Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Historic Cooksville Buildings: Before and After Restoration, by Larry Reed

The story of the Village of Cooksville in the 21st century is, in many ways, a history of “self-preservation.”

Many of the historic buildings in this small rural village have been preserved, rehabilitated and restored over the past four decades, undergoing its own “self-preservation,” with the community working to rehabilitate and retain its special historic built-environment— and celebrating and sharing it.

These “before and after” pictures help tell that story.

Cooksville Congregational Church - BEFORE
Cooksville Congregational Church - AFTER
Cooksville’s story— its history— is its mid-19th century architecture and rural setting, all part of the heritage of its pioneering settlers of 175 years ago when the Cook brothers, John and Daniel, founded the village in 1842.

Cook House - BEFORE
Cook House - AFTER
The restorations and rehabilitations have included the settlers’ first homes, two churches, three barns, a schoolhouse, a general store, a large public square or commons, and a cemetery. They are all are part of the Cooksville Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and 1980. Just outside the village are eight other historic buildings and sites also listed in the National Register.

In addition to the state and federal recognition, the local government— the Town of Porter— established a zoning designation for the Cooksville Historic District to ensure that future building or demolition projects in the village did not harm or destroy the valued and irreplaceable historical heritage of the community.

Betsey Curtiss House - BEFORE
Betsey Curtiss House - AFTER
Since these official actions, the Cooksville underwent a “boom” in the recognition, appreciation and rehabilitation of its heritage of early buildings, Attention was paid, and owners and residents began spending more time and effort restoring and caring for its history. Preservation became a tradition and a principle for many local property owners.

Projects included adding new, appropriately-designed additions to the historic houses, removing inappropriate metal or shingle siding, repairing or restoring windows and shutters, restoring or re-opening closed-up front porches, re-using and rehabbing old village barns, and restoring church bell-towers.

Van Vleck House - BEFORE
Van Vleck House - AFTER
As long ago as 1911, when Ralph Warner arrived in Cooksville, people learned from his early preservation example to appreciate the well-designed, well-constructed, charmingly “quaint” old buildings. Warner created the “House Next Door,” turning the old Duncan House into a show-piece of 19th-century antiquity. His “antiquarian” home-making—his antique-filled old brick house, his old-fashioned flower and vegetable gardens, his sharing of his home with visitors—brought local and national attention to the little village and opened the eyes of others to the possibilities of re-using and retaining the old, sturdy brick and wood-framed buildings from another era.

Fortunately, many other Cooksville citizens also became interested in preserving and rehabilitating its architectural heritage. And, again fortunately, the village had a resident architect named Michael Saternus who also was very interested in preservation—and was also very talented and energetic during the thirty years he lived in the village.

Van Buren House - BEFORE
Van Buren House - AFTER
Owners of the old historic buildings turned to Saternus for advice and assistance as Cooksville underwent its 20th century renaissance. The historic preservation programs of the Wisconsin Historical Society also assisted in many of the restoration projects. (For information, contact  Residents and visitors noticed, appreciated, and realized the possibilities of preservation— that it was economically worthwhile as well as culturally important to save and re-use these older, important, re-usable buildings from the past.

William Porter House - BEFORE
William Porter House - AFTER
Cooksville was also fortunate to have had a series of local historians in the 20th century who had gathered and preserved many historic documents and photographs from the past 175 years of the village’s existence. These were used to document the old buildings and assist in restoration projects., as well as to tell much more of the story of this early village.
Blackman-Woodbury House - BEFORE
Blackman-Woodbury House - AFTER
Graves Blacksmith Shop- BEFORE
Graves Blacksmith Shop - AFTER

The “before-and-after” photographs of some of the projects illustrate this commitment of residents to preservation over the years. Some projects involved the entire building; some only addressed a portion, like a steeple; and some also involved the outhouses and the landscape.

Cooksville Lutheran Church steeple - DURING
And the work to preserve and enjoy the Village of Cooksville’s heritage continues, as it celebrates 175 years since it was established in 1842.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

2017 Cooksville Community Events

Clean Up Day
 Saturday, April 29: Community Center Clean-Up Day (10:00am-1:00pm,Schoolhouse) By the end of April it’s a pretty safe bet that no shoveling will be required to get into the schoolhouse, but there is always a need for a good Spring cleaning to get the center ready for another season of activity. Bring your favorite feather duster.

Sunday, April 30: Tree Planting on the Commons (2:00pm-4:00pm, Commons) The Cooksville Tree Restoration Committee will present their annual State of the Oaks address, and tell us about environmental stewardship in our beautiful village.  Reception at the schoolhouse to follow.

