Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Richardson Family Story: Early Settlers in Porter Township

The Cooksville Archives contains many family histories of the early settlers in the Cooksville area. They are stories of migration from eastern American states and from the British Isles and other European countries— stories that document the eagerness and determination, the accomplishments and happiness—and the hardships— of their new lives .                

Europeans were emigrating from their home countries in the mid-19th century for a number of reasons—spreading revolutions and wars, serious potato famines, divisive inheritance laws—all of which created a desire to improve their lives elsewhere in the world.

Some of the settlers’ stories handed down are more complete than others, usually because someone took the time to write down the experiences and the anecdotes, and then shared them with others—and they also frequently visited the popular new photography studios for portraits.

Helen Porter Richardson  (1848-1926)

The Richardson family’s story, now in the Cooksville Archives, is one of those, although it begins with a special twist. The story was related by Helen Porter Richardson (1848-1926), a prominent Cooksville area music and vocal teacher, who wrote a narrative about her Richardson family for her son, Robert (1887-1955).

Helen Porter Richardson, an earlier photograph

Helen’s father, Alexander Richardson (1814-1853), came to America from Scotland after he was a victim of a robbery in England, and Helen’s story begins with that incident.

Helen relates that Alexander Richardson was the owner of a large dry goods store in Edinburgh, Scotland, and that he was robbed of a reported $12,000 in gold on a buying trip to London. He then decided to migrate to Australia and join a brother in the “sheep business.” But an old schoolmate of Richardson’s, Alexander Mitchell, already in Milwaukee, persuaded Richardson that a better opportunity was in the New World, specifically  in Wisconsin, So Richardson  exchanged his tickets to Australia for passage to America instead.

The family sailed from Glasgow for Boston on April 7, 1849, arriving in Boston June 3, 1849.

At the time, the Richardson family consisted of Alexander (1814-1853), wife Elizabeth (1815-1892) and their children, Elizabeth (1842-1922), John (1843-1917), Alex (1846-1918), and Tom (1847-1931). After arrival, Lucy (1851- ?) and Frederick (1853-1890) were added.

Richardson had to remain in Boston after the family arrived to collect the luggage and furniture, but he sent his family onward, in the new railroad “cars,” with three changes, to the Erie Canal in New York State. There they boarded a boat for their journey on the canal westward to Buffalo, New York, and the shores of Lake Erie. From there, the mother and children took a longer boat-ride across the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, which took about a week.

Erie Canal, c. 1855

Helen continues her story: 

“There was no pier or landing at Milwaukee, so they put down planks from the boat to the shore and ropes on each side for the passengers to take hold of. They were met by Alexander Mitchell… Your grandfather did not come with furniture for two weeks, which caused great anxiety on the part of your grandmother, as she was afraid he would be robbed again. As soon as he arrived he went to Alexander Mitchell’s bank and deposited all his gold in Alexander Mitchell’s bank, where he met John White of the Town of Porter, and he and Mitchell advised him to come out to Cooksville and start a store.

“They then sold a lot of their furniture in Milwaukee, and Mr. White and his son, Alex, loaded the rest of the furniture into their two farm-wagons. On the third day out from Milwaukee coming over the hill, on the wide, open prairie, they saw a little farm nestling on the hillside with its deep wooded ravines and heavy foliage facing the wide expanse of prairie with its variety of beautiful flowers, and on the south bordered with a fine young orchard of peach, apple and plum trees.  Your grandmother exclaiming, 'Oh, what a beautiful place. If I were to live in the country this is just such a place as I would like.’ Mr. White said the place is for sale…as he was anxious to get all the Scotchmen he could into the neighborhood… Your grandfather bought the place… [with] the new lime-and­-gravel house.”

Richardson Grout House (1849)

The house, now known as the Richardson Grout House, was built early in 1849 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and still stands on Riley Road in the Town of Porter. The house and property were sold to William B. Porter in 1888..

