Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cooksville Celebrates 175 years with "Art In the Park", July 22, 2017

Wisconsin Assemblyman Don Vruwink, left,  presented a plaque depicting a proclamation congratulating Cooksville on its 175th anniversary to Cooksville Community Center President Kathleen Hipke and Porter Town Chairman David Viney at the July 22 celebration at the Cooksville Commons. Rep. Verwink's district includes Cooksville. Also signing the proclamation was State Senator Janis Ringhand. 

WHEREAS, Brothers John and Daniel Cook settled along Badfish Creek in 1840 in the community that became Cooksville, which was platted in 1842, six years before Wisconsin became a state; and

WHEREAS, Brothers Dr. John and Dr. Isaac Porter settled a community east of Cooksville that became Waucoma, which was platted in 1846; and

WHEREAS, The two villages became home to pioneers from New England, New York, the British Isles, and later Norway; and

WHEREAS, Development in Cooksville came to a screeching halt in the 1860s when railroads bypassed the village in favor of connections in Evansville and Stoughton, giving the community the moniker “the town that time forgot;” and

WHEREAS, Preservation work by Larry Reed, Michael Saternus, and Ralph Warner have played a critical role in preserving Cooksville’s eclectic charm; and

WHEREAS, In 1973, Cooksville was designated the second historical district in the state of Wisconsin; and

 WHEREAS, Many of Cooksville’s buildings, such as the farmhouse, cheese factory and general store – the oldest general store in the state – are designated on the National Register for Historic Places; and

WHEREAS, on July 22nd, 2017, Cooksville will commemorate its 175th Anniversary with a day-long celebration on the Village Commons; now

THEREFORE, State Representative Don Vruwink and State Senator Janis Ringhand congratulate “this unique, wonderful, quaint village,” Cooksville, on 175 years of community spirit and offer thanks for humbly representing the values of the people of Wisconsin.

_______________________                                      _______________________
Representative Don Vruwink                                      Senator Janis Ringhand
43rd Assembly District                                                 15th Senate District

July 22nd, 2017


The event drew more than 500 people who enjoyed good food, entertainment from four musical groups, a vintage car show, activities for young people and more. 
About 24 artisans offered their pieces for sale during the July 22 event.

Former Cooksville Store proprietors gathered at the store.  Also on hand was Sue Ebbert, current owner.

The Merry Horde from Fort Atkinson
One of many interesting cars in Chris Beebe's collection.

The Oak Street Ramblers

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Sleepy and Picturesque Cooksville Scorns Gasoline Pumps, Highways" : the Title of a 1940 Milwaukee Journal Article

A story about “sleepy and picturesque Cooksville” appeared in The Milwaukee Journal newspaper, State News Section, Sunday, May 26, 1940, called a “Journal Special Correspondence,” but by an unnamed journalist.

The article itself is a rather “picturesque” portrait of the village on the brink of World War II. Here are excerpts from a transcribed, typed copy in the Cooksville Archives......

“Cooksville, Wis. — It is a drowsy Sunday afternoon, warm sun beating down, distant song of birds coming faintly through the still air. By the side of the dusty road leans a tired sign bearing the name ‘Cooksville,’ not bothering to give the population.

“A little further on is a crossroads store, paint peeling from its walls. Two gasoline pumps in front are a grudging concession to modernity. The proprietor dozes in his chair. At a casual glance that would seem to be Cooksville.

“But it is not. Holding itself aloof from gas pumps and stores, the tiny village lies over the crest of a slight hill where dignified old homes wear their mantle of age and quiet in a New England setting. They line three sides of a grass grown square, nearly all made of red brick, nearly identical in their simple style.

“‘Ought to be,’ says a man puttering in a grape arbor with a pair of shears. ‘The brick came from old Chandler’s [Champney’s. ed.] brickyard here in town and they were all built about the same time.’

“And are they old? ‘Ought to be,’ says the man with the shears. ‘Uncle Will Porter died 10 years ago. And he said that as long as he’d lived here there’d never been a house built. He was 81 when he died, so that would make it ninety-odd years, anyway.’ Then, apologetically: ‘Of course, there’s been a little remodelin’ done.’”

Senator Daniel Webster
.....Then the famous Senator Daniel Webster enters the story:

“Daniel Webster once owned this land, continues Alec Richardson, the man with the shears....but the land here he sold to Richardson’s great-great-grandfather’s brother [one “great” too many .ed.], Dr. John Porter.  Dr. John’s children took a look at the land, and went right on past it to California. The land stayed in the family, however, and back in 1846 Richardson’s grandfather, Joseph Porter, settled on it….”