Chris & Emily, 2016
Saturday, May 13: Community Sing (6:30pm-8:30pm, Schoolhouse) Join us for a family-friendly community sing-along and hootenanny at the schoolhouse led by local folk musicians Emily and Chris Beebe. Songbooks will be provided, but please feel free to come with your favorite songs to share.  Musical instruments, sheet music, lyrics, and snacks are welcome.

Stoughton Singers
Wednesday, June 7: Stoughton Chamber Singers Concert(7:00pm-9:30pm, Congregational Church) John Beutel and the Singers return to the beautiful brown church for a concert of American music,in honor of Cooksville’s dodransbicentennial year.  Tickets are available from McGlynn’s Pharmacy in Stoughton, from the Singers, or at the door. $5.00 admission benefits the singers and the CCC. A reception will follow at the schoolhouse.

Jerry Apps
Larry Reed
Saturday, June 10: Celebrating Cooksville’s History with Jerry Apps and Larry Reed (11:00am-4:00pm, Schoolhouse) This special event features a presentation about one-room schoolhouses and barns by well-known Wisconsin historian and author Jerry Apps, whose work is featured on Wisconsin Public Television. Larry Reed, historian and Chair of the Historic Cooksville Trust, will then share highlights of 175 years Cooksville history, drawing from a rich collection of documents, photos, and anecdotes. Larry will also conduct a walking tour of Cooksville after the presentation. A sack lunch is included in the ticket price. Tickets for this very special event will be on sale this Spring. $12.00. Limited seating.

Tuesday, July 4: Independence Day Picnic (12:30pm-2:30pm, Commons) Like sea turtles returning to the beach where they once hatched,generations of Cooksvillians have gathered every July 4thunder the Oaks with picnic baskets for a community meal, and perhaps some softball.  Rain location is the schoolhouse.

Picnic on the Commons
Saturday, July 22: Art in the Park(10:00am-4:00pm, Commons) A day of fun is in store, with many attractions around the commons and schoolhouse, including art and crafts vendors, a classic car show, Play Day activities like horseshoes and sack races, food carts, and more! There will be celebratory fun for the whole family.

Saturday, July 22: Tours of the Cooksville Masonic Lodge (Cooksville Store) The Cooksville Masonic Lodge, located upstairs of the village Store, will be holding tours of its meeting hall. Lodge members will be discussing the importance of the Free Masons in Wisconsin society over the last century and a half.

Saturday, August 12: Christmas in Summer Program (1:30pm-3:00pm, Schoolhouse) Now in its fifth year, this favorite event is never without surprises for everyone, including those putting on the show! Jeanne Julseth will be rustling up some good old-fashioned schoolhouse fun with a cast of unlikely characters. Stay tuned for details. Free admission.

Sunday, September (date TBA): Cooksville Lutheran Church Fall Festival (11:00am-3:00pm, Lutheran Church) The Annual Fall Festival heralds the colorful harvest season in the village. The festival starts after Sunday services and features a quilt raffle, silent auction, great food, a farmer’s market, lively musical entertainment, and more. Everyone is welcome! Handicap accessible.

Monday, September 18: CCC Annual Meeting (6:30pm-8:30pm, Schoolhouse) Once a year, the membership of the CCC are invited to gather at the schoolhouse and talk about the year gone by, and the year to come at the Community Center. In this very special 175th year of the village, all are encouraged to come out and enjoy hearing the news, meeting with neighbors, and eating ice cream.

Saturday, October 21: Cooksville Halloween Party (6:30pm-9:00pm, Schoolhouse) The Cooksville event
calendar ends with a Boo! at this annual costume party. You never know what to expect after dark, but for sure there will be fall fun for the whole family. Bring a snack, beverage, dessert, and a ghost story to share.

The Cooksville Community 2017 Events Calendar
 The Cooksville Community Center (CCC) is excited to be part of the commemoration of the175th year anniversary of the village of Cooksville. The community has planned some special events for 2017, including a historic presentation day with Jerry Apps and Larry Reed in June, and an Art Show on the Commons in July.  The CCC is the former one-room schoolhouse on the corner of State Rd. 59 and Church St.  Although it is not heated, the schoolhouse has air-conditioning, a kitchen with hot and cold water, and bathrooms (cold water only).  The Community Center is available for rentals and is a popular spot for family reunions, weddings, and picnics.The CCC is not handicap-accessible.
We are always looking for new ideas and help with programming and maintenance of the CCC. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact any board member.  The 2016-2017 Board of Directors:  Kathleen Hipke (president) 577-9921,;Mark Verstegen (vice president) 446-0541,; Martha Degner (secretary) 335-8375,; Mark Ballweg (treasurer) 334-9653,; Emily Beebe (programming) 712-2976,; Bill Zimmerman (rentals) 628-8566,; and Dave Imhoff (building preservation) 206-7000
If you have an updated email address, phone number, or mailing address, please contact Martha Degner at 335-8375 or
You can also check the Cooksville Country Store for fliers or updates, or ‘Like’ the Cooksville Community Center on Facebook for notifications of upcoming events.  Many activities are free and all are open to the public.  Thank you for your support!

