Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cooksville "Jots" - Life in the Village, by Larry Reed


Newspapers often published  weekly “gossipy” columns of so-called “jots,”  which were brief, newsy tid-bits about weddings, births, illnesses, funerals, visiting relatives, various parties, and a few tragedies. These columns were very popular in the late 19th century and on into the 20th.

The Cooksville jots are just that— bits and pieces of every-day village life , consisting of family events, homey aphorisms, brief glimpses of the lives and times of Cooksvillians written by local correspondents for local newspapers.

The Cooksville Archives has a number of newspaper clippings, sometimes pasted into scrapbooks or old ledgers, which contain these published writings by early “Cooksville columnists.”  For almost a hundred years, these local happenings— neighbors’ comings-and-goings, accidents to man or animal, and almost anything else newsworthy— got printed in the local newspapers, if the village’s columnist was made aware of them.

Here are a few of these Cooksville “jots” from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mostly undated and sometimes written by unidentified correspondents:

 “It is reported that a new charm will soon grace Brother Isaac’s smile. Take care of your hearts, girls,—for he evidently means business.” [1874]

“John Vanfleck [Van Vleck? Ed.] lost his best cow last Saturday. Too much clover the cause.” (1893)

“The new meat market is in full bloom… a fine steak was given free to all who came in the first day.”

“A Hop and Eat. The Masons of Cooksville, having completed their new Hall, purpose to have a Ball, St. John’s day, Dec. 27. The Evansville Band do the music, and E.T. Stonburner prepares the cuisane [sic] department. We can dance some to the music of the latter, when properly “mixed” with bivalves, the former has too many short crooks, for our “pedalihoes [sic].”  [1867. You had to be there, I guess, eating an oyster dinner, perhaps? Ed.]

“A man was considered conceited if he went about with his hat brim turned up in front.”

 “Put the wrong foot out of bed first when you get up in the morning and you will be cross all day.  Always get up with the right foot foremost.”

“A pleasant dinner party was held at J.A. Savage’s last Saturday. Among the items of talk, one was the discovery of counterfeit money in an old stump in Dow’s woods…”

“A good many cisterns are dry and people are getting ice from the pond to wash with. Some fall in and find two feet of mud under the ice.”

 “To cut the finger nails on Sunday morning is a sign that you will do something you are ashamed of before the week is out.”

“The funeral of Mrs. Towne was largely attended, Wednesday. The Coroner’s inquest decided that her death was accidental or caused by temporary insanity. Investigation showed that poverty was not the cause of the rash act, as was at first supposed.” [1879. She had jumped in the mill pond. Ed.]

Ralph Warner, “House Next Door” (photo c. 1918)
“Mr. [Ralph Lorenzo] Warner is settled in his new home, which he purchased because the old-fashioned fireplace appealed to his love of old things...  He loves everything that is old and is pleased to show his curios to interested friends.” (1912)

“If the bottom of your foot itches, you may know that you are to step on strange lands.”

“SIDELIGHTS ON THE FIDDLERS’ CONTEST. Jack Robertson, Cooksville, was the heavy prize winner. He ought to go into vaudeville; he can do more things with a violin than a Ford owner can do with a screw-driver…. That boy can play a fiddle in bed with a quilt over him better than most of them.”
Jack Robertson (1858-1930)

“Jack won five of the prizes [at a Fort Atkinson fiddlers’ contest], a beautiful card table, a fine clock, a pair of woolen blankets, a nice flour bin and a two-dollar piece of bacon.”

“Don’t make a friend a gift of a knife, for according to every authority versed in sign lore, if you do it will cut your friendship.”

“Blow out the candle and if the wick continues long to smolder, look for bad weather. If it goes out quickly the weather will be fair.”

Electa Savage (1845-1927)
“A great white cat, 16 years old, that hunts rabbits and other wild animals and birds, is the pet of Mrs. Electa Savage, residing at Cooksville… Last week the big cat brought in eight rabbits, a meadow mole, and several sparrows. She will tackle a ground-hog without hesitation, and more than one dog has met with disaster while encroaching on her territory.”

 “Four young men of Evansville pass’d through Cooksville Wednesday evening to attend the masquerade ball at Stoughton.” [1897]

“Something new... for this community, at least:  the frog farm that has been opened on the Lawrence farm near Cooksville…. A tank, 16x42 feet, and 6 feet deep, with a capacity for 40,000 dozen of frogs, has been made.” [1916]

“A meeting in the [Congregational] church basement last Friday was held to find out if it would be well to have the electric lights here from the Stebbinsville power. It was decided that the following would have their homes lighted: Joe Porter, Fred Miller, Ole Fursett, Lars Erickson, Bert and Chester Miller, and the church.” [1917]

“Four animals went to a circus—a duck, a pig, a frog and a skunk. All of them got in except one. The duck has a bill, the pig had four quarters and the frog had a greenback, but the skunk had only a ‘cent’.” [1926]

