Wednesday, August 19, 2020

“STORIES MY FATHER TOLD ME” Reminiscences about Life on the Farms near Cooksville written by Bill Porter

Introduction:

William (Bill) W. Porter (1921-2008) wrote down a few stories his father, Warren N. Porter (1884-1981), had told him about living near the Village of Cooksville, on Riley Road, in the Town of Porter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Warren Newman Porter (1884-1981)
Warren was the grandson of Joseph K. P. Porter (1819-1907), one of the three Porter brothers who were original settlers in and near Cooksville. Joseph was the brother that actually platted the Village of Waucoma in 1846 next door to the Cook brothers’ Village of 1842. Warren’s father was William Bacon Porter (1850-1932), a son of J.K.P.P.’s.

The Porter family was a large, active, adventurous, well-educated, community-minded and talented family of farmers and merchants in what became named the Town of Porter in 1847 in the new Wisconsin Territory.

“Stories My Father Told Me,” are personal, colorful, and occasionally humorous glimpses into Warren’s life at that time, about 100 years or more ago, certainly before Prohibition (1920-1933) closed down many of the local taverns.

Bill tells his father's stories:

“In my father’s family there were three boys: Lloyd, Warren, and Paul. Paul excelled in athletics, scholastically and, as well, extemporaneous speaking. Curly hair, parted in the middle, he cut a handsome figure. When he was 19, attending the University of Wisconsin with his brothers, he suffered a burst appendix and, I presume, much pain before he died.
Paul Porter (1888-1908)


Dad said the doctor cried like a baby. My grandfather never recovered from that. Heretofore a staunch church goer (even driving a horse and buggy to Janesville to pick up the minister, Jenkin Lloyd Jones), he promptly turned his back on religion and became somewhat embittered. He suffered physically with a hip injury and walked with a cane, and I never remember that he laughed or even smiled. I do remember him scolding us for hiding the pancake turner under the piano where the hired girl couldn’t find it! 

“He was a terrific worker. Nobody could hoe tobacco like he could. He also built fence for his neighbors digging all the postholes by hand with a spade. He was not a very large man and he wore a mustache.

“Grandma Porter (Lillian Newman Porter) was a large woman who, it seemed, was always hooking rugs. She lived in Evansville supported by an adopted daughter, Rebecca, who worked in the bank. Becky had an affair with a married man but nobody talked about it. His son was even a classmate of mine. She used to drive and pick up my brother and myself and take us to a picture show on occasion.

“I think my father was misplaced as a farmer. He had personality and would have made a great salesperson. Ironically, I think his genes are in two of his grandsons, my sons, who are both blessed in that regard.

“Now to some stories he told me. He was a great story teller. Many were stories about Indian fighter Buffalo Bill versus Yellow Hand, circling the campfire, each with a knife in hand. Pure fiction, but we loved it! 

“The true stories concerned mostly the neighbors. We lived between Norwegians on one side and Irish on the other. It seemed that the Irish were the more likely to be in a firestorm than the other more complacent Norwegians. Grandfather’s immediate neighbors to the north across the road were an ever changing identity. My grandfather noticed one summer day that his chickens were disappearing more rapidly than the usual l rate of attrition (rats, mink, fox). He suspected the neighbors but it took a little detective work to discover that a well-placed trail of grain led directly to the neighbor’s chicken coop. He discovered his flock by the expediency of removing the door of the neighbor’s coop and the chickens ran back across the road where they belonged.

“The neighbors one half mile east were the Fords, John, Ed and Maggie. None ever married. One incident happened before I was old enough to know them. John it seems, or as he was called three fingered Jack, got mean when he was drunk and that was often. When that happened, he used to beat up on his brother Ed whom he supposedly loved.

“One night there was a pounding at the front door which upon being opened by my sleep-deprived father revealed Ed in a state of disarray. They had been indulging in a bit of the grape, a fight ensued and Ed was seeking protection. Sure enough Dad would hear John not far behind, muttering curses as to what he would do when he caught that s.o.b. Dad afforded safe haven until they figured John was asleep or sober enough whereupon Ed would creep home.