Richardson Grout House, front porch
Town of Porter census 1850 with Richardsons

Helen’s story continues :“The farm proved a poor paying investment… he  [Alexander] sent money to England to bring an experienced farmer, named Robert Shepherd, to take charge of the farm and all the stock, cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and cattle. While planning for this he went to Indian Ford to the saw mill; on coming home it grew dark and stormy; the forward wheel went into a ditch. He was thrown from the wagon and a plank struck him in the back of the neck, breaking it and killing him instantly. This accident changed all plans. Your grandfather was thirty-eight years old at the time of his death. He was buried in the corner of the orchard.”

A sad ending to this chapter in the Richardson family story.

Alexander Richardson (1814-1853) tombstone piece

Alexander Richardson tombstone, bottom 

Later, Alexander, Jr., apparently removed his father’s gravestone about 1888 from that Richardson family burial site when the farm was sold to the John Porter family. Perhaps Alex removed it hoping to preserve the tombstone from possible neglect or loss. The stone was stored in the barn on the historic Van Vleck House property in Cooksville, which Alex used as a summer home. When that home was sold in 1955, the gravestone was purchased by E. Marvin Raney, Cooksville historian and antique collector, who lived nearby in the Duncan House, Marvin stored the gravestone in his barn where it remains. No doubt, Marvin bought the memorial stone to keep it in the village.

Lyell Porter Richardson (1887-1947)

Clara Porter Richardson  (1885-1946)

The Richardson family went on to flourish and prosper in the Cooksville, Evansville and Rock County area over the years, along with their close relatives, the Porter family. And both generations of Richardsons and Porters participated in many village events including the famous Old Settlers Reunions and picnics held in Cooksville in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Richardson children in a pony cart, Cooksville, photo c.1920s

                     *   *   *   *   *   *

[Thanks to Helen Batty Porter and Amey Elizabeth (Lisa) DeSoto for recently sharing their family stories. Lisa DeSoto’s great-great-grandmother was Ann Eliza Bacon Porter, wife of Joseph K. P. Porter, and Lisa’s great-grandmother was Helen Porter Richardson, the story teller. Helen Porter’s husband was Bill Porter, whose great-grandfather was Joseph K. P. Porter, one of the three Porter brothers who originally settled at Cooksville-Waucoma in 1846. Thanks to Lisa and Helen for providing the story materials and thanks to their ancestors for telling the stories. The photographs and the Richardson and Porter information are in the Cooksville Archives.  Larry Reed, Chair, Historic Cooksville Trust.]




Thursday, October 22, 2020

Images From the Historic Cooksville Archives

The  Archives and Collections of the historic Village of Cooksville in Rock County, Wisconsin, have grown over the years, and contributions continue to accumulate. The items date from the19th, 20th and 21st centuries, with a couple from earlier centuries before there was a Cooksville. (Previous blog news stories illustrated some of the items.)

The local Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., now maintains the collection and is in the process of creating a permanent home for the contents---photographs, paintings, books, family histories, furniture, et cetera--- in the basement "parlor" of the historic Cooksville Congregational Church built in 1879.

This new home for the growing "Archives and Collections Center" was made possible by generous donations of funds which will make items more easily available to interested visitors to historic Cooksville. 

Here are samples of the some of the photographs and documents:

858 Map of  the Town of Porter with "Waucoma" (Cooksville) in the upper-left corner with the railroad line that was never built running near the village.

An 1858 map of  the  large Village of Waucoma platted  in 1846 next to Cooksville on the far left above, which was platted in 1842 by the Cook brothers. Names of early structures in the two villages appear on the map. The  two villages  are now known as "Cooksville." 

Double-sided Wisconsin Historical Marker for  the villages of Cooksville and Waucoma.

A burr oak tree on the Cooksville Public Square, drawn by Dorothy Kramer, local artist and potter, c.1930s.

Anna Belle Rice (1862-1915), seamstress, left, and mother Margaret Brown Rice (1844-1925) born in Scotland, in their Cooksville parlor.


Flora Brown Wardel (or Warddell), with her kitchen stove, c.1900.


