Throughout the early days of Princeton, the editors of the Princeton Republic regularly warned readers of the potential for a devastating fire among the buildings on Water Street.

The newspaper faithfully coupled reports of the Great Chicago Fire and devastation in Peshtigo in 1871 with warnings that Princeton, too, could fall victim to “the fire fiend.” Major fires were often followed by plans for a better equipped and better trained fire department.

Here are my nominations, in chronological order, for the twenty-five most significant fires in the Princeton area from 1850-2020:

1. The Weekly Wisconsin, June 2, 1852 – “The Berlin Mercury states that on the 16th inst., the building owned by A. Randall, at Princeton, and occupied as a dry goods store, and as law offices, was destroyed by fire. Building and goods insured. The library of S.W. Holmes, valued at $300, was entirely consumed, as was also the docket and papers of Justice Eddy, and the records of the Town of Pleasant Valley.”

The building stood at the southwest corner of Water and Pearl streets, today the site of Renard’s European Style Bakery, 603 West Water Street. It was replaced by another frame building that at times housed a hardware store, post office, furniture store and undertaking business. It was replaced in 1901 by the brick building in use today.

2. Princeton Republic, April 27, 1872 – “The most serious fire ever had in Princeton was on last Monday evening. The fire originated in the wood shop of the wagon manufactory of Mr. Louis Fisher. At the first discovery and alarm, fire was breaking through the roof of the building, having started in the second story, and some forty feet from the front of the building. Mr. Charles Littlechilds first discovered the fire and gave the alarm by ringing the shop bell, but the building was well enveloped in flames before the people could be got out, and it was found impossible to save anything from the upper story. Most of the tools and work in the lower room were removed, but in a damaged condition. The building was a long wooden structure, and the rear end was used for the family to live in. The furniture of the lower rooms was pulled out without much ceremony or care, and by this time pails had been procured, by begging and promising to pay for, if not returned, and water was used freely to try and save the blacksmith shop. This was of stone, but the shingle roof was soon in full blaze, and before all of the tools and the new work stored in the upper part could be removed, the heat was so great that the shops were left to their fate, and all parties bent their efforts to save the Congregational Church on the adjoining lot, and not more than forty feet distant. … Weist’s Brewery is situated just south of the shops and but a few feet distant and was in great danger. It was on fire several times and the gable end being of wood, was pushed out, to enable the fire to be kept off.”

Fisher had purchased the property on South Farmer Street from August Thiel, who built a wagon factory and blacksmith shop there in the early 1850s. The brewery sat just south and the Congregational Church just north of Fisher’s plant. Fisher did not rebuild. The brewery used the lot for an icehouse.

3. Princeton Republic, March 1, 1873 – “On Tuesday night last, between 12 and 1 o’clock, fire was discovered in the wooden building formerly occupied by the Teske Brothers, it being the same building fired about a year ago, of which we made mention at the time, that came rather too near the Republic office to be altogether comfortable. However, the building had been removed since to a location on the riverbank, just west of Green’s elevator, and was not occupied. As we hear, the fire was first discovered in this vacant building, but by the time a general alarm was sounded, the wagon shop of Gottlieb Luedtke was also well on fire, especially in the roof. It was found impossible to save the buildings, and by the timely exertion of a few of the large crowd, a good deal of material was got out of the shop, though it is claimed a large amount was burned. The fire next caught in the blacksmith shop of Mr. Targatz and burned a small addition to the shop, but the main shop was saved.”

Luedtke rebuilt his wagon shop, erecting the two-story stone building that stands at 637 West Water Street, best known to my generation as Mueller Implement.

4. Princeton Republic, Sept. 20, 1873 – “On Thursday morning about half past eight o’clock, lightning struck the spire of the M.E. Church in this village, knocking off the upper ball and passing down inside the spire and belfry, and riddling it completely. It also burst out through the plastering on the inside of the church and through the corner board on one corner of the vestibule. It also set fire to the inside of the spire about twelve or fifteen feet below the top, and too far above the roof to be reached by any ladders on hand. The alarm of fire was soon sounded, and hundreds of people rushed to the church, but as is usual here, without anything to work with. The fire could be seen slowly working its way, but so trifling in appearance that many said it would go out itself. Fully fifteen minutes were consumed in watching the progress of the fire and considering what could be done. J.H. Hubbard arrived on the ground about this time and proposed to cut the spire down, and with the assistance of H.H. Hopkins, at once set about the work. Several others were already on the roof with pails of water, and with the help of the falling rain kept the roof sufficiently wet to prevent the, by this time, constantly falling fire from igniting the roof. J.B. Harrington, H.H. Harmon, John Garber, and perhaps two or three others rendered efficient aid on the roof, while plenty of men and boys were found on terra firma, willing to issue all kinds of orders. Capt. J.H. Hubbard finally had lines attached to the belfry, and by cutting off the corner posts, in which H.H. Hopkins rendered just the right kind of help, had the burning mass pulled off the church, leaving the edifice completely minus the belfry and spire. The difficulty in putting out the fire arose wholly from its being located so high, and the plan pursued seemed to be the only feasible one to save the church.  … As a result of the fire, D.M. Green drew up a petition to the Village Board to procure the necessary apparatus for a hook and ladder company.”