“The neighbors across the field (the Stearns) had one dog and a parrot that could talk. Old man Stearns’ wife had died, and not surprisingly he had turned to the grape as a source of solace. I’m sure he loved his dog “Watch,” but when under influence treated him less than kindly. The parrot, being no dummy, listened and absorbed some of this language. One day, returning from Edgerton with a snootfull, he went to the front door to call “Here Watch, here Watch.” The dog, hearing the familiar voice, came running to receive— food? love? — whereupon just as the dog reached the hand of love and devotion, the parrot from his lofty perch shrieked, “Get out of here, you son of a bitch!” Tail between his legs, Watch headed for the relative safety of the barn!

“The neighbors also north by west were named Osterheld. Mr. Osterheld was a successful farmer and he had a fine place with a ballroom on the third floor. Mr. Osterheld and his family raised a lot of tobacco and they had a fine carriage and a beautiful span of horses.  Mr. Osterheld’s favorite watering hole was somewhere in Stoughton. When he left on his carousing course he always shut the gate to the farm behind him. He would get loaded and then climb into the buggy and head for home—a distance of some ten miles. His horses were so attuned to this procedure that he would just give them the go ahead and they would take him home while the rumble of wheels lulled him to sleep. When they left the main road onto the lane home, the horses, sensing home, would break into a run.

“Mr. Osterheld, half asleep and drunk, was unable to impede horses’ haste and the result was a smashed gate, damaged harness, buggy, or all three. The next day was rebuild time and this, according to reliable sources, happened many times.
Warren Porter, teacher, with his Cooksville School students, 1934

"The next story involves a Norwegian named Jens Norem. Jens was working for my grandfather in harvesting a crop of tobacco. Jens also liked to go over to Stoughton and belly up to the bar with the boys. 

“Normally a peaceful fellow, this particular night Jens became embroiled in an altercation of some sort which resulted in the sheriff coming to produce charges against Jens. They were in the shed hanging tobacco and Jens being a bit overhung was gamely trying to keep up his end. Of a sudden someone spotted the sheriff’s buggy entering the yard.  Dad said Jens climbed the tiers of the shed “like a cat” where he hid in one of the roof-top ventilators which measured about 4 feet by 5 feet. The sheriff hadn’t seen Jens and we don’t know yet if Jens ever had further repercussions from his adventures in Stoughton.”
Warren N. Porter (1884-1981), c.1950s


 Thus ends Warren Porter’s stories as told to and written down by Bill Porter.  


Bill Porter (1921-2008)
                                                                                                               
Porter family members, still living in the Cooksville area and some elsewhere, have recently donated family items including photographs, original poetry and other writings from the 1840s and 1850s, for future generations to enjoy.
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[Special thanks to Helen Porter who shared photographs for this story and also donated several to the Cooksville Archives and Collections. Larry A. Reed]

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Historic Cooksville Church Takes on New Role

The historic Cooksville Congregational Church will soon take on a new role in the Village of Cooksville—it’s fourth role in its 140 year history.


Dedicated on December 18, 1879, the church began its first role in the community as the first church built in the village, which had been established in 1842. It was designed and constructed by Cooksville’s important architect and builder, Benjamin Hoxie.

A subscription for building the church started the year before, and It was to be owned by the Congregationalists but free to be used by all other Christian denominations. The church would also provide rent-free use of its spacious basement “parlor” for community organizations and events—meetings, parties, celebrations, entertainments.

Carpenters and artisans from Evansville, Janesville and Chicago, as well as talented local Cooksvillians, contributed to the creation of an impressive, spacious, handsome country church, with kerosene-burning light fixtures and a furnace that used either wood or coal. Included were two outhouses and a covered shelter for horses behind the church.

The design of the church was described in a local newspaper article at its dedication in 1879:  “The plan adopted was what might be termed the half Gothic with circle head windows… with small towers and minarets on the four front angles, and an open bell tower… The exterior is painted light brown with dark trimmings…. The audience room will seat nearly three hundred persons very comfortably, being 30 x 50 feet. This is accomplished by the use of wall seats hung on hinges to be raised as needed…”[Ed. note: the seating capacity seem excessive unless the number/size of the original pews was much greater than at present.]