Event Locations:
·        Schoolhouse and Commons: Located on the Northeast corner of Hwy 59 and Church St.
·        Cooksville Lutheran Church:  11927 W. Church St.  (handicap-accessible)
·        Congregational Church: Southwest corner of State Rd. 59 and State Hwy. 138.
·        Cooksville Country Store: 11313 N. State Hwy. 138.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Marxist Frenchman Visits Cooksville to Find America

French journalist and avowed Marxist-Socialist, Jean George, visited the Village of Cooksville in late 1984, to try to discover America.  He came to write an article for l’Humanité, the French Communist Party newspaper, about French-American economic relationships, about the recent American elections, and about American attitudes.

And so he wrote a full-page story about the “hamlet” of Cooksville published in France in 1985.
Hank and Maurice in the Longbourne House, c.1980s
Jean George had met Cooksville resident, Maurice Gras, in early 1984 in Maurice’s hometown in Provence in the south of France.  Maurice invited Jean to visit Cooksville whenever he came to America

Jean George did just that, visiting Cooksville later in 1984. Maurice, a Professor of French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his partner, Hank Bova, a Professor of French at Beloit College, were living in the historic Longbourne House in Cooksville, where Jean was their guest for a few days. Others in the village also met Jean, a bright, ebullient and delightful man. Several friends attended a Cooksville dinner party in Jean’s honor at the home of Jim Danky and Christine Schelshorn, where Communism, Marxism and America were the prime topics—as, no doubt, was French cooking.
The Vie International headline for the Cooksville story, 1985
Jean wrote about his American journey in an article published in the Vie Internationale section of the French newspaper l’Humanité on or about March 2, 1985.  The following is a translation of the full-page French article with its opening sub-heading, which also used four photographs of the American Midwest:

The Van Buren House and Church notecard, by Mike Saternus, mentioned in the article.
Logbook in the American heartland
by our special U.S. Envoy Jean George

Who knows Cooksville,
in the State of Wisconsin, USA?
Sixty inhabitants, the Mid-West heartland of America.
Far from the clichés of Chicago’s tall buildings, though they aren’t far away.
Wisconsin has more cows
than inhabitants.
Cooksville is a hamlet
in an agricultural area.
There you can hear the echo, muffled
by provincial life,

of the problems that trouble
an anxious America.

Coming from Detroit, I land three hours later, on a Saturday, at Chicago’s O'Hare Airport, the largest in the world, but one with no moving walkways or signs. The friendly employee at the New York travel agency, who had sold me the ticket two weeks previously, commiserated in advance with the poor foreigner, forced to carry his bag along endless corridors, looking for the Republic Airlines counter in order to retrieve his wheeled suitcase.  Concrete, concrete, concrete.

I then have to find the bus to Madison, via Beloit and Janesville.  I leave for the remote province of the State of Wisconsin, which has more cows than inhabitants.

Three hours’ drive, first by the Highway to the Northwest. The last shreds of the Chicago suburbs roll past the smoked-glass windows. We leave Illinois. Pasture and plowed fields appear.

First stop, Beloit, a small industrial town whose middle class has created a reputable college that attracts high-paying students from far beyond the borders of the state. One of the friends who are waiting for me teaches there.  From him I shall hear about this city for the first time. I notice only the bus station, drugstore, restaurant and hotel, all along the highway access road, flanked by a garage and a battery of gas pumps, the buildings you see in all the American movies that take you out of the big cities.

In Janesville, on the Rock River, 51,070 inhabitants, I get off in front of a bus station similar in every way to the previous one. Parker pens are manufactured here, but factory and houses lie beyond the dim light of the street lamps, which are blown about by an icy wind. I have read that from August to September, there are collections of old threshing machines and other agricultural machinery, which have been carefully restored as “antiques,” in nineteenth-century buildings. I have entered the land of traditions.

The person who greets me is a Franco-American who has lived here for thirty years. I met him last summer in his native Provence. He has retained the touch of an accent when he speaks his mother tongue, but thinks in English for all practical purposes.

