Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Historic Cooksville General Store

The Cooksville General Store has a record of about 165 years serving the small village of Cooksville in Rock County, Wisconsin. Most likely it is the oldest General Store operating in Wisconsin.

The General Store dates from about 1847. In that year, Charles Smith acquired from John Cook, founder of the village in 1842, a corner lot, 26 feet by 66 feet, at Main and Spring streets and built and began operating his store in the small Village of Cooksville.

In 1864, the building was sold to the second floor tenant, Waucoma Lodge No. 90. The lodge had been chartered in 1858 and had been leasing the second floor of the building. Thus begun the long association of the Masonic Lodge with the General Store.

The Masons made several improvements to the building. In 1879 shutter blinds were hung on the building’s windows, and the Masonic hall on the second floor acquired new chairs, hanging lamps, carpets, and wallpaper. In 1882 the large glass front windows were installed and new paint was applied and the “store looks very nobby,” reported the nearby Evansville newspaper at the time.

Old diaries provide details of the store’s business dealings—purchases of raisins, cream of tartar, a barrel of Spitzenberg apples, fifty pounds of flour, and delivery to the store of 19 ½ pounds of cheese—and records of luxury goods for those times such a shipment of oysters in 1872, most probably destined for an oyster supper at the Lodge (oysters were actually a frequent component of a special supper). And in June 1874 rare lemons arrived.

In 1890 the Masons bought 18 feet of land west of the building for expansion of the building, accomplished in 1894 and, as the Badger newspaper of Evansville wrote, “the room over the new part will be used as a dining room” for the Masonic Hall.

In 1893, in a jocular but nonetheless fairly accurate newspaper story, the store owner was described as a “dealer in soft and hard coal, ice cream, wood, lime, cement, perfumery, nails, putty, spectacles and tomato catsup, chocolate caramels and tar roofing, hides, tallow and maple syrup, fine gold jewelry, silverware, salt, glue, codfish and gents neckwear, full line of patent medicines, diseases of horses and children a specialty.”

The Cooksville General Store was, like most early stores, a basic dry goods, grocery and produce store. It the early days there were cracker and pickle and flour barrels, and cookies and tea in bulk tins. At times, the Cooksville Store also included fuels and building materials and hardware. Eventually, the store sold such widely assorted things as Cornish game hens, lag bolts, wash pans, clothesline, bone-meal, garden seeds, drill bits, underwear, anchovies, overshoes, lamp chimneys, paint, tobacco cloth, and kitchen utensils, as well as dairy and meat products and hot sandwiches and newspapers.

The barter system was used for many of the early years, and credit was given, even in later years, and the storekeeper functioned in some ways as a middleman for locally-grown produce.

By the mid-20th century, traveling salesman and their companies’ delivery trucks kept the rural Cooksville General Store supplied with everything on the market. That most famous of country store institutions, the” hot stove league,” weakened by many factors of modern life, such as television. was there throughout the 20th century providing written and oral communications, as well as other services for the community such as receiving and mailing packages or a place to turn to when in need of emergency assistance.

By the end of the 20th century, having been in business in the same location since 1847, the Cooksville General Store had achieved the status of the oldest operating general store in Wisconsin. At least no one has disputed the title.

# # #
[Written by Larry Reed, 2011]

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Archeology of Historic Cooksville, by Larry Reed

Like most communities, the Village of Cooksville and the Town of Porter has evidence of its history (and prehistory) that is found both hidden underground and is visible on top of the ground.

In addition to the dozens of visible historic houses and buildings, Cooksville has several significant historic archeological sites—once-important features of the village that have disappeared from view but retain important, significant information about the community’s history found beneath the ground.

Three of these sites are within the village and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and one of them, also listed in the National Register, is located just to the northwest of Cooksville.

One village archeological site, the Hoxie Sash and Door Factor that later housed the important Van Vleck Implement Factory, is located near the northwest corner of Webster and Dane streets. Isaac Hoxie (brother of self-trained architect, Benjamin Hoxie) built his sash and door carpentry shop in 1848 to supply the area with doors, windows and blinds (shutters). Powered by a horse walking in a circle to turn the gears, the workshop ceased operation in 1858, when the local “building boom” ended.

Shortly afterward the building became the Van Vleck Implement Factory (1861-1928), manufacturing wagons, corn and potato planters, farm gates, and other implements, as well as repairing them. The second floor housed the Lyceum Hall and the Cooksville Academy. News about the Civil War was shouted to the citizens from the second-story porch.

When the deteriorated Van Vleck building was demolished in 1928, a Wisconsin newspaper printed a photograph of the deteriorated structure and called it “Wisconsin’s first implement factory.”

Another important archeological site is the Cooksville Mill Site, west of the Main Street (State Road 138) bridge over the Badfish Creek. Built as a sawmill by John Cook in 1842, it became a gristmill by 1847, grinding locally-grown wheat, oats and corn, and operated by a series of owners. The dam and pond were abandoned in 1897, and the mill building was used as a family residence for a time, and, later, the derelict structure served as shelter for homeless tramps and then as storage. It burned down in 1905.

A third archeological site is the Champney Brickyard and House Site, located on the south side of the village, on Church Street (then South Street). Hubbard Champney was the brick-maker (and farmer) and operated the brickyard for about ten years, making the distinctive vermilion-colored Cooksville brick. Others operated the brickyard until about 1860, when the property was turned into farmland. Shards of brick, glass and pottery have been found in the area. (A second Cooksville brickyard was located just west of Cooksville, but little evidence of its location remains.)