The article also reported that Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian ministers were invited to the dedication, including the uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright, Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones, who “… gave a lecture in the evening, to a large audience, subject, ‘The Cost of an Idea,’ to which his audience listened spell bound for nearly two hours.” And all seated on those new, hard, wooden pews and the wall-hung wooden benches.

Cooksville Congregational Church, circa 1910.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Congregationalist membership of those early settlers had diminished, with many moving away or otherwise departing. A 1909 newspaper clipping asked, “Shall we repair our church, so we can use it?” The basement parlor, however, continued to host various village meetings and programs, mostly because the new 1897 Norwegian Lutheran Church in the village did not have a basement until 1930.

Fortunately the Congregational church found a guardian and caretaker in Susan Porter, daughter of William Porter, an early settler and Congregationalist. Miss Porter, who had been living and teaching in Racine, returned to live full-time in Cooksville about 1925; she had been using the village’s “Waucoma Lodge” as her summer home.

Under Miss Porter’s care the church continued to be useful. Various purposes included county-wide Sunday school conventions, organ recitals, dramatic presentations, speech contests, lectures and musical concerts. It also hosted Cooksville’s annual Old Settlers Reunions and some memorial services.
Susan Porter (1859-1939)

The last service in the church was held on September 3, 1939, the birthday of Miss Porter: it was a memorial service for her, who had died that summer.

Susan Porter's memorial service gathering, 1939

The church’s second role began later in 1939, when the Wisconsin Congregational Conference deeded the now-abandoned church property to the Town of Porter. The church soon began its new role as the first Town Hall for Porter Township. The Town made modifications to the exterior and to interior spaces: the bell tower and minarets were removed, as were most of the stained glass windows and all the pews. The basement parlor was converted into a work-space and garage to store the town’s truck.

During World War II, the area’s young men were treated to hot coffee in the new Town Hall before they went off to war. Other important Town business was, no doubt, also carried out.

But in 1961, when the rural one-room schools were consolidated into larger schools in Evansville, Edgerton and Stoughton, the Town of Porter purchased the abandoned Wilder School for its use as a new Town Hall. Eventually the Town Board decided to sell the old church-and-town hall building in a sealed-bid auction in 1971.

Michael Saternus, the new owner 

Michael Saternus, a Madison architect, who lived nearby, had been restoring local historic buildings and had friends in Cooksville. Michael submitted a sealed bid for the church. In March 1971, the Janesville Gazette newspaper reported that “Five bids were submitted for the building… they ranged from a low of $1,000 to Saternus’ $2,250.”  The title of that newspaper article was, “Officials Happy with Sale of Town Hall,” and, as Michael told friends, “So was I.” 
Michael J. Saternus (1936-1990)
And Michael proceeded to rebuild and restore the missing exterior historic features, with some help from friends and neighbors.
Carrying a new minaret, left to right: Dorian Grilley, Larry Reed, Mike Saternus, Larry McDonnell, 1973

This was the third role for the historic church building. Michael, with a little help from Larry Reed, restored the exterior of the church, replacing the missing features and rehabilitating and re-painting the exterior on weekends over many years—and in the process, discovering an original stained-glass window that had been sealed and hidden intact inside the west wall. (The other colorful Chicago-made windows had been replaced many years before.) 

Mike restoring the porch, 1975

Unfortunately, Michael died in 1990, but the interior rehabilitation of the church continued. The decision was made to restore the interior so it could be used for various ceremonies—weddings, baptisms, funerals, as well as musical performances and meetings, all of which occurred in the church’s third role as an “assembly hall.” A wedding of Larry Reed’s friends, David and Diane Lowe in 1993, was the first new use of the historic Cooksville Church in its third role. Many more weddings, ceremonies, and musical performances would follow for the next 25 years. The Stoughton Chamber Singers were a popular spring event.

Stoughton Chamber Singers in the church
The new fourth role of the church has begun in 2020. That role is to accomodate the church’s earliest purposes once again and, importantly, to serve the additional role as the “Cooksville Archives and Collections Center,” to be located in the basement “parlor.”  