After a few kilometers on a minor road, I find myself in the midst of a group of intellectuals who have come to celebrate my brief visit. People from different backgrounds, five currents of emigration, at least, around the table, telling me only their patronymics, all profoundly American in their relaxed manner, their kindness, their freedom of spirit.

I tell them that they remind me of some of their compatriots whom I used to meet in Moscow, especially since they hardly talk to me about the United States but question me passionately about the USSR. The same desire to know, the same sharp, often justified criticism, the same wish for peace and understanding, the same rejection of the anticommunism and anti-Sovietism that have done so much harm to American intelligence. They share Norman Mailer’s position: “We are a great nation. Make the effort to think that we will be greater still if we live in mutual comprehension of the horror of the world that now faces us.”

With them, I can relive all the struggles, all the hopes of 1960s America. They have buried themselves in this tiny village, less out of discouragement than from a reservation about democracy. During my three-week journey I met so many of these democrats-in-waiting, these potential activists/militants, free of illusions but by no means without hope.

Cooksville, a hamlet of sixty inhabitants near the town of Evansville, on Route 59 is forty kilometers from Madison, the state capital and seat of the University of Wisconsin. Very pretty wooden houses, lovingly maintained, that people take tourists to see. They surround, from a great distance, a huge common. The hamlet’s founders arrived from New England in about 1840, attracted by the prospect that a railroad to the West was to be built. The railroad was built elsewhere, and Cooksville fell asleep, like a museum that had arrived from somewhere else.

On Sunday morning, I take a slow walk round the hamlet, in a total silence in which my steps on the night frost make the only sound. At eleven o’clock the tiny white Church will welcome a female Pastor from the neighboring town. All around, in the grass and under the trees, are tombstones. Lots of names of Norwegian origin, and of soldiers who died during the Civil War, which we call the War of Secession. A high proportion of victims of both world wars, whose graves display a small Stars and Stripes. In the United States, too, the peasants have been beloved by the generals.

A few farms, with their red-painted barns and huge silos, are highly mechanized, if I can judge from the machinery I see in the farmyards. These farms are as big as ours, but here they are only of average size, and receive very little help from the State, which favors the largest ones.

The village grocer proudly displays the date her store was built: 1846. She tells me that deer- hunting is authorized in November, but only with bow-and-arrow. She was like someone from the America of our imaginations, a dream many Americans share. I buy note-cards of the village from her, drawn by an architect who is restoring an old house from the last century and has saved a local deconsecrated church.

I left the grocery store with a copy of the local weekly, The Hub, which serves two communities. It lists deaths, marriages, births, admissions to the hospital, sporting and academic achievements, birthday greetings from friends, hunting trophies. The editor and photographer provide the photographs. Circulation is 4,000 copies.

The newspaper also analyses local politics, draws intelligent lessons from the different elections of November 6. Its article was written “hot” and owes nothing to the major newspapers of the East coast. It carries an echo of an anxious America: unemployment, poverty, and above all, international tension. An echo muffled by provincial life, but strong enough that it can be expressed without fear.

One journalist colleague learned I had come and wanted to meet me. A visit by a “French Marxist” to this area is, apparently, an event. He questions me for nearly an hour: “Are you a Communist first or a journalist first?”  “French first or a Communist first?”  Politely provocative questions. My answers interest him because, he tells me, “We have a great need to know what is happening elsewhere.” The interview he has published is a model of honesty in its information.

America’s far away, but it's beautiful... when we find it...

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[Jean George’s article is in the Cooksville Archives. As of this past June, Jean George was listed as L'Humanite's permanent correspondent in Moscow, according to an article from L'Humanite in June 20, 2016. He is probably retired by now. Jean’s hosts in the village, Maurice Gras (1928-2003) and Hank Bova (1936-2013), had lived in Cooksville since 1968, and were very active, generous, democratic Cooksvillians—and excellent hosts on many other occasions. Jean was interviewed for an article published in the Stoughton Courier-Hub on November 23, 1984, written by Steve Ehle, which is also in the Cooksville Archives.

Thanks to Jim Danky and Christine Schelshorn for their help preparing this Cooksville story, and many thanks to the translator, Jim’s friend, Imogen Forster. Also, thanks to the University of Wisconsin Memorial Library for its assistance. Larry Reed]

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Memories of Cooksville: Lillian Graves Smith (1875-1977)

Lillian Graves, 1892
 Lillian Graves Smith’s memories of growing up in Cooksville were recorded by her son Marlowe G. Smith in an interview in 1973 and titled “Cooksville Vignettes.” He wrote that these were his mother’s “random reminiscences…that relate the simple day to day experiences as seen through the eyes of childhood.” The copy is in the Cooksville Archives and covers about 25 years of Lillian’s early life in the village. And she lived a very long life, dying close to age 102.

