Friday, November 8, 2019

Life in Old Cooksville: Families and Friends

Lillian Graves Smith’s memories of life in the Village of Cooksville provide a window into the past. Lillian (1875- 1977) grew up in Cooksville, and later in life, thanks to her son, she recorded many fond memories—and some not so fond—of  life among those first settlers in the Cook brothers’ village  as well as next door in the Porters’ Village of Waucoma.

Here are a few of Lillian’s Vignettes,” in her own words, recorded in 1973, recalling those 19th-century pioneers and their families in an early Wisconsin settlement.

The Joseph Porters.  “The Porter families were such an institution in Cooksville that they can scarcely be ignored. I remember “Aunt” Eliza Porter [1821-1890, ed.] as a woman of great personal charm and undeniable talents.  She used to call upon my mother and they would discuss the latest in literature and the arts. 

"One remembers the large dining table in the Porter Homestead where the tables were extended cornerwise across the room in order to accommodate the many men who worked on the Porter Farms. As domestic help was plentiful, Aunt Eliza always had several “hired girls” in the kitchen and dining room. While the help consumed the hearty meals, Aunt Eliza would entertain them at the piano. 

"When daughter Helen Rebecca Porter Richardson was home, I would often go down and ask to play with baby Clara and wheel her around the yard. If any neighborhood children were around at meal time, they were always invited to stay and eat.

"Aunt Eliza," as we always called her, was also an elocutionist and would give readings at church or village gatherings. She was intensely dramatic, and the poems and sagas were usually accompanied by gestures as was the custom in those days. When she read from Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life” —the lines “Be not like dumb-driven cattle”—she would quickly drop to all fours on the floor, and as quickly straighten up with hand raised skyward on the following verse: “Be a hero in the strife!” Of course, this was a little much for the uninitiated who found it somewhat amusing, but as children, we were all duly impressed.”

William Porter
The William Porters. “William Porter [Joseph’s brother, ed.] lived across the street from the Congregational Church. In fact, he gave the land on which the church was built. I look back with some amusement regarding my father’s attitude to this location which he heartily disapproved. He did not want the church to be built down in Bill Porter’s sheep pen... For this reason and some others, he seldom if ever attended services.
William Porter House
“These Porters had four children: Susie, Phoebe, William and Frank. Susie never married and taught school in Racine for many years. She acquired the old Backenstoe home on the Square, and divided her summer vacation between Cooksville and the Maine Coast. The last time I saw her was at the Old Settlers Picnic many years ago. She was always a very charming person. 
Susan Porter
 "Phoebe died young from a tumor that grew to gargantuan proportions. This was sad when one realizes what modern surgery might have done for her. Frank Porter was always very popular with the Cooksville children, as any child who wished was free to go to the pasture and ride on Frank’s pony. In later years, Frank’s mind became affected and he was in and out of mental institutions. His sister Susie tried to look after him for a time, but finally had to have him institutionalized.”

The Isaac Porters.  “Isaac Porter [Joseph’s other brother, ed.] lived in the large brick house facing south on the north side of the Square. As a child, I thought that this was the most beautiful home I had ever seen, and only hoped that one day I might have one as fine as this. Isaac Porter was a gentleman of the old school. I do not remember his wife who died young leaving four children: John, Anna, Henry and Edward. Isaac was always kind to the children in Cooksville, and I recall that he once took Avis Savage and me to the Sunday School Picnic at Lake Kegonsa when we had no way to get there. He stayed around all day and saw us safely home.  
Isaac Porter
“Henry Porter married Ethel Van Vleck who lived close by on the Square…. For a time, Ethel and Henry lived in the old Isaac Porter home, but later purchased a farm a few miles southwest of Evansville. They had four children….John Porter married Carrie Evans and lived in Evansville. He was the Cashier of the Grange Store….Anna Porter married Sanford Soverhill and lived in Janesville…. Eddie Porter was a great favorite with the Cooksville children. He was never too busy, or in too much of a hurry to stop and pick up the youngsters in his wagon and give them short rides. He was a kind and generous young man, and we all mourned his early passing. He had taken his girl friend to a dance on perhaps the coldest night of the winter, and probably became thoroughly chilled riding in an open cutter. His was a lingering illness and during that time, his beard had been allowed to grow, and it was somewhat of a shock when we saw him for the last time in his casket.”       