The new Center will include secure and accessible archival space, office space, a meeting room, a utilities room, and minimal kitchen and toilet rooms. And the upstairs auditorium will continue to be available for ceremonies and musical performances. Architect Michael Bolster of Janesville created the drawings for the proposed project.




The Cooksville Archives and Collections Center is designed to house the large accumulation of historical documents and materials that have been gathered and kept in the village for the past 180 years—documents, photographs, diaries, letters, books, clippings, paintings, furniture, and other artifacts and objects, as well as items that will continue to be donated. 

The church and the history center will be owned and maintained by the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., the local charitable organization that seeks to encourage and assist in the preservation and conservation of historic Cooksville and the surrounding area in the Town of Porter, Rock County, Wisconsin.

The realization of this new and expanded role for an important historic Cooksville building is possible thanks to generous donations of funds, pledges, and materials to the Historic Cooksville Trust, as well as to the time and effort of the Trust Board and friends of Cooksville.

This Archives and Collections Center project will finally create a safe and secure location to preserve, maintain, and celebate Cooksville’s long history as a well-preserved, early Wisconsin village.

The first step to create the fourth role for the church has begun with the recent removal of the tall red pine tree at the corner of the church. Planted about 140 years ago, its size was damaging the church building and foundation, as well as interfering with overhead power transmission lines. 





Alliant Energy recently cut the tree down to below its power lines, and then a local wood-worker cut down the bottom half of the tree and removed it and the debris. All this work was done at no cost to the Trust.   

The new role for the church joins a long list of about twenty other historic preservation and rehabilitation projects that have improved and enhanced Cooksville's historical heritage over at least the past fifty years.

The Historic Cooksville Trust welcomes further assistance and donations as Cooksville continues to preserve, enjoy and benefit from its past as the village moves through the present and into the future.

[For more information, contact the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., (608) 873-5066.]

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Monday, April 13, 2020

Historic House for Sale in Cooksville

The historic Parker-Newell House in the Cooksville Historic District, in Cooksville, Wisconsin, is for sale by the owner.

Built ca. 1848, the  frame Greek Revival-style house features a detailed, side-lighted front  doorway with a decorative cornice above. First built for Nathan Parker  and then owned by the Newell family from 1857 to 1954, the house was "pebble-dashed" (stuccoed) in 1932. It was rehabilitated with an addition added in 1977 by the McDonnell family, the present owner.

The residence is located across from the southwest corner of the Cooksville Public Square and has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, along with two workshop rooms (one attached to the garage and one in the house basement).

The owners are seeking a buyer that appreciates a historic home located in a village  established in 1842 and now a historic district listed in the National and State Registers of Historic Places, as well as in a locally-designated Historic Conservation District.

For further information, contact Scott McDonnell at (715) 446-0867.


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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Tom Every, “Doctor Evermor” the Sculptor, has Died


Tom Every, also known as Doctor Evermor, the imaginative self-taught artist, died on March 30, 2020, in a Sauk City nursing home. He was 81. Dr. Evermor spent some of his creative time working on sculptures at his son's blacksmith shop in the Village of Cooksville in Rock County.

Tom, a former salvage operator turned metal artist, took the name of Dr. Evermor and began creating a massive art park near Baraboo to display his inventive and futuristic creations. In Cooksville, he also created a number of sculptures in the shop next to the historic Cooksville General Store.
Dr. Evermor at the Cooksville General Store, with his new fly-wheel.
 


Tom Every, born in Madison, was raised in the village of Brooklyn, Wisconsin, where his love of salvaging, saving, and re-using began when he was a child. His love of salvaged materials and the creations they inspired grew, and in the 1980s Tom chose to be known as “Dr, Evermor,” the artist. 

He soon created the huge, fantastical "Forevertron," which has been called the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world. It would become the center piece of a three-year project that eventually led to the creation of hundreds of whimsical sculptures in his park near Baraboo across the highway from the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant. His dragons, trolls, gazebos, critters, and other mysterious and amusing metal constructions surrounded his magical “Forevertron.”
Dr. Evermor's "Heart of Hearts" sculpture being placed near Cooksville.



