Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Memories of Cooksville: Lillian Graves Smith (1875-1977)

Lillian Graves, 1892
 Lillian Graves Smith’s memories of growing up in Cooksville were recorded by her son Marlowe G. Smith in an interview in 1973 and titled “Cooksville Vignettes.” He wrote that these were his mother’s “random reminiscences…that relate the simple day to day experiences as seen through the eyes of childhood.” The copy is in the Cooksville Archives and covers about 25 years of Lillian’s early life in the village. And she lived a very long life, dying close to age 102.

Lillian Graves was the daughter of Anna Brown Graves (1855-1920) and William Gardiner Graves (1825-1903), a prominent blacksmith in Cooksville with a large and apparently happy family.  Here are some excerpts from her childhood reminiscences:

            “The fine old sugar maple trees that were planted by my father are still flourishing, and I recall as a native Vermonter, he always tapped the trees for their maple syrup. There were the usual childhood activities such as wading and swimming the Badfish. Of course, we owned no bathing suits in those days and an old dress had to suffice.”

            “On one of our jaunts into Porter’s Woods, Avis Savage and I found a nest of turkey eggs… so we gathered them up in our aprons and took them home. My mother was very quick to realize that the eggs should not have been molested, and insisted that I return mine to the nest at once…. When Avis brought her eggs home, her mother decided to set them under one of her hens, probably with Thanksgiving in mind.”
Graves Blacksmith Shop, 1886
             “My father was the Village Blacksmith and soon earned a considerable reputation as an expert in horse shoeing…. During the heat of the summer, the flies would swarm around the shop…Father would experience considerable difficulty when flies began biting the horse, and I remember standing near the horses and shooing the flies away with a large stick to which cloth streamers had been attached. I did not especially enjoy this duty, but it never occurred to me to refuse his request for help…”

            “While I cannot recall ever being taken to a real circus during my childhood, the circus did come to us…Circuses would perform in Stoughton and then travel overland to Evansville by way of Cooksville. My Father would get us up at 4 a.m. on circus day, and we would line the main street to see the animals and circus wagons as they went by. The calliope would play in parade and horses, elephants and camels were led on foot with the cages displaying the more ferocious beasts. It never occurred to us that we might attend a circus performance, and this brief glimpse of circus life was quite sufficient. We would talk about it for days.”

Unidentified Cooksville Children in a Garden
            “John Robertson came to Cooksville from Scotland and operated one of its two general stores…. In Roberson’s Store, you could purchase almost anything from rubber boots to pickles and molasses, and when John Robertson’s back was turned, village boys would take special delight in knocking a pair of rubber boots off into the molasses. However, he never complained about it.”

            “What I do remember most was that time when Mrs. Fisher passed away, and there being no family, Avis Savage, Ernest (Doc) Miller, Chet Gilley and I were asked to go down there and sit up all night with the deceased who was laid out in the adjoining downstairs bedroom. We were in our early teens, and the situation did not exactly call for enthusiasm, but no one ever refused such a request. My Mother insisted that poor old Mrs. Fisher must not be left there alone over night. In those days, mortuary techniques had not been too far advanced, and it was required that a damp cloth be laid on the face of the deceased once every hour. Neither Chet Gilley nor I could bring ourselves to perform this necessary function, and it was left for Doc and Avis to do the honors.”

            “The Van Vleck Family lived in the house now owned and modernized by George and Eunice Mattakat….. John Van Vleck, the father, had a shop nearby where he patented a potato planter. Regretfully, the patent was infringed upon by the McCormick Co. in Chicago, and John never realized his just return on this useful bit of machinery.”

Pony Cart on the Public Square, with Unidentified Children
             “The only real conflagration that I can recall was the time that the Lutheran Church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground [in 1896 Ed.]. We had full benefit of the fire as our lot practically backed up to the Church. My Father quickly led the family cow from the barn at the back of the lot. Obviously, with no water under pressure, it was impossible for the bucket brigade to put out the flames .In fact, I often wonder that more buildings in Cooksville were not destroyed, especially when heating and lighting arrangements were on the primitive side. I recall that there was considerable discussion about rebuilding the church on the original site for fear it might happen again.”

            “One amusing incident comes to mind when for some reason, I opened my mouth too wide and could not close it. Apparently, I had succeeded in unhinging my jaw. Dr. Colony was called and had to administer chloroform in order to manipulate the jaw sufficiently to close it. This was really embarrassing in as much as Dr. Colony was my current boyfriend at the time. My good neighbor Belle Stebbins was on hand to be of some help, and she often reminded me that the only person who could shut my mouth was Dr. Colony.”