.....The Van Vleck Farm Implement Factory, the first in Wisconsin, demolished in 1928, is mentioned:

 “There was never much activity in Cooksville, outside of the factory that belonged to that genius, Van Vleck, who invented a mechanical corn planter. It was a dandy. You just walked along with a handle in either hand, poked it into the ground and it planted your corn for you. Somebody offered him $50,000, they say, but Van Vleck figured if it was worth all that to them it was worth as much to him. He started a factory, but then along came the horse planter. That was the end of the factory.
Van Vleck Farm Implement Factory, demolished in 1928

No, nothing as dramatic as burning down. It just fell down as time went on. When it had fallen down the grass grew up again and you would never know it had been there.”

.....Ralph Lorenzo Warner, an exceptional Cookvillian, also appears in the story:

Ralph Warner  (1875-1941)
 “Most of the people were just working people. Except Ralph Warner. He was a bachelor and he was different. He came from near Milwaukee and he always puttered around the house—cooking, making hooked rugs, collecting antiques and the like…. [He] met Susie Porter in Racine, where she was teaching school…. ‘Any houses for sale?’ he asked Susie, and she primly said the house next door was….and from then on it was always called ‘The House Next Door.’ He used to go abroad with Harry Johnson, who was born nearby and made his money in the publishing business. They say the two spent as much as $10,000 on a single trip.

“Warner liked to cook and he served meals to prominent persons who came from as far as several hundred miles away to ‘The House Next Door.’ He always got $3 a person, too.

“It was Warner’s personality that brought them, more than the food. He could talk and he could play the piano. Well known singers would come and sing while he played. You could hear them all over town…

Ralph in Florida
“About 10 years ago Warner became paralyzed.

"Now the old man spends his years in Florida. But occasionally a big expensive car rolls down the quiet street and people look in the dusty windows of ‘The House Next Door’ to see if Warner has come home again.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    
[Warner died in Florida the next year, in 1941. The newspaper article and the various historic photos and building images are from the Cooksville Archives. Larry Reed, Ed.]

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Another Writer Looks at Cooksville: In “Wisconsin Tales and Trails,” 1963

In an article titled “Cooksville, The Town That Time Forgot,” in the Autumn 1963 issue of Wisconsin Tales and Trails magazine, Virginia A. Palmer finds the village “unique, lovely, and secure in its quiet charm…”

Palmer, the writer, gathers the bits and pieces of Cooksville’s past—the people, the events, the struggles, the successes, the failures—and  tells the story of the Cook brothers arrival in 1840, the founding of the village of “Cooksville” in 1842. Then in 1846 came the arrival of Porter family members, founding their village called “Waucoma” right next door, with both villages along the Bad Fish Creek (so named by American land surveyors), otherwise known as “Waucoma Creek” (so named by Native Americans). Both villages would soon be located in the Town of Porter, so re-named in 1847 (previously named “Oak”) as Rock County got re-organized by the Territorial government.

Palmer praises the talented pioneers. Their accomplishments transformed the prairie landscape of oak-openings into hewn wood beams and converted the flowing creek waters into powered saws for lumber to build the sturdy Cooksville homes and barns. And the early settlers also shaped the local clay into kiln-fired bricks for beautiful vermilion-colored brick homes, designed by themselves in simplified Greek Revival and Gothic Revival styles of architecture. And, of course, the talented settlers became skilled farmers as they and their children plowed the rich soil and planted the grains, vegetables and fruits that grew so plentifully they could feed them to their animals as well as to their growing families.

Benjamin Hoxie
One of the early settlers’ sons, Benjamin Hoxie (1827-1901), who came with his family from Maine, is described by Palmer:

“Benjamin Hoxie was an amazing man. Although he had little formal education, he was exceptionally well-read. By trade a carpenter and self-taught architect, he designed and built a number of Cooksville’s houses, among them his own, a striking example of American Gothic style. He also designed and built the Congregational Church in Cooksville, as well as numerous homes, schools and churches in Evansville, Albany, Stoughton, and Edgerton. Besides the building, which he did, Benjamin Hoxie established Cooksville’s first cheese factory, patented a bee hive, was a constant propagandist for dairy farming as the key to Wisconsin’s agricultural future, was a notable experimenter in horticulture, and has a considerable interest in spiritualism.”
Cooksville Congregational Church (1879)
Palmer reports that when the railroad companies by-passed many villages in the 1850s, as they did the Village of Cooksville-Waucoma, those villages tended to quickly disappear. But not the two-fisted, strong-willed, two-named little Cooksville-Waucoma, which survived the fatal blow of a railroad-bypassing. (“Cooksville” became the accepted village name when the last local Post Office, discontinued in the early 1900s, was located on the Cooksville side of the dividing line of Main Street between the two communities.)