The Gilley brothers, who farmed east of the village, photo c.1880.

Phoebe Porter (1861-1886), portrait, died in
Chicago after a cancer operation.
Good Templars Charter, Cooksville, 1894.
"Twelve Songs" by Carrie Jacobs Bond, 1902.
"The One Hundred and One Best Songs," 1915.

Electa Savage, children Paul and Avis, c.1880s.
Mabel Woodbury (1868-1922).
Ralph Warner's parlor, in the "House Next Door," c.1930
Ralph Warner in his garden with four friends, c.1930.

Frank Lloyd Wright's "Chapel for Cooksville" 
designed in 1934 and commissioned by the 
village's Newman farm family. Wright called
 it a "Memorial to the Soil." 
 Never built, for reasons unknown.
*   *   *
[Donations to the Cooksville Archives and
Collections are always welcome,
documents or dollars. 
Thanks. Larry Reed (608) 873-5066.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

“STORIES MY FATHER TOLD ME” Reminiscences about Life on the Farms near Cooksville written by Bill Porter


William (Bill) W. Porter (1921-2008) wrote down a few stories his father, Warren N. Porter (1884-1981), had told him about living near the Village of Cooksville, on Riley Road, in the Town of Porter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Warren Newman Porter (1884-1981)
Warren was the grandson of Joseph K. P. Porter (1819-1907), one of the three Porter brothers who were original settlers in and near Cooksville. Joseph was the brother that actually platted the Village of Waucoma in 1846 next door to the Cook brothers’ Village of 1842. Warren’s father was William Bacon Porter (1850-1932), a son of J.K.P.P.’s.

The Porter family was a large, active, adventurous, well-educated, community-minded and talented family of farmers and merchants in what became named the Town of Porter in 1847 in the new Wisconsin Territory.

“Stories My Father Told Me,” are personal, colorful, and occasionally humorous glimpses into Warren’s life at that time, about 100 years or more ago, certainly before Prohibition (1920-1933) closed down many of the local taverns.

Bill tells his father's stories:

“In my father’s family there were three boys: Lloyd, Warren, and Paul. Paul excelled in athletics, scholastically and, as well, extemporaneous speaking. Curly hair, parted in the middle, he cut a handsome figure. When he was 19, attending the University of Wisconsin with his brothers, he suffered a burst appendix and, I presume, much pain before he died.
Paul Porter (1888-1908)

Dad said the doctor cried like a baby. My grandfather never recovered from that. Heretofore a staunch church goer (even driving a horse and buggy to Janesville to pick up the minister, Jenkin Lloyd Jones), he promptly turned his back on religion and became somewhat embittered. He suffered physically with a hip injury and walked with a cane, and I never remember that he laughed or even smiled. I do remember him scolding us for hiding the pancake turner under the piano where the hired girl couldn’t find it! 

“He was a terrific worker. Nobody could hoe tobacco like he could. He also built fence for his neighbors digging all the postholes by hand with a spade. He was not a very large man and he wore a mustache.

“Grandma Porter (Lillian Newman Porter) was a large woman who, it seemed, was always hooking rugs. She lived in Evansville supported by an adopted daughter, Rebecca, who worked in the bank. Becky had an affair with a married man but nobody talked about it. His son was even a classmate of mine. She used to drive and pick up my brother and myself and take us to a picture show on occasion.

“I think my father was misplaced as a farmer. He had personality and would have made a great salesperson. Ironically, I think his genes are in two of his grandsons, my sons, who are both blessed in that regard.

“Now to some stories he told me. He was a great story teller. Many were stories about Indian fighter Buffalo Bill versus Yellow Hand, circling the campfire, each with a knife in hand. Pure fiction, but we loved it! 

“The true stories concerned mostly the neighbors. We lived between Norwegians on one side and Irish on the other. It seemed that the Irish were the more likely to be in a firestorm than the other more complacent Norwegians. Grandfather’s immediate neighbors to the north across the road were an ever changing identity. My grandfather noticed one summer day that his chickens were disappearing more rapidly than the usual low rate of attrition (rats, mink, fox). He suspected the neighbors but it took a little detective work to discover that a well-placed trail of grain led directly to the neighbor’s chicken coop. He discovered his flock by the expediency of removing the door of the neighbor’s coop and the chickens ran back across the road where they belonged.