The Methodist Episcopal church was located in the 200 block of West Harvard Street, about midblock, today part of the St. John’s Lutheran school and parking lot property. I do not know when it was razed.

Former Princeton resident Marion C. Russell was in town visiting and witnessed the fire. He had made two tin globes for the church’s spire when it was built. “M.C. is a good workman, but those globes couldn’t stand lightning,” the newspaper said.

Several persons in that part of town were “pretty severely charged with electricity,” the Republic reported. Mrs. J.O. Borst was knocked down in her house, and little Niva Wilde was shocked severely.

After community leaders formed Princeton’s first hook-and-ladder fire company in 1873-1874, they built a room for the wagon and equipment adjoining the Jackson & Merrill Livery at the north end of Washington Street, about where Pulvermacher Enterprises is located today at 500 West Main Street.

5. Princeton Republic, April 5, 1878 – “Last Monday, while Mr. Thos. Countryman, a farmer living two and one-half miles south of this village, was engaged in burning stalks, his little daughter, aged seven years, who was in the field with him, approached too near the burning stalks, when her clothing caught fire, and before her father could extinguish the flames she was terribly burned on her back, side, limbs and also her chin. Mr. C’s hands were so badly burned that the thick skin on the inside peeled off and hung around the fingernails, from which it was cut off. … It is very doubtful if the little girl can recover, although it is possible.”

Thomas Countryman had lived in New York and worked as a lock-tender on the Erie Canal until 1843 when he moved to Wisconsin. He purchased his farm south of Princeton on what is now County Road D in 1843 from John Jarvis, who operated a hotel at the northeast corner of Water and Washington streets (today Hiestand Apartments, built in 1885).

“In his former home he was always active in political affairs and was a politician of considerable notoriety, being on intimate, social and political terms with the, at the time, the foremost men of the state … and was also frequently consulted by them upon political matters,” the Republic reported.

Following the fire, “Mr. C. was gritty and patriotic enough to declare his intention to come to town to vote on election day, but his physician positively forbid him to make the venture,” the newspaper noted.

Countryman, 84, passed from his injuries on April 13. Lenora “Nora” Countryman recovered from her injuries. She married and had three sons.

Silas and Jerome Morse purchased the Countryman farm in 1889. The farmhouse burned in January 1940.

6. Princeton Republic, April 15, 1880 – “The devastating hand of the fire fiend has been laid heavily upon Princeton. Eleven buildings have gone up in flame and smoke. By far the heaviest conflagration this village ever experienced occurred last Sunday. A little after four o’clock smoke was discovered issuing from the Hubbard House barn. The alarm was promptly given, and our citizens commenced rushing toward the Hubbard House corner. It only required a casual glance to convince anyone that a conflagration of the most serious character was in store for us and where it would end was a matter of conjecture. The wind was moving at a moderate rate, and from a west by north direction. Messrs. Cooke, Chittenden & Morse had some eight head of cows in the barn and were soon there after the fire was discovered and opened the east door to save the animals. The cattle had already fallen and lay bellowing in the agony of suffocation from the smoke. The effort to save the animals proved fruitless, as other parties upon arriving had opened the west door, producing a draft of wind which fed the flames until the barn was filled to suffocation with heat and smoke, and the above-named gentlemen were obliged to retreat without saving an animal. By this time the flames were bursting through the building, and attention was directed and an effort made to save the Hubbard House, the rear end of which was some two or three rods from the barn. But soon the intense heat made this attempt abortive. Soon flames were issuing from the rear of Mart Wicks’ building which was just east of the Hubbard House, and seemed to be rather nearest in the line in which the wind carried the flames. The smoke soon issuing from the rear of the Hubbard House showed the utter weakness of all human attempts to fight the fiend, and attention was turned to saving what could be secured from doomed buildings which lay in the path of destruction. Soon the Hubbard House and Wicks building were a sheet of flame. A few short minutes and T.J. Jakeman’s dwelling a few feet farther east was wrapped in the fiery element. Mr. Jakeman’s jewelry store was next in turn. From that in a short space of time the seething, blistering flames had enveloped Turner Hall, Mrs. Dantz’s house, Charlie Hess’ wagon and blacksmith shop, Tim Paull’s ice house, and a house belong to Mr. Paull, occupied by Mr. C. Piper, and a small barn belonging to the premises also used by the latter gentleman. In the space of an hour or less the above property was reduced to ashes.”

