This was the easiest of the early buildings in Princeton to track. Built in 1867 as a schoolhouse, the two-story stone building at 432 West Main Street remained a school until 1894, served as a village and town hall for a few years, village hall from about 1899 to 1920, city hall from 1920 to 1974, and the fire station from 1900 to 1974. A brick and stone addition built circa 1922 housed the city jail for nearly 50 years.

The building today provides storage space for the public works department.

I told you it was easy. No complex deeds. No businesses coming and going. The only drama occurred when local officials lost track of a 99-year lease and an alderman suggested the building be torn down.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The first school built within the Princeton city limits was erected about 1851 on the lot that today is 116 West Wisconsin Street. It also served as a house of worship on Sundays for the early Methodist Episcopal and Congregational settlers and later the Polish Catholic immigrants before they raised their own buildings.

The Princeton Republic, which debuted in March 1867, arrived just in time to chronicle the construction and opening of the school, estimated to cost $3,000, on Main Street. The school board included Abram Myers, Waldo Flint, and Royal Treat.

Princeton Republic, Dec 5, 1867 – “This week finishes the new school building. Pleasanter rooms cannot be found in the county. The seats are of hard maple, finely made and securely fastened. The work on the building throughout is of the best character and reflects great credit upon the men who did it. The mason work was done by Chris. Krueger, the carpenter, joiner, and cabinet work by Leonard and George Long, the plastering by L.L. Anjer, and the painting by J.B. Radway. “

Princeton Republic, Dec. 13, 1867 – “Teachers and pupils took formal possession of the new school building on Tuesday last, the new bell ringing out a merry welcome and awakening the echoes for miles away among the forests. Miss Hattie Luce has been appointed assistant teacher, the number of classes rendering the force of teachers inadequate. The number of pupils is large.”

As the Republic had warned, Princeton quickly outgrew the school. The district at times rented second-floor space in the fire engine house, at Main, Water and Mechanic streets, and the basement of Turner Hall, at 429 West Water Street, when it needed more space. A primary school was built on the west side in 1880 and then moved just east of the stone school in 1884.

Lightning damaged the stone schoolhouse in 1888.

Princeton Republic, June 21, 1888 – “On Monday last this section was visited by a shower a little before five in the afternoon that was charged with an electric display that was not ‘down in the bills’ and hence wholly unexpected. About a quarter before five the lightning struck the stone schoolhouse on Main Street. … The bolt that struck the school came down the weather-vane rod, melted the wire braces keeping it in place, ran down the northeast corner of the cupola into the building, and about midway of the ceiling in the upper room came through, leaped to the stove pipe, and ran thence to the stove and into the floor just back of the stove. The bolt then went through, loosening the ceiling in the lower room, leaping to the stove pipe about the same as in the room above, into the floor and passed off to the east side of the room. Apparently, a part of the current was carried off down the chimney, the black board in Miss McCune’s department showing its effects in that part of the room. Happily, no one was in the building, the school having been dismissed a quarter past four and the janitor not yet having arrived. Of course, some damage was done but the extent is not fully known at this writing. The corner of the cupola was badly shattered. If it had happened during school hours, the results might have proven fearfully sad.”

Princeton Republic, Sept. 11, 1890 “The schoolhouse has been much improved, with the addition of several new windows in place of old ones, and other improvements made by the mechanic. But not the least is the addition of new ‘Globe’ seats in the upper room. They are of a modern pattern and complete in all the appointments of a finished seat aside from their being a substantial addition to the furniture of the school room they add very much to the general appearance. Our school board has certainly tried to make things more comfortable than usual, and their efforts have not proved in vain. Another good deed the board has performed is filling in and leveling the low places on the campus grounds and in that respect making decided progress in that direction.”

The Republic had editorialized consistently throughout the 1870s and 1880s about the need for more classrooms for Princeton’s growing population. Plans arose and fell. Residents did not want to spend the money on a new school.

