In short, talented men and women—as well as the raw materials— were at hand to build the new frontier village next to the spring-fed Badfish Creek.
|Benjamin Hoxie (1827-1901)|
By 1842 the village had a saw mill on the creek and would soon have two brickyard operations and a thriving door and sash factory operated by Isaac Hoxie. The factory, powered by a horse walking in a circle, provided the energy to manufacture window frames, doors and blinds (shutters) for buildings and structures in the village and throughout Porter Township. Many of these original doors, windows and shutters remain in use. (The factory, which later became Wisconsin’s first producer of farm implements, was demolished in 1928.)
|McCarthy House (1850)|
Limestone from nearby hills was used not only for foundations but also, cut and dressed, stones were used for entire houses in the area. The results of the skillful stone masons were very impressive, as in the handsome McCarthy House (c.1850) built by expert Irish masons and still standing east of Cooksville near St. Michael’s Cemetery. (The Stebbins House, another nearby stone house built in 1850 near Cooksville, was recently demolished.)
|Richardson Grout House (c.1849)|
A rare and unusual construction technique was used for another house. It was a re-invented form of concrete, called grout, made from lime, sand and gravel, and water, and was used to build the Richardson Grout House (1849) east of Cooksville. The poured grout created thick, solid, concrete walls. A number of examples of these unusual grout buildings are found in south central Wisconsin.
The basic framework for Cooksville’s early houses, both wood-framed clapboard houses and locally-fired brick houses, was post-and-beam or braced-frame construction. Large hand-hewn oak beams and vertical posts fastened with wooden pegs were used for framing, and the mill-sawn joists, rafters, floorboards and clapboards were fastened with cut square-headed nails. (The lighter “balloon” frame construction technique would come later.)
The interiors of both the Greek and Gothic revival style homes featured oak and pine wood for trim and moldings, usually painted to hide the undesirable appearance of plain, raw lumber. Floors of very wide, random-width pine or oak boards were frequently painted as well.
In between many of the walls of the wood-framed houses was “brick nogging” which was soft Cooksville bricks that were not sufficiently baked to hold up to exterior weathering. The nogging was held in place with mortar and provided insulation and structural reinforcement. And made good use of soft, porous bricks.
Interior walls were plastered, sometimes using riven or split lath made from wide thin boards that were riven or stretched apart to hold the plaster; later, sawed wood lath was used. Plain white-wash usually covered the walls, and at least one house had a decorative garland-and-swag design stenciled in paint on the walls near the ceiling. Soon affordable paint colors became available, as did colorful patterned wallpaper shipped in from the East via Chicago or Milwaukee. Sometimes dates appear carved into walls, or old newspapers were stuffed into cracks. A hand-drawn dove in an artful swirl of graphite was found on the plastered basement wall under wallpaper in the 1879 Congregational Church, and false-grained painting decorated the church’s upstairs interior pine doors.
Other original mid-19th century elements remain in some buildings. Interior hardware such as cast-iron thumb-latches and hinges were used for doors, and wavy-glass, sometimes with bubbles, is seen in small–paned windows. Brick or stone cisterns for rain-water storage were discovered under some kitchen wings.
|Erickson Barn (1914)|
One-horse village barns were immediately built next to almost every Cooksville dwelling for the horse and carriage and perhaps the cow. Other farm buildings—small barns, sheds, chicken coops, granaries, ice houses — were constructed, eventually including larger barns like the 1914 Erickson Barn when dairying became an important industry. Wells were dug for water, and when the cisterns ran dry in the winter, especially when snow was light, ice was hauled from the mill ponds to be melted and used as fresh water. Ice was also stored in ice-houses or cellars in straw to be used for cooling and making ice-cream in the summer. And, of course, outhouses or “necessary houses,” were built and moved about on the property and set onto new holes in the ground whenever “over-use” necessitated.
Cooksville once contained as many as eight or more commercial and industrial buildings in the mid-to-late 1800s. Besides the saw mill and the stagecoach inn, several mercantile stores, the door and sash factory and a small cheese factory were quickly added. Blacksmith shops sprang up in a number of different locations; at times as many as four were in operation. And, of course, a school—first of logs, then of brick and finally of wood construction—existed from the very beginning. By the late 19th century, two churches were added to the landscape. All were locally constructed using local designs, local labor and mostly local materials. Hardware was obtained from Eastern companies, if local blacksmiths could not hammer it out; some items like the Congregational Church’s stained glass windows were shipped in from Chicago.
As is well-known, Cooksville was by-passed by the railroad in the 1850s so growth slowed to a stop. By 1900 the village was slumbering quietly. Fires and some demolition eventually took their toll of most of the commercial structures as they were abandoned. But the early houses remain in the village, well- maintained and well-used, as do the two churches, the schoolhouse and the cheese factory, along with the public square, the village cemetery and a re-constructed blacksmith shop..
In 1973 and 1980, the state and federal governments officially recognized Cooksville’s special history and architecture by establishing and then expanding the Cooksville Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the second district to be so designated in Wisconsin. Other nearby historic houses associated with Cooksville were also listed in the National Register.
|Michael Saternus (1936-1990)|
Successful preservation and rehabilitation efforts over recent decades by the owners with assistance from architects like Michael Saternus (1936-1990) and Michael Bolster have enabled people to experience, remember and celebrate the Village Cooksville, “the town that time forgot.”
[More information about historic Cooksville—and more photos— can be found in the new booklet “Historic Cooksville: A Guide” available at the Cooksville Country Store.]