The fire destroyed everything in its path from the southeast corner of Water and Washington streets (today Princeton Garage Antiques, 441 West Water, parking lot) to Turner Hall (429 West Water Street, today Fox River Mercantile) and up Short Street about two-thirds of a block.

The cause of the fire was not determined. The most popular rumor blamed the carelessness of some smoker. Most of the buildings were replaced within a decade.

The Princeton Fire Company purchased its first fire engine in 1883 and built a new two-story engine house with bell tower on the small triangular lot at the corner of Water, Main and Mechanic streets, home to the former Warnke Lumber office built in 1907 and today used as the Visitors Center.

7. Princeton Republic, Feb. 5, 1885 – “That old landmark, the American House, has gone up in flame and smoke. Between three and four o’clock, Tuesday morning, Miss Maude Marckstadt, whose home is with her brother-in-law, E.D. Morse, on the corner west of the American House, discovered through the window of her apartment that the Hotel was on fire. Dressing as soon as possible she hastened up the street east giving the alarm. About the same time, a young lady from Berlin, a guest of Miss Belle Holiday, the latter a daughter of Mrs. Priest, was awakened by stifling smoke in her room, her apartment being located over the office of the Hotel, and immediately gave the alarm, awaking Miss Belle. It was but a few minutes till the cry of fire was heard ringing on the streets from many throats. It was thought at first the fire could be conquered if the engine was on the ground soon. The guests and inmates of the Hotel were all awakened. But a short time only elapsed until the second and third stories were so filled with stifling smoke that any attempt to save furniture was out of the question. Mrs. Priest was lying prostrate from being the victim of the accident the Republic recorded last week, and of course her husband and other friends were obliged to get her to a place of safety and she was carried to Fred Mittlestaedt’s residence. The engine once upon the ground worked to perfection, and done excellent service, showing that with a little better organization, our fire department will prove an efficient help in battling the fire fiend. Considerable furniture was carried out of the lower story, and perhaps more could have been saved had Mr. Priest been able to leave his wife and attend to the matter. But by the time he had got Mrs. Priest to a place of safety it was too late to secure much from the house.”

The hotel erected at 444 West Water Street, the northeast corner of Water and Washington streets, about 1850 was first named the New York Hotel, or House, then the Temperance House, Freeman House and Jarvis House before American House. It had been remodeled and enlarged several times over the years.

Former Princeton residents Mr. and Mrs. E.B. Simpson, of Milwaukee, had arrived on Monday evening’s train for a few days visit with old acquaintances and put up at the American House for the night. They remembered when the American House was built some fifty years earlier.

Priest rebuilt with brick in 1885 and erected an addition to the east side in 1895.

The village board in 1890 passed an ordinance stating it was the duty of every inhabitant to help extinguish fires in the village.

8. Princeton Republic, May 13, 1890 – “At a quarter to 1 o’clock today the fire bell rang, and soon it was announced that the R.R. (railroad) roundhouse in the east part of the village was in flames. The turntable was saved, the fire engine after arriving pouring on two streams that assisted in saving the turntable and other property contiguous to the buildings. The origin of the fire is not known at this writing. The freight engine was at the turntable a few minutes just past 12. Some $50 worth of tools were burned belonging to Engineer Mayberry.”

The turntable was located north of the railroad tracks, east of Fulton Street. It was rebuilt.

9. Princeton Republic, Nov. 9, 1893 – “Last Friday fire was discovered burning on the roof of the brewery ice houses, and before anything could be done the flames had made such headway that it was seen at once the building was doomed. A general alarm soon brought many willing hands to the rescue and finally the fire engine was got into position and streams were thrown on the brewery proper, which stood but a few feet from the ice houses, and by the most strenuous exertions was saved. … For a time during the fire it seemed as though the Congregational church standing on the lot north would be consumed, but thanks to the exertions of our citizens it was saved.”

The newspaper credited village officials’ decision just weeks earlier for clearing trees to open Harvard Street to the river for saving the church and brewery from “annihilation.” Brewery owner John Ernst rebuilt the icehouse and veneered it with brick in 1894.

Princeton Fire Department, 1896. (Photo courtesy of Dan Wachholz.)
No names were included with this photo. Newspaper clips, however, tell us Fire Department officers elected in April 1896 were Frank Borsack, chief; Mike Berger, first assistant; A. Hennig, second assistant; Chas. Maik, secretary; John Radtke, treasurer; Fred Stearns, hose captain; assistant, Gus Zierke; captain hook and ladder company, Robert Schaal; assistant, John Radtke; committee of arrangements, G. Teske, Ed Zierke and Chas. Terwedo. I believe the band is the Princeton cornet band, which in 1896 included Bert Shew, cornet; Emil Rach, clarinet; Gustav Santow, cornet; John Radtke, solo alto; Aug. Roeder, first alto; Allert Arndt, second alto; Wm. Freihart, first tenor; Herman Somers, second tenor; Louis Seebenhaar, baritone; Fred Somers, bass; Loren Green, snare drum; and Emil Klawitter, bass drum.

