These two men— Benjamin Hoxie and Jack Robinson—one an architect-carpenter, the other a blacksmith-musician— lived and worked in the same house and the same shop in Cooksville but at different times and in different occupations. Their artistic contributions to life in the village, like the other local artists, artisans and crafts persons, added to the special cultural life and history of the small community.
|Benjamin Hoxie, c.1880s|
Benjamin Hoxie (1827-1901)
Benjamin Hoxie, a self-taught architect, carpenter, and avid horticulturist, came to Cooksville in 1846 from Maine with his family. In1851, Hoxie married and began the design and construction of his Cooksville-brick Gothic Revival style home, which was completed in 1852. He constructed a workshop just to the north, which he used to make furniture. (Later the little shop was used as a Broom Factory and then as a Blacksmith Shop by Jack Robertson.)
|Hoxie House, c.1920|
Jack, as he was popularly known, was a skillful fiddler renown throughout southern Wisconsin as a superb trick fiddler. At a fiddling contest in Fort Atkinson, Robertson won five prizes: a card table, a clock, a pair of woolen blankets, a flour bin and a two-dollar piece of bacon. A week later, he won big at the Edgerton fiddlers’ contest: a mantel clock with candlesticks to match, a cut glass sugar bowl and creamer, cigar box, and a silk umbrella. One area columnist wrote: “He ought to go into vaudeville, he can do more things with a violin than a Ford owner can do with a screw-driver… That boy can play a fiddle in bed with a quilt over him better than most of them.”
Many older people in the vicinity remembered Jack Robertson fondly as a man with a genial personality and exceptional musical talent. During his mature years he performed all over the southern part of the state with the fiddle held between his legs, over his head or behind his back or, apparently, with a blanket over his head, and with a willingness to perform at all occasions.
As someone wrote, “Jack was one of those personalities that journalists write profiles about and obituary writers love to memorialize.” He was married twice and apparently never refused a drink but probably should have. In a 1925 article in a Stoughton newspaper he was called “a jack-of-all-trades, master fiddler and village blacksmith,” who played his fiddle at the many contests as well as at Cooksville’s Old Settlers’ Picnics and as head of the “Woodchuck Orchestra,” a regional dance band. He also shoed horses, repaired wagons, sharpened plows, forged wrought-iron weather vanes in the old blacksmith shop, and enjoyed “getting into his cups.”
|Robertson Blacksmith Shop, c.1910|
When Jack sold the Hoxie House property in 1926, he continued to live alone in the shop next door, which he operated until at the age of 72 when the “old time fiddler played his last tune” and the Cooksville “smithy” silenced the music with a small-gauge shotgun, committing suicide on May 21, 1930, in his room at the back of his blacksmith shop. His health had been failing and he had been despondent.
In 1939, the Hoxie House and the Robertson Blacksmith Shop were purchased by Arthur and Dorothy Kramer. About 1953 the shop began serving as their pottery studio with a kiln, and the “tradition” of artisans living in the Hoxie House and working in the Shop continued. Unfortunately, the Shop (which apparently had been the seventh blacksmith shop to operate in Cooksville) was destroyed by fire in 1956.
[COOKSVILLE’S ARTISTS AND ARTISANS: To be continued]