Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cooksville in the Newspapers: 1926 Article about R. L. Warner

The little historic Village of Cooksville has been making news in magazines and newspapers for the past hundred years or more, probably since 1866 when the area’s first newspaper was printed in nearby Evansville, with gossip-column tidbits about 19th-century Cooksville’s comings-and-goings.

 Earlier stories in the Cooksville News Blog have described some of these journalistic attempts to capture the news and the flavor of life in the 1842 village. Lengthy articles were printed in the 20th and 21st centuries, and all served to illustrate life in the village through the decades.

 An article headlined. “Antique Collector in ‘House Next Door’ Dislikes Modernism,” in the Wisconsin State Journal, dated August 8, 1926, focused on the village’s favorite (and most famous) resident at the time, Ralph Lorenzo Warner. (However the writer Richard Brayton misidentified Ralph as “H. L. Warner.”) This very romantic and sentimental newspaper article begins with a quote from Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911), a New England poet.

 Some excerpts from Brayton’s article:

 “Let me live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man.” For most of us these lines represent a pretty sentiment, pleasant enough to repeat in idealistic hours, but not out of the question for practice in this materialistic age. Yet occasionally we find a man who, weary of the bustle and the petty bickering of modern life, finds courage to retire to the side of the road and live his life in an idealistic a manner as his fancy may dictate.

Ralph Lorenzo Warner, photo c.1920
Such a man is H (sic). L. Warner, better known as :”the man next door,” whose collection of antiques, and quaint old home, as well as his reputation as an authority on antiques, have become known all over the country despite his antipathy for publicity…. Yet he is a genial, cordial man, who enjoys people and guests more than anything in the world, with the exception, perhaps, of antiques.

 In the little village of Cooksville, which is three (sic) miles from Stoughton, where Mr. Warner lives in the red, vine-covered, brick house….(the land) was once part of a land grant to Daniel Webster. Mr. Warner is the most cherished and beloved citizen…. [T]here is always the highest praise “for the man next door”…. Everywhere the villagers are seen lolling in the sun. One old man sits picking a banjo which has only two strings and no back; a buxom young woman is churning butter and laughs at a chubby baby that is trying to get its foot in its mouth….

 “Where does Mr. Warner live?” the young woman repeats, “Why, in the house next door.”… If one could only come to Mr. Warner’s house without asking directions, he would know it was “the house next door,” for there is a quaintness and an atmosphere about it that is not duplicated even in Cooksville….

"House Next Door" photo c.1915
Mr. Warner was working among the flowers in his immense beautiful old fashioned garden….Mr. Warner explained that he did not want publicity because it brought him a flood of visitors, upsetting his plans for a retired life. “It has come to a point, where it is necessary for me to absolutely refuse any visitors, who have not first written me of their intended visit.”…

 Mr. Warner has a dislike for anything modern, and therefore, he has no telephone, or other electrical apparatus of any kind in his house….

 Mr. Warner is one of the country’s leading authorities on antiques, and he has collected them all his life…. The hand woven coverlets on the beds in his upstairs rooms, were delightful to look upon. The rows and rows of pewter pots, kettles and dishes in the dining room, were a treat to the unpracticed eye, and his furniture, of which a Dutch duck-foot table of maple, dating from 1725, was deserving of unlimited appreciation… Mr. Warner, himself, made the rugs scattered freely over the floors of his home….

"House Next Door" interior

Although Mr. Warner depends for his living almost entirely upon the little money he can realize from his dinners, and the few antiques he is willing to part with, he discourages visitors…  “There are too many, who come now,” he said. “I wish those who come to do so because they have been told of my collections by mutual friends and to arrange for their coming by a note addressed to me. Other visitors, I cannot hope to give time to, even when they come from long distances, as is often the case….”

*   *   *

Ralph Lorenzo Warner continued to welcome and entertain friends, neighbors and visitors for a number of years. But a stroke in 1932 ended his quietly busy days of gardening, antiquing, traveling and sharing his “house by the side of the road” for all to see and appreciate— and in the process put the Village of Cooksville on the map as one of the earliest historic preservation projects in Wisconsin, the Midwest and the nation. He died in Florida in 1941 in the care of his sister Eveline.
Eveline, photo by her brother Ralph L. Warner
[More of these printed articles from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries about Cooksville and its residents are filed in the Cooksville Archives. Larry Reed.]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dorothy Kramer Toigo Pottery Donated to Cooksville

Recent donations of Dorothy Hansen Kramer Toigo pottery and other artifacts to the Cooksville Archives and Collections have been made by Pete Toigo, grandson of Dorothy’s last husband, John Toigo (1899-1975).
Donated pottery, on a Dorothy weaving
One of Cooksville’s 20th-century artists, Dorothy Hansen Kramer Toigo (1900 - 1971).was an art teacher and artist. She spent about 45 years in Cooksville, pursuing her various artistic endeavors, while living in the Benjamin Hoxie House. She first married Arthur Kramer, a fellow artist and pottery-maker who died in 1962. In 1970, she married John Toigo, whom she knew in Chicago in the 1930s. They lived briefly in New York City in 1970, returning to Cooksville in 1971, where she died of cancer. She is buried in the Cooksville Cemetery

Dorothy and John's wedding announcement
John Toigo

Dorothy’s artful pottery—vases, bowls and other creative forms— have a distinctive style, based on ceramic pottery from ancient Korea. She also produced small utilitarian pottery pieces, many with her drawings of Cooksville’s historic houses. She also created artistic weavings from her “Cooksville Looms,” as her label reads. She sold, many of these items from the "Cooksville House,” a shop she and Marvin Raney established in the 1950s in the village’s Duncan House Barn, then later in the “Waucoma Lodge,” a name given to the Backenstoe-Howard House, the former residence of Susan Porter.
"Cooksville House" gift card, 1950s
Earlier this year, Pete Toigo, a musician in New York State, also donated several paper items consisting of photographs, note cards and other material related to Dorothy. Included among them was a book entitled A Young Man of That Time by Mildred H. Osgood that describes the life and times of Dorothy’s grandfather, De Witt Clinton Salisbury of Oregon, Wisconsin.

