History at your fingertips

Princeton creates walking tour of Water St.

Due TO the Princeton Historical Society building being sold, Vickie Wielgosh of Princeton’s Community Development Authority and others have to find and organize all information and transfer it onto a computer for the first time.         Hannah Tetzlaff photo

by Hannah Tetzlaff

With phones in hand and generations of history at their fingertips, Princeton residents can follow in their forefathers’ footsteps as they participate in Princeton’s Walk on Water St. Historical District Tour.

Princeton’s historical tour is a self-guided walking tour that has combined new technology with old-fashioned history.

The tour includes brochures and plaques that are either on the original buildings or attached to their own podiums with 100-word descriptions detailing building or site’s history.

Plaques not attached to a building have an etching illustrating what the building may have looked like.

Also on the plaque, is a URL that takes tourists directly to a website with the rest of the information and photos of that historical site, enabling visitors to experience a historical tour with just a touch of their phone.

“Not only [is there a website], but we are going to have Google Maps embedded into the website so that people can see where they are, where they’re going next and how to get there,” said Vickie Wielgosh of the Princeton Community Development Authority (CDA).

According to Wielgosh, the tour had been in the works for decades — starting with data collection and mass interviews in the 1970s and ’90s. Efforts to create a self-guided tour in the late ’90s did not pan out due to the lack of technology.

“We were going to do this back in the ’90s with the historic registry and everything, but it was clumsy back then,” Wielgosh said. “There was no internet to speak of, not handheld. People would have had to pick up audio players … Now it’s so easy with smartphones and websites.”

Walking tour-1 4 1-8 BW

VICKIE Wielgosh uses her smartphone to access the tour’s website, detailing the rest of the history about the building and where the next site is located.  Hannah Tetzlaff photo

Princeton knew the time was right to try again when three separate organizations unknowingly had the same idea to create a walking historical tour.

“We [the Princeton CDA] have taken on several projects,” Wielgosh said. “And one of the projects we said we would take on was a historical walking tour, and I volunteered to do that …

“Little did the CDA know at the time was that the historical society and chamber were thinking the same thing.”

She added the three organizations knew they could never do it alone, so they formed a partnership, working hand-in-hand to create this tour.

However, what the organizations thought to be a relatively easy project soon became challenging.

They imagined only doing 8 to 20 sites with the information readily available at the historical society, but their plans changed when the society sold its building and the people in charge of the information passed away.

“When they [the historical society] moved, it moved in one big heap,” Wielgosh said. “Nothing is on the computer. Everything is in old bits and pieces … What we are doing is finding it, organizing it, photocopying and scanning it in and … typing it then into the computer for posterity.”

She noted throughout all this hardship there was a silver lining: instead of losing all the information, the partnership uncovered the full depth of Princeton’s history stored inside the interviews from the ’70s.

Interviewees traced the history back to the founders in the early 1800s, and so were able to put this newly uncovered information into the computer.

Despite a few setbacks and obstacles, the partnership is on schedule to display its first plaque Saturday, Sept. 10, thanks to the community’s interest and help.

“We have more people right now that want to sponsor a plaque than we have buildings ready to be sponsored,” Wielgosh said. “People are so excited about this thing. People are coming and asking to volunteer and help, which is really cool.”

She added she has had some older ladies approach her, offering to input the information into the computer because they love typing.

Individuals far beyond the community are interested in the tour, as well.

“We’re getting people coming from out of town, out of our area, to come back and say, ‘Yeah, I want to be a part of this,’” Wielgosh said. “It’s so exciting.”

Some families of former residents are as far away as Texas and Louisiana, and they’re offering to help by sending their family history.

Though the amount of support received by the partnership is astounding, the most surprising aspect are  kids’ enthusiastic responses to the tour.

“History is … boring in school,” Wielgosh said. “It’s just not fun; they’re throwing a million dates at you and you can’t relate to them … but this, they go ‘Wow.’ This is living history, and they’re excited about it. My granddaughter wants to go down to the museum and dress in period clothes and give tours.”

Those who are just as eager to help as the kids may support the Princeton historical walking tour by donating money for plaques, sponsoring a building or by sending in their family history.

“Come forward with your history,” Wielgosh said. “Come forward with what you know, with artifacts that we can take photos of and put them online … [Come forward] so that we have that history intact, that it doesn’t stay in the attics and that photos are forgotten.”

If you are interested in supporting Princeton’s Walk on Water St. Historical Disctrict Tour, call Wielgosh at 920-291-5434 or Beth Pelland of Princeton’s Chamber of Commerce at 920-295-3877.