Princeton Republic, Feb. 22, 1894 – “The meeting called last Thursday evening to consider the question of additional room for school purposes, and other improvements in that direction, was largely attended. The meeting opened with the question of enlarging our present stone structure but did not seem to strike the popular chord. G.A. Krueger and Martin Manthey finally seemed to meet the spirit of the majority of the meeting when they suggested that a new building be built, something suitable to our wants and tastes. These suggestions were supplemented by a move by H.L. Straight that we erect a building not exceeding in cost $10,000. This move was received with a good deal of favor, and a vote by ballot being ordered, the motion was carried by 78 to 62.”

Princeton Republic, March 15, 1894 – “The school meeting last Thursday night was an unqualified success, and the result was worthy of enthusiastic congratulations. Three weeks previous to the last meeting a ten-thousand-dollar appropriation was voted, but there were defects in the call for the meeting and technical defects in the proceedings that jeopardized the possible result to an extent that it was thought best to call another meeting and put the matter in a shape that would put the question beyond a doubt. There was a strong antagonism to the project of voting $10,000, but committees were appointed of men who were equal to the emergency and last Thursday night, the time appointed to test the matter, result in a verdict that threw the friends of a new schoolhouse into wild enthusiasm. The meeting first met at the stone schoolhouse, and after being called to order by school director Hennig, the proceedings of the last meeting were read and approved. G.A. Krueger then made a motion, on account of the great numbers, to adjourn to Turner Hall, where there was room sufficient. The motion was carried. The crowd, which more than tested the capacity of the school room to hold them, repaired to the hall. Even the hall was completely filled. Order being restored, E.T. Frank, one of the committee of six appointed at the previous meeting, mounted the rostrum and explained many things where the opposition to the project had proved themselves lame in their efforts to defeat the move. Many of their statements were proven false in fact and representation. He brought figures and cold facts to bear on the case that silenced to a great extent the opposition that had been made so much of a bugaboo over the taxes likely to incur. The sense of the meeting being taken favorably, J. Wm. Worm then addressed the audience in German. His speech was a good one. He struck from the shoulder in favor of the new project and created a furor of enthusiasm by his pointed remarks. The speaking being ended, a vote for the appropriation was then ordered, which resulted in 269 ballots being cast, and a majority of 101 votes were in favor of ten thousand dollars as a fund for building a new schoolhouse. The result was received with deafening shouts, and for a few moments the scene was too wild to consider the question of order. … Yesterday the terms of leasing the park for 99 years were duly entered into, the town by the arrangement securing a title to the present school grounds for future purposes. Of course, opposition talk is kept up by a few who were apparently born to oppose public school projects, but it will prove futile in the end.”

This photo is dated 1890. Mrs. Fred Caldwell took a photo of the students and teachers of the summer school held at the stone schoolhouse on Main Street in August 1894.

The new school on the triangle was completed by the end of the year.

Princeton Republic, Dec. 13, 1894 – “It was decided this morning to have no more sessions of school until after the holidays. The time lost will be made up in the spring and summer terms. Moving of the school furniture will commence immediately and the bell will be taken from the belfry where it was placed just 27 years ago and put in position in its more elevated station.”

Princeton Republic, Dec. 20, 1894 “Twenty-seven years of hard service has the old building seen, and the pupils and teachers have come and gone with ever recurring changes. Twenty-seven years! How long will it be before the building now being fitted up so finely will be found inadequate for the needs of the town?  … The new bell here spoken of, now an old one but still as good as new, has been transferred from the dismantled old stone building to its more aristocratic quarters in the tower overlooking the public square and its tones are heard as of yore, but coming from a different direction. The new school building is now the scene of great activity, as was doubtless the square stone ‘dry goods box’ in those days gone by.”

After-school plans

When the school district opened its big, new, brick school on the triangle in 1894 and leased the stone building to the village for 99 years, local officials were negotiating how to separate village and town property such as the Main Street bridge, gravel pits, poorhouse and other property.

Princeton Republic, Nov. 24, 1898 – “Notice is hereby given to the electors of the town of Princeton that a special town meeting will be held at the stone school house, District No. 6, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon on Dec. 3 for the purpose of directing the institution of all necessary actions and proceedings for the collection of the judgment heretofore recovered by said town of Princeton against the village of Princeton and to compel by mandamus proceedings the said village of Princeton to levy a tax for the payment of the amount remaining due on said judgment, and to take all other necessary steps to secure the amount remaining due on said judgment. Request for meeting came from 12 qualified voters. Nov. 16. R.H. Clark, town clerk.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with the village in its separation battle with the township. Princeton Township built a new town hall at N5896 County Road D, barely outside the village limits, in 1899.

