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Area History

Brief History of Princeton

Explorers first came to the Princeton area looking for pine in 1847. What they found was a vast forest of white pine. Timber crews followed and the logging business got started.

The first house built in this area was in 1849. It was a shanty used as a stopping place and was under a big elm on the river bank northeast of the present 1st Street and 4th Avenue. The next shanty and first real place of entertainment was built in 1854. A short time later it passed into the hands of A. B. Damon, who is regarded as the first permanent white settler.

Princeton was named in honor of John S. Prince, who built a sawmill in St. Paul in the early 1850's to manufacture lumber from the many white pine logs coming from this area. The village of Princeton was laid out and platted in the winter of 1855 by Samuel Ross, James W. Gillam, Dorilius Morrison, John S. Prince, and Richard Chute. Although the village plat was recorded on April 19, 1856, in Benton County, the village was at first a part of the township and was not separated until March 5, 1877. In 1858 the ten southern townships of the present Mille Lacs County were known as Monroe County and Princeton was therefore originally in that county. When Mille Lacs County was organized in 1860, the county seat was established in Princeton, where it remained until 1920.

The first claim in the village was by A. B. Damon in 1854 and covered the present original townsite of Princeton. The first sawmill in Princeton was built by William F. Dunham and Assoc. in 1856. Samuel Ross started the first post office in 1856. He also opened a hotel made of logs in 1856. Ross apparently was a man who had big ideas because he also opened the first blacksmith shop in 1856 and later built the North Star Hotel in 1869. In 1870, Princeton had three stores with over $40,000 annual sales, two large hotels, two steam sawmills, one flour mill, one lawyer, two preachers, one carriage shop, four blacksmith shops, two shoe and two carpenter shops, and the only post office in the area. Princeton's first newspaper was the Princeton Appeal with the first issue appearing in December 1873. The first train came through Princeton on November 24, 1886, coming from the Twin Cities and going to Duluth. By 1890 there were two trains coming from and going to the Twin Cities daily. Mail came on the train until the summer of 1930.

In 1890, agriculture was taking the place of the lumber industry as the mainstay of the village. Wheat was grown extensively in the Princeton area, but potatoes became the most important crop produced. In 1901 and 1902 Princeton became the largest primary potato market in the Northwest. During this time nearly every grower had quite an appreciable number of culls in his crop for which he could receive only a small price, if anything, on the market. It became apparent that there was a need for a starch factory in this village to use these culls. Therefore, on March 26, 1890, the Princeton Potato Starch Company was incorporated. Potatoes came in rapidly and the starch factory ran day and night. Later a second starch factory was erected. By 1926, potato growing in this area on a large scale had practically ceased due to the soil becoming exhausted for potato growing. Growers were also having difficulty with diseases because they were not using certified seed stock and the leaf hoppers (insects) were giving them no end of trouble.

The making of bricks was also a big industry in this area. It had its beginning in 1889 when the area known as Brickton, two miles north of Princeton, began to be developed. Princeton was one of the largest brick manufacturing towns in the state. There were about 20 million bricks being turned out in a year by 1902 and it took 47 trainloads of 40 cars each to haul them away. In 1926, it was still producing as many as 4 million bricks a year. As train service diminished, however, the industry faded because of a lack of good transportation facilities.

Beginning in 1908 with the establishment of the Cooperative Creamery, dairying started to be recognized as an important industry in the Princeton area. By 1920 it was conceded to be the mainstay of the village and held that position until the late 1970s.

In the 1980's many industries settled in Princeton. One of the strengths of the Princeton Industrial Parks is the diversity of industries. This is illustrated by a cabinet manufacturer, an injection molding manufacturer, a printing firm, a metal stamping company, a liquor distillery, trucking, as well as others. Most of these businesses have already had to expand because of growing needs.

The retail business district of Princeton has changed considerably over the years, many times because of major fires. In 1982, the downtown business district was renovated and two modern malls were built. Various clothing stores, grocery stores, shoe stores, many restaurants, drug stores, auto part stores, hardware stores, variety stores, service stations, and furniture stores. provide the community with merchandise and services.

In 1987, the Federal Aviation Administration relocated their flight service station to the Princeton airport. This facility serves the state of Minnesota and provides pilots with necessary information, such as weather and flight plans, for their flights. In 1988, the municipal airport was completely renovated.

Community pride continues in Princeton. In the spring, summer, and fall months, the streets and businesses are bustling with people, various festivals, a weekly farmer's market, and so on. During the winter season, the City sparkles with lights and decorations. Although Princeton continues to grow and progress with the times, it still retains its friendly small-town spirit.

Historical Highlights of Princeton

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Princeton Armory built in 1912. Present use as a funeral home.

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The original City Hall, Police Department, Fire Station, and Water Tower. No longer standing.

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Great Northern Depot. Now houses the Mille Lacs County Historical Society and Museum.

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One of Princeton's historic homes.