Lillian Graves was the daughter of Anna Brown Graves (1855-1920) and William Gardiner Graves (1825-1903), a prominent blacksmith in Cooksville with a large and apparently happy family.  Here are some excerpts from her childhood reminiscences:

            “The fine old sugar maple trees that were planted by my father are still flourishing, and I recall as a native Vermonter, he always tapped the trees for their maple syrup. There were the usual childhood activities such as wading and swimming the Badfish. Of course, we owned no bathing suits in those days and an old dress had to suffice.”

            “On one of our jaunts into Porter’s Woods, Avis Savage and I found a nest of turkey eggs… so we gathered them up in our aprons and took them home. My mother was very quick to realize that the eggs should not have been molested, and insisted that I return mine to the nest at once…. When Avis brought her eggs home, her mother decided to set them under one of her hens, probably with Thanksgiving in mind.”
Graves Blacksmith Shop, 1886
             “My father was the Village Blacksmith and soon earned a considerable reputation as an expert in horse shoeing…. During the heat of the summer, the flies would swarm around the shop…Father would experience considerable difficulty when flies began biting the horse, and I remember standing near the horses and shooing the flies away with a large stick to which cloth streamers had been attached. I did not especially enjoy this duty, but it never occurred to me to refuse his request for help…”

            “While I cannot recall ever being taken to a real circus during my childhood, the circus did come to us…Circuses would perform in Stoughton and then travel overland to Evansville by way of Cooksville. My Father would get us up at 4 a.m. on circus day, and we would line the main street to see the animals and circus wagons as they went by. The calliope would play in parade and horses, elephants and camels were led on foot with the cages displaying the more ferocious beasts. It never occurred to us that we might attend a circus performance, and this brief glimpse of circus life was quite sufficient. We would talk about it for days.”

Unidentified Cooksville Children in a Garden
            “John Robertson came to Cooksville from Scotland and operated one of its two general stores…. In Roberson’s Store, you could purchase almost anything from rubber boots to pickles and molasses, and when John Robertson’s back was turned, village boys would take special delight in knocking a pair of rubber boots off into the molasses. However, he never complained about it.”

            “What I do remember most was that time when Mrs. Fisher passed away, and there being no family, Avis Savage, Ernest (Doc) Miller, Chet Gilley and I were asked to go down there and sit up all night with the deceased who was laid out in the adjoining downstairs bedroom. We were in our early teens, and the situation did not exactly call for enthusiasm, but no one ever refused such a request. My Mother insisted that poor old Mrs. Fisher must not be left there alone over night. In those days, mortuary techniques had not been too far advanced, and it was required that a damp cloth be laid on the face of the deceased once every hour. Neither Chet Gilley nor I could bring ourselves to perform this necessary function, and it was left for Doc and Avis to do the honors.”

            “The Van Vleck Family lived in the house now owned and modernized by George and Eunice Mattakat….. John Van Vleck, the father, had a shop nearby where he patented a potato planter. Regretfully, the patent was infringed upon by the McCormick Co. in Chicago, and John never realized his just return on this useful bit of machinery.”

Pony Cart on the Public Square, with Unidentified Children
             “The only real conflagration that I can recall was the time that the Lutheran Church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground [in 1896 Ed.]. We had full benefit of the fire as our lot practically backed up to the Church. My Father quickly led the family cow from the barn at the back of the lot. Obviously, with no water under pressure, it was impossible for the bucket brigade to put out the flames .In fact, I often wonder that more buildings in Cooksville were not destroyed, especially when heating and lighting arrangements were on the primitive side. I recall that there was considerable discussion about rebuilding the church on the original site for fear it might happen again.”

            “One amusing incident comes to mind when for some reason, I opened my mouth too wide and could not close it. Apparently, I had succeeded in unhinging my jaw. Dr. Colony was called and had to administer chloroform in order to manipulate the jaw sufficiently to close it. This was really embarrassing in as much as Dr. Colony was my current boyfriend at the time. My good neighbor Belle Stebbins was on hand to be of some help, and she often reminded me that the only person who could shut my mouth was Dr. Colony.”

[A copy of the entire 24-page “Cooksville Vignettes” is available in the Cooksville Archives. Also in the Archives is 22-page“Rice-Graves Genealogy” written and edited by Marlowe G. Smith in 1973.]