10. Princeton Republic, June 17, 1897 – “About 1 o’clock Tuesday morning, fire was discovered in the rear of the two-story wooden structure in which John Budnick’s saloon is situated. It was far past extinguishing before the fire department reached the spot. John Hennig’s adjoining building on the east had to go, leaving a gap of smoking ruins from Yahr’s hardware store to Demell and Hennig’s block. The origin of the fire is a mystery. It appeared to originate back of the saloon. The building where the fire originated belonged to the Clark estate, those most interested living in Fond du Lac. The west room was occupied by Wm. Whittemore, as a jewelry store and bicycle shop. The next room east was occupied by John Budnick as a saloon. The next room farther east was owned by John Hennig and occupied by Harry Tucker as a barber shop. Happily, no families occupied the rooms above as they were recently vacated. Wm. Whittemore’s loss will probably be the largest. Of course, his stock of jewelry and watches were in a place of safety elsewhere, but several bicycles that had been left there for repairs were destroyed, together with an iron lathe and other tools and articles. He was insured for only $150. Elmer Morse lost an $80 bicycle that had been left for repairs. The loss of Mr. Budnick was on his stock of liquors, bar fixtures, etc. They were insured for $200. Harry Tucker was fortunate in getting out the chairs, mirrors and other articles in his shop, and his loss was small. The Clark building was insured for $500. The fire department did good work. Happily, there was no wind to urge the flames – just enough to carry the smoke and cinders over the buildings in a northeasterly direction, cinders dropping clear over as far as Merrill’s livery stable, but they were thoroughly watched, and no harm was realized. The old building now gone has a bit of history. It was once a hotel at the village of Hamilton, a mile down the river and was moved to Princeton when Hamilton’s high hopes were blasted by the want of people the originators expected when they set their stakes to build a mighty city. The hotel was, we believe, called the Fox River House at Hamilton and retained its name when moved to Princeton. It became a noted place in this village as a hostelrie.”

The fire destroyed buildings at 521 and 523 West Water Street, today home to Teak & Soxy and Green 3, respectively. John Hennig immediately rebuilt the small building at 521, which was used by his son Ed as a barber shop initially. William Yahr built a brick building at 523 Water in 1901 to fill the gap left by the fire. He opened a furniture and undertaking business there.

The village board sold the engine house in June 1900 (it was moved to the southeast corner of Pearl and Main streets) and remodeled the old stone schoolhouse at 528 West Main Street for use as the fire station. The building served as the fire station and village hall, and later as fire and police station and city hall.

The village in 1902 passed an ordinance setting “fire limits” that prohibited buildings that were not fire-proof from being built in most downtown area blocks. To be deemed fire-proof, the building’s walls needed to be constructed of stone, brick, or other fireproof material at least eight inches thick.

11. Princeton Republic, Feb. 18, 1904 – “The grocery store which was erected by Jonas Welton opposite the creamery last summer was burned to the ground Saturday morning. Mr. Welton had built a fire and returned to his home nearby for breakfast and the fire was not discovered in time to save anything.”

The grocery was not rebuilt. It stood north of the site of the Princeton Town Hall, N5896 County Road D.

12. Princeton Republic, July 9, 1914 – “Our whole village was thrown in a state of extreme excitement Monday morning at 10:30 o’clock when the fire bell rang, and it was told from lip to lip that two little boys were in a burning barn. People reached the scene only to find themselves helpless in the rescue of the boys. The whole building was a mass of flames before anybody was able to get to the children’s rescue. … In less than fifteen minutes the building was razed to the ground and the little charred bodies were taken from the burning ashes in a condition that they could not be identified. The cries of the anxious mothers were heart-rending, and it took strong men and sympathetic women to partly console them and lead them away from the flames. … The horrible and tragic sight of the boys in the barn of flames before a crowd of helpless fireman and people will be a terrible memory to our people.”

The mothers of Arnold Brustman and Walter Malzhan, both 7, said the boys had no matches or firecrackers when they went out to play. The barn was on the east side of Fulton Street north of the railroad track.

This photo is not dated. I think it is circa 1917-1920.