The Ray Boys.  “Two middle-ages bachelors lived on the Square for a time and owned some farm land outside the village. They worked their farm with a pair of mules which made them somewhat unique. They were unique in some other respects also, as they became the butt of numerous practical jokes on the part of village boys. Actually, they were very decent men and considerate of their neighbors. The boys really liked them and would go over and visit with them in the evening. However, this did not preclude their pranks on those unsuspecting old bachelors.

“One night, the boys—my two younger brothers, Wayne and Willie included—managed to get the mules out of the barn and change their color from brown to white by administering liberal coats of whitewash. Then Wayne and another boy went out to call upon the Ray brothers who were sitting on their front porch. The other boys had been delegated to hitch up the mules and drive them by the Ray home. As they came in sight, one of the Ray brothers remarked with some surprise: “Other folks have mules as well as we.” This simple yarn was repeated over and again in Cooksville, and almost became a folk legend.”

Duncan House
Henry Duncan. “Mr. Duncan [1807-1892 ed.] lived in the “House Next Door”… I can vaguely recall him as a small child. He was totally blind in this last years, and in good weather, various neighbors would volunteer to take Mr. Duncan for a walk around the village so that he might have some exercise and fresh air. One day, my mother instructed my sister Harriet to go over and take “poor Mr. Duncan” for a walk. My sister Harriet complied at once, but during the walk, she allowed her mind to wander and inadvertently led him forthwith into a rather deep ditch. She managed to get the old gentleman back on his feet with no greater injury than perhaps to his pride, and her own deep chagrin.  She did not hear that last of that for some time and my mother scolded her unmercifully for her thoughtlessness. Harriet often related this incident in later years long after her chagrin had quite disappeared when she and other members of the family could get a good laugh out of it.”

Edward Gilley. “Edward Gilley [1811-1897, ed.] came to Porter Township from England in 1843…He owned a good farm just east of Cooksville. “Uncle” Edward, never having married, the property was left to nieces and nephews, none of whom cared for farming, and the place became somewhat run down in later years.

Edward Gilley
"Edward Gilley was quite an elderly man when I knew him, and badly crippled with rheumatism. However, he always managed to drive his horse and buggy to church for services. Avis Savage and I always watched him as he made his laborious way down the aisle to the front of the church as he also was hard of hearing. He would sideways into the hard-backed pew, wait briefly, and the drop into his seat with a dull and sickening thud, whereupon Avis and I would snigger outrageously. Chet Gilley, a nephew of Uncle Edward, was one of my early boy friends, and his older brother Albert married my sister Miriam and moved to Stoughton where they lived the rest of their lives. In Stoughton, they developed a lucrative truck garden and greenhouse business.”

Morgan House
Tom Morgan.  Tom Morgan [1824-1905, ed.] was a native of Wales, and built the house now owned by Helen Hansen Naysmith Toigo. Tom was a carpenter and joiner, but true to his Welsh tradition, considered himself quite a musician.  He directed the Village Choir, and my Father who had previously directed the choir in Clarence, Green County, took a somewhat dim view of Tom Morgan’s musical talents, and refused to sign in the choir.  The Morgans had a son whose name escapes me, and two daughters, Ella and Annette. Ella never married and lived in the old home until she passed away. At one time, she taught in the Cooksville Academy. Annette married Claudin Stebbins who with his brother Ernie operated the store formally owned by Charlie Woodbury…”

John Newell
The Newell Family. “The Newell Family lived next door just across the lane to the west… John Newell’s first wife died, and they had one daughter, Gertie… John’s second wife was a widow named Van Patten. She had one daughter, Lizzie Van Patten. Lizzie had a very fine voice and studied at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music… Mrs. Newell was a good neighbor, but definitely ruled the roost in her own home. Her own daughter Lizzie Van Patten was not expected to do much at home, but Gertie Newell, her husband’s daughter, was required to perform more unpleasant tasks. I recall that Gertie would sit for hours on the top of a circular covered cistern and strip feathers for feather beds. I could think of no worse punishment than to sit by the hour and strip chicken feathers.

