Tuesday, August 5, 2014

More School Days Stories (Part 2): Tough Discipline in the Schoolhouse by Larry Reed


Vietta Montgomery, Cooksville School teacher 1890


Porter School room, c. 1920
 William Stokes wrote about his school days in Porter Township in the 1850s, including memorable disciplinary measures by the teachers—some very stern—that took place in the school room. Here is Part 2 of Stokes’ story:

“In our school, there were some very unruly boys and girls, especially among those who were approaching manhood and womanhood. Mr. Maine was a great stickler for order. He had various methods of bringing this about…. Roland Cox the third was especially obstinate. I remember very well the means that brought young Roland to time. Flogging would not subdue him. Next to flogging came the bleeding of the nose. Mr. Maine had a method of taking a pen knife and cutting a little vein in the nose. This would make a boy bleed profusely, but this had little effect on Master Roland. The teacher then resorted to the final test of throwing open the large stove door, where there was a glowing fire, taking Roland by the seat of his trousers and his coat collar, threatening to throw him into the big stove. This final test was more than Roland was able to stand. He succumbed and ever after was prompt in obeying the commands of his teacher. I have never seen the bleeding test or fire test used in any school since.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Two Historic Houses for Sale in Cooksville



Two historic houses in the Cooksville Historic District—the Longbourne House and the John Seaver House— are for sale. Both are located on the Public Square in the Village of Cooksville.

The rural community of Cooksville, which is located in northwest Rock County, is often called “a wee bit of New England in Wisconsin” and was established in 1842, enlarged in 1846 by the addition of the Village of Waucoma next to it. The village was designated an official state and federal historic district in 1973 and is a locally designated historic area as well.
Longbourne House

The historic Longbourne House, built about 1854, is a charming two-story Gothic Revival house constructed of Cooksville vermilion brick with decorated bargeboards at the roofline and porch. The residence has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and features a great room as well as parlor, study and dining room.

The house was built for Thomas W. Longbourne, an Englishman, who operated the local flour mill. Longbourne sold the house in 1866 to Charles Woodbury, who operated the Cooksville store, and it was often the residence of local storekeepers. A large contemporary addition to the rear enhances the home’s livability and harmonizes with the historic house. The former small wood-framed addition was moved, re-designed and converted to a two-car garage.

The Longbourne House was bequeathed by the late Hank Bova to the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc. Hank was a director of the Historic Cooksville Trust.


The second house for sale is the historic John Seaver House. This l½ story frame Greek Revival house was built circa1849 by John W. Fisher, a local carpenter. The clapboard exterior and front porch of this historic house have been restored, and a new addition to the south and a new garage were added. Extensive garden plantings extend to the rear of the property. This house is located next to the Longbourne House.

The historic rural Village of Cooksville, also known as “the town that time forgot,” has long been known for its well-preserved and carefully rehabilitated historic buildings, including the Cooksville General Store (the oldest in the state), the schoolhouse (now the Cooksville Community Center), two historic churches, and the 1840s and 1850s historic homes and barns.

For more information about the historic houses for sale, contact Sharon Milliken, First Weber Realtors, at her office (608) 828-5107, or cell (608) 347-8162.

Posted by Larry Reed
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Saturday, June 14, 2014

More School Days Stories: The Stokes Family (Part 1) by Larry Reed




Drawing: typical small one-room schoolhouse
The Cooksville School class with teacher Lillian Erickson, c.1900.

Recently, Laura Stokes of Tucson, Arizona, and Griff Stokes of Spokane, Washington, provided the Cooksville Archives with an interesting story of their ancestors’ settling in the Town of Porter in the 1840s.