“The neighbors one half mile east were the Fords, John, Ed and Maggie. None ever married. One incident happened before I was old enough to know them. John it seems, or as he was called three fingered Jack, got mean when he was drunk and that was often. When that happened, he used to beat up on his brother Ed whom he supposedly loved.

“One night there was a pounding at the front door which upon being opened by my sleep-deprived father revealed Ed in a state of disarray. They had been indulging in a bit of the grape, a fight ensued and Ed was seeking protection. Sure enough Dad would hear John not far behind, muttering curses as to what he would do when he caught that s.o.b. Dad afforded safe haven until they figured John was asleep or sober enough whereupon Ed would creep home.

“The neighbors across the field (the Stearns) had one dog and a parrot that could talk. Old man Stearns’ wife had died, and not surprisingly he had turned to the grape as a source of solace. I’m sure he loved his dog “Watch,” but when under influence treated him less than kindly. The parrot, being no dummy, listened and absorbed some of this language. One day, returning from Edgerton with a snootfull, he went to the front door to call “Here Watch, here Watch.” The dog, hearing the familiar voice, came running to receive— food? love? — whereupon just as the dog reached the hand of love and devotion, the parrot from his lofty perch shrieked, “Get out of here, you son of a bitch!” Tail between his legs, Watch headed for the relative safety of the barn!

“The neighbors also north by west were named Osterheld. Mr. Osterheld was a successful farmer and he had a fine place with a ballroom on the third floor. Mr. Osterheld and his family raised a lot of tobacco and they had a fine carriage and a beautiful span of horses.  Mr. Osterheld’s favorite watering hole was somewhere in Stoughton. When he left on his carousing course he always shut the gate to the farm behind him. He would get loaded and then climb into the buggy and head for home—a distance of some ten miles. His horses were so attuned to this procedure that he would just give them the go ahead and they would take him home while the rumble of wheels lulled him to sleep. When they left the main road onto the lane home, the horses, sensing home, would break into a run.

“Mr. Osterheld, half asleep and drunk, was unable to impede horses’ haste and the result was a smashed gate, damaged harness, buggy, or all three. The next day was rebuild time and this, according to reliable sources, happened many times.
Warren Porter, teacher, with his Cooksville School students, 1934

"The next story involves a Norwegian named Jens Norem. Jens was working for my grandfather in harvesting a crop of tobacco. Jens also liked to go over to Stoughton and belly up to the bar with the boys. 

“Normally a peaceful fellow, this particular night Jens became embroiled in an altercation of some sort which resulted in the sheriff coming to produce charges against Jens. They were in the shed hanging tobacco and Jens being a bit overhung was gamely trying to keep up his end. Of a sudden someone spotted the sheriff’s buggy entering the yard.  Dad said Jens climbed the tiers of the shed “like a cat” where he hid in one of the roof-top ventilators which measured about 4 feet by 5 feet. The sheriff hadn’t seen Jens and we don’t know yet if Jens ever had further repercussions from his adventures in Stoughton.”
Warren N. Porter (1884-1981), c.1950s

 Thus ends Warren Porter’s stories as told to and written down by Bill Porter.  

Bill Porter (1921-2008)
Porter family members, still living in the Cooksville area and some elsewhere, have recently donated family items including photographs, original poetry and other writings from the 1840s and 1850s, for future generations to enjoy.
                               *     *     *     
[Special thanks to Helen Porter who shared photographs for this story and also donated several to the Cooksville Archives and Collections. Larry A. Reed]

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Historic Cooksville Church Takes on New Role

The historic Cooksville Congregational Church will soon take on a new role in the Village of Cooksville—it’s fourth role in its 140 year history.

