The brewery at 317 South Farmer Street is the last 19th century building remaining on my Lots O’ History list. I covered the history of the brewery building prior to World War II extensively in Volume I of my history of Princeton, so I will hit only the highlights here.

Founded by Carl August Weist in 1857, the brewery produced beer for the last time in 1937. The brewery passed through several owners following Weist: William Forster, Andrew and Jacob Lutz, John Lutz, Jacob Messing, John Ernst, Mike and Augusta Gesse, Fritz Ernst, and John Haas, who owned it when prohibition began and died in 1918 of the Spanish flu while on a business trip to Chicago.

During prohibition (1917-1933) the building was used for a time as a wort manufacturing plant. When fermented, the liquid drained from mash and sold in five-gallon containers could be used to make near beer.

The Princeton brewery, circa 1900.

The Princeton Brewing Company incorporated in May 1933, one month after beer again became legal, and debuted the Tiger Brew label in September. It sponsored basketball and baseball teams named the Tiger Brews, later shortened to Tigers. The company went bankrupt in 1934. The business was sold, and the brewery reopened, but it closed for good in 1937.

This 1929 photo was taken before Tiger Brew and its iconic logo made their appearance in 1933.

Hugo Kielsmeier, owner of a cheese factory in Kingston, purchased the Green Lake-Lawsonia-Princeton milk route of Edward Bartel, my grandfather, doing business as Spring Valley Dairy six miles east of Princeton, in 1938 and leased a portion of the shuttered brewery for the Quality Dairy.

Kielsmeier’s son Lester managed the Princeton operation, which moved to 108 Dover Street in 1941, until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. With Lester overseas, Hugo sold the Princeton dairy back to Bartel, who moved the equipment to his farm in 1942. The brewery building, meanwhile, was vacant.

The brewery is shown above and left of the boat on the Fox River.

Lester was co-pilot of a B-24 bomber shot down over Austria. He parachuted to safety, returned to visit friends in Princeton a year later and went to work for the Concord Cheese Corporation of Fond du Lac. Hugo Kielsmeier had sold the Kingston cheese factory to Concord in October 1943.

Princeton Times-Republic, Jan. 25, 1945 – “The Concord Cheese Corporation of Fond du Lac has bought the Princeton brewery property and will use the buildings for a cheese warehouse. The company owns a number of cheese factories in this area and operates cheese storage warehouses at Chilton, Fox Lake, and Fond du Lac.”

Concord at the time owned 17 cheese factories. William LeFeber moved from Oconomowoc to manage the Princeton Storage Company, which employed eight people.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 21, 1945 – “Few people are aware of the fact that Princeton has become the cheese capital of Green Lake County due to the location here of a cheese storage plant in the old Princeton brewery, known as the Princeton Storage Company, a unit of the Concord Cheese Corporation. This firm specializes in the manufacture, storage and marketing of White Romano cheese, an Italian grating cheese. They take the product out of five factories, the Waterside, Randolph Courtland, Cambria Courtland, Marcellon Dairy and the Salemville factory for storage here. … The local company now has in storage over 20,000 cheeses, each weighing 25 pounds, or about 250 ton in all. A constant temperature of between 45 and 48 degrees is maintained in the storage rooms which are located in that part of the building formerly used for the beer storage vats.”

Princeton Republic, Aug. 9, 1945 – “The Princeton Storage Co., located on the site of the old Princeton brewery on Farmer St., have erected a large steel smokestack. We understand an addition is contemplated.”

The cheese was aged at least nine months before being sold.

Concord Cheese went out of business and sold its property in Princeton as well as Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Neenah, Rogersville and Reedsville at a bankruptcy auction in November 1967. Local real estate developer Paul Coil purchased the Farmer Street property and, along with Hotmar Hardware, used it for storage before selling to Joseph and Dolores Hrabe.

The Hrabes, who lived in Chicago, owned Tree Distributors and Builders, which specialized in building log homes. They built a four-bedroom log home on the Fox River off the Bend Road.

The Princeton Jaycees held their first haunted house in the old brewery in October 1975.