Tom was a frequent visitor to historic Cooksville where he and other artists and assistants created many of his sculptures at his son’s blacksmith shop. Many metal creatures took shape there—butterflies, fish and birds—especially birds, both small, large and, yes, (E)very large. Two of his huge birds—the dramatically towering "Dreamkeepers”—created in Cooksville now stand watch on south Patterson Street in Madison.

In 2011, Tom received a Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2016 was presented a Friend of Preservation award from the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation. He has been recognized as an important and singular artist. 

Two of Dr. Evermor’s large sculptures—“Heart of Hearts” and “Moonmaiden”—have been erected just north of Cooksville on Thayer Every’s Quarry Hill location on State Highway 138. 


By the way, Cooksville was also the brief residence of Tom’s aunt, Carolyn Every, who at a young age in the early 1930s was the cook and traveling companion for the most famous acting couple in the country, namely, the Lunts—Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne—who lived in their “Ten Chimneys” estate at Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. “For a brief, magical time,” Carolyn later wrote, “I became a part of the Lunts’ lives.” She shared many of her stories with her Cooksville friends who encouraged her to write them down and were published later in the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 1983. 
Dr. Evermor is 4th from the right in John Wilde's painting of the "15 Cooksvillians."


Tom Every was also part of John Wilde's painting and prints of the "15 Cooksvillians." John Wilde (1919 - 2006), a "Magic Realist" artist and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, lived near Cooksville, and one day he took photographs of men he found in the village, including Tom working in his welding helmet and apron. In 1995, John created an oil painting of the 15 Cooksvillians (now in the UW-Madison's Chazen Museum) and in 1997 hand-colored prints of the rearranged men, including Tom.  

Tom Every, the hard-working and unconventional artist known as Dr. Evermor who created something out of seemingly nothing, finally wished to rest in the historic Cooksville Cemetery.
Dr. Evermor's "Forevertron" coin for space travel...
“A Mythic Obsession: The World of Dr. Evermor,” a book about Tom Every and the world of Dr. Evermor, has been written by Tom Kupsh and published in 2008 by the Chicago Review Press.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

The Early Businesses of Historic Cooksville: 1840s-1960s


    After the arrival of the Cooks in 1840, the village they founded soon experienced an early boom in business creation and in new settlers. However, Cooksville would later slowly decline as the new railroads that replaced the old stagecoach routes in southern Wisconsin by-passed the village. 
    But the good news is that this downturn in growth slowed new construction in the village, which helped preserve many of the oldest buildings that now comprise the Cooksville Historic District.
    Over the years, early U.S. census listings, business directories, and Rock County histories in the Cooksville Archives collections provide a historical record of the various non-farming business operations in the village and in nearby Porter Township. These early entrepreneurial listings, complete or incomplete, date from the 1850s to the 1920s.

Painting of the old Cooksville Mill on the Bad Fish Creek by Leila Dow

1842
Cooksville’s first full-fledged commercial enterprise opened in 1842. This was the Cook brothers sawmill, later a grist mill, on the Bad Fish Creek.

Announcing Chamber's Store at Cooks Mill, 1845

1845
In the fall of 1845, John D. Chambers, who had arrived in Janesville earlier in the year, came to Cooksville to open a branch store in the village.  The location of this first store was on the southeast corner of what came to named Main and Dane Streets, across from the present extant historic General Store. (Chambers’ original store building stood until about 1902.)

Ownership of the Cooks Town Store changes hands in 1846
Cookstown in 1848: a newspaper clipping describing its early growth.

Near the northeast corner of those same streets where Chamber's Store once stood, a prominent village commercial building owned by John Van Vleck was built in which James Van Patten operated a meat market. The building,  built about 1845, later became known as Van Vleck’s Hall or the Cooksville Opera House when in 1867 Van Vleck enlarged the building by adding a second story hall used for music, lectures and programs. A variety of businesses operated on the first floor over the years until the building—with the Opera House— burned down in 1893.
    The present Cooksville General Store was built about 1847 and was operated by Earle Woodbury, who eventually leased the second floor to the newly organized Masonic Lodge.Then, in 1864, the Masons purchased the building and expanded it with the store remaining on the first floor.