“Mrs. Newell kept careful account of her neighbors, and often watched from behind closed blinds. One could easily detect her profile, and on one occasion a Stoughton boy friend who called upon me doffed his hat most gallantly and made an elaborate bow in the direction of Mrs. Newell’s window. We were neither surprised nor disappointed to see the apparition behind the blinds disappear at once.”        

The Savage Family. “Julius [1843?-1905, ed.] and Electa [1845-1927, ed.] Savage lived in the corner brick house  [Duncan house, ed.]. They also lived in the Hoxie House at one time. There were two children: Paul, and Avis who was my best friend. Avis later married Edson Brown and lived on a farm in Center Township, Rock County. I remember very little about son Paul. 

Avis and Paul Savage
However, “Jule” Savage, as he was called, was a deeply religious man and would never miss a church service or prayer meeting, perhaps because it was some place to go in Cooksville. I can always recall his somewhat repetitious testimony at each and every prayer meeting as follows: “Since I gave my heart to God, I am trying in my feeble way to serve Him.” As a child, I had some difficulty in understanding just how one might physically give his heart to God. 

Electa Savage
“Electa Savage was not especially religious, and to my knowledge, did not attend services. She was a member of the Johnson Family who operated a hotel at one time in Cooksville. Jule Savage, despite his religious protestations, could be quite shrewd in a business deal. While I cannot recall the details, it had something to do with the sale of hogs. My Father in his customary blunt reaction mentioned that “some people wore God Almighty’s Cloak to cover up their deviltry!”

     Thanks for the memories, Lillian....
Lillian Graves Smith
 [The Cooksville Archives welcomes donations of historical materials—photographs, genealogies, stories, newspaper clippings, etc. — that help tell the story of the village. Contact Larry Reed at (608) 873-5066.]


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Cooksville Lutheran Church Autumn Fest for 2019

The 2019 Cooksville Lutheran Church Autumn Fest is almost here,
October 13th. There will be activities for everybody, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Come and eat a home-cooked meal, listen to some live music and have fun!

The event will begin with worship and communion at 10:00 a.m. with Pastor Karla Brekke presiding. The following activities will begin on the Church grounds at 11:30 a.m.: judging of the BBQ pork loin cook-off; a bake sale featuring lefse, Norwegian treats, and other baked goods; and a themed-basket silent auction. The main feature of the themed Silent Auction will be a colorful quilt, made of batik fabric, 5’x5’.

At noon, an adult and child’s meal will be served. The main meal will be a barbecue pork loin dinner or a sloppy joe sandwich, served with cheesy potatoes, baked beans, homemade pie, and a drink. The child’s meal will consist of a hot dog, chips, a bar or cookie, and a drink. Both meals will be served until gone, in a fully handicapped accessible church.

One new feature this year will be the Old Fashioned Pie Contest. If you want to register, bring your pie/s to the Church between 12-1 p.m. Judging of the pies will follow at 1:30 p.m. Attendees will have the opportunity to buy one pie, or more, beginning at 2:00 p.m., thanks to the services of Dean George Auction.

Music and children’s activities, and the sale of 50/50 raffle tickets, will be ongoing during the afternoon. Mike and Jamie McCloskey will play their unique blend of acoustic swing blues and country music from noon-2 p.m. There will be a pumpkin decorating contest, bean-bag toss, and pumpkin bowling for children. The drawing time for the 50-50 raffle will be at 3:00 p.m. The winner will need to be present to win, as there will only be one winner.  