13. Princeton Republic, June 27, 1929 – “Last Friday morning at 2 o’clock citizens were awakened by the sound of the siren and fire bell and upon inquiring, the information was extended that the woodwork factory of Frank Kallas & Sons was on fire. The building being of entire wood construction, the fire gained rapid headway and before the fire department arrived the structure was enveloped in flames and saving the building was out of the question. It was one of the hottest and largest fires experienced in this city in many a year. The factory commenced operations last fall and such articles as riddle bands, trellises, potato boxes, etc. were manufactured. The firm enjoyed an excellent business, and it promised fair that in time Princeton could boast of a manufacturing establishment of considerable dimensions. We are informed that the firm carried but very slight insurance and their loss amounts to a considerable sum. In an interview with Mr. Kallas, we are advised that re-establishment of the manufacturing plant is contemplated. George Merrill was the owner of the building, and he, too carried only slight insurance and sustained a considerable loss.”

The factory was located at the north end of Clinton Street, just south of the railroad tracks. Kallas/Merrill did not rebuild.

14. Princeton Republic, May 5, 1932 – “A blaze of unknown origin destroyed the old creamery building located near the airport south part of the city early Thursday morning. Firemen responded promptly but the flames had gained so rapidly that efforts to squash the fire was futile. The structure built of wood was a total loss. The loss is placed at $5,000, including the machinery. Insurance carried on the building was $2,500. The building was owned by the Princeton Creamery Company, proprietors of the creamery located on Main Street. Returning from a declamatory contest held at De Pere, Principal Edgar Lang and a group of students of the Princeton High School sighted the fire. The fire alarm was turned in by Robert Lehner.”

A residence (W5898 County Road D) later occupied the creamery site.

15. Princeton Republic, Oct. 6, 1932 – “Shifting winds whipping unexpectedly from various angles, increased the task which approximately 500 men faced last Sunday in an effort to halt the spread of the blaze on Puchyan marsh about 8 miles north of Princeton. While farmers and volunteers battled the flames on the north and east, the fire continued its treacherous march southward until it was estimated that the north and south fire of action covered between 5 to 6 miles. The blaze up to Sunday has swept about 3,000 acres of marsh and pastureland, according to farmers who have been engaged in the fighting of flames since last Friday afternoon almost without rest. Damage which has resulted from the fire is approaching an astounding figure. Based upon the market value of marsh hay that has been destroyed, some are of the opinion that the loss will reach more than $35,000. Thousands of tons have been wiped out. As viewed from the loss in this and subsequent years, the loss will run over $100,000 to the owners of the marsh land. It is certain that next year’s crop will be so slight as to be value less. A few farmers are of the opinion that the marsh will not come back for 10 to 15 years, depending, of course, upon the depth which the fire reached in the peat beneath the earth’s surface. So far as can be determined, it appears that the fire took its origin on the marsh of Louis Root, reaching the edge of the Fox River.”

They could not determine what started the fire. The Princeton Fox River dam and locks were opened to flood as much of the marsh as possible in help put out the fire that burned for four days.

16. Princeton Republic, April 29, 1937 – “Jasu M. Grover lost his life in a fire that destroyed his home on the Alex Zelinske farm last Saturday morning. Grover was home alone at the time his wife and daughter both being away. At an inquest held here Monday afternoon, the jury brought in a verdict to the effect that Grover was accidentally burned to death.”

The roof had nearly burned off when a neighbor, Victor Kuehn, discovered the fire. A water pail was found near the victim’s charred remains. Lightning might have caused the fire, though officials could not confirm that.

17. Princeton Times-Republic, August 6, 1942 – “Tragedy came to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Schry, who live on the old Green Lake road, east of Princeton, early Sunday morning, when their daughter, Josephine, 14, was fatally burned in a fire which destroyed their farm house.”

I have not been able to locate the property.

18. Princeton Times-Republic, Dec. 15, 1949 – “What was known to thousands of residents of this section as Pie Alley burned to the ground early Friday morning, despite efforts to quell the flames. Located at the junction of Highways 73 and 23 in central Green Lake County, the 25-year-old frame dance hall and bar building was destroyed completely by a fire which apparently started in the living quarters of the structure, according to Sheriff Joe Walker. Walker stated that Matt Klawitter, owner of the place, heard his dog barking at about 3:30 a.m. Friday. Getting up to investigate the dog’s warning, Klawitter discovered the placed filled with smoke. Klawitter aroused his son and then notified the Princeton Fire Department. In spite of all efforts, the hall burned to the ground during the early hours, according to Walker. Reports stated that the dog was destroyed by the flames. Pie (Pye) Alley was a landmark of the area for the past quarter century. Originally the area in which the place is located was known as Pleasant Valley, and the Pleasant Valley dance hall was the name of the establishment. No one knows who for shore shortened the name to Pie Alley, but once the place was so nick-named, it stuck. The area still goes under the name Pleasant Valley. Built in the mid-twenties, the dance hall was located on the site of a former Lutheran school. Several owners have operated the establishment. Among them are Edward Hintz, the builder, Richard Verch, Max Ladwig and the present owner, Matt Klawitter. About ten years ago a fire destroyed a separate building which housed a bar. The separate building was in conformance with a ruling that no bar and dance hall could be under the same roof. Later two wings were added to the original structure, and this entire building was swept by the flames Friday.”