Princeton Times-Republic, Oct. 30, 1975 – “On Wednesday evening, October 29th, all eyes were focused on the old Tiger brewery, the reason – monsters from all over the world were assembled for four days. After writing letters for many weeks in advance, the Jaycees went about fixing the brewery into natural looking surroundings for each monster that had made reservations.”

The Jaycees reported 1,252 people visited the haunted house, which was held there again in 1976 (1,812), 1977 (2,806) and 1978 (NA).

Hrabe sold Water Lots 36, 37, 38 and 39 to James and Alyce LaRose, of Chicago, in January 1979. They renovated the upper stories of the brewery into living quarters. (The Jaycees moved the haunted house to a farm in 1979 and the former stockyard on Water Street in 1981.)

The couple tried raising mushrooms in the cool, damp brewery basement but soon realized the climate control necessary to raise mushrooms would prove too costly and converted the building into an antiques store, the Tigers Den, featuring items they had collected during their travels across the U.S. over several years.

They also arranged with growers in Eden to provide fresh, packaged mushrooms at the Tigers Den.

The Tigers Den was divided into two large rooms. An advertisement in 1981 claimed the den included 2,000 items. One room featured antique glassware, canisters, bottles, kitchen equipment, etc. The second room included antique farm implements, crocks, scales, pictures, and furniture. A hallway lined with antique pianos ran between the rooms.

They later added Amish rockers, Amish dolls, teddy bears sewn by Alyce, Wisconsin maple syrup, and honey and participated in the Princeton Flea Market into the 1990s.

Tigers Den, 1984. (Princeton Times-Republic photo)

Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 6, 1984 – “Many people come from Chicago every weekend to escape to Wisconsin and from the demands of their everyday lives. An exception to this rule is Jim LaRose who not only holds a full-time job in the Windy City but then escapes to Princeton to run his antique store every weekend. Why? ‘I’m normally busy,’ he says. ‘I can’t sit still.’ The Tigers Den is located in the old Tiger Brewery at 317 S. Farmer St. Jim and his wife Alyce bought the building five years ago, originally to raise mushrooms. But the climate control necessary to raise mushrooms caused large utility bills, so the LaRoses switched to selling the antiques they had collected for years. … Jim LaRose was born and raised in Minnesota near the Canadian border; his wife Alyce is Hawaiian. The LaRoses have traveled extensively. ‘We’ve traveled the whole U.S., mostly camping, and we buy things here and there,’ explains Jim.”

Members of the Princeton Senior Citizens club who did not want to play cards toured the old brewery in May 1988. “They sure have a nice clean display of antiques,” they concluded.

I do not know when the Tigers Den closed. The property passed through a trust to Michael and Margot (LaRose) Rooker for $36,500 in October 2015.

Princeton Times-Republic, June 22, 2017 – “The crew at Princeton’s Gagne Ford had a blast during their impromptu brush with Hollywood last week. Their guest? A man many know as Rowdy Burns. Actor Michael Rooker paid a visit to the family-owned business on June 12 and 13.”

“It was the distinctive, raspy voice that gave (Dan) Gagne a moment of déjà vu recognition” when Rooker showed up at the garage asking to get a tire repaired, the newspaper said.

Gagne told the newspaper he had first met Rooker in 1995 and the actor had stopped at the Princeton garage at least five times just to say hello over the years.

Rumors have circulated over the years about potential uses of the former brewery building. Locals claim a micro-brewery was interested in purchasing the property. The Rookers, however, have not confirmed any plans for the building.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 10, 2018 – “Work has recently started on doing some tuckpointing and necessary structural repairs in order to maintain the historic Tiger Brew property. The 317 S. Farmer Street property is privately owned by film actor Michael Rooker and his wife, Margot, with restoration work being conducted by Schultz Masonry, which has also been doing City Cemetery restoration work, according to the City of Princeton. Specific plans for the property, according to City Administrator Mary Lou Neubauer, are unknown at this time.”

I reached out to Margot Rooker but have not received a response.

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.

The Princeton brewery, 2023.

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