[A copy of the entire 24-page “Cooksville Vignettes” is available in the Cooksville Archives. Also in the Archives is 22-page“Rice-Graves Genealogy” written and edited by Marlowe G. Smith in 1973.]

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Brickyards and Brick Houses of Historic Cooksville, by Larry Reed

"Waucoma Lodge," the Backenstoe-Howard House

The historic Village of Cooksville is well-known for a number of reasons—for being a “Wee Bit of New England in Wisconsin,” for  being the home-town of “John Savage the Best Dam Man in the World,” for having the Oldest General Store operating in Wisconsin—and,  to a lesser extent, as the site of the proposed Frank Lloyd Wright “Cooksville Chapel” (which was never built) and for the actress Sigourney Weaver’s suggestion that Cooksville  would be “a wonderful place for a Summer Little Theater” (which never happened, either).

But Cooksville is probably most famous for its early architecture— its historic homes, barns, churches, Store, Public Square and a one-room Schoolhouse—and especially for the many historic houses constructed of its distinctively-colored, locally-made brick.  

Wisconsin’s premier architectural historian Richard W.E. Perrin greatly admired Cooksville’s brick houses. He wrote that the brick houses were of “excellent vermilion color” and were “all treated with domestic feeling, individuality and simplicity not always evident in this period.” (Perrin also suggested that “Cooksville is the sort of unspoiled community that would lend itself admirably to a historic preservation project for which specimens from the surrounding area could be brought in to join with the existing structures in an open-air historic museum.” That didn’t happen at Cooksville, of course, but instead near Eagle, at what is now the large and impressive “Old World Wisconsin” outdoor museum.)

Cooksville in its hay-day (or perhaps its “clay-day”) had two very productive brickyards, thanks to the thick pink-orange clay that ran just beneath the surface of the village. It became the source for the distinctive vermilion brick used in the 1840s-1850s to construct the brick residences, the first schoolhouse, and for several nearby farmhouses.

Longbourne House
 One brickyard, operated by Hubbard Champney (1808-1879) from Maine and later by William Johnson, was located just south of the village across South Street (or now, Church Street), and remained in operation until about 1860. The Champney site has been farmland since 1875.

The second brick factory was located west of Cooksville, on the John Dow Farm between the farmhouse and the Badfish Creek. It was initially operated by Champney for a time, but like the earlier brickyard, it was abandoned by1865. That was when Mr. Dow and his farmhands filled in the old deep, dug-out brickyard holes with brush, weeds, and soil, and then scraped and plowed the site that summer. Shards of bricks can still be found at both brickyard locations.

Brick-making took time, about three months, to produce a batch of bricks. First, to dig and prepare the reddish clay, to mold the clay in the wooden molds, and to air-dry the bricks. Then the raw bricks were stacked in a circular tower inside a large kiln in the center of which was built a huge fire that was kept constantly burning for seven days and nights, or longer, to bake the bricks. The fired clay hardened into the distinctive pink-orange color; parts of some bricks closest to the fire were partially glazed and burned to a darker, glassy color. A total of about 24,000 bricks were produced at a time in each batch, enough for about a half a house

A modern Cooksville fireplace with old bricks
Some bricks did not bake hard enough to withstand weathering on the exterior of buildings.  But they were put to good use as “brick nogging” inside the walls of several of Cooksville’s wood-framed houses. These softer bricks, mortared together, served to insulate and solidify the wooden structures. Lath and plaster were applied on the inside walls and clapboards on the exterior. Some of these “soft” bricks discovered in the walls doing 20th-century rehabilitations have been replaced by modern insulation, and these under-baked bricks have been re-purposed to construct interior fireplaces in new additions.

Brick nogging in a wall
The village’s historic vermilion brick houses include the Duncan House (1848), the Longbourne House (1854), the Backenstoe-Howard House (1848), the Isaac Porter House (1856), the Chambers- Porter Cottage (1856), the Collins House (1856), and the Frank Seaver House (1850) Also, the first Schoolhouse was brick (replaced in 1886 with a wood-frame school,) and a village blacksmith shop, long-gone, was apparently constructed of local brick.  (The recently reconstructed Grave’s Blacksmith Shop from the 1880s was re-built using its original lighter cream-colored imported brick.)