Cooksville General Store, c.1940s

1850
The U.S. Census in 1850 counted the following non-farm employed individual occupations in Porter Township, most in or near Cooksville: eight carpenters, five blacksmiths, five merchants, two wagon makers, two hotel keepers, two physicians, one miller, one potter, one painter and one tailor. Business was booming, with two doctor in residence.
     The two physicians in the 1850 listing were probably Dr. William Blackman who practiced from 1848 to 1855 and Dr. Roswell Van Buren who practiced from 1856 to 1862.
     In 1866, a Dr. Roberts moved in, inspiring a local letter-writer to comment to the Evansville newspaper: “Cooksville, though it is not a Rail Road town, but it can boast of a fine healthy location. Doctors have always starved out, unless they had some other means of living besides pill peddling. Doctor Roberts has just moved in, may prove an exception, for he is a young man of much ability and with energy enough to take long rides to hunt up the sick ones, may succeed.”
Partial list of Physician's Charges in 1849


Waucoma House, 1850: Cooksville's stagecoach hotel and tavern, where the  two hotel keepers listed in the 1850 census worked. Drawing based on an old sketch.
Cooksville’s many blacksmith shops, indispensable in their time, operated in various locations and for various lengths of time, although in some cases the records are not clear as to their exact locations or durations. 
    With their red-hot forges and anvils, these small blacksmith shops were all-around repair and manufacturing businesses for farm equipment, wagons and carriages, horse shoes, household items and metal objects of every kind. A couple shops served this purpose on into the 20th century.
Robertson's Blacksmith Shop
1856
In the 1856 History of Rock County, the list of businesses for “Cooksville” (and its larger next-door neighbor, “Waucoma”) included a sawmill-gristmill operation, the Waucoma House stagecoach hotel and tavern, a sash and door factory, three general merchant stores, one blacksmith shop, two brickyards, a wagon shop, a cabinet shop, a tailor shop, two shoe shops, a post office, the Waucoma Academy school, and several carpenters. (The regular Cooksville School was also operating.)

The Van Vleck Farm Implement Factory, the first in Wisconsin, manufactured corn planters, among other items. Demolished in 1928.

1875
A business directory from 1875 listed two general store operators, two grocers, a wagon maker, a builder, a blacksmith, a flour mill operator, a corn planter manufacturer, a postmaster and a new cheese factory. The population was numbered at 150, with daily mail service. 
The Cooksville Cheese Factory built in 1875 was designed as a house, also.
A newspaper article mentioned a tin shop was operating by 1879. James Fairgrieve, operator of the tin shop, had gained notice in the Janesville Daily Recorder early in 1879, when the newspaper’s Cooksville correspondent reported, “This ‘burg’ is putting on metropolitan airs with four street lamps. Mr. James Fairgreeves (sic), our tinner, has displayed both taste and skill, besides a generous gift of a fine street lamp, and the same has been put in position at the corner of the church by B. S, Hoxie.”  
    Praise was also given to Fairgrieve’s shop, where “everything is as neat as a pin” and where Fairgrieve could do “everything in his line, from a birdcage to the roofing of a building” and “can make anything you want, even to a hanging chandelier.”
   In 1880, Cooksville had a new resident physician, Dr. Charles Culver, but he soon moved on, as other doctors did, because, as the local newspaper reported, “This vicinity cannot support a doctor, it is too healthy.”

1891
The businesses listed in 1891 were a blacksmith, a postmaster, a flour mill, two general stores, a corn planter manufacturer, a carpenter, a broom manufacturer, a justice, and a music teacher.  Elsewhere the records mention that the Waucoma House was still operating as a stagecoach stop, and a tin shop and a harness-maker were also still in business..
    In 1891, the Evansville newspaper reported, “Mr. Spencer, the harness-maker, is drove with work and the reason why is that he always does a better job for a man than he agrees to, and in more than one instance the farmer has made him a present so well earned and merited. We are glad to note the prosperity of honest workmen in any capacity.” (But two years, later in 1893, Spencer moved with his family to northern Wisconsin.)

1894
According to a notice in the Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter of Edgerton, five blacksmith shops were in operation in Cooksville in 1894, probably not all at the same time. The population remained about 150.