 Palmer writes about the consequences of towns without railroads, but adds:

“In Cooksville, however, although the blow might have been painful, it was by no means immediately fatal…. Cooksville’s population remained about the same. People were absorbed in the literary society, church activities, the Unity Society, the temperance organization, singing schools and elocution contests, and regular meetings of the Grange. In short, railroad or no railroad, Cooksville was too busy living to die.”

But the village did not thrive.

“By the late 1880’s, however, Cooksville was definitely on the wane. Many of the old Yankee settlers were dead. And their sons and daughters had left to follow the frontier to new land in the West. It was about this time that the first Norwegian Lutheran Church was established in 1892, and its lutefisk suppers became an attraction for the whole countryside. The industrious Norwegian element proved to be a bright strand in the closely knit village.”

The first Norwegian Lutheran Church, 1892-1896

Like most writers about Cooksville, Palmer introduces the famous Ralph Lorenzo Warner into her story:

“When Ralph Warner settled in Cooksville [in 1911] it was all but a ghost town… However, Ralph Warner had a certain instinct for old things… he began collecting furnishings of the correct period to go with his house [Duncan House, 1848]. His taste… made him one of the earliest and best antique collectors in a day when you could visit any farm house and buy a wagon load of ‘that old junk’ for three dollars….
"House Next Door" parlor
"Warner was, also, an extremely successful gardener… It didn’t take long for word of his artistic restoration to spread, and many who heard of it wanted to see The House Next Door for themselves…  For over twenty years, until Ralph Warner suffered a stroke in the early 1930’s, Cooksville was a mecca for people who enjoyed beautiful things.
Ralph's dining room

"The influence Ralph Warner had on Cooksville was, and still is, far reaching. This forgotten hamlet remains unspoiled, largely because of the precedent he established. Even today, Cooksville lives on, unique, lovely, and secure in its quiet charm—the town that time forgot.”

Fifty-four years later, Virginia Palmer’s tale of Cooksville, with five photos and a map to guide her Wisconsin Tales and Trails readers, still serves those who seek a trail (or Hwy 59 or 138) to a special part of Wisconsin’s early history.
Map of Cooksville, 1955, by Dorothy Kramer
The Cooksville Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the State Register of Historic Places, and is a designated Town of Porter Historic District in Rock County.

Booklets for a self-guided tour of the historic village—“Historic Cooksville: A Guide”—are available at the historic Cooksville Country Store, the oldest operating General Store in Wisconsin.
[The Cooksville Archives, maintained by the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., welcomes additions and donations.  Larry Reed (608) 873-5066.]

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Journalists Tell Cooksville’s Story: Here’s an Article from 1929

Journalists have been writing stories about the historic Village of Cooksville and its people for many decades—actually, during the past 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. In newspapers and magazines, in feature articles and gossip columns (and occasionally in books), writers have been drawn to the charming little “Town that Time Forgot” and to the “Wee Bit of New England in Wisconsin.” 

Or in the case of a 1929 story in The Milwaukee Journal, “The Town Daniel Webster Once Owned,” with the subtitle “Philosophizing Blacksmith Is the Only Citizen of Cooksville, Wis., Without Artistic Inclinations and Even His Practicality Weakens at Times.”

This year, 2017, Cooksville celebrates 175 years since its birth in 1842, years filled with typical events of  settlement and growth---and then, in Cooksville's case, decline and then re-discovery, recognition and re-birth. The journalists’ views over the years provide snapshots at various times in the village’s history, including the fact that the famous Senator Daniel Webster first owned much of Cooksville in 1837, buying the promising new land from the U.S. government when it went on sale for the first time in history.
The following are excerpts from that lengthy Milwaukee Journal feature article of September 22, 1929, in which the writer, who had no byline, was interviewing Jack Robertson (1858-1930), the village blacksmith and popular fiddle-player. Four large photographs accompanied the full-page article. Excerpts follow:

* * * * *
Everybody on Webster St. is either literary or artistic except Jack Robertson. And he is a fiddling blacksmith…. Cooksville is not the unimaginative collection of stores, tumbled down houses and brand new bungalows…. Instead it is picture in red brick, the quaintest village in Wisconsin…. Its houses, including Jack Robertson’s blacksmith shop, all front a village green.… so that, after the mellowing of three-quarters of a century, they seem to rise as naturally from the earth as the giant elms and maples and oaks near their front doors. The bricks were burned in a kiln nearby…..