Frank Seaver House
Just outside the village are three additional historic Cooksville brick houses: the Lovejoy-Dow House (1850), the Cooper-Gillies House (1850-53), and the Miller House (1853-56).

Talented local masons and brick-layers such as Charles Howard and Richard Houfe are credited with constructing these sturdy brick houses in and near the village.

The first settlers in Cooksville were multi-talented and versatile men and women—they had to be in these isolated first settlements. They knew how to use the raw materials—the clay, the limestone from quarry hill,  the tall trees for lumber, the water to power of the sawmill on the Badfish Creek—that were at hand to build their new frontier village in the 1840s and 1850s.

This brief period of brick construction played a major role in the development and character of Cooksville. The village, founded in 1842 by John and Daniel Cook and added to by John Porter’s next-door Village of Waucoma in 1846, owes its distinctive appearance to the excellent examples of early pioneer construction in Wisconsin, especially those featuring locally-made bricks. 

And as time went by, these early architectural efforts and construction techniques gained greater appreciation by succeeding generations of family members, new-comers, architectural historians, historic preservationists and visitors to historic Cooksville. Their pioneer work has stood the test of time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Concert This Sunday

 Duet Concert

Sunday, October 23, 4:00 p.m.
Cooksville Lutheran Church

This special event is in honor of the 125th anniversary of the church.  Music includes hymn arrangements for audience and the duet along with music selections from Brigadoon,
The Fantasticks, Carousel, Gigi, and
Phantom of the Opera.

The concert is free and a
reception with goodies will follow.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Cooksville Songs and Stories, 10/14/16

Join us in the English Barn at Cooksville Farmhouse Inn, 11203 N. State Rd 138, Evansville, WI, Friday, October 14, 7 p.m. for music, stories, treats, and an evening of October fun.  Folk, bluegrass, old country western, and classical Bohemian as well as stories of Halloween pranks and dark nights from the archives of 175 years of Cooksville history.  Refreshments follow.

Join us at 7.  Dress for the weather and bring a flashlight.  Free admission.  All are welcome.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The “Good Templars” in Cooksville

The Independent Order of Good Templars—an early American organization promoting alcohol abstinence— granted a charter to a group in Cooksville in 1861 to form its own Lodge, Number 123, named the “Rising Tide” Lodge. The signed charter, in poor condition, is in the Cooksville Archives with the faded names of about 31 “charter members” hand-written on the fragile paper document.
Cooksville's Good Templars Charter of 1861
In addition, a “Juvenile Temple” of the Independent Order of the Good Templars, apparently for younger people, was established on December 13, 1894, as Temple Number 63 named “Rising” with names of 37 young Cooksville members. This large, ornate, handsomely-framed charter is in excellent condition and is also in the Cooksville Archives. (It is unclear exactly what the special age qualifications were for “Juvenile” Temple members, if any.)
Cooksville's "Juvenile Temple" Charter of 1894
The minutes of Cooksville’s “Rising Tide” Lodge from October 10, 1885 to January 25, 1896, hand-written in a secretary’s ledger are in the Cooksville Archives and provide a glimpse of its activities.

The Good Templars Order, named after the crusader knights of a 12th century religious order in Jerusalem, was started in 1851 in New York State as a secret, ritualistic  society committed to a life-style totally free from alcohol. The Order was committed to “friendship (later changed to faith), hope and charity,” and it reflected the tradition of other early social, self-improvement, spiritual groups of the time. And it was politically charged to achieve its goal of freeing society of the “evils” of alcohol. (Apparently, Americans were consuming an average of almost 2 bottles of liquor per person per week by 1830.)
Evils of Alcohol cartoon, 19th Century
Cooksville’s Good Templars appear to have been very active, meeting almost every week, socializing and supporting members in their temperance cause, entertaining and educating themselves, and sharing their goals and their activities with others in the community. And they continually recruited new members. Generally, in the early years, 15-20 members attended the weekly meetings.

According to the existing local minutes, the Good Templars had a good time. They met regularly, free from alcohol, had lengthy programs, were very strict about everybody paying their dues, adhered to meeting rules and rituals, with all participating as officers or as various committee members. The Templars appears to have been very well-run, following rigid national rules of order and ritual, and was socially-active with enlightening cultural and educational programs. And lots of tea and lemonade were consumed.