“The new basement of the Cooksville Lutheran Church… will be dedicated Sunday... The steeple, which was blown down in a severe storm in 1929, was rebuilt and a new bell installed.” [1930]

Cooksville Lutheran Church (photo c.1950)
“Cooksville Church Plans Annual Lutefisk Supper…. Sixteen hundred pounds of lutefisk has been ordered and 200 pounds of meat to make Norwegian meatballs. Several hundred pies, 1,400 lefse, rolls, cabbage salad, cranberries, and plenty of coffee are included in the menu…” [1956]

 “When a Jotter’s far too weary
For writing up what ‘might have been,’
How this jotter’s heart grows cherry [sic; cheery? Ed. ]
If some jots are handed in.”  [1874]
*   *   *

[From the Cooksville Archives, courtesy of the many “weary Jotters” these “jots” were found in donated scrapbooks and in the local newspaper clippings donated to the Archives by Ruth Ann Montgomery, Evansville WI.  Larry Reed]

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Monday, January 5, 2015

The new Cooksville Guide Books are here!

 Come take a self-guided tour of the village, either from your armchair or on foot. The Guide contains beautiful full-color pictures of the historic homes and landmarks of the village, and is full of interesting facts about the area and the people who made it unique. Makes a great gift. On sale now at the Cooksville Country Store for $10.  Proceeds benefit the Cooksville Community Center.

Photo: The new Cooksville Guide Books are here!  Come take a self-guided tour of the village, either from your armchair or on foot. The Guide contains beautiful full-color pictures of the historic homes and landmarks of the village, and is full of interesting facts about the area and the people who made it unique. Makes a great gift.  On sale now at the Cooksville Country Store.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Cooks Settle Cooksville 175 Years Ago, PART TWO, by Larry Reed



The year 2015 marks the 175th anniversary of the Cooks settling in northwestern Rock County, and 2017 will commemorate the 175th anniversary of the official platting of their Village of Cooksville.

The Cook House (1842) today
The Cooks arrived in the Wisconsin Territory on June 25, 1840. The federal census taker that year counted noses at John Cook’s new little  log cabin, revealing the following living there: himself, a bachelor; his younger brother Daniel Cook; Daniel’s wife Elizabeth, and their young daughter Rhoda aged two. (Sometime after 1840 John Cook married his wife Nancy.)

Soon, in 1842, John Cook officially platted his village of Cooksville near the Bad Fish Creek. (The words eventually flowed together into “Badfish”; the creek was also known as “Waucoma” at the time.) Cook must have believed that the growing westward movement in America justified establishing an official settlement with building lots for sale, probably hoping to profit from the increased migration  from New England, New York and the British Isles to the newly opened land.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Cooks Settle Cooksville 175 Years Ago: 1840-2015, PART ONE, by Larry Reed



The Cook House, built 1842, photo c.1930

In 2015 the Village of Cooksville celebrates its175th anniversary of settlement by the Cook brothers, John and Daniel Cook.

The history of the Village begins on May 9, 1840, when John Cook, living in Ohio, purchased his Wisconsin land from the U.S. government that would become the Cooks’ village, and on June 25, 1840, John Cook, his brother Daniel, and friends arrived in their new land alongside the Bad Fish Creek.

And the year 2017 will mark the 175th anniversary of the Cooks officially platting their Village of Cooksville on the new American frontier.

Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts
John Cook purchased his Wisconsin Territory land—officially described as the NW ¼ SW ¼ of Section 6, town 4, range 11 north in Rock County— directly from the U.S. government.  Shortly thereafter, on June 22, 1840, he invested in two more parcels of land: the SW ¼ SW ¼ Section 6 and the E ½ SW ¼ Section 6. Undoubtedly Cook knew that the land directly to the east of his new property had been purchased in 1837 from the U.S. government by the famous U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster, who soon would sell it to his friend, Dr. John Porter of Massachusetts. Maybe Cook thought living next to Senator Webster’s land was a good investment.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Early Daguerreotypes, Tintypes and Ambrotypes in the Cooksville Archives, by Larry Reed.

 The Cooksville Archives contains examples of the first photographic techniques of the mid-19th century—daguerreotypes and tintypes. Most are formal portraits of early settlers and their family members from the 1850s and 1860s; some are of friends; some are of Civil War soldiers from Wisconsin.


Daguerreotypes (images captured on light-sensitive chemicals applied to silvered copper plates), tintypes (on iron plates) and ambrotypes (on glass plates) were an exciting new invention and became popular in the mid-1800s, followed in the later 19th century by photographic images exposed on chemically-treated paper cards. The latter were more portable, less expensive and very popular.

The earliest and most practical method of chemically capturing images was invented by the Frenchman, J. M. Daguerre about 1839 using copper plates coated with silver and treated with iodine vapor, then exposed, then treated with mercury vapors and finally with sulfuric acid, and washed clean in distilled water. This lengthy “daguerreotype” process permanently fixed the “light pictures” or photographs on the metal plates, which were then varnished or lacquered to protect the surface.