Everybody has a flower garden, except Jack Robertson. Beside the converted stable that forms his shop and living quarters, is a field of tobacco.

Jack Robertson's Blacksmith Shop
The gardens of the literary folks are things of beauty. Narrow walks divide beds of flowers that seem to be looking at you instead of you looking at them. Hollyhocks and giant phlox and cosmos stare you straight in the eye like a western sheriff.

The writers are in their houses tapping away on typewriters. The poet [Arthur Kramer. ed.]  is in front of an upper window where the white curtain blows in and out. The artistic lady [Dorothy Kramer, ed.] is weaving a rug.

Dorothy Kramer (1900-1962), weaver and potter
Jack Robertson sits in a swing in front of his blacksmith shop, one arm around a rope.

Ask him if he has lived in Cooksville all his life. “Not yet, he replies.”

“My father,” he continues, “was a Scotsman who farmed it out east of here and later bought out the village store.”….. You glance upward to a weather vane balanced by a fan. “Now you are looking at some of my work,” says the blacksmith. “I cut those figures out of sheet steel….They’re just figures. That one on top of the shop, though, is a man sitting on a fish’s back.”

It is just a man riding a fish. It was made in his spare time and no doubt because the blacksmith wanted to show his literary and artistic neighbors that he too could create something useless originating in an esthetic urge. When your neighbors are writing poetry, you don’t want to devote all of your time to wagon tongues and plow blades.

“I used to own the house next door,” the blacksmith continues, pointing to the red brick home of the poet. He lowers his voice. “I don’t know what he is writing,” he whispers, “but whenever I hear him tapping away, I know he is figuring out something.”

“Everybody’s stuck on Cooksville,” he continues. “They like to ride out in their automobiles and so they come here to look over Ralph Warner’s place and Cooksville. They all go crazy over the park; they call it a ‘village green,’ or a ‘common.’” The blacksmith snickers. “It’s full of weeds.”
Susan Porter  (1859-1939)
Next to the poet lives Miss Susan Porter, the historian, the old settlers’ club, the voice of oldtime Cooksville…..familiar with every bit of history and tradition connected with the little town ….[and] the great Daniel Webster….
Senator Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
Miss Porter tells you that Mr. Webster sold the site of Cooksville to his family physician, Dr. John Porter, [who] in turn, resold to his brother, Dr. Isaac Porter, who deserves to have his name placed high in the list of Wisconsin pioneers, in spite of the fact that he only lived in the state three days. For when a case of smallpox made its appearance on the Great Lakes steamer bound for Milwaukee, Dr. Porter cared for the patient…. he hardly reached what today is Cooksville before he fell sick with the disease. In three days he was dead. This was in 1854. His sons were Cooksville pioneers….

In an early plat the town was not called “Cooksville,” but “Waucoma,” taking its name from the little river on which it is situated. In those early days the town fully expected that “the railroad was to go through,” an anticipation that never became a reality. And Waucoma, later become Cooksville, for years thereafter led a dull existence like some pretty country girl whose city lover hurried off after the first kiss….until the automobile came to summon Cooksville….to a giddy middle age.

Ralph Warner, at the door of his "House Next Door"
Without it you would never have Ralph Warner’s tea room.... Some 18 years ago, Mr. Warner, an artist and a collector, while a guest at Miss Porter’s home, became fascinated with the house next to her home….. and ever since it has been known as “The House Next Door”….. he gave up teaching art to devote all of his time to entertaining the automobilists who come to The House Next Door. 
Occasionally, Mr. Warner, moved by the spirit of the past that possesses Cooksville, dons a long coat and beaver hat to greet his guests…. land’s sakes, look at the automobiles today——two big shining cars in front of Mr. Warner’s right now——ladies in flowered chiffon walking in the garden, others chatting in the parlor, tea brewing——.