The address is 11927 West Church Street, Cooksville (not Evansville), near the Cooksville Cemetery, one block south of the intersection of Tolles Road and State Road 59. For more information, or 608-882-4408.

Monday, September 2, 2019

"WELCOME TO HISTORIC COOKSVILLE": Newly Installed Signs on Village Entrances

“Welcome to Historic Cooksville” signs were recently installed on the four roads leading into the Village of Cooksville. The new “Welcome” signs are placed on the east and the west entries to the village on State Highway 59; on the north entry on State Highway 138; and on the Tolles Road entry from the south. The Village of Cooksville is located in the Town of Porter near the northwest corner of Rock County.

SIGNMASTERS Cory Wipperfurth and Joe Infusino-Braun begin installation

The “Welcome” signs were designed by Cooksville resident Joe Lawniczak, with project assistance from Susan Lawniczak and Mary Zimmerman, and with the cooperation of several local property owners and the Town of Porter. The project was funded by the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc.
Joe Lawniczak assists with the Hwy 138 sign
The large white placard design features a black-painted image of the historic Cooksville Schoolhouse bell-tower and the “Welcome to Historic Cooksville, 1842” greeting in black.
"Welcome" on Hwy 138
The Village of Cooksville was established by John and Daniel Cook who arrived in 1840 and established their village in 1842. Their land was purchased near the Bad Fish Creek from the U.S. Government in 1837, when the Wisconsin Territory lands were first sold in the area.
"Welcome" om Hwy 59 west
The village expanded in 1846 when Dr. John Porter of Massachusetts platted the Village of Waucoma directly to the east of Cooksville on land he had purchased from Senator Daniel Webster, also of Massachusetts. (The nearby Badfish Creek had first been called “Waucoma Creek.”)
South on Tolles Road
The two villages grew together over the years, sharing blacksmith shops, various stores, small factory workshops, a stagecoach inn, a school, and two churches. The combined villages were alternately called “Waucoma” or “Cooksville” on maps depending in which of the two villages the officially appointed Postmaster was located. But the growth of the villages slowed considerably after one of the newly-planned Wisconsin railroads bypassed them in the late 1850s.
Joe Lawniczak with assistants Mary Zimmerman and Larry Reed, Tolles Road
The well-preserved community was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 as the Cooksville Historic District. It was also listed in the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places and has been established as a Town of Porter Historic District.

The present-day Cooksville Community Center, located in the historic schoolhouse on the Public Square features community events, and the historic Cooksville General Store—the oldest operating in the state—specializes now in a variety of groceries. And the old Cooksville Cemetery still invites long-term residents.

Hwy 59 east of the Schoolhouse
It is hoped that the “Welcome” signs, manufactured by Busch’s Signs & Designs of Verona and installed by SignMaster of Sun Prairie on August 30, 2019, will bring attention to the historic village, especially to highway drivers who may then slow down to enjoy the historic setting—and avoid sending anyone to the nearby historic cemetery. 

[For information about the Historic Cooksville Trust, contact Larry Reed (608) 873-5066.]
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Friday, August 30, 2019

COOKSVILLE 59ers by Chris Beebe

I just happened to be hydro-gliding into our lil' village in my newly acquired Citroen (it
floats on a pressurized pneumatic-over-oil suspension) to return a container to the Degners and saw a pickup carrying a pack of colorfully-clad boys drive off,  just leaving the ol' General store.

I stopped to inquire who that was,  always interested in baseball, wondered why they might stop in Cooksville.  One of the lingering parents of one of the fellas explained the boys will be returning and just left to get a photo.  They were hoping there might be a road junction sign south on Tolles Rd, one reading, "Cooksville, Hwy 59".    The team name on their jersey is COOKSVILLE, they call themselves 'the 59ers' and the logo has a stylized road, hardball and 59ers included.

How neat! I was thrilled there was a baseball team interested enough to visit as a team, hang around the G-Store, ... and have Cooksville used as their team name!