The Cooksville chapter initially met in Van Vleck’s Hall above the Farm Implement Factory (Wisconsin’s first, demolished c.1928) that once stood on the corner of Webster and Dane streets. (The Hall was used for many occasions at various times, including as the Waucoma Academy for advanced learning and for some community meetings and parties, as well as for announcing breaking news about the Civil War from its second-story porch.) The group also met in the Masonic Lodge above the present General Store and in the second-story room of the existing Cheese Factory. Eventually in 1879 the new Congregational Church basement parlor became its headquarters, which the Good Templars helped to furnish with lanterns, an organ and firewood. The group held popular Oyster Suppers (at one such supper 80 tickets were sold) as well as seasonal Maple Sugar Dinners for themselves and for the public, with “entertainments” to raise money for their needs.

For instance, the minutes for meetings in1886 indicate that one “Maple Sugar” supper was enjoyed at a meeting with 16 attending and $1.45 contributed, and that the Cooksville Lodge sent greetings to the newly-formed Lodge in Fulton, and that the Lodge accepted 75 cents from the Cooksville Library Association for its “use of the Lodge’s wood and lights” for the Library’s meetings. At the end of the Good Templar meetings there were entertainments: songs and “choruses,” instrumental music, recitations of poems, posed tableaus, readings of newspaper clippings by members and other such contributions by members, all done after the business portion of the meeting, which indicates very full and enjoyable evenings.

The brief formal minutes do not indicate any special prohibition or temperance projects, but, of course, the main purpose of the Good Templars was to support each other, to improve and enhance members’ lives and to generally promote their ideals of abstinence, no doubt by setting good examples for each other and for the community.  Perhaps the Good Templars may have succeeded in tempering the alcohol drinking habits of some citizens in Cooksville.

The members did provide funds for refurbishing (and heating and cleaning) the various meeting halls they used, with monies from their dues and funds received from their public parties and entertainments. Perhaps other charitable efforts may have been undertaken now and then but were not described in the existing minutes.

A comment in an unidentified (Evansville?) and undated (c.1876) newspaper clipping applauded the local Good Templars’ efforts for another special reason: “Old folks sometimes say that the Good Templars lodge is a sparking institution for the young folks, and here are some of the facts: Our lodge has had a good healthy existence for a little more than fifteen years, and there has been married from its ranks fifteen couples, besides quite a number of odd halves, or, as the Quakers say, marrying out. Can any lodge show a better record in this respect? And possibly it is better for the girls to pick up husbands here, than from the grog shops.”

The membership grew greatly in the late 19th century, apparently assisted by the new younger “juvenile” Good Templar members.(If male and under 16 years old, they had their quarterly dues lowered from forty cents to twenty-five cents; no indication if females paid more or less than that amount.) At a meeting on January 12, 1895, “8 gallons of oysters were disposed of and a barrel of crackers was cleared.” And on February 16, 1895, “Members present 83. Lodge closed in ritual form.”  Attendance in winter was always greater.
Waucoma House, 1850, inn and tavern, recent sketch

The Village of Cooksville had two taverns during the past 175 years of its history. The first was the stagecoach inn named “Waucoma House” (built c.1850 and demolished c.1913), which served as a tavern and hotel and, later in the 19th century, as a harness shop and a dressmakers shop, and was located on the corner of Main and Rock streets (Highways 138 and 59). The second later tavern was a small frame building erected on the same site about 1915 as a meat-market, then a liquor-licensed tavern, and finally used as a residence until about 1947 when it was moved to the western edge of Cooksville as a home for Paul Savage, later to be remodeled in the 1970s by Karl Wolter as his home.

The Archives records do not reveal the activities of the Good Templars of Cooksville as the 20th century began—and as the older original members and pioneers of Cooksville’s settlement passed on. The Good Templars’ minutes in the Archives end on January 25, 1896, thirty-five years after the “Rising Tide” Lodge first was organized in Cooksville. Undoubtedly, the efforts of the group continued on into the 20th century, perhaps more vigorously because the national temperance and prohibition movement succeeded in the passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the production and sale of alcohol in 1920.
Prohibition photo, unidentified

However, Prohibition lasted only 13 tumultuous years and was repealed by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution in 1933. There are at present no taverns in Cooksville, but apparently consumption of wine, beer and whisky occurs now and then in the village.

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[The Cooksville Archives welcomes additional materials. Contact Larry Reed (608) 873-5066.]