Jack Robertson, blacksmith and fiddler (1858-1930)
And the blacksmith swinging away. “Say,” he calls, “I forgot to tell you. Alec Richardson down the street here——he don’t write——he sells bonds in Madison.”

*** End of the 1929 Article ***

[Sadly, the following year, Jack Robertson committed suicide by shotgun. From the Cooksville Archives. Larry Reed, ed.]

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Celebrating Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th Birthday:

His Chapel Design for Cooksville 

Wisconsin is celebrating the birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, born 150 years ago in 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin, He was and is America’s most famous architect —perhaps the world’s, as well. Wright designed about 150 structures for Wisconsin alone, with about 43 being built. He died in 1959 in Arizona.
And Frank Lloyd Wright has a connection to Cooksville.   

One of his designs was for a chapel to be built near the little historic village in Rock County. Wright named the chapel a “Memorial to the Soil.” Designed in late 1934, it was to be a small Prairie School style family chapel that he also referred to as a “Chapel Cast in Concrete” and was inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” 

However, the Cooksville chapel project was never built. 

The chapel had been commissioned by the Gideon Newman family of Cooksville, but which family member(s) actually dealt with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s is not known. The Newman family was one of the early settlers in the village, where they farmed nearby land. The younger Gideon Newman may have known Frank Lloyd Wright at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where both were in attendance in 1886. And, of course, by 1934 Wright was a well-known architect, with his studio at Taliesin near Spring Green, Wisconsin.   

The Cooksville chapel was to be built just north of the Badfish Creek on the Newman family farm.  

Existing evidence of the “Memorial to the Soil” project consists of sketches, drawings and prospective elevations, as well as newspaper articles. They reveal a beautiful Wrightian “organic” Prairie School style building horizontally hugging the soil. A welcoming Art Deco stylized sculpture stands near the entry and a small garden and pool is visible through the windows behind the choir’s benches. The drawings are presently housed in the Avery Library of Columbia University. 

A Milwaukee Journal newspaper column dated December 9, 1934, and collected in “At Taliesin,” by Randolph C. Henning, a compilation of newspaper articles, described the creation of Wright’s design: “To memorialize the Wisconsin pioneers, a chapel of reinforced concrete and glass (broad and sturdy) for the early family of the Newmanns (sic) at Cooksville came to the drawing board from the master’s hand last week, soon to be turned over to eager apprentices for working drawings. Whitman’s ‘Pioneers! O Pioneers!’ has found third-dimensional form in architecture here.” 

The Cooksville chapel plan was pictured on the cover of the catalogue for a Milwaukee Art Museum exhibit of Wright’s work in 1992. A Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper article about the exhibit called the chapel project “extraordinary” and “an elegantly rendered plan.”  

Wright wrote the following inscription on his finished plan and view: “Memorial to the tiller of the ground making the earth a feature of the monument or vice versa. FLW.”
               “Memorial to the Soil Chapel” Prospective and Plan

 A copy of Wright’s plan for his “Memorial to the Soil” chapel was provided by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation at Taliesin West to the Historic Cooksville Trust (HCT) in 2012 for educational use. Copies of other sketches (“study images”) of the project have been sent to the HCT in 2016 from the present Frank Lloyd Wright Archives in the Avery Library of Columbia University.
                          Drawing of the “Memorial to the Soil”

 Postscript: Frank Lloyd Wright’s uncle, Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones, preached at the 1879 dedication of the Cooksville Congregational Church, which is now part of the Cooksville Historic District. 

*   *   *   *

[Thanks to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin West, for the use of the image of the “Prospective and Plan, Chapel in Cast Concrete (“Memorial to the Soil”), Cooksville, 1934, Copyright 1985 The Frank Lloyd Wright Archives.”Also, thanks to the Avery Library Archives of Columbia University for sharing other working drawings of the chapel project, copies of which are in the Cooksville Archives.  Larry Reed]


Monday, May 22, 2017

Cooksville's Stagecoach Inn (1850-1910):
"Waucoma House" to "Hidden Prairie House"

The story of the Village of Cooksville’s stagecoach inn (and its demise) and the role it played in village life is a part of the long history of Cooksville, founded 175 years ago this year.

Cooksville's stagecoach inn and tavern called "Waucoma House," built about 1850, served as one of several stage stops on the route from Janesville to Madison. The undoubtedly impressive tavern-inn, about midway between the two bigger villages, once stood on the northeast corner of Main and Rock streets (now highways 59 and 138) and was a special hub of Cooksville activity.