"How is it Cooksville was chosen and seemingly no one around here knew about the team?"  It was explained that parents in Edgerton who had boys interested in the game didn't have sufficient numbers to form a team. They reached out to Evansville and found the same interest and insufficient numbers,  so an agreement was made and with the numbers from the two towns, two additional fellas from Brodhead and Stoughton came aboard to make a healthy team, filling all the bases, as it were. 

The pickup full of the team returned and I met the coach, Mr. Dan Brown, from Edgerton.  He reiterated the melding of the two halves of the team from the two towns and how they formed a team, how the parents gathered enough enthusiasm, threw money into a fund to purchase jerseys, pants, shoes and ball caps wearing their style of the letter 'C' to keep anyone from thinking Chicago.   

Evansville, Stoughton, Brodhead and Edgerton are considered rivals in all school events so everyone involved with this consortium had to not only meet the outsiders,  but grow to work with them, have them become team members, ultimately friends.  He told me some of the struggles and how they had to work it all out.  The baseball season is over and some of the fellas will be playing against one another as several play football and the games are fast approaching.   I told him they ought to go to Israel and form a team recruiting members from Israel and Palestine. "This is what they could use !"

This is a Hard Ball league for kids of 14 years or younger.

Front row L to R : Standing Travis Zastoupil, Sitting Caleb Herbst, Wyatt Nelson, Aiden Maves, Standing Ethan Stengel.

Back Row L to R : Coach Dan Brown, Marcus Richards, Preston Schaffner, Tyler LaSchum, Carson Brown, Reilly Buehl, Ayden Vondra, Asst. Coach Mike Maves 

Not Pictured: Levi Ringhand, not in attendance

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Shmoozer needs a home

Jim Naysmith’s cat needs a new home, by no later than Saturday morning, July 20, 2019He’s an indoor cat, spaid (pretty sure, he came from the humane society) and 3-4 yrs old. He loves people & wants more attention than Jim’s son can give him. Contact Ian at 608-898-1370

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Historic Cooksville Trust is 20 Years Old

This year the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., (HCT) celebrates the 20th anniversary of its founding.

Established in 1999, HCT is a non-profit, historic preservation corporation and tax-deductible charity established to assist the community’s preservation and conservation of the heritage of Cooksville and the surrounding area.
For the past 20 years, HCT has supported and sponsored a number of preservation projects and educational programs. These have ranged from financial support with grants of funds to historic house, church, store and schoolhouse rehabilitations, as well as co-sponsoring Cooksville history-related programs, events, tours, and the production of several booklets and leaflets.

HCT's Board of Directors consists of 13 directors and five honorary members. The Board has been able to support a variety of preservation activities because of generous financial donations, voluntary efforts, and gifts of property from many friends over the years. HCT has also received donations of  historical documents, photographs, art works and other materials to add to the growing archival collection of the village’s past, from the 1840s to the present.

The following preservation projects have been assisted by the HCT Board, cooperating with local property owners, the Town of Porter, and other organizations:
          *The historic Cooksville Lutheran Church Steeple Restoration Project to replace the modern steeple with a reconstructed historic steeple. (2004)
          *The Blackman-Woodbury House and the Graves Blacksmith Shop Project, to rehabilitate the house exterior and reconstruct the blacksmith shop. (2006)

          *Research on the Cell Tower Construction proposal near Cooksville, to investigate its impact on the area. (2009)
          *The Cooksville Community Center Schoolhouse Roof Replacement Project. (2009)
          *The historic Cooksville Lutheran Church with its New Addition Project. (2009)
          *The Masonic Lodge for the Restroom and Water Installation Project in the historic Cooksville General Store. (2010)
          *The Cooksville Community Center to co-sponsor the Celebration Event for the First Plumbing Installation in the General Store. (2010)
          *The Light on the Prairie Event on the Danky-Schelshorn Farm and Prairie. (2011)
          *The Cooksville Community Center to co-sponsor the Carving on the Commons Event. (2011)
          *The 175th  Anniversary of Cooksville’s Founding Celebration Event, with Jerry Apps. (2017)
          *The Town of Porter’s Tree Restoration Committee Project to conserve the woodland on the historic Cooksville Public Square/Commons. (2018)

The HCT has also assisted with various educational and informational brochures, booklets, newsletters, technical advice, and a walking tour guide, including the following:  
          *Blackman-Graves House & Blacksmith Shop: Architectural Documentation, by Michael Bolster for HCT, 2006.