Helen Hansen Naysmith, Dorothy's sister, and Pete Toigo's father Romolo Toigo,
For more information about Dorothy, see the Cooksville News Blog “Cooksville’s Artists: Dorothy Hansen Kramer Toigo,” from October 27, 2015; also information about her sister, Helen, who married John Toigo in 1972, and later Frank Bradley.

*   *   *
[The three photographs above of Dorothy, of John Toigo, and of Helen, Dorothy’s sister, with Romolo Toigo (Pete’s father), were provided by Pete Toigo. Thanks to Pete for helping to tell the Cooksville story of Dorothy and her last husband John Toigo, Pete’s grandfather.

The Cooksville Archives and Collections continue to grow as friends of historic Cooksville continue to donate family-related and history-related objects, photographs, letters, articles and other documents and memorabilia related to the village and the surrounding area. For information contact Larry Reed (608) 873-5066.]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

“Cooksville Has Quaint Old English Houses and a New England Commons,” According to a 1929 Newspaper Article

An article with the above headline, clipped from an unnamed newspaper (probably the Evansville Review), is filed in the Cooksville Archives with a hand-written date of “1929.” The writer, Jessie M. Hill, relates some “quaint” stories about the village—which he found to be a bit of “Old England” as well as a bit of “New England.” (Of course, when Cooksville was founded in 1842, all of America had been legally “English” until 59 years before.)

Here are excerpts from Hill’s story. It begins:

            “A lost aviator whose plane might chance to land in the little village of Cooksville in the northwest part of Rock County would have a hard time determining where he was by looking around the town.  The open square of five acres in the center of the town would remind him of some old New England Hamlet, but the red houses with their many gables and low inviting doorsteps would remind him of old England.
Newell House , photo c.1920s
            “There probably is not another village of its kind in this state, and possibly not in the entire middle west.

            “It is a quaint and unusual town which has not changed much during the last 75 years. William Porter, who is now 79 years old, can not remember the building of a single new house in the village….For many years the town had a post office on a stage coach line and at an early date, the village was larger than Evansville….

            “A history of Rock county says Cooksville was laid out in 1842 by John Cook, who purchased the west half of section 6…. [Porter] platted the ground on his east half of this section…. and laid out the village of Waucoma. Although it is not known commonly by that name today, it is still used in registering land transfers.

            ‘Fight Over Store’

            “An unusual story is told about these two villages. The owner of a store in Cooksville is said to have sold out his business to another man with the understanding that he would not open another store in Cooksville for at least a year. The promise was kept to the last letter of the agreement, but he went across the street and started a store in Waucoma almost at once….
General Store, photo c.2010

              'Houses Are Brick’

            “A half dozen or more of brick houses, all of the same color red bricks and built in an old English style with inviting entrances and lawns filled with large shade trees, attract the visitor’s attention as soon as he arrived in Cooksville. Benjamin S. Hoxie, a man of English descent, is credited with the designing and the building of most of these houses…. more than half of the buildings…. [face] the commons which is now used as a playgrounds for the Cooksville school children, the grounds for the Porter township play day and the annual old settlers’ day…. The rest is a natural Burr oak grove, said to be one of only two in the United States….
Susan Porter's home, "Waucoma Lodge"
            "Much of the material for this story was secured from….Miss S. [Susan, ed.] Porter, who lives in another of the fine old brick houses.

            “One of the important early land marks has been torn down during the last 20 years. This is the wooden tavern, famous among travelers as a gay place with a ball room and a bar.   

Sketch of "Waucoma House," Cooksville's stagecoach inn and tavern
            “Another building which has been taken down is the shop run by John Van Vlock [Vleck, ed.]. He was an inventor and made the first corn planter and farm gates. For a time the post office was in his shop.
Van Vleck Farm Implement Factory, demolished 1928

            ‘Brings Material Fame’

            “R.L. Warren [Warner, ed.], whose house is pictured, had done more to bring recent fame to the village than any one else. Eighteen years ago he purchased one of the largest houses in town, and moved from Chicago [Racine, ed.]. The house is famed for its beautiful old furniture and the garden is said to be one of the best in the state. Stories about the place have appeared in many magazines including “House Beautiful” it is said. During the summer the owner occasionally serves tea or meals to visitors who make appointments in advance.

R.L. Warner's "House Next Door" built 1848


                    "House Next Door" Interior photos c. 1920s

“It is impossible to list all of the families that have lived here, but the list includes such names as Seaver, Savage, Stebbins, Morgan, Dow, Shepard, Porter, Cook, Dr. Smedt, Chambers and Blackman.”

John Seaver House, built c.1849

*   *   *   *   *   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

[This is another in a series of articles published about Cooksville over the years, found in the Cooksville Archives. Larry Reed, editor.].


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.]