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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Historic Cooksville Trust Celebrates 15th Anniversary




Historic Cooksville Trust brochure
The Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., founded in 1999, is celebrating 15 years of assisting historic preservation in the Village of Cooksville and the surroundings area.

The Trust was incorporated as a private, non-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization in Wisconsin under federal IRS Code 501(c) (3) as a non-membership organization with a goal of preserving and conserving the historic heritage of Cooksville.

To carry out its mission, the Historic Cooksville Trust seeks donations of private funds, property, and historic easements. Donations to the Trust are tax deductible. Recently, three acres of nearby farmland and a historic house in Cooksville were donated to the Trust, in addition to funding for various preservation projects. The Trust also collects and maintains important archival materials (photographs and documents) and historical and cultural artifacts (paintings, furniture, books, pottery, etc.) that relate to the history and culture of the Cooksville community. 

Lutheran Church steeple project, 2004
The Graves Blacksmith Shop
So far the Trust has assisted nine preservation projects with grants of funds totaling about $60,000. The major projects have included assistance with rehabilitating the historic Blackman-Woodbury House, assistance with the re-construction of the Graves Blacksmith Shop, assistance with the restoration of the Cooksville Lutheran Church steeple, assistance to the Cooksville Community Center roof replacement project, and the funding for the installation of water and a rest-room for the first time in the history of the Cooksville General Store.

Other projects that received financial assistance from the Trust include the Community Center’s “Carving on the Commons” event, the Preserve Our Rural Landscape Celebration, and the Research and Letter Compilation for Opposition to the Cell Tower project. Also funded have been various educational materials, brochures and newsletters for the Trust.

Cooksville General Store, 2010
At present, the Historic Cooksville Trust has a 12-member Board of Directors with an additional six Honorary Board Members and an ex-officio legal counsel. The present Board members are Vicki Ballweg, Bob Degner, Steve Ehle, Lynne Eich, Will Fellows, Carl Franseen, Dennis Kittleson, Mary Kohlman, Rick Mackie, Mike McConville, Larry Reed and Nancy Remley. Honorary members include Greg Armstrong, Ellsworth Brown, Jim Danky, Katie Ryan, Patrick Ryan and Shirley Wilde. The Trust’s counsel is Marney Hoefer of Stafford Rosenbaum LLP.

The Trust offers information about the history of Cooksville and its early settlement, as well as preservation advice to persons about the state and federal income tax credits available for rehabilitating historic buildings and about standards for the treatment of historic buildings and sites. The Trust also offers group tours of Historic Cooksville upon request.

The Cooksville Historic District, in the “Town that Time Forgot,” consists of about 35 historic and architectural buildings, structures and sites within the village. In addition, eight historic properties are located within a two-mile radius outside the village. These properties were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and 1980. The Cooksville Historic District is also locally designated under Town of Porter zoning.

[For more information, contact Larry Reed at (608) 873-5066.]

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

COOKSVILLE'S PUBLIC LIBRARY by Larry Reed

Book plates, from Cooksville book owner


In 1884, some folks in Cooksville decided to start a local lending library. That December, the Evansville Enterprise’s Cooksville reporter announced that in Cooksville, “There will be a tree at the church on New Year’s eve, also an entertainment to be given, a small admission fee, ten and fifteen cents will be charged, the funds to go towards the Public Library which has been started here.”

By early 1885 the library effort in the village was moving ahead. The story writer from Cooksville with a dateline of February 4, 1885, in the Enterprise newspaper describes the villager’s venture:  

“Our library prospects are so flattering that I cannot resist the desire to inform your readers of its future outlook. A few of us banded together last December and incorporated a ‘Public Library Association of Cooksville’ and since January first we have accumulated upwards of $40 and no skating rink about it either. We hold sociables every two weeks. Last night we had a box sociable where ladies brought nicely decorated boxes and the gents bid them off at various prices. The boxes brought by Miss Belle Rice and Miss Mable Woodbury sold each for $1.25.... In two weeks there will be another sociable and the weight of each lady with name will be sealed in an envelope and the gent drawing such will pay 1.4 cts per pound and the lady designated for partner during---well as long as the spirit moves, which shall not be short of the gate.”

Money for the Library was raised in short order, probably because the ladies were good cooks and prepared tasty box-lunches— and tipped the scales sufficiently.

The Library Association believed book readers in general were divided into those who read for “information” and those who read for “momentary pleasure.” The first thirty volumes were soon obtained, including were such authors as Emerson, Thoreau, Mrs. Stowe, George Eliot, Hugo and Robinson.

Membership in the Public Library Association cost $1.00 per year, which allowed members to borrow books and vote at meetings. Fines were charged to members for over-due books.

In 1887, a new bookcase was purchased for $8.00 and a hundred cards with book titles and authors names were purchased for $2.00. New books continued to be purchased now and then as funds allowed.

By 1895, the Library consisted of 150 books, as well as a number of magazines such as Harpers Monthly, North American Review and Chautauqua. And in 1898, membership was reduced to 75 cents.
Book plate used by Ralph Warner in Cooksville

The location of the library moved around from home to home, depending on who was in charge of the library books at the time. The librarian checked out books collected late fees, solicited new membership fees, and ordered new books as the Association’s budget allowed and as the elected officers decided. It appears books were checked out regularly as the 19th-century ended.

The records of the Library in the Cooksville Archives are sketchy, and it is not known when the Library Association ceased operation. By the early 20th-century, large public libraries had been established in small cities near Cooksville, many with funding from Andrew Carnegie, which made borrowing a wide selection of library books possible for many more people.
“Waucoma Lodge,” Cooksville. c.1920.

In the 1960s, “Waucoma Lodge,” once the Cooksville home of Susan Porter (1859-1939) and, later, Cora Porter Atwood (1884-1952), contained several book cases filled with a variety of books—novels, histories, geographies, poetry—as well as magazines. Waucoma Lodge may have been the last home of the Public Library.  Certainly, the two women had been very active in Cooksville’s cultural and intellectual life, and they may have eventually become the caretakers of the old Library’s collections. The contents of the bookcases in Waucoma Lodge were probably the remnants of the once-popular Cooksville Public Library.