          *Cooksville: Living History in Wisconsin, by HCT, 2010.

          *The Story of the Cooksville General Store, by Larry Reed, 2013.

          *Historic Cooksville - A Guide,” written and edited by Larry Reed for publication by the Cooksville Community Center. 2014.

          * The Cooksville News Blog, a series of brief historical stories about Cooksville written for the Internet site, describing the history, architecture, and past and present stories of life in the village.

          For more information or to contribute to the Historic Cooksville Trust contact Mary Zimmerman, Treasurer, at (608) 628-8567 or Larry Reed, Chair, at (608) 873-5066.      

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Cooksville’s Historic Houses: Celebrating 170 Years Old in 2019

Several houses in and near the historic Village of Cooksville are turning 170 years old in 2019, along with one church building that celebrates its 140th anniversary.

Cooksville, established in 1842, had a building boom in the 1840s, thanks to the early settlers who were eager to build and who had available oak trees and lumber from an early sawmill, stones from a nearby quarry, and locally-made bricks baked in two brickyards. And they had especially skillful craftsmen and women among the early settlers. The results were handsome, well-designed, sturdy, long-lasting buildings in the village and on the nearby farms. (One home, the earliest, the Cook House, is 177 years old this year.)

These mid- 19th-century village structures—the houses, churches, school, barns and a store—now stand proudly in the Cooksville Historic District and on nearby farmsteads.

Historic Cooksville and nearby

Although exact construction dates for many of these early “country” Greek Revival-designed  houses are difficult to determine—no building permits or other such official documents existed at the time—but records of land purchases and lumber and brick purchases as well as letters and diaries of property owners allow construction dates (or  at least “circa’ dates) to be assigned.

Celebrating their 170th and 140th building-dates this year are the following:

John Seaver House

John Seaver House (c.1849).   A busy local carpenter and relative of the owner, John Fisher, probably built this l½ story, wood-frame, Greek Revival house for John Seaver, a farmer, the father of William “Frank” Seaver who was building his brick home on a nearby corner in the village. The Seavers had come from Chautauqua County, New York. The Seaver House has been restored in the 1980s, with a new addition to the south in the 1990s.

Morgan House

Morgan House (c.1849).  This 1½ story, clapboard, Greek Revival house with brick nogging between the studs was built by Thomas Morgan, a Welshman and a carpenter, whose brother-in-laws, Benjamin and Isaac Hoxie, both talented carpenters, may have contributed to the building of the house. Morgan lived here until 1905. The house was restored in the 1930s and 1940s with a fireplace in the dining room and a south side porch added.

Duncan House

Lovejoy-Duncan House (1848-49).  The Duncan House, also known as the “House Next Door,” was built about 1848 of local Cooksville vermilion brick in a simple Classic Revival style, reflecting both Federal and Greek Revival elements. The first occupant was Daniel Lovejoy, the village’s first merchant, who sold it to Henry Duncan from Vermont and the only local citizen who listed his occupation as “Private Gentleman.”  Duncan had four children at home and added the clapboard wing. Ralph Lorenzo Warner, a school teacher from Racine, bought the house in 1911 and spent the rest of his life furnishing the house with antiques,  creating gardens, serving meals to visitors, and attracting national attention to the house he had named the ”House Next Door.”

Smith House

Smith-Galt House (1848-49.)  The Smith House is a small wood-frame house with simple Greek Revival style detailing built by David N. Smith about 1848 next to the Cook House.  The house is also known as the Galt House and the “Byhring Brothers House” for Oscar and Carl Byhring, who lived there from about 1918 to 1959.  For 20 years, George and Eunice Mattakat used the house as an adjunct to their Red Door Antique Shop located next door in the Cook House. 