Their great-great grandfather, Charles Stokes (1812-1891), who had emigrated from England to eastern America, settled on a farm near the southern edge of the Town of Porter (about 5 miles south of Cooksville) in the Wisconsin Territory in 1841. His farmstead was located along the stagecoach route between Janesville and Madison and was where he married Ann Eliza Kimble and where he claimed to have erected the first frame house in the township. [He may have gotten his sawn lumber from a Janesville mill, or possible from the closer Cooksville sawmill established in 1842.]
The Stokes eventually had thirteen children, two of which died in infancy.  In 1917, one of the sons, William Henry Stokes, born in 1845, wrote a brief autobiography, later revised by family members, which contains recollections of his life in Porter Township, as well as later in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. It was William Stokes’ two great grandchildren who recently donated a copy to the Cooksville Archives.

A portion of William Stokes’ memoir concerns his school days as well as some of the daily chores of the Stokes children in the 1840s and 1850s. His descriptions of his early schoolhouse building and his teachers—and the corporal punishment sometimes meted out— are vivid and undoubtedly accurate.
Stokes writes: “The principal of this narrative [himself, William Stokes] spent his boyhood days in the town of Porter where he lived til the age of nineteen. Was educated in the district schools and my boyhood was usually that which falls to the lot of the average country boy. My parents did not think that children just came into the world to play and frolic but they thoroughly carried out the Puritan idea that children should do their share of the work, which I commenced to do at an early age. I remember at the age of ten, I had to help do the chores and milked seven cows.

“Some of the boys said that I had the easiest job because I would have the milking done and was at the house ready for breakfast before they got through their work but all seemed to be very well satisfied and we got our chores done in time to attend the District School, a mile from home, the first built in our township. [Possibly the White Star School, no longer standing.]

“….This was not a log school house as the early settlers of Rock County, Wisconsin, were highly favored in having hard-wood saw mills. Our little school was built from the lumber sawed by the little mill, five miles away. The school house was built in a rectangle, probably thirty to thirty two feet long, and eighteen to twenty feet wide. It was built in the usual manner with joists and studding, oak siding covered with clap boards, with oak shakes for shingles, and the flooring was of oak. The outside was weather beaten as it had never been painted. The interior: in the center, towards the front of the school house was a huge box stove, something like five feet long, by two feet wide and perhaps two and one- half feet high. There was a door in the front, wide enough to take in four foot wood. Surrounding the stove about four feet from the outer edge was a wooden frame made out of two by four foot studding.

“The inside of this frame was filled with dirt for fire protection. On the top was a large spider or vessel which was usually kept full of water. The seats parallel with the stove were made of slabs with wooden legs. The front seats were made lower than the back ones, being graded to accommodate the children according to their sizes and the length of their legs. There were no backs to these seats, nor were any deemed necessary to support the body. These seats occupied about half or a little more of the school house. Then came a seat crossways of the room for our recitations. Just in front of this was the crack which we all had to toe during our spelling and other recitations. In front of this and to the rear of the room was a raised platform, perhaps one foot or more in height to accommodate the teacher and the writing desks of the advanced pupils. The teacher had no desk but a common chair. At the right, facing the rear at the end of the room was the blackboard where the written work was demonstrated. The A.B.C. class and the highest classes were all accommodated, seated and gave recitations in the same room. This arrangement altho not perfect, had its advantages as it gave the younger classes the opportunity of listening to the recitations of the older classes and by this means, they were often qualified to enter the advanced classes before they had commenced the studies of the higher grades. In my own individual case, I think I learned more and got along faster by listening to the recitations of the older classes than in any other way….. In this way, I learned the multiplication tables and at the age of seven received a present from my mother for knowing them perfectly.

“Our school house was in very close proximity to the country burying ground which was probably two acres in extent. The south line extended along the Janesville & Madison road. According to my earliest recollections there passed four stage coaches each way over this road. These four horse coaches carried the mail from Milwaukee via Janesville to Madison, Wisconsin. The passing of the mail coach was an event which livened up our otherwise usual quiet lives. These coaches ran each way in relays, some would have black horses, some white and some bay. These drivers were experts. The horses usually went on the dead run, only stopping a few moments at the post office to allow passengers to get on and off. The crack of the driver's whip could be heard at some distance and many a boy received a smarting cut when attempting to climb on the back to steal a ride. This also was the main road from Mineral Point. Almost daily, there were large wagons passing by, loaded with lead and drawn by from six to eight ox teams. Their camping place was only a short distance from our school house and after they were gone, we children use to look over the grounds to find anything that might have been left.