In the 1850s glass plates (ambrotypes) were used, but much more popular was the use of less bulky and less fragile plates of a cheap metal (“tintypes” of iron, never tin). Tintypes, invented about 1856, were very popular in America— inexpensive “black mirrors of the self.” Professional portrait photographers quickly set up their popular businesses in every city

Eventually coated paper cards and, in the late-19th century, negative celluloid film of Eastman and Kodak replaced the more expensive, complicated wet-processed daguerreotypes and tintypes.

William Porter, c.1860

Unidentified boys (possibly Porters)

Three unidentified ladies posing

Capt. Chas. Taylor, Company H, 1st Wis. Heavy Artillery Regiment
The various early Cooksville photographs include portraits of members of the Porter family and a few other identified persons. But most are of unidentified men, women, children and a few babies, with many Civil War portraits, both tintypes and card-based, of military men identified as part of the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery Regiment.

These early “tintype” or ferrotype photographs in the collection vary in size from small one-square inch to 2x4 inches and about 3x5 inches. Some of the photos have hand-applied color: touched-up pink cheeks and flesh-tones and a few gold-colored ear-rings.

The Cooksville Archives also contain a large number of glass-plate negatives from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The use of chemically-treated glass plates to capture negative images was another popular photographic technique, one considered especially effective and artistic.

Ralph L. Warner of Cooksville was responsible for a number of early photographs in the village, either taken by him or others, in the early 1900s. Some are artistic images captured on glass negatives and some are on celluloid negatives documenting his “House Next Door,” his antique collections, his gardens, and scenes of village life including friends and neighbors.

A Madison-based photographer, Eric Baillies, employs these old “tintype” processes to painstakingly create and capture images just as early photographers did 165 years ago. Eric came to Cooksville recently with his camera, chemicals and “developing tent” to make tintype portraits of a resident using the old technique.

The Cooksville Archives has a large collection of photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries donated for safe-keeping and for research, documenting the historic village and its people. More are always welcome. Contact Larry Reed to visit the Archives or to donate photographs —old or new, because the present soon becomes past history.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The "Pearl Craze": Pearling in the Badfish Creek, by Larry Reed



In the late 19th century, everybody was wading in the local creeks and rivers in southern Wisconsin searching for pearls, even in the little Badfish Creek flowing past Cooksville.

The “Pearl Craze” had begun in August of 1889, when a pearl was discovered in a clam in the Sugar River, which flows through Brodhead, Wisconsin, and the result was a “pearl rush,” not unlike a gold rush. The headline in the local Brodhead weekly of August 8, 1889, declared in large type-face: “PEARLS” EVERYBODY HUNTING THEM! One is Found That is Worth $100 BETTER THAN A GOLD MINE!

Searching shallow waters, scrapping through the muck of the area’s rivers and creeks was widespread as people dug up and eagerly cracked open what had once been useless clams. All were hoping to strike it rich by discovering a perfectly spherical or drop-shaped globe of shell material surrounding an irritant inside the mollusk.

The “pearl craze” spread throughout southern and western Wisconsin, from Cooksville’s little Badfish Creek to the mighty Mississippi River. The size and quality of the fresh-water pearls found inside the clams varied greatly, and colors ranged from lavender to pink to white and blue. Usually, small round pearls sold for a few dollars or so, but even a $10-pearl was worth about a week’s wages in the late-19th century. Larger flawless spheres were much rarer than the more usual, small, irregular pearls and much more highly valued.

Some pearlers struck it rich with large, colorful spheres. A few people in the Brodhead area were able to build new homes with their findings; one even bought a new farm. A total of about $300,000 worth of pearls were collected in southern Wisconsin by the end of 1891, making pearl revenue one of the highest of all natural product revenues in the state.

Pearls of small, irregular sizes were found almost everywhere as the “pearl rush” continued for a few years. People searched the Badfish Creek, but unfortunately there are no records of successful “pearling” in the little creek. However, a few odd-shaped, iridescent, little “gems” may well have been found. 

But the “Pearl Craze” didn’t last very long.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The “Cooksville Journal”: Badfish and Blue Chicken, The School’s Student Newsletter from the 1950s


“Cooksville Journal,” 1955 cover

The one-room Cooksville School had its own newsletter—the “Cooksville Journal”— for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Written and published (mimeographed) by the students, the surviving issues contain school news, editorials, local village news, poems and jokes, even some cartoons and local advertisements.  A few copies from the 1950s and ‘60s are in the Cooksville Archives. Here are some excerpts:

September 1953

“Madison is trying to put their sewage into the Badfish. They were ordered to take it out of Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa this fall. Anyone who lives near the Badfish and doesn’t want to have sewage in their backyard and wants good fishing, should fight to have it put back in the Yahara.” [The Janesville Daily Gazette clipping told their story on April 10, 1954. Ed.]

Cooksville School Class of 1954