Richardson Grout House

Richardson Grout House (c.1849-50). This vernacular rural cottage east of Cooksville is an important example of grout construction, an early form of concrete material, and is the only grout house in Porter Township. It has a frame porch across the front and a frame saltbox to the rear. A central chimney separates the two main rooms. Scottish-born Alexander Richardson purchased the farm when the house was brand new. The land was deeded from Jonathon Roby to Richardson in December, 1849.

Cooksville Congregational Church, photo c.1910

Cooksville Congregational Church (1879). Built 140 years ago this year, it was the first church constructed in the village. The Congregationalists vowed that the church would be available to “all other Christian denominations and Christian ministers to hold meetings in, and the basement to be rent free for the regular meetings of the Good Templars and the Grange.”

The Church was constructed on the south edge of Cooksville on the corner of “Union Road,” and was designed by local resident, Benjamin Hoxie, “Architect and Builder.”  The little brown church quickly became the center of village life for religious gatherings and other community events. Later it served as the focus of government as the Porter Town Hall in the 1940s and 1950s. 

The Church is designed in a simple combination of Gothic Revival and Romanesque styles and features four tall minarets and a bell tower on the front fa├žade, a round-arched entry with a large fanlight above the doors, and six round-arched windows on the sides and one above the altar. Benjamin Hoxie made the pews; McCully and Miles of Chicago created the windows; Frank Baker of Evansville provided the furnace that could burn either wood or coal.

The building served as a church from 1879 until 1939, although it was not used regularly from about 1910 on, because the early Congregational New England settlers had died or relocated further west. In March 1939, a memorial service was held for the church’s faithful caretaker and “last active supporter,” Susan Porter, who died that year.

It was then determined that ownership of the church property had passed to the Wisconsin Congregational Conference, which then sold it to the Town of Porter on September 15, 1939. The town altered the building (steeples and bell tower were removed, windows were replaced, pews disposed of, and a large opening for the town truck was cut into the basement wall), and the church became the Porter Town Hall.
The Church as Porter Town Hall, photo c.1950s

During World War II, young men gathered in the church-town hall to say farewell to friends before going off to war.  Local resident Eddie Julseth brewed strong coffee for the occasion, and the new recruits joked about how they’d now be able to stay wide awake through the entire war.  Later, a painted wooden sign was erected in front of the Town Hall to commemorate those men from the Town of Porter that were lost in America’s wars.

In the mid- 1960s, the Town Hall moved to the vacant Wilder School nearer to the center of the township, and the old church stood vacant until it was sold under a sealed bid process in March 1971.  The winning bidder was Michael J. Saternus, an architect whose active interest in the historic buildings of Cooksville had begun in the late 1960s and would continue until his death in 1990.

Michael Saternus at work on his Church, c.1976
Saternus designed the church’s restoration. He re-constructed the missing bell tower, minarets, and front porch, and an old bell replaced the missing original. The church was once again painted light brown with darker brown trim.  An original stained-glass window was discovered “hidden” between the walls above the altar, having been plastered over on the inside and covered over by clapboards on the exterior. (The other window panes had been replaced with clear glass.) 

Church interior with the Stoughton Chamber Singers

After Saternus’ death in 1990, his partner, Larry Reed, continued the restoration and rehabilitation project, completing the interior of the church in 1996. The interior was re-plastered, gray paint was removed from the woodwork, and old pews (dated 1875) were installed. The church once again became the scene of weddings, a baptism, a funeral, musical performances, and many curious visitors.
Cooksville Congregational Church
Other historic Cooksville buildings, from 1842, 1845 and 1848, have already celebrated their 170th anniversaries. Others will soon celebrate their early construction dates from the 1850s and later.

 [The Cooksville Archives and Collections contain information about the village’s heritage— its buildings, its people and its everyday life.]