Dedicated on December 18, 1879, the church began its first role in the community as the first church built in the village, which had been established in 1842. It was designed and constructed by Cooksville’s important architect and builder, Benjamin Hoxie.

A subscription for building the church started the year before, and It was to be owned by the Congregationalists but free to be used by all other Christian denominations. The church would also provide rent-free use of its spacious basement “parlor” for community organizations and events—meetings, parties, celebrations, entertainments.

Carpenters and artisans from Evansville, Janesville and Chicago, as well as talented local Cooksvillians, contributed to the creation of an impressive, spacious, handsome country church, with kerosene-burning light fixtures and a furnace that used either wood or coal. Included were two outhouses and a covered shelter for horses behind the church.

The design of the church was described in a local newspaper article at its dedication in 1879:  “The plan adopted was what might be termed the half Gothic with circle head windows… with small towers and minarets on the four front angles, and an open bell tower… The exterior is painted light brown with dark trimmings…. The audience room will seat nearly three hundred persons very comfortably, being 30 x 50 feet. This is accomplished by the use of wall seats hung on hinges to be raised as needed…”[Ed. note: the seating capacity seem excessive unless the number/size of the original pews was much greater than at present.]

The article also reported that Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian ministers were invited to the dedication, including the uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright, Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones, who “… gave a lecture in the evening, to a large audience, subject, ‘The Cost of an Idea,’ to which his audience listened spell bound for nearly two hours.” And all seated on those new, hard, wooden pews and the wall-hung wooden benches.

Cooksville Congregational Church, circa 1910.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Congregationalist membership of those early settlers had diminished, with many moving away or otherwise departing. A 1909 newspaper clipping asked, “Shall we repair our church, so we can use it?” The basement parlor, however, continued to host various village meetings and programs, mostly because the new 1897 Norwegian Lutheran Church in the village did not have a basement until 1930.

Fortunately the Congregational church found a guardian and caretaker in Susan Porter, daughter of William Porter, an early settler and Congregationalist. Miss Porter, who had been living and teaching in Racine, returned to live full-time in Cooksville about 1925; she had been using the village’s “Waucoma Lodge” as her summer home.

Under Miss Porter’s care the church continued to be useful. Various purposes included county-wide Sunday school conventions, organ recitals, dramatic presentations, speech contests, lectures and musical concerts. It also hosted Cooksville’s annual Old Settlers Reunions and some memorial services.
Susan Porter (1859-1939)

The last service in the church was held on September 3, 1939, the birthday of Miss Porter: it was a memorial service for her, who had died that summer.

Susan Porter's memorial service gathering, 1939

The church’s second role began later in 1939, when the Wisconsin Congregational Conference deeded the now-abandoned church property to the Town of Porter. The church soon began its new role as the first Town Hall for Porter Township. The Town made modifications to the exterior and to interior spaces: the bell tower and minarets were removed, as were most of the stained glass windows and all the pews. The basement parlor was converted into a work-space and garage to store the town’s truck.

During World War II, the area’s young men were treated to hot coffee in the new Town Hall before they went off to war. Other important Town business was, no doubt, also carried out.

But in 1961, when the rural one-room schools were consolidated into larger schools in Evansville, Edgerton and Stoughton, the Town of Porter purchased the abandoned Wilder School for its use as a new Town Hall. Eventually the Town Board decided to sell the old church-and-town hall building in a sealed-bid auction in 1971.

Michael Saternus, the new owner 

Michael Saternus, a Madison architect, who lived nearby, had been restoring local historic buildings and had friends in Cooksville. Michael submitted a sealed bid for the church. In March 1971, the Janesville Gazette newspaper reported that “Five bids were submitted for the building… they ranged from a low of $1,000 to Saternus’ $2,250.”  The title of that newspaper article was, “Officials Happy with Sale of Town Hall,” and, as Michael told friends, “So was I.” 
Michael J. Saternus (1936-1990)
And Michael proceeded to rebuild and restore the missing exterior historic features, with some help from friends and neighbors.
Carrying a new minaret, left to right: Dorian Grilley, Larry Reed, Mike Saternus, Larry McDonnell, 1973

This was the third role for the historic church building. Michael, with a little help from Larry Reed, restored the exterior of the church, replacing the missing features and rehabilitating and re-painting the exterior on weekends over many years—and in the process, discovering an original stained-glass window that had been sealed and hidden intact inside the west wall. (The other colorful Chicago-made windows had been replaced many years before.) 

