Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Village of Cooksville: Many Anniversaries in 2016 and 2017, by Larry Reed

For the little old village that it is— the village “that time forgot”—the Village of Cooksville has many special historical anniversaries to celebrate this year, 2016, and next year, 2017, all with nicely rounded numbers to remember, commemorating events from 55 to 175 years ago.

During this year, 2016, for instance, Cooksville celebrates the following special anniversaries:

♥ 170 years since the founding of the Village of Waucoma in 1846, which is Cooksville’s larger “Siamese” sister, as it were, attached to the east. Waucoma was platted by Dr. John Porter on land he bought from his Massachusetts neighbor Senator Daniel Webster. The two villages are now collectively known as “Cooksville.”

Cooksville map of 1891
♥ 160 years ago, in 1856, seven local men from “Waucoma” petitioned the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin Masons to establish a Waucoma Lodge. The petition was granted in 1858, and the Lodge headquarters eventually moved to the second floor of the Cooksville General Store, which the Lodge purchased in 1864 and still owns.

Cooksville Cemetery sign
♥ 155 years ago the Cooksville Cemetery was established on land purchased from Dr. John Porter for $25.00 and the “Waucoma Cemetery Association” was organized in 1861. (The Cemetery is located in Porter’s Village of Waucoma., thus its original name) However, the first burial ground in the village during the 1840s-50s was located behind the present Store in Cooksville proper. The earliest born person resting eternally in the Cemetery is Charlotte Rose Love born in 1772.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Cooksville Community Center: 2016 Events Calendar

The Schoolhouse

 The Cooksville Community Center (CCC) would like to keep you informed about local events and programming happening in the village of Cooksville.  The CCC is the historic schoolhouse on the corner of State Rd. 59 and Church St.  Although it is not heated, the Center has air-conditioning, a kitchen with hot and cold water, and bathrooms (cold water only).  The Community Center is available for rentals, and is not handicapped-accessible.
Not yet a member? Please consider supporting the Cooksville Community Center with a $25.00 lifetime membership. We are always looking for new ideas and help with programming and maintenance of the CCC. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact us by adding a comment to this blog.
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.  Most activities are free and all are open to the public.  Thank you for your support!
Event Locations:
·         Cooksville Community Center and Commons: Located on the Northeast corner of Hwy 59 and Church St.
·         Cooksville Lutheran Church:  11927 W. Church St. 
·         Historic Cooksville Church: Southwest corner of State Rd. 59 and State Hwy. 138.
·         Cooksville Country Store: 11313 N. State Hwy. 138.

2016 Cooksville Community Center Events

April 30 (Sat): 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Cooksville Community Center Clean-up Day. Cooksville Community Center. Many hands make short work, so come early and help fling open the doors to the schoolhouse and clap the erasers. Please arrive with your most influential whisk broom to evict any small winter tenants, and enjoy the ceremonial Flushing of the Pipes.  Cooksville school is back in session!

June 8 (Wed): 7:00 pm. The Stoughton Chamber Singers presents “The Music of Mendelssohn: On Wings of a Song. Historic Cooksville Church. The Chamber Singers, under the direction of John Beutel, highlight the beautiful acoustics of the old Church at the crossroads with their exquisite harmonies and delightful vocal dynamics. The Chamber Singers will feature great choral music of this genius composer with its beautiful and familiar melodies. A $5.00 donation at the door is suggested to benefit the Singers and the Cooksville Community Center. A reception will follow at the Community Center; come meet the performers with your friends and neighbors, and enjoy some light refreshments.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cooksville’s Historic Public Square: 1846-2016, by Larry Reed

Village of Waucoma, 1846 plat map

The Cooksville Public Square has been the heart and soul of the historic19th century “Yankee” Village of Cooksville since it was established 170 years ago in 1846. That is when Dr. John Porter of Massachusetts platted his fourteen block “Village of Waucoma” next to the smaller Village of Cooksville, which the Cook brothers had established in 1842. 

Porter’s new village was laid out on land that he purchased from the famous Senator Daniel Webster, who had bought it in 1837 from the U.S. Government when the land first went on sale in the Wisconsin Territory. Porter named his new village “Waucoma,” the Indian name of the present creek, which the American government’s land surveyors had named “Bad Fish” in 1833. 

The Public Square was in the center of Porter’s village. He hired surveyor Alanson B. Vaughn of nearby Union (the only other village between Janesville and Madison) to draw up the plat of the new village south of the Badfish Creek immediately next to Cooksville. Waucoma’s layout contained a total of 162 lots within 14 blocks, with the middle Block 8 reserved for the public. 