The building to the left of the school is a residence. The building next left is the Merrill livery.

In 1900 the village sold its two-story fire engine house on the triangle between Water, Main and Mechanic streets and moved the fire department into the first floor of the old schoolhouse-turned-village hall at 432 West Main Street.

The building served as the fire station and village hall, and later as fire and police station and city hall. The stone schoolhouse lease passed from the village to the city when it organized in 1920. An addition was built about 1922 to house the city jail.

City business, meanwhile, such as paying utility bills, was transacted in the offices in the Princeton Water Works brick building, aka the Water & Light  building, at 438 West Main Street following completion of the water and sewer project in the 1930s and merger of the electric and water departments.

Princeton Times-Republic, Feb. 10, 1972 – “The Wisconsin Telephone Company recently installed a public phone booth. It is conveniently located on the City Hall premises.”

With the 1867 building no longer adequate to meet the diverse needs of the city, officials debuted a new plan in 1972.

The Main Street property that housed two schoolhouses in the 19th century today is city property. The former stone schoolhouse that also served as village hall and city hall is used by the public works department for storage.

Princeton Times-Republic, July 13, 1972 – “Councilmen voted Thursday night to go ahead with plans to build a new fire station. Mayor Harry Miller had a sketch of a proposed steel building which measured 50 feet by 122 feet by 16 feet. Plans will be drawn up which will be subject to the approval of the state, and then the city will advertise for bids.”

Work on the new fire station was completed in fall 1974. The city council held its first meeting in its new chambers in the fire station on February 4, 1975. The city office remained in the water works building.

The arrangement continued for 30 years though suggestions arose now and then to consider new locations for City Hall and the Princeton EMT Service.

City and school district officials were surprised to learn the original, 99-year lease of the Main Street property was expiring in 1993. Both boards thought the property had been transferred years earlier. The city needed title to the land to make pipeline and other changes, so the school district in May voted to transfer the property to the city for $1 and legal costs with the restriction that if the city should discontinue using the land or building for city use, it would revert to the school district.

As blueprints for a new police/municipal building were prepared in 1996, Alderman Randy Giese suggested tearing down the former stone schoolhouse to make room. The comment sparked a firestorm of opposition.

Princeton Times-Republic, April 11, 1996 – “Residents showed up at the city council to voice their opinions about the destruction of the old city hall building at the city council meeting on Tuesday, April 9th.  Several residents were present to oppose the destruction of the old fire station/city hall building. The comment was made as to the historic significance of the building the future of other buildings. ‘If the council approves the destruction of this old building, what does that say to the business owners in city who own antique businesses and like the antique buildings in town,’ replied Gary Wick.”

Wick, president of the Princeton Historical Society, presented a petition bearing 400 signatures from residents opposed to razing the old building in May. Supporters said the square, stone building with the bell turret, or Belvidere, was a shining example of the Italianate Style of 19th Century architecture.

“The building is still strong, highly attractive, and well within the requirements for historical renovation,” said society member Jack Steinbring, who lobbied the city to donate or sell the building to the society.

City officials warned that the preservationists were ignoring issues such as lack of parking, costs of bringing the building up to code, maintenance fees, insurance, and more. Giese pointed out the city had no plan to tear down the building; he had simply suggested it as an option to consider.

The plan for a new City Hall foundered for almost a decade.

Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 6, 2005 – “The City of Princeton has started to get the ball rolling on consideration of alternate locations for City Hall and the Princeton EMT Service. The matter was brought up for discussion at Tuesday’s Plan Commission meeting with no action taken. … The Fire Department building on Main Street currently houses both Fire and Rescue and EMTs as well as serving as the City Council Chambers. Across the street, City Hall has functioned out of what’s known as the Power & Light (sic) building for the past thirty years.”

City officials eventually settled on the land just north of the police station, which had moved into a renovated former gas station at 531 South Fulton Street in 2000.