“If the teachers who taught school in the days of old could be lined up in a row, I think they would compare very favorably with those of today. However most of the teachers were of the sterner sex. Only occasionally were women allowed to teach. Once in a while in the summer schools, we had lady teachers. I think my first teacher was a Miss Hitchcock. She was an old maid. I remember very well coming home the first day of school and describing the teacher. This description was not at all flattering….  Mortimer Maine was my next teacher, a gentleman of rare ability and a splendid instructor. He had the happy faculty of getting the good will of his pupils. I remember very well how good he was to me, a shy, delicate, very timid little youngster, with a thin face and large deep set eyes. How easily he ingratiated himself into my affections.

“I remember the whistles he used to make for me. When t came to spelling the silent ‘i,’ I was warned by a slight wink of the eye, which I soon caught onto. This might have been called partiality, but I did not study this quality of the human mind at that date. I knew his assistance and the wink of his eye would push me to the head of the spelling class, where the one that missed the words would have to go to the foot and the good speller worked himself toward the head of the class.”
Young Stokes soon had much sterner teachers.

[To be continued: Tough Discipline in the Schoolhouse.]
                        (Thanks to Laura Stokes, Tucson, Arizona, and Griff Stokes, Spokane, 
Washington, for sharing their ancestor’s story of settling in the Town of  Porter.)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Norwegians Arrive in Cooksville by Larry Reed

By the 1870s, Norwegian immigrants began to settle in large numbers in the Cooksville area. Some had arrived in southern Wisconsin about1838, settling in Rock County on the Jefferson, Rock and Koshkonong prairies and elsewhere on the fertile fields of the American frontier, joining other area settlers from the British Isles, Scandinavia, Germany and eastern America who had already arrived. 

Many of these settlers of the newly-opened land in what once was named “Ouisconsin” came as a result of potato famines and revolutionary wars in 19th-century Europe, And, of course, Americans had moved westward from New England and New York to the new frontier in the 1830s and ‘40s in pursuit of a more adventurous and prosperous  future.

For Norwegians at the time, restrictive land ownership, rigid inheritance laws and stifling social structures left little hope of individual improvement or of success in their home country in the 19th century and led to the increased emigration.  Like many other immigrants, Norwegians were determined to find a country where they could build a better future for themselves and their children. America beckoned.

Norwegian immigration to southern Wisconsin greatly increased after 1850 because of favorable reports sent back to friends and relatives in Norway by the earlier settlers. And new railroads in America made travel quicker, easier and cheaper for the long journey from the east coast to mid- America.

By the 1870s, Wisconsin had the most Norwegian settlers of all the states.

 By the 1880s some of the early Yankee settlers had already moved further West in pursuit of new prospects, leaving prime land available to new immigrants, like Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, and these industrious and thrifty new-comers were able to buy village homes ,educate their children, and eventually buy their own farms.

The Norwegian settlers in the Cooksville area quickly put down roots and became leaders in Cooksville and other area communities, especially in nearby Stoughton. The Norwegian Lutheran Church was built in Cooksville in 1897 (the second such structure after the first was destroyed by lightning and fire), with lutefisk and lefse dinners served there for many years. The immigrants’ heritage is still evident in their names that resonate in area communities.

A brief, succinct account of the immigration pattern from Norway to Cooksville and the Town of Porter was written in 1947 by Arvid M. Romstad, Pastor of the Cooksville-Evansville Lutheran Parish at the time. He titled it, “A Short History of Ole Amundson and of How He Came to Leave his Homeland, Norway, and Come to the United States, Particularly to Rock County, Wisconsin.”