Sometimes called the “village green” or the “common” or the “park,” the central Square was dedicated for common use, which was the practice in Porter’s home-state of Massachusetts, and he included one in his Wisconsin village. The individual lots were arranged along streets that Dr. Porter named Main, Rock, Webster, Wisconsin, Dane, South, Water and Fourth streets. All the lots were for sale, of course, but not all were ever sold for building purposes.

Since 1846, Porter’s New England-style Public Square has been the focus of the little community. It provides a natural, partially-wooded, green space open to all, with an elegant virgin burr oak grove of trees, along with maple, white ash, elm and hickory, a remnant of the original “oak openings” once prominent in southern Wisconsin’s wide, rich prairies.  
Cooksville Public Square
Many uses have been made of the Public Square in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Where once sheep, cows and horses grazed on the “green,” now people and dogs enjoy strolling, gamboling and picnicking.  And the Square has been put to other uses. It has served as the scene for horse races and baseballs games, for Old Settlers Reunions, for family and community picnics, for Fourth of July celebrations, and for “Play Day’ for the children of the Town of Porter’s nine one-room schools. It’s also been the setting for Civil War re-enactments, Cooksville School reunions, family reunions, weddings and wedding receptions in tents, and for events of the Cooksville Community Center housed in the old Schoolhouse on the east side of the Square.

For example, in 1876, on July 4th, Anne Eliza Porter sang two patriotic songs at Cooksville’s Centennial Celebration when a hundred-foot flag pole was erected in the middle of the Square. Three thousand people gathered to watch the raising of this impressive “Liberty Pole.” To erect the flag pole, a ten-foot hole was dug, with a forty-foot trench leading into it, and the flag pole—consisting of two fifty-foot pine tree logs from northern Wisconsin fastened together by local blacksmiths—was rolled into the trench and then lifted upright with ropes and pulleys and sheer brute strength.  The ninety-foot symbol of American liberty was a result of the efforts of two local men who disagreed on religion but agreed on democratic principles as they celebrated their nation’s 100th birthday.

The event included community singing led by Thomas Morgan accompanied by his daughter, Nettie playing his popular portable organ-like melodeon. The program also featured a fife and drum corps and “talks” by local residents Thomas Earl, Benjamin Hoxie, Joseph Porter, Harrison Stebbins, James Gillies, John Savage, J.P. Van Vleck and John Dow.

And the Liberty Pole remained in place for six years. In 1882, the Evansville Enterprise newspaper reported that it had been sawn down. (However, photos from about 1910 show a tall flagpole standing in the middle of the Public Square, perhaps a new version.)

The Public Square once had a race track on it, for horses. In 1889, a track was constructed around the perimeter, “which when completed will be very handy for those who have horses to train,” according to a newspaper clipping. Tickets to use the track were purchased at the Post Office (in one of the village’s several stores) or at the Broom Factory across Webster Street on the west side of the Square.
And in the same year, according to an Evansville newspaper article, “there will be a base ball ground laid out and all league clubs including Evansville and Chicago will be invited to play on this ground.”  A 1900 photograph shows the Cooksville Cornhuskers baseball team posed for a group picture.  Local ball games on the Public Square brought the men and boys of the village and the Town of Porter together on Saturday afternoons.
Cooksville's Cornhuskers baseball team, 1900
Beginning in 1901 and for fifty years, Old Settlers Reunions were formally organized and well-attended on the Public Square in June of each year. In addition to picnic food—“tables decorated with choice flowers and fruits, and loaded with the most delectable achievements of the culinary art”—the Old Settlers Reunions featured entertainments with fond reminiscences shared by the descendants of the original pioneers with tributes to those who had passed on. Poetry was composed for the occasion and recited, and short plays (such as “Grandmother’s Story” and “Why the Cannon Wasn’t Fired”) depicting Cooksville events were performed. 
Old Settlers Reunion picnic photo c.1945

Music was an important element in those festive reunions. In the early 20th century, Jack Robertson provided his award-winning fiddle music; the Cooksville Lutheran Quartette and the Janesville Male Quartette sang; Eloise Eager played the violin; June Porter sang vocal solos; and a Drum Corps composed of men from the Town of Porter, Evansville and Janesville got feet tapping with their rousing renditions.

The Public Square has been the scene of another famous annual event:  “Play Day.” In the early and mid-20th century the eight rural one-room school houses of the Town of Porter  (the ninth, the Stebbinsville Schoolhouse, burned down in 1942) gathered together to celebrate the end of the school year in late spring with a special event of competitive sports and games on the Square on Play Day.

