The story of the Village of Cooksville in the 21st century is, in many ways, a history of “self-preservation.”
Many of the historic buildings in this small rural village have been preserved, rehabilitated and restored over the past four decades, undergoing its own “self-preservation,” with the community working to rehabilitate and retain its special historic built-environment— and celebrating and sharing it.
These “before and after” pictures help tell that story.
Cooksville’s story— its history— is its mid-19th century architecture and rural setting, all part of the heritage of its pioneering settlers of 175 years ago when the Cook brothers, John and Daniel, founded the village in 1842.
The restorations and rehabilitations have included the settlers’ first homes, two churches, three barns, a schoolhouse, a general store, a large public square or commons, and a cemetery. They are all are part of the Cooksville Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and 1980. Just outside the village are eight other historic buildings and sites also listed in the National Register.
In addition to the state and federal recognition, the local government— the Town of Porter— established a zoning designation for the Cooksville Historic District to ensure that future building or demolition projects in the village did not harm or destroy the valued and irreplaceable historical heritage of the community.
Since these official actions, the Cooksville underwent a “boom” in the recognition, appreciation and rehabilitation of its heritage of early buildings, Attention was paid, and owners and residents began spending more time and effort restoring and caring for its history. Preservation became a tradition and a principle for many local property owners.
Projects included adding new, appropriately-designed additions to the historic houses, removing inappropriate metal or shingle siding, repairing or restoring windows and shutters, restoring or re-opening closed-up front porches, re-using and rehabbing old village barns, and restoring church bell-towers.
As long ago as 1911, when Ralph Warner arrived in Cooksville, people learned from his early preservation example to appreciate the well-designed, well-constructed, charmingly “quaint” old buildings. Warner created the “House Next Door,” turning the old Duncan House into a show-piece of 19th-century antiquity. His “antiquarian” home-making—his antique-filled old brick house, his old-fashioned flower and vegetable gardens, his sharing of his home with visitors—brought local and national attention to the little village and opened the eyes of others to the possibilities of re-using and retaining the old, sturdy brick and wood-framed buildings from another era.
Fortunately, many other Cooksville citizens also became interested in preserving and rehabilitating its architectural heritage. And, again fortunately, the village had a resident architect named Michael Saternus who also was very interested in preservation—and was also very talented and energetic during the thirty years he lived in the village.
Owners of the old historic buildings turned to Saternus for advice and assistance as Cooksville underwent its 20th century renaissance. The historic preservation programs of the Wisconsin Historical Society also assisted in many of the restoration projects. (For information, contact www.wisconsinhistory.org.) Residents and visitors noticed, appreciated, and realized the possibilities of preservation— that it was economically worthwhile as well as culturally important to save and re-use these older, important, re-usable buildings from the past.
Cooksville was also fortunate to have had a series of local historians in the 20th century who had gathered and preserved many historic documents and photographs from the past 175 years of the village’s existence. These were used to document the old buildings and assist in restoration projects., as well as to tell much more of the story of this early village.
The “before-and-after” photographs of some of the projects illustrate this commitment of residents to preservation over the years. Some projects involved the entire building; some only addressed a portion, like a steeple; and some also involved the outhouses and the landscape.
And the work to preserve and enjoy the Village of Cooksville’s heritage continues, as it celebrates 175 years since it was established in 1842.
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