 bridge. No matter which way you look at it, Dizzy Bar must go.”
Paul Ladwig shared a memory of Silas with the Times-Republic reporter: “His great-grandfather sitting in a rocking chair next to the stove in what is now the tavern part of the Dizzy Bar. When Paul would walk in, his great-grandpa would slowly remove an old tattered salt bag, which was rolled up and stuffed into his pocket. He would slowly unroll it, reach way down into it, and bring up a penny for Paul.”
Paul tended bar for the last time at the Dizzy Bar on Saturday, March 3, 1984. The building was torn down in June and the bridge in August. The Ladwigs built a home just north of the former bar.
Paul Ladwig passed in December 1986. Dolores Ladwig passed in August 2013.
Julie (Ladwig) Berwick, my classmate for eight years at St. John’s Catholic, opened Dizzy’s Liquor and Video store at 100 East Main Street in 1994. She chose the name, she told the newspaper, “out of memory and respect, and to bring the name back into the community.”
The Ladwig daughters (Ellen Rataczak, Julie Berwick and Mary Jo Mlodzik) also pulled the family’s chicken recipe out of the vault for the first time since the Dizzy Bar closed for a charitable fundraiser in 2018.
Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 4, 2018 – “When Randy and Connie Sondalle recently purchased Reilly’s Pub, they approached the Ladwig sisters asking them about the chance to acquire the secret family recipe. Not quite ready to part with the recipe, but knowing there were many requesting the chicken, the sisters offered to do it as a fundraiser for the Princeton Fire Department. … Saturday evening the family of Paul and Dolores Ladwig re-created the long-desired Dizzy chicken, serving 200 dinners.”
Truth be told
Neither of the Eggleston obituaries (Silas and DeWitt) nor any newspaper articles prior to the Fox River Patriot piece, including a brief about Eggleston in the Times-Republic’s special edition honoring the city’s centennial in 1948, mention a trading post.
However, the errors have been repeated many times, in the booklet published in 1973 as part of the city’s 125th anniversary celebration and newspaper articles in 1968, 1983, 1994 and 2018 (and maybe more), all of which current and future reporters and historians unfortunately will likely turn to when researching Princeton’s past, in the “historic” plaque, and in the 2018 Cemetery Walk, which added the incredible tale that DeWitt sold moonshine he made on the ranch to American Indians.
When it comes to history, I prefer the Joe Friday / “Dragnet” approach: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
The Dizzy Bar’s true and colorful history, I fear, has already been eclipsed by “embellished” oral tradition.
Now, here’s a nugget I wish we knew more about:
Princeton Republic, Nov. 23, 1927 – “DeWitt Eggleston as chaperone to a Kansas City lady has landed in England. Report says that she has recently fallen heir to quite a sum of money.”
And DeWitt’s obituary noted he lived at Southampton, England, in his younger days. What was that about? I guess it will remain an unsolved mystery.
Please let me know if you have any corrections, suggestions, or photos to help tell this story.
Thank you for reading and caring about local history.
Fascinating-I loved Paul and Delores and we grew up with the kids and helped Delores with the Lions Dinners- 4 of us girls. Mom used to go to Vegas with Delores every year. Paul always had us laughing taking out his glass eye. What fond memories I have of the Dizzy Bar.
From Mary Jo Mlodzik: Thank you Rita for the kind words about my parents.