Unfortunately, it no longer exists. Nor do any photographs or paintings except for a very simple pencil sketch done from someone’s memory in the mid-20th century. The “Tavern,” as it was usually referred to in the 19th century, was a 2 ½ story, clapboard-sided, frame building. No doubt it exhibited the period’s popular Greek Revival-style of architecture with symmetrical bays or window arrangements, returned eaves, and a columned and roofed front porch. Most likely Waucoma House resembled the other stagecoach inns and taverns of the era such as those in nearby Union, Delavan and Delafield.
Hawks Inn, Delafield
An 1858 map of Cooksville (and its joint village Waucoma) indicates that Waucoma House with its barn faced south on the corner property. Several newspaper clippings and anecdotal stories confirm its existence and the important economic and social role it played in the village.

Records reveal that on July 17, 1850, Nehemiah Parker bought the land (lots 1 and 2, block 2, Plat of Waucoma) for the tavern-inn for $60 from John Porter, the Village of Waucoma’s founder. Shortly thereafter the stagecoach inn was built, and the 1850 census listed J. M. Aldrich as “hotelkeeper” in Cooksville. In addition to Aldrich, Horace Love (1860) and David Johnson (1870) are also listed as innkeepers.

Union Tavern stagecoach inn
A printed handbill promoted the daily services of the Eagle Lines, one of the competing stagecoach companies of that time. Its route ran from Beloit to Cooksville and then eventually further northwest to Roxbury and Helena on the Wisconsin River, passing through a few other villages, like Madison.  The handbill assured the public that, “Passengers wishing to travel from Beloit to Sauk City will find this line not only the most expeditious but cheapest.”  It also stated that “those parties at Helena who desire accommodations for river travel west to Prairie du Chien or Cassville” could do so.  The Cooksville agent for the Eagle Lines was listed as “H. Stebbins, Agent, Cooksville.”      

The area’s early stagecoach companies traveled northwest from Janesville to Madison on the old “Territorial Road” (parts of which are now U.S. Highway 14 and Dane County Highway MM). Stops for mail and passengers were made at Leyden, Fellows Station, Ball Tavern, Union, Cooksville, and then in Dane County at Rutland, Rome Corners, Nine Springs and Madison.

When the route included Cooksville, the stagecoach unloaded and re-loaded in the village and then headed northward to the present Old Stage Road, where it galloped northwesterly to the Rutland stage stop and back onto the Territorial Road to Madison. (Wisconsin was a large Territory from 1836 to 1848, when it became a state with its present smaller boundaries.)

For several decades Waucoma House served as the area’s transportation center for delivery of mail, travelers, and goods, and as a restaurant-tavern and guest hotel and village social center. Besides the daily excitement of the arrival of mail and travelers and the latest news, the inn was the scene for village parties and special occasions, as well as serving as a guesthouse and restaurant.

However, by the1860s, stagecoaches ceased regular trips to Cooksville as well as to other places. Horses were rapidly replaced by the new technology of “iron horses”; the railroad’s steam engines had arrived.

Unfortunately, the Village of Cooksville (or, as it was often called on some maps, Waucoma) did not succeed in luring a railroad company to lay its tracks to the combined villages. But it tried. A local attempt at enticement was made by building a stone railroad bridge over the nearby Caledonia Springs for a proposed railroad route in 1857, but that effort failed. Apparently, the lure of what was probably a free bridge (and probably some local financial investments) was not a lucrative enough offer. Without a railroad, without that new mode of transportation, the need for an inn or a hotel (or for any large commercial building) disappeared.

From then on, Waucoma House struggled to serve its loyal local villagers and farmers. Mail did continue to arrive in Cooksville by horseback from Evansville, which had a rail line, and later by a small mail coach that could transport a few passengers as well on its daily or weekly mail delivery gallops to the village and then onward to Fulton and points east.

On November 20, 1867, the inn’s barn burned down. The blowing wind endangered Henry Duncan’s nearby barn as well as the houses of Hoxie and Wells to the east, as fire-brands flew through the air. But the small fires that erupted were doused by “an active force of women and boys,” it was reported. William Johnson, owner of the hotel’s barn, suffered a $500 loss, partially covered by insurance.

Waucoma House, the tavern, continued to carry on as a business venture.  In 1870, David Johnson, the owner of the hotel, was granted a license to sell “strong spirituous ardent or intoxicating liquors” for one year after depositing money with the Town treasurer. (The usual fermented drink was probably home-brewed cider or beer.)