Mike restoring the porch, 1975

Unfortunately, Michael died in 1990, but the interior rehabilitation of the church continued. The decision was made to restore the interior so it could be used for various ceremonies—weddings, baptisms, funerals, as well as musical performances and meetings, all of which occurred in the church’s third role as an “assembly hall.” A wedding of Larry Reed’s friends, David and Diane Lowe in 1993, was the first new use of the historic Cooksville Church in its third role. Many more weddings, ceremonies, and musical performances would follow for the next 25 years. The Stoughton Chamber Singers were a popular spring event.

Stoughton Chamber Singers in the church
The new fourth role of the church has begun in 2020. That role is to accomodate the church’s earliest purposes once again and, importantly, to serve the additional role as the “Cooksville Archives and Collections Center,” to be located in the basement “parlor.”  

The new Center will include secure and accessible archival space, office space, a meeting room, a utilities room, and minimal kitchen and toilet rooms. And the upstairs auditorium will continue to be available for ceremonies and musical performances. Architect Michael Bolster of Janesville created the drawings for the proposed project.

The Cooksville Archives and Collections Center is designed to house the large accumulation of historical documents and materials that have been gathered and kept in the village for the past 180 years—documents, photographs, diaries, letters, books, clippings, paintings, furniture, and other artifacts and objects, as well as items that will continue to be donated. 

The church and the history center will be owned and maintained by the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., the local charitable organization that seeks to encourage and assist in the preservation and conservation of historic Cooksville and the surrounding area in the Town of Porter, Rock County, Wisconsin.

The realization of this new and expanded role for an important historic Cooksville building is possible thanks to generous donations of funds, pledges, and materials to the Historic Cooksville Trust, as well as to the time and effort of the Trust Board and friends of Cooksville.

This Archives and Collections Center project will finally create a safe and secure location to preserve, maintain, and celebate Cooksville’s long history as a well-preserved, early Wisconsin village.

The first step to create the fourth role for the church has begun with the recent removal of the tall red pine tree at the corner of the church. Planted about 140 years ago, its size was damaging the church building and foundation, as well as interfering with overhead power transmission lines. 

Alliant Energy recently cut the tree down to below its power lines, and then a local wood-worker cut down the bottom half of the tree and removed it and the debris. All this work was done at no cost to the Trust.   

The new role for the church joins a long list of about twenty other historic preservation and rehabilitation projects that have improved and enhanced Cooksville's historical heritage over at least the past fifty years.

The Historic Cooksville Trust welcomes further assistance and donations as Cooksville continues to preserve, enjoy and benefit from its past as the village moves through the present and into the future.

[For more information, contact the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., (608) 873-5066.]

*   *   *   *

Monday, April 13, 2020

Historic House for Sale in Cooksville

The historic Parker-Newell House in the Cooksville Historic District, in Cooksville, Wisconsin, is for sale by the owner.

Built ca. 1848, the  frame Greek Revival-style house features a detailed, side-lighted front  doorway with a decorative cornice above. First built for Nathan Parker  and then owned by the Newell family from 1857 to 1954, the house was "pebble-dashed" (stuccoed) in 1932. It was rehabilitated with an addition added in 1977 by the McDonnell family, the present owner.

The residence is located across from the southwest corner of the Cooksville Public Square and has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, along with two workshop rooms (one attached to the garage and one in the house basement).

The owners are seeking a buyer that appreciates a historic home located in a village  established in 1842 and now a historic district listed in the National and State Registers of Historic Places, as well as in a locally-designated Historic Conservation District.

For further information, contact Scott McDonnell at (715) 446-0867.

*   *   *  *   *   *