Princeton Times-Republic, March 13, 2008 – “Should city hall move into the police department building? Some city officials say it will save money, but is the plan feasible? The topic was discussed Tuesday night at the Princeton Common Council. City Administrator Joshua Schoemann came up with the idea after returning from the Wisconsin City Management Winter Conference where he attended a presentation about streamlining government. Schoemann had an opportunity to discuss specifics about Princeton with the presenter who suggested combining buildings. Schoemann says the move would provide the public with greater access to police officers, eliminate the expense of operating two buildings, and improve communications between the police department and city administration. Possible drawbacks include a ‘less central’ location for city hall, separation of the Public Works Department and city administration, and up-front costs of moving and establishing new offices.”

The council considered and reconsidered Schoemann’s idea for over a year.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 14, 2009 – “The City of Princeton is moving forward to renovate the existing police department in order to accommodate City Hall. By a 4-2 vote at their Tuesday meeting, Princeton Common council accepted Rosendale contractor R.A. Pinno Construction Inc.’s lowest bid of $139,000 for the project.”

Princeton Times-Republic. Sept. 24, 2009 – “Princeton’s new city hall location opened its doors for the first time this week after moving its operation into the renovated police department building. The new city hall was open for business starting on September 23. City staff moved their telecommunications systems on Friday, says City Administrator Joshua Schoemann. City hall was closed Monday and Tuesday to allow for the physical move to 531 S. Fulton Street. The public entrance to city hall is located on the north side of the city government building. … The addition’s interior contains a reception/office area, two office spaces, a kitchenette/storage area, and a restroom.”

“We knew we were going to have to make a move,” City Administrator John Schoemann said. “We looked at a plethora of options, with this decision turning out to be the most economically feasible one that would address the issues” such as American With Disabilities Act compliance and lack of space at the old building.

Princeton City Hall, 2023.

The clerks

My research recorded 11 men who served as the Princeton village clerk from the time the first charter was approved in 1865 until Princeton became a city in 1920: B.C. Dick, Ferd E. Wilde, Abram H. Myers, C.A. Bently, C.G.H. Marckstaedt, J. Wm. Worm, J. Henry Manthey, Herman E. Megow, Charles Maik, Gust Weinkauf and Albert H. Rimpler.

Rimpler held the village clerk post the longest – 10 years, edging Charles Maik, who served 1895 to 1903 – and then was elected the first city clerk. He served as city clerk from 1920 to 1937, when he was unseated by Clarence Oelke.

Oelke topped Rimpler’s record 27 years in the clerk’s office by manning the post for over 40 years, from 1937 to retirement in 1978. It was no longer an elected position after 1945.

Rimpler, who was editor of the Princeton Republic, had maintained the clerk’s office in the newspaper office above the Buckhorn bar at 531 West Water Street. Oelke moved the office to his workplace, the E.L. Piasecki feed and poultry store at 630 West Water Street.

After Oelke was re-elected in 1939, 1941, 1943 and 1945, the city council hired him in May 1946 for $150 per month as the first full-time manager of the Electric Light and Water Department, succeeding Otto Warnke, who had held the part-time post for several years. The council also decided to merge Oelke’s clerk duties into his new position and stopped electing the city clerk, although I have yet to find a charter ordinance to that effect from that era.

Oelke was given an office in the water utility pumphouse built in 1935 during installation of water and sewer across the city “until such times as more suitable quarters are available.” An addition to the water utility building was built in 1960, and Oelke’s office, which served as the business office for the city, remained at 438 West Main Street for the remainder of his career.

Work on the city’s water works pumping station began in September 1935. The building at 438 West Main Street was divided into two rooms. The electric light company moved into the south room. Pumps and machinery for the water works filled the rear room. An addition was built in 1960 to provide more office space.

Princeton Times-Republic, October 5, 1978 – “Sunday night Princeton showed its appreciation to a man who devoted the past 41 years to service to the citizens of Princeton as city clerk Clarence Oelke retired recently and the city wanted to give him recognition, so a ‘roast’ was held at the Coach Light Inn. … Oelke was not only city clerk for 41 years, but he was school board clerk for 26 years and served his church in various offices on the council through the years. … R.E. Calhoun, former school district administrator, remarked that Oelke did more in the last 50 years for Princeton than anyone else. … In extolling his many roles and attributes as ‘pillar of the church, ‘greatest unlicensed lawyer in the state of Wisconsin’ and ‘good family man,’ he remarked, ‘How can you roast a man like that?’”

