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.
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….
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.]