Klawitter did not rebuild. The Pleasant Valley Junction gift shop building, W3867 State Highway 23, stands east of the former Pye Alley site.

Fire in December 1937 had also destroyed the Valley Tavern, built next to the Pye Alley pavilion by Max Ladwig a year earlier.

Princeton Republic, April 2, 1936 – “Max Ladwig is engaged with a crew of men building a tavern on Highway 23 directly east of the Pleasant Valley pavilion. Mr. Ladwig has recently acquired the warehouse from the Wisconsin Power & Light Company which was located near the mill. The warehouse has been taken down and the lumber is used in the erection of the tavern.”

Princeton Times-Republic, Dec. 30, 1937 – “The Valley Tavern and contents, owned and operated by Max Ladwig, of this city, was destroyed by fire early Monday morning. The fire was discovered by Joe Soda who lives nearby. Within a few minutes the entire structure was blazing. Owing to the rapid spread of the fire and proximity of gasoline tanks, it was impossible to save any of the contents. … Blueprints for an addition to the pavilion to comply with the state code have been in preparation for some time, and Mr. Ladwig says that work on it will start as soon as weather permits. He had planned to remodel the tavern for a residence.”

Klawitter later operated taverns on Water and Main streets in Princeton bearing the Pye Alley name.

19. Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 27, 1955 – “A fire of yet undetermined origin came near to destroying one of the landmarks of Princeton’s business community on Friday morning. The fire, starting in the rear of the Coast-to-Coast store building on Water Street spread to other parts of the building and the second-floor apartment occupied by the Charles Fuller family. The blaze was brought under control shortly before noon by the combined efforts of the Princeton Volunteer Fire Department and the Montello Fire Department. The first alarm was turned in by Mrs. Fuller shortly after 10 a.m. when she returned home from shopping to discover smoke entering her kitchen from the back part of the building. Within minutes the department was on the scene and even before volunteers with hand extinguishers from the Handcraft Company plant and offices were attempting to get at the seat of the fire. The dense smoke made the fire fighting dangerous and kept the firemen from getting it under control earlier. The wind was from the south, and it seemed to fan the flames and smoke at the back of the building. The smoke and excitement drew a large crowd of onlookers as the local department laid lines from two hydrants to get water to the heart of the blaze. The Montello department set their pumper at the foot of the street near the bank and pumped river water to their hoses at the front of the building. Others worked from the top of the Wobschal building which stands next to the Coast-to-Coast building. No accurate estimate is available as to the loss in the fire, but it is very possible that the total loss will exceed $15,000. Hollis Thayer, proprietor of the Coast-to-Coast store, stated that his stock would be sold to a salvage firm in Chicago.”

Property owner Ernest Hiestand built a new brick building at 502 West Water Street. Princeton Hardware moved in in 1956. The building houses a Theda Care clinic in 2023.

20. Princeton Times-Republic, May 24, 1962 – “‘I wouldn’t have given a nickel for that building when I first got here and saw smoke pouring out of the roof and fire shooting from the ventilators.’ That pretty well summed up the views of spectators who gathered at the Lichtenberg Bros. hatchery building at 9 p.m. Saturday evening to watch the Princeton Fire Department battle a blaze which Fire Chief Herb Wachholz Jr. described as ‘the worse we’ve had in the City of Princeton since the Coast-to-Coast store burned in January of 1955.’ Local residents again witnessed a volunteer fire department that has come to be known as one of the finest units of the kind in the state of Wisconsin. They arrived at the scene in less than one minute after the alarm and what they did after they got there had to be seen to be believed! The loss of the main two-winged building seemed obvious, and many thought it would be wise to keep flames away from adjacent buildings and the nearby gas plant, letting the main building go down. But those people underestimated the department. A huge partition in the middle of the building and the heavy insulation in the well-built structure prevented firemen from getting at the blaze immediately, but once the roof was chopped in and a portion caved in, they were able to fight the blaze with the help of an aerial ladder secured from the Princeton Light and Water Department. At about 9:10 p.m. Fire Chief Wachholz and his crew of 18 firemen arrived at the scene when neighbors turned in an alarm after seeing an electric arc snap out of the wire and smoke pouring from the building. They tried to locate the main stem of the fire and utilized every inch of hose available – 2,350 feet of 2 ½ hose and 800 feet of 1 ½ hose – and the chief summoned help from the Green Lake department when it appeared they may not be able to control it. About 90,000 gallons of water and 2 ½ hours later, the gallant firefighters had not only stopped the flames from spreading to the huge northeast wing, but another two hours later had extinguished the fire entirely. Green Lake’s department left about 11:30 and the local men cleaned up the debris and finished wetting down until well after 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Chief Wachholz stated that at no time was there a lack of water pouring out of two Fulton Street hydrants. There is a 60,000-gallon capacity at the pump house reservoir and another 80,000 gallons in the city’s main tower. The pumps were working steady, but well, at all times. ‘The only complaint,’ said Wachholz, ‘was that we had too many spectators getting in the way and hampering operations.’ ‘Many proved to be worthy workers,’ he added, ‘but many more refused to even move for the trucks.’ Princeton’s three trucks and 18 firemen along with Green Lake pumper and crew of nine performed a small miracle Saturday evening, as anyone will testify who witnessed them in action at what easily could have been a greater disaster than it was.”