As Romstad wrote:
            “The name is fictitious, but the history here briefly detailed is that of a resident of the Town of Porter, who died some years ago. The economic situation in Norway during the days of the 19th century made it very difficult for the average man to succeed and get anywhere. Landowners remained landowners and tenants remained tenants.
            “Ole Amundson lived on a tenant farm—he saw no future in his own country—there was little money—the living was scant—no chance of ever owning any land. Norway had scarcely begun to be industrialized. There was some work in the forests and fisheries, but there was little opportunity for a tenant.
            “Ole decided to come to America having heard of its vast resources and limitless opportunities. This was in 1880 when he was 33 years of age. His father was living and came with him, also his wife, and three children. Mrs. Amundson had a brother in America who sent them a letter one day—it had tickets and some money.
            “Before leaving they sold all their goods at auction. This was near Kristiania, now Oslo, in the community of Ullensaker.
            “The North Sea showered and shook them with a terrific storm so much so that the children toppled out of their bunks and the trunks slid back and forth. It took them three weeks and they were seasick most of the time. They remained in England for a week, which time was occupied with sight-seeing, one of the marvels being a treadmill that was run by cattle walking and walking and yet standing still.
            “In England the ship took on a lot of Irishmen, most of whom remained in New York. Amundson and family went from New York to Chicago to Milwaukee, and to Stoughton by train.
            “The steamship agent met them at the depot in Stoughton, received them most cordially, and took them to his home. An uncle came from Cooksville to get them and they came to what was the Charley Miller farm (now operated by Roy Kloften).
            “Amundson raised tobacco on shares for three years.
            “Then rented a 60 acre farm where he remained for three years…. Before Ole died he had bought and paid for a 120 acre farm and at last had achieved in a large measure the ambitions he had for his future in the land of promise.”

Romstad’s story about “Mr. Amundson” is typical of the first generation of Norwegian immigrants.  But every Norwegian or Danish or Swedish family that settled in or near Cooksville has its own personal story to tell. The Cooksville Archives has a few of these stories, or parts of them—parts of a greater jig-saw puzzle that is the history of the many immigrant settlers in the Cooksville community with names like Anderson, Berg, Brunsell, Erickson, Furseth, Fursett, Haakenson, Hanson ,Hatlen, Hegge, Julseth, Kloften, Larson, Olson, Severson and more.  

The Cooksville Archives always welcomes more written stories—more pieces of the puzzle. Contact: Larry Reed in Cooksville, (608) 873-5066, by mail: 12035 W. State Road, 59, Evansville, WI 53536.

Friday, April 18, 2014

“CHOICE SEED IN THE WILDERNESS”: The Story of Ann Eliza and Joseph K.P. Porter in Cooksville by Larry Reed



The book, “Choice Seed in the Wilderness,” written by Lillian Russell Porter in 1964 is based on the diary of Ann Eliza Bacon, who married Joseph K. P. Porter and moved to Cooksville in 1847 from Massachusetts. Eliza, as she was called, was the “choice seed” in the “wilderness” that became her new home near the Village of Cooksville. And she blossomed in the wilds of her frontier community.

Together, these two Porter women—Eliza (1821-1890) and Lillian (1892- 1976), both of whom married into the Porter family— tell a charming story of the first Porters to move to the “wilderness” of the Wisconsin Territory. Lillian’s grandmother Eliza lived, thrived and enjoyed life in the 19th century alongside the Badfish Creek in the neighboring villages of Cooksville (1842) and Waucoma (1846).

Lillian Porter’s1964  book used Eliza’s 19th-century diary and other historical resources to re-create the trials and tribulations of settling the newly-opened Territory— beginning a new life, establishing a frontier home, and participating in a new social and cultural community, so different in many ways from her Boston home.  

Drawing Inspired by the Cooksville Schoolhouse and Jeff Julseth's Norwegian Heritage