Oelke was succeeded on June 1, 1978, by Duane Norem, 31, a veteran of the Vietnam War and former lineman for a Madison construction company before joining the city in 1973 as manager of utilities. He was suspended in November 1986.

Princeton Times-Republic, November 27, 1986 – “Princeton City Council made the decision to have the city attorney, Michael Lehner, go ahead with the prosecution of Duane Norem, city clerk, for embezzlement of city funds on Tuesday, November 25, 1986, and to continue the auditing of the General Funds and Utilities Fund.”

Norem in June 1987 pleaded guilty to two felony charges of embezzlement. He was sentenced to one year in the county jail with Huber privileges and three years’ probation. He was ordered to repay the city $14,457.64 over three years. The city got its money in October.

Norem, like Oelke before him, had absorbed many of the duties assigned to the treasurer position by state statute. Many of those duties moved back to treasurer Lois Jankowski, first elected in 1972, following Norem’s resignation.

Donna Scheuers succeeded Norem as city clerk and served from 1987 until July 2004. Jankowski resigned in October 2004, and the council hired Rita Miller as interim clerk/treasurer.

The city council also approved charter ordinances creating a city administrator position and making the city clerk/treasurer position an appointed rather than elected position.

The city hired Philip Rath, a graduate of Ripon College with a degree in economics, as its first city administrator in December 2004.

Rath hired Joshua Schoemann in April 2006 as deputy clerk/treasurer and added public works director to his duties a few months later. The job expanded again in 2007.

Princeton Times-Republic, August 2, 2007 – “If the city’s public works director/deputy clerk/treasurer didn’t already have a long enough job title, he’s now got another handle to add to the list. By a 6-0 vote, Committee of the Whole members appointed Joshua Schoemann as their interim city administrator. Current City Administrator Philip Rath tendered his resignation in early July. Rath’s last day will be August 10.”

Schoemann was hired as Rath’s replacement on August 14, 2007. He resigned in February 2010.

David Maynard was hired in July and resigned in October 2010.

Princeton Times-Republic, October 28, 2010 – “Roughly ninety days after hiring a new administrator, it’s back to the drawing board for the City of Princeton, who is currently without leadership following the resignation of David Maynard. Maynard, who took the combined role of city administrator, clerk-treasurer, public works director three months ago, tendered his resignation to the city on October 6. Council President Dave Bednarek said the city administrator position was up for a performance review during the closed session part of the October 5 Common Council meeting.”

John Weidl served as administrator from January 2011 to June 2013.

Princeton Times-Republic, January 27, 2011 – “As far as John Weidl is concerned, we’re all in this together. In a nutshell, that’s the philosophy of the newly hired city administrator/clerk/treasurer and public works director for the City of Princeton. January 14 was his first day on the job.”

Princeton Times-Republic, May 30, 2013 – “After two-and-a-half years of serving the City of Princeton, City Administrator John Weidl is passing on the reigns (sic) pursuing a new opportunity. In mid-June, Weidl will end his term as administrator and take on the position of city administrator for Mukwonago, a city of 7,500 in Waukesha County.”

Weidl said Princeton’s accomplishments during his tenure included developing a more positive attitude within the community, merging the ambulance service with Berlin’s, and restructuring the city departments.

Tired of what appeared to be a revolving door of administrators, city leaders found their next hire just down the road.

Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 26, 2013 – “Mary Lou Neubauer has accepted the position of city administrator for Princeton, leaving her assistant administrative and treasurer post in Berlin after 24 years of service.”

Neubauer stepped into her new job in October. “I feel I can bring longevity to the position,” she told the local newspaper.

She has remained the city administrator since that time.

School Day Memories

This poem was submitted by Princeton native Vergne Potter, who had established a successful laundry business in Washington, D.C., to the Princeton Republic in October 1933. It was too long for my book, but I found it so interesting, largely because of the family names, that I felt compelled to include it here with the history of the stone schoolhouse. 