I need to do more research on the Lichtenberg operation, but it did not fully recover from the fire. The building at 100 East Main Street was repaired and eventually converted into retail and office spaces by Paul Coil and later owners.

Area residents view the damage to the Lichtenberg building in 1962. (Photo courtesy of Dan Wachholz)

21. Princeton Times-Republic, April 9, 1970 – “At approximately 9:45 on Tuesday evening, April 7, 1970, a tremendous explosion and fire was seen and felt for miles as exploding gas destroyed a garage and storage tanks at the Solar Gas Company on the west (sic, east) side of Princeton. The impact was felt as far away as Ripon and Berlin and the shooting flames could be seen for miles. Debris spread over a block area and spotty fires were started throughout the area. Two trucks and thousands of dollars’ worth of tools and materials were destroyed in the garage. The exact cause has not been determined at this time, but Mr. Arthur Herschberger, owner of Solar Gas, thought that a leak in the furnace inside the building may have caused the explosion. No injuries were reported as a result of the explosion. Again, our local volunteer fire department should be commended for their immediate response and for bravery demonstrated in the face of great danger. Firemen stayed on the scene until 2 a.m. after having battled a blaze earlier in the day.”

Parts of the warehouse roof were strewn across the railroad tracks. Burning debris ignited a fire at a nearby shed. Windows in area homes were broken.

A hero emerged from the incident.

Calvin Lewis, a guard at the Wisconsin Correctional Institution in Fox Lake and part-time employee of the gas company, climbed to the top of the huge tank containing 30,000 gallons of gas to turn off the main valves that were feeding gas to the flames. He also drove two trucks filled with LP gas from the scene.

In recognition of his efforts, Lewis was awarded a citation for bravery from Governor Warren P. Knowles.

22. Princeton Times-Republic, April 29, 1971 – “For the second time in a year, Princeton was the scene of another explosion and fire that was seen and heard for miles. The blast occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20th. The explosion occurred as David Stockwell of Green Lake was delivering gasoline to the Condon Oil Bulk Storage tank. He failed to open a valve in the pump hose causing a rupture in the transfer hose and gas spillage resulted. The gas ignited when Mr. Stockwell attempted to turn off the pump and truck motor. He received severe burns and was rushed by Wachholz ambulance to Ripon Hospital where he is still confined. Twenty-five local firemen responded when the general alarm was sounded. It was immediately apparent that additional equipment was necessary to fight the raging inferno and aid soon arrived from Montello and Green Lake. A few minutes later the Ripon Fire Department was also summoned. A strong northeasterly wind kept the blaze raging as firemen fought to bring the fire under control before it could reach the bulk storage thanks that were only a few yards away. The fire burning out of control soon spread from the transport to the pump house the storage shed and three delivery trucks. The delivery trucks were driven from the fire area by firemen and volunteers. These trucks were loaded with fuel and were beginning to burn and would no doubt have exploded next. Foam equipment was the only effective means of fighting the fire. The blaze was brought under control at 11:10 p.m., but firemen stayed on the scene well into the night. Fire Chief Herb Wachholz Jr. stated that the response and help given by local firemen and area fire departments was very gratifying and they should be congratulated on their fine work. Princeton is equally proud and grateful to their alert, efficient and brave firefighters under the very capable leadership of Fire Chief Herb Wachholz Jr.”

The fire was very close to the site of the Solar Gas fire a year earlier.

Longtime Times-Republic employee Dorothea Huenerberg watched the drama unfold from her home at the corner of Fulton and Dodge streets.