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Isaac Hoxie’s Cooksville Cemetery Story: “The Home of the Dead”

Isaac A. Hoxie (1825-1903)

Isaac Hoxie (1825-1903) wrote an article about his visit to the Cooksville Cemetery while attending the “Old Folks picnic” in the summer of 1901 in Cooksville. (The Old Folks or Old Settlers’ Reunions would continue for another fifty years.)

Hoxie’s article is a touching remembrance of his family and friends who once settled, lived, died and were buried in the Cooksville cemetery.

Hoxie had come to Cooksville with his parents from Maine in 1846, along with his five sisters and brothers including Benjamin, who would become Cooksville’s prominent architect, builder, carpenter and one of Wisconsin’s important horticulturists.
Benjamin Hoxie House, built c.1852
 Isaac helped his brother Benjamin in their thriving door, sash and shutter manufacturing business in Cooksville in the 1840s-50s, which provided the new settlers in the area with the needed doors, windows and “blinds” for their new homes and commercial buildings.  Later, Isaac went into the newspaper business, establishing and operating a number of local newspapers including Evansville’s first newspaper, the Citizen, in 1866, and later the Evansville Review, as well as the Oconomowoc Local and the Deerfield Enterprise. Eventually, Isaac operated a clothing store and owned several buildings in Evansville.
Hoxie's printing press: oldest in Wisconsin

While in the newspaper business in Evansville, Isaac Hoxie operated the oldest printing press in Wisconsin, a Ramage Printing Press manufactured in Philadelphia in 1851-54. The press, previously used by others in the state, was donated by his son Wilbur to the Wisconsin Historical Society in the 1880s, where it remains. 

After Isaac visited the Cooksville Cemetery that day in 1901, he wrote his article entitled, The Home of the Dead, describing his visit and his thoughts. Here are some of his words:

“While attending the Old Folk’s picnic in Cooksville….I visited the old cemetery where were buried the kindred and loved ones of my family, and noticed the many changes that time has wrought in the years since I made [Cooksville] my home in 1846. Then I was only a boy in my minority. The cemetery was neither located nor platted [then], but the early death of a Mr. Hammond from the state of Maine, who coming west to visit friends, met death early, making it necessary that some suitable location should be made …One after another dropping away still no location was made and graves were dug just the same but with little regard to order... and it was not until Dr. Porter died that a cemetery was permanently located and the ground properly laid out [in 1861].

“It was to the southeastern corner under embowering pines and matted foliage my attention was particularly directed. Here I found an unpretentious slab bearing the chiseled name of my father, Allen Hoxie, who died February 26, 1862, aged 65 years, with this further beautiful inscription: ‘My faith is knowledge now.’ The next grave was that of my mother who died some years later, and bore the simple inscription ‘Our Mother’—Olivia Hoxie, wife of Allen Hoxie, died Sept. 8, 1876, aged 79 years…
Allen Hoxie (1797-1876) tombstone

“Nearly hidden by soughing [moaning] pines and creeping vines were the remains of her [his wife] who plighted her troth, came west, and bore life’s burdens with me from April 14, 1852 to May 22, 1896,—44 short and happy years. We began our new life in Cooksville, and it was fitting that her remains should here find a resting place. She is gone! no longer shrinks from the winter’s winds, or lift[s] her calm, pure forehead to summer’s kisses. But as the ashes of the oak is no epitaph to tell what flock it has sheltered, the dust of her grave is speechless, yet her noble deeds and Christian life are ever bright upon the silent tablet of memory….

“As I stood by the graves of the departed ones, on this beautiful autumn I could scarcely refrain a tear while looking back through the vista of fifty-five years—beautiful years, when I made Cooksville my home, silently exclaiming what marvelous changes God has wrought….

“But I must hasten away to the banqueting hall, for the little village is already astir with teams and gaily dressed people to pay homage to months and years long gone bye.

“In song and story this little nook in the northwestern portion of Rock county has ever borne an honorable record. From its founders, John Cook, the Porter family and a host of others who made our representative hall and temple of justice fervid with eloquence, have lived and whose remains find a resting place here.”  [signed] I. A. Hoxie.
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[This clipping from an unidentified newspaper, probably the Evansville Review, is part of the Cooksville Archives. The Cooksville Cemetery, the Isaac Hoxie House, and the Benjamin Hoxie House are part of the Cooksville Historic District.  The Cooksville Archives welcomes donations of papers, photographs, objects, etc., related to Cooksville’s history. Larry Reed.]