Map of Cooksville by Dorothy Kramer, 1938
An image of the Square in 1938 (a painting of Cooksville by Dorothy Kramer) shows a dirt road cutting diagonally across the green from the schoolhouse to the northwest corner, perhaps as shortcut to the “business district.” This apparently was before Church Street was completed to the north as a gravel-based road in front of the school, then turning west as Dane Street, as originally planned.

The Public Square park has hosted many events of the Cooksville Community Center—and still does. The Community Center was formally organized in 1962 after the schoolhouse (built in 1886) was closed and quickly purchased by local citizens to be preserved and to serve as the Center’s headquarters. The Community Center has sponsored many historic house and garden tours of the village, wood-carving exhibitions, kite-flying, July Fourth celebrations, and winter fun in the snow on the Square, as well as events held inside the historic schoolhouse.

Unfortunately, in August of 1992 it was evident that some of the old burr oaks were slowly dying. Residents requested an investigation by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources’ Rock County office. The conclusion from samples taken by a forest entomologist and a forest pathologist was that the burr oaks were suffering from oak wilt disease. Trenches were dug around some of the trees in an attempt to control the spread of the disease through root systems to other trees. But since then the disease appears to have slowly and inevitably spread to other burr oaks. (A couple of years earlier Cooksville had lost its State Champion Scotch Pine Tree, a large magnificent pine tree located in the cemetery, to a different fungus disease.) 

The Cooksville Public Square with its open grassy area and the grove of old trees continues to attract people. It is, of course, an important part of the official Cooksville Historic District, which was designated as a significant historic area by the federal, state and local governments in the 1970s. The Square surrounded by original mid-19th buildings, with a few picnic tables and two out-houses, still features its stand of burr oak trees, presenting a panoramic view of Cooksville‘s landmarks (or Waucoma’s landmarks, to be legally accurate!)
Public Square and wedding tent
The Square is maintained by the Town of Porter and Rock County as a public park.  It can be reserved for special occasions, as can the Community Center’s schoolhouse. An effort to preserve and restore the trees is underway. (See the Cooksville News blog posts of Feb.23 and March 26, 2016).
The famous Public Square remains a quiet, undeveloped oasis surrounded by historic buildings providing a well-maintained green space with a grove of old trees, always available for man, beast and birds—and other wild flora and fauna— to enjoy in a special historic 19th century setting.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Announcement re: Cooksville Burr Oak Group

The next meeting of the Cooksville Burr Oak Group will be on Wednesday, March 30, at 6:30 at Mary Kohlman's house, 11347 N. State Rd 138 in Cooksville. We will review what we've discovered so far and possibly make a decision about a spring Arbor Day acknowledgement / celebration/ planting and look at the possibility of getting on the agenda for the Porter Town meeting. All interested are welcome.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Cooksville’s Artists and Artisans, PART SEVEN: MICHAEL J. SATERNUS (1936-1990), by Larry Reed

Michael Saternus in front of church door, 1976
Michael J. Saternus (1936-1990), Cooksville’s own preservation architect, led the historic preservation, restoration and rehabilitation efforts in the historic village for 20 years. His expertise, leadership, and architectural skills no doubt were the most important contributions to enhancing and preserving the community’s historic built environment in the 20th century. 

Mike’s many architectural projects in Cooksville’s Historic District during those years included the Congregational Church, Van Buren House, Longbourne House, Isaac Porter House, William Porter House, Newell House, Frank Seaver House, John Seaver House, Cooksville Schoolhouse, Cook House, and Smith House. His purchase in 1971 of the old Cooksville Congregational Church, which had been used as the Porter Town Hall for decades, saved it from potential demolition and succeeded in restoring that important landmark.

His sensitively designed new additions and exterior restorations (removing modern sidings and various inappropriate “remuddlings”) ensured that the village’s significant heritage from the mid-19th century would be restored and preserved for future generations to profit from.

Mike was a generous go-to man in Cooksville for free advice, assistance and encouragement on any and all rehabilitation and restoration projects, big or small.  It helped that he was also energetic, enthusiastic and a very skillful carpenter, as well as an architect.
Mike at the Van Buren House project, 1978
 A native of Chicago, Mike attended the Illinois Institute of Technology and then the University of Wisconsin-Madison (B.S in Art, 1966). He worked for several architectural firms in Madison and at the same time undertook his own preservation projects while he lived in his adopted village of Cooksville.

Mike also took a leadership role in the community and in the township. He served on the Board of the Cooksville Community Center from 1976 to 1990, as a Board member, President, Vice-President and Secretary. He also served as Chair of the Cooksville Historic District Committee of the Town of Porter from the beginning in1979 to 1990.