1904
By 1904, the non-farm business listing was getting shorter: an agriculture implements factory, a meat market, a grocer, a general store, a blacksmith, and a postmaster. Population was about 100. (The official post office had ceased operations in 1903 but mail was probably still dropped off from Evansville by horse and buggy.)
A 1914 Cooksville Store ad.


1920
A directory from 1920 listed just a grocery store and no other official businesses. Other information indicates at least one “repair shop” remained with one smithy still operating it. The directory listed no population figure, but no doubt it had declined also.
    Businesses had almost disappeared. The early settlers had retired or passed on. The younger generation was moving to larger, nearby communities; some took over the area’s expanding farming businesses.
    The old Village of Cooksville (including its larger, next-door village of Waucoma) began resting on its pioneering laurels of the many early, sturdy homesteads and on the old general store, the one-room schoolhouse on the Public Square, the old cemetery, and the two 19thcentury churches, all with their charming historic character. 
The Cooksville Schoolhouse, built in 1886, with the "Waucoma" side of the Wisconsin Historical Marker.

The name of Cooksville was unofficially adopted for the two villages, apparently because the last official U.S. post office, which had operated out of various politically-favored local stores, had been located in the old Cooksville General Store, which was on the Cooksville side of Main Street. 
    The two villages became one and took on a new, quieter, slower life as the 20th century progressed, with many older residents and some summer residents.  Electricity arrived in 1917, with few immediate customers. (Previously, the flowing Badfish Creek provided the needed power for the gristmill, and one horse walking in a circle powered the old farm implement factory.)
    Some small businesses continued to operate in the early 1900s. They were the old General Store, a smithy’s repair shop, a summer ice-cream shop. A couple small grocers came and went, some serving their merchandise to villagers from the front rooms of their homes (the Collins House, the Cook House). And the Cooksville Schoolhouse continued its educational and community mission with a variety of teachers, until the consolidation of rural school districts in 1961.
    But an important “economic-related” cultural event quietly occurred in 1911. Ralph Lorenzo Warner purchased the village’s old Duncan House, located next to his friend Susan Porter’s house. Warner turned the old house and yard into a showcase of 19th century American life with period furnishings and decorative arts and with an extensive period flower and vegetable garden to stroll through. 
Ralph L. Warner (1875-1941)

Warner’s unusual efforts attracted curious visitors who admired his antiquarian creations. He soon began serving his (paying) guests lunches and dinners and entertained them with piano music in his antique-filled home. Warner named his life’s project the “House Next Door” and he quickly garnered local, state and national notoriety for his unique “business” of celebrating American history. And his success attracted the attention of other like-minded preservationists and admirers to his adopted historic village of Cooksville, proving that preserving historic properties can bring attention—and business—to communities.


By the mid-20th century Cooksville had managed to attract a few new small businesses: a welding and repair shop, an arts and crafts store, a popular snack shop, and­­­­ an antique shop. The General Store remained in business. 


The Cooksville Welding & Repair Shop, located next to the old Store, was opened in 1956 by Charles Gilbert. His business was to “do wrought-iron, custom-built if you like, ornamental porch posts and railings.”
    Marvin Raney operated two small businesses. The first was the “Cooksville House” located in the Duncan House barn in the 1950s selling local arts and crafts.
Raney’s larger antique store, the “Only Yesterday Shop,” was opened a few years later in the Granary on the historic Joseph Porter Farm east of the village.
    Also, in the 1950s, the Ortman family opened their famous “Snack Shop” on Main Street north of the General Store in Cooksville.
The Ortman family "Snack Shop" with Sharon Ortman at work.
Then in the 1960s, George and Eunice Mattakat opened their “Red Door Antique Shop” in the historic Cook House. 
Eunice and George Mattakat in their "Red Door Antique Shop."

By then, the Village of Cooksville had evolved into a quiet life style, that of a small, rural, well-preserved historic community, which was becoming known as “the Town that Time Forgot” and as a “Wee Bit of New England in Wisconsin.”
     [The information and images are from the Cooksville Archives, maintained by the  Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., which welcomes donations. Contact Larry Reed at (608) 873-5066.]