A recent drawing of Waucoma House
At one point, Waucoma House served as a dancing school where classes were held every two weeks, taught by a Mr. Brown from Oregon. (Cooksville had many social parties, with games, sometimes with costumes and contests, and with music, so knowing how to trip the light fantastic was an important skill for many reasons.)

In 1881, a harness maker moved to Cooksville and opened a shop in the ex-hotel building. Business was good at first, and he “means to secure plenty of work,” stated a local newspaper. The next year, the Evansville Review newspaper reported in a letter from Cooksville that “the old tavern is sold, a stranger takes possession,” and in 1883, the newspaper reported, “The old hotel is empty again. The family that was in it, having moved to Jug Prairie last week.”

By 1885, the building had changed hands yet again. The Cooksville correspondent for the Evansville Review reported that a “family from England are going to occupy it. We hope sometime in the near future a new residence will be erected on the old site.” The building must have been deteriorating by then. In 1889, the newspaper reported that E. T. Stoneburner “bought the old tavern stand and is repairing it and improving the looks of the premises greatly. It has been in a dilapidated condition for a long time….” Stoneburner made it “his new home” with “a new fence and garden.” In 1894 he rented his house to a Miss Stetzer for a dressmaker’s shop.

Unfortunately, the old Waucoma House did not find a sustainable use and was demolished about 1910.

Sometime after the “Tavern” was torn down in the early 20th century, the paving stones laid to provide a “crossing to the old street near the Tavern” were removed by Ralph Warner, who used some of the smoothly-worn stones to construct his small parlor-garden pool at his famous “House Next Door,” the historic Duncan House just east of the demolished Waucoma House.

Although the old stagecoach inn was gone, another building soon took its place on that prominent corner of Cookeville, and its story is part of the history of the village, too.

In April 1913, the Evansville newspaper’s Cooksville correspondent reported that, “Jerry Armstrong has built a fine hen house on the site of the Old Tavern.” This new and smaller commercial building was first used by Oscar Egner as a meat market, then as a tavern, and eventually as a grocery store. In 1923, Franz Holm bought the land, but the records are quiet about its use in the 1920s and’30s.

The next time the new corner “hen house” comes up in records it had been lived in by Paul Savage (1875-1951) from 1940 to 1947. Savage had bought the house-tavern and in about 1947 it was moved to a site north of the Cooksville Cheese Factory (built 1875) on the western edge of Cooksville. The new site was the 10-acre “Morningstar Gardens” created in 1944 by Emil Priebe, Jr. of Milwaukee, where Savage was working as gardener and caretaker. Savage, a long-time resident and handyman in Cooksville, was given a life-lease on the acre with the house-tavern. The Gardens served as a retreat for Priebe from the big city.

In 1950, the ten-acre Morningstar Gardens property including the house-tavern was purchased from Priebe by C. S. (“Star”) Atwood and his wife Cora, who owned the Waucoma Lodge residence on the village’s Public Square. Savage continued to live in the newly-reroofed house-tavern residence until his death in January of 1951, when he succumbed to a heart attack in his outhouse.

In May of 1951, the ten acres were sold by the Atwoods to Chester Holway, a Cooksville resident, journalist and gardener, who with his partner E. Marvin Raney lived in the Duncan House. They re-named the garden property “Emfield” and used the old house-tavern mostly for storage, with their extensive flower gardens and fruit trees surrounding it.

In 1963, Holway sold the property to Karl Wolter, and the old house began its new and revitalized life. Dr. Wolter continued and expanded the tradition of planting the fertile soil with gardens—various specimens of trees, flowers and a large impressive prairie. He also remodeled and expanded the old house-tavern that historically was one-step-removed from being an edificial descendent of Cooksville’s mid-19th century stagecoach inn, the Waucoma House.

Eventually, Karl’s and Patrick Comfert’s horses roamed their “Hidden Prairie” farmland, but their horses were never called upon to pull a stagecoach into or out of Cooksville’s “Waucoma House.” stage stop.
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[Note: The original site of the Waucoma House inn and tavern remained vacant in Cooksville until 1976 when June and Carrol Wall, who had been living in the historic Isaac Hoxie House just to the north, built a new residence on the site. In 1980, the Cooksville Historic District was enlarged to include that property along with historic properties in that part of the old Village of Cooksville. Larry Reed]