“From my home, it was like two huge sparklers seen to the northeast and in the background beyond the B and D business place, Hwy. 23 (then the B&D supper club; today Sasquatch Variety Shop, 402 South Fulton Street),” she wrote in her “Sandburrs” column. “Soon flames, amidst clouds of soot and black smoke going skyward, indicated it was in area of storage oil tanks alongside the railroad tracks. The ambulance siren was heard and seen traveling east out of town. Nearby cities’ fire engines signaling for highway clearance on entering our city to assist the local volunteer fire department. Vehicular traffic, including transports, cars, semi-trucks, etc. were re-routed from the direct highway out of and into the business area. Many residents recalled that the city experienced a similar happening a year or so ago, then at Solar Gas Co., and this evening it was a gasoline truck delivering a supply to the Condon Storage Tanks. An excitement that will be remembered a long time.”

With the 1867 building that housed the fire station no longer adequate to meet the diverse needs of the city, Princeton officials in 1972 unveiled a plan for a new fire station across Main Street from the stone building.

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 station was completed in fall 1974, and the city council held its first meeting there in February 1975.

23. Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 14, 1978 – “A tragic fire in Princeton Wednesday morning took the lives of two small girls and hospitalized other members of the family. According to Green Lake County Corner Glenn F. Kruse, the two girls, Jennifer Nagorny, age 4, and Linda Nagorny, age 7, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Manfred Nagorny, 216 W. Main St., Princeton, died in a housefire about 3:05 a.m. Wednesday. Kruse ruled both deaths due to asphyxiation from smoke inhalation. The father and mother and other children were reportedly rushed to Ripon Memorial Hospital and treated for burns received when they tried to save the girls. The home was completely gutted, and all the furnishings destroyed.”

Investigators found that malfunction of a cord leading to a living room lamp caused a short that caused the fire.

24. Princeton Times-Republic, March 16, 2017 – “The Princeton Fire Department and other area fire departments were called out to a house fire which ended in a fatality Monday morning, March 13, just before 1 a.m. Upon arrival at the home located at 103 S. Farmer Street in the City of Princeton, firefighters were able to put out the fire. Substantial damage was reported to have occurred on both floors of the home. During the day on Monday, investigations revealed a deceased individual within the home. … Princeton Fire Chief Ernie Pulvermacher reported that while the source of the fire is unknown at this time, it appears to have started on the second floor. … Pulvermacher also indicated the cold weather and amount of snow received over Sunday night and Monday morning ‘created a challenge’ for firefighters as they worked to put out the fire and clean up the scene.”

The victim was identified as semi-truck driver Grace Reiter-Rudolph, of Princeton. Investigators found she had been shot three times in the head. Her boyfriend, Antonio Contreras, was arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide and other crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison in November 2018.

25. Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 24, 2020 – “The Princeton community is mourning the loss of a 92-year-old female resident who sadly perished in a house fire last Saturday morning. In a joint statement released on September 22, Princeton Fire & Rescue Department Chief Ernie Pulvermacher and Princeton Police Chief Matthew Bargenquast identified the victim as 92-year-old Joyce Des Jardins. According to the release, Green Lake County’s 911 Communications Center received a call on Saturday, September 19, at 7:09 a.m. about a house fire at 131 West Main Street in the City of Princeton. … The Princeton police officer who arrived first on the scene reported heavy smoke coming from the back of the residence, and flames coming up from a basement window, the report states. The officer and a firefighter entered the front of the home on their stomachs, with zero visibility, attempting to locate Des Jardins. … The release states that she had succumbed to fire-related events.”

The obituary noted Joyce Des Jardins was a representative of Avon, Watkins and Rada Cutlery for many years, involved in her church, and a community stalwart. I will always remember her as a den mother when her son Jack was in Cub Scouts. They lived on Farmer Street then. They had a large bell in the backyard that Joyce would clang when it was time for Jack to come home.

Honorable mention

Here is an honorable mention to our list of 25:

Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 23, 1989 – “Nineteen different firefighting agencies fought a huge marsh fire for about 12 hours Monday afternoon and evening in Green Lake  County when over 4,500 acres burned without loss of property or personal injury. … About 10 or 12 families were evacuated from their homes between County A and County J, but they were out of their homes only a few hours.

The newspaper reported 27 Princeton firefighters were among those on the frontlines. The fire started when a hunter knocked over bucket of charcoal in his stand. The 40 mph winds fanned the flames across a large section of the Puchyan Marsh and the area around the White River.

Please let me know if you have any corrections, nominations to add to the list, or photos to help tell the story.

Thank you for reading and caring about local history.

Princeton fire chiefs: J.H. Hubbard (Hook and Ladder Company), J. Wm. Worm (Princeton Fire Company), Frank Burkhardt (Princeton Fire Department), Fred Cooke, Frank Borsack, Gustav Zierke, William Seidel, Adolph Krueger, Carl Worm, Max King, Frank Nickodem, Herb Wachholz Jr., Ron Seelinger, George Jachtuber, Ernie Pulvermacher. Note: Fire Department No. 2 formed in 1911 with James Mulheren (Mulhern) as chief. It soon dissolved.

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