One night I sat in my office
After a hard day’s work was o’er
My telephone rang and the switchboard girl
Said a salesman was at the door.

I did not feel like bothering
So told her to tell him how
I had finished my buying for the day
And could not see him now.

But she said he persisted
That he had nothing to sell
And asked if I wouldn’t allow him
And hear what he had to tell.

I bade him come into mv office
And asked him to tell his tale
But I warned him I wanted none of his wares
And he couldn’t make a sale

Somehow the fellow impressed me
Different from those I’d seen
He seemed to be more than a human
With eyes that glared and were keen.

He said I have here a picture
Taken from memory’s box
Of the old schoolhouse and your schoolmates
In Princeton on the Fox.

If you give me a moment friend
I’d like to show you
The boys and girls of your childhood
Looking just like they used to

So, I turned out the lights on my desk
And told him to go ahead
Still doubting just what his game was
And pondering o’er what he’d said.

He started a little buzzer
And the machine began to hum
And I just sat there and marveled
At what the man had done.

He showed first the old stone schoolhouse
With its belfry tower and bell
And its old box stove and wood box
That I’d often helped to fill.

And I said there’s Merrill’s stable
With Lute and Slick at the door
And Frank Borsack pulling his forge
Just as he did of yore.

But he said we must hurry on
For I have much to show
And he started on with the picture
Of these friends of long ago.

There was big Bill Currie our teacher
And a teacher he was I’ll say
Algebra, geometry and arithmetic
Were nothing to him but play.

Strong in mind and stature
A friend to all of us kids
All that he asked was that you know your stuff
And do just as he bid.

There was droll Bill Cavanaugh
And his brother Jim
And his sister Katie too
And big Walt Viel and Charlie Sears
All passed within my view

Then Ruth Demell and Laura Schaal
Babe Russell with her coal black hair
Mary Messing, Billy Wyse
And Al Rimpler all were there.

St. Marie’s crowd next came along
With their dinner pails and books
Wilson Kreb and the two Jahns boys
Bert Shew an Mamie Hall
Anna Roberts and her brother John
All answering the school bell’s call.

Titus Jepson then came by
Bashful and quiet and still
And big Phil Sandberg plodded along
From away up on the hill.

Fred Spooner too from out towards the bend
Ed Hardell from Black Creek way
And the Behm boys and girls rushed by
In their two-horse open sleigh.

Jose Beebe and Sadie Priest
From the old American House
Alma Mueller and her brother Fritz
With his same old ‘mox nix ouse.’

Then next he showed off his reel
Our gang from Farmer Street
The Giese boys and Tassler kids
Went by with hurrying feet.

The Harmon boys and Emma were there
And my cousin Edith Long
My sisters dear with their golden hair
Went by as the first bell rung.

And as these friends were hurrying by
A voice came on the air
I listened hard as they all joined
With voices sweet and rare
It was Gertrude Eggleston singing again
“Blest be that tie that binds.”

Their voices were young and full of vim
As they sang those songs of yore
I watched them all as they hurried by
And into the schoolhouse door.

And then I said to the movie man
As he seemed about to go
Tell me how fare these young friends of mine
Since the days of long ago.

He turned with a smile that
was tempered with tears
I’ve followed them all he said
Thru all these long and trying years
And some of them are dead.

They meet the battle as best they can
And each had a smile and song
As they carry on o’er the rough highways
But never a one went wrong.

It is well I said to the picture man
And I’m glad you passed this way
For I’ve often thought I’d like to see
My old schoolmates at play.

I awoke with a start at the phone bell’s ring
And the switchboard girl was peeved
She said it was nigh on eight o’clock
And she hadn’t been relieved.

I rubbed my eyes and looked for my friend
But he had vanished too
I realized just then this was all a dream
That had passed within my view.

But it had bro’t to my mind those friends of old
And cherished memories galore
And carried me back thru a span of years
To those old school days once more.

Please let me know if you have any corrections, suggestions, or photos to help tell this story.

Thank you for caring and reading about local history.

Leave a Reply