In addition to his focus on the Cooksville Historic District, Mike also lent his skills to a long list of preservation projects in other parts of Rock County including elsewhere in the Town of Porter and in Fulton, Evansville, Milton and Janesville. Other major preservation projects of his included one in Paoli and eight in historic Mineral Point.

Mike also served as the architect for many important preservation projects elsewhere in the state while working for the architectural firm of Potter, Lawson and Pawlowski of Madison. These included Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, the Aldo Leopold Shack in Sauk County, the Grand Theatre in Wausau, the National Soldiers’ Home Historic District in Milwaukee, Sparta Free Library, Tomah Library, Christian Science Church, Madison, and a Study for the Mansion Hill Historic District, Madison.

The Governor of Wisconsin appointed Mike to the State Historic Preservation Review Board from 1985-1990 and to the State Historic Building Code Council (1982-1986). Mike received the 1990 award for “exceptional achievement in historic preservation” from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin” and a “Distinguished Service” award from the Wisconsin Society of Architects and American Institute of Architects for “leadership…and commitment to historic preservation,” also in 1990.

Van Buren House and Church in winter
Much of Mike’s energy was spent working on his local Cooksville projects—on his Cooksville Congregational Church (1879) and his home, the Van Buren House (1848,) as well as on his friends’ and neighbors’ restoration and rehabilitation undertakings. He often volunteered his time, spoke about the importance of historic preservation, always encouraged the saving of Wisconsin’s heritage for future generations—and he loved attending operas, traveling the country by car and train to see architectural sites, new and old, and tending to his collection of model railroad trains and layouts— and enjoying village life with his friends and partner Larry Reed, until his early death in 1990.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

MORE DAILY LIFE IN OLD COOKSVILLE: Roads, Sidewalks, Street Lights and Opium in Old Cooksville, by Larry Reed

Life in rural Cooksville in the 19th century had its own rhythms and requirements, pleasures and disappointments. Bits and pieces of that simple but rigorous life are recorded in the Cooksville Archives, mostly in weekly “newsy” gossip columns clipped from local newspapers, occasionally in diaries, sometimes in books. Now observations of some of those eventful (and not so eventful) 19th century occurrences can be shared in the 21st century.

“April 2, 1839, Rock County was divided into two road districts, by a line running east and west about the middle of the county… The slow mode of travel by ox teams was made still slower by the almost total absence of roads and bridges… Indian trails were common, but they were unfit to travel on with vehicles. They were paths about two feet wide—all that was required to accommodate the single-file manner of Indian traveling.” Two “Pathmasters” were chosen to be in charge of new roads. (History of Rock County, 1879.)

Cooksville Church on the main intersection, c.1910, with Tolles Road and Union Road (Hwy 59)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cooksville Burr Oak Trees Salvation Group - Meri Lau and Mary Kohlman

What is the reason for forming this group?  The Burr Oaks that are a significant feature of the Commons in Cooksville are in demise, probably due to a number of factors.  There have been sporadic conversations over the years surrounding this concern.  But up to this point no formal inquiry has been made into their status or what can be done to help them.
Cooksville Commons

We are approaching an important marker in our community's life and as we plan how we are going to celebrate this event, several of us feel this is an excellent time to look at the Burr Oaks that are also an important part of our community and history, and think about how to keep this part of our legacy alive for generations to come.

Our motto:  "The Burr Oaks of Cooksville:  Trees that Time Did Not Forget."

What is our vision?  Ideally we would like to do what we can to keep the surviving trees alive and in improved health.  Some of these trees are near the end of their lifespan, so we would also like to begin the work of replacing those lost with young trees.  We want this to be a collective effort from members of the immediate and surrounding community of Cooksville.  We see this as an opportunity to
  • come togther for a common purpose, 
  • to learn about the natural history of the Oak Savannahs in the pre and post settlement of the prairie, specifically Wisconsin, 
  • to explore what options are realistically available to us in our efforts to revitalize the stand of oaks that we have, 
  • to develop a plan based on these discoveries, 
  • to work together as a community to implement this plan, 
  • and ultimately to celebrate the first successes of what will no doubt be a long term project.  

Meri Lau and Mary Kohlman, residents of Cooksville, have already begun some of the preliminary work exploring history and resources that may be available.  We would like to meet monthly with whomever is also interested in this dedicated labor of love.  This blog post is a start and as we move forward we will send emails on our progress to interested persons.  Our work will have room for many willing hands, heads and hearts (and probably a few strong backs and arms as well).

If you have questions or have the desire to be in the formative stages of this quest, you can email us at or

Thank you in advance for your support,
Meri Lau, Mary Kohlman and the Oaks.