The fourth officially-designated archeological site is the Leedle Mill Truss Bridge and Mill Site, located just northwest of Cooksville on the Badfish Creek in the Town of Union. The mill was built about 1849, owned by various operators including William Leedle, who enlarged the dam and the mill. The dam washed out a number of times, permanently about 1918, and the mill’s wood frame structure and most of the foundation were demolished in the late 1950s.

Unfortunately, the historic Leedle Mill Pratt truss bridge constructed about 1916 over the Badfish Creek at the location of the mill, which had been closed to traffic for many years, was demolished in 2011 and a new bridge has replaced it.

Other undiscovered archeological sites, prehistoric and historic, in or near Cooksville, may lie hidden from view—or almost hidden. For instance, the remains of a blacksmith shop’s brick foundation can be seen near the Gunn House at Breckhurst; two outhouse foundations remain in the yard of the Cooksville Congregational Church; dozens of horseshoes, doorknobs, hinges, etc., have been found in the ground near the historic Van Buren House and Barn, along with many shards of pottery and an almost-intact bourbon bottle from 1825. Probably every Cooksville property owner has uncovered similar pieces of pottery, china or metal in their backyards, especially in the cultivated gardens.

And perhaps evidence of Cooksville’s long-lost stage coach inn, the Waucoma House, and the village’s Opera House remains buried in the ground. Or there may exist, along the Badfish Creek, Native American sites that pre-date the existence of Cooksville and the State of Wisconsin.

Several prehistoric and historic Native American archeological sites have been previously reported east of Cooksville in the Town of Porter, classified as campsites or village sites, probably because arrowheads or other artifacts had been discovered there. These sites, recorded in Wisconsin’s Archeological Sites Inventory, remain uninvestigated and unevaluated.

Other interesting archeological sites and artifacts undoubtedly remain in or near historic Cooksville, undiscovered, unexamined and unevaluated, a hidden part of the area’s long history.

# # #

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cooksville: What's in a Name? - "Badfish" and "Waucoma"?

Two questions, related to each other, are often asked about two distinctive names in Cooksville’s history: “Why is the creek named ‘Badfish’?” and “Why is the larger part of the village of Cooksville legally named ‘Waucoma’?”

The name “Badfish” is the present name given to the small river or creek that runs along the northern edge of Cooksville, flowing and zigzagging from the Madison-Oregon area southeast to the Yahara River east of Cooksville. But it probably had another name originally.

The name, “Bad Fish,” appears to have been applied, perhaps mistakenly, in late 1833, when the U.S. government land surveyors were moving through the Wisconsin part of the Michigan Territory from the east and the Rock River to the west past the Yahara (Catfish) River and on further west in Rock County (then part of Brown County), through a “Rolling Prairie,” as their sketch map called it. When the surveyors came upon a large creek in the northwest corner of what is now Rock County, they apparently thought they had reached a part of the Bad Fish River (later the Sugar River) system

The Bad Fish River was the name of the upper branch of the Sugar River at that time. (A map published in 1833 by Baldwin and Crudock shows the “Bad Fish River” flowing south from the Four Lakes area near Madison to the Sugar River in Illinois.) The land surveyors presumed, mistakenly, that the little creek flowing from that direction was a small tributary of the Bad Fish River. Thus, they named it the Bad Fish Creek. (Most likely these early surveyors did not know the existing Indian name of the creek.)

For whatever reason, the name “Bad Fish Creek” was recorded in the early 1830s survey.

The original name of the creek appears to have been “Waucoma.” A recollection by a Cooksville resident, possibly Isaac Porter, written circa 1911, describes the early 1840s settlement of the area, which later became Porter Township. His recollection sheds some light on the origin of the name “Waucoma” chosen by his uncle, Dr. John Porter, for the village he platted in 1846 adjacent to Cooksville. The recollection also reveals the possible original name of the “lovely little river” flowing through Cooksville.

Filed under “Porter Memories” in the collections of Susan Porter (daughter of William Porter) and now part of the Cooksville Archives, the document refers to the Cooksville area as a “lovely region along the lovely little river Waucoma…. Dr. John Porter named his village plat Waucoma, the Indian name of the river…” Later, the anonymous writer also states that, “very early a saw mill was built by Dr. Porter on that Waucoma River…” (This was the mill built on the Porter farm about a mile east of Cooksville.)

It seems the creek was also known as Waucoma River when the villages of Cooksville (1842) and Waucoma (1846) were settled.

To give some credence to the Indian name of “Waucoma” for the little river— or perhaps to add some confusion — Joseph K.P. Porter, another nephew of Dr. John Porter, published his “reminiscence of the early history of Cooksville” as number seven in a series of “Old Settlers’ Stories” in The Badger newspaper, Evansville, April 6, 1895. In that article, Porter writes that Dr. John Porter “platted it [the village] and gave it the name of Waucoma. Waucoma is an Indian name meaning Clear Water. It was thought to be an appropriate name, as the village lies upon the bank of a fine stream of water. The name was suggested by Governor Doty, who was well versed in Indian lore.”

Perhaps Governor Doty was one of those who knew the creek’s Indian name and suggested it as the name for Porter’s new village, Waucoma, located on that “fine stream of water.”

The name “Waucoma” was researched in the 1960s, but the etymology was undiscovered and did not appear to mean “clear water” in any Indian language. However, in Wisconsin many place names that seem to be associated with water contain that Indian language syllable “wau,” as in Waukesha, Wauwatosa, Milwaukee, Wautoma, Wausau, Waubesa and others. So it seems “Waucoma” could well be of Indian origin. And it may well have been the first name of what eventually became Cooksville’s little Badfish Creek.

So, what’s in a name? The Indians no doubt called the clear-running creek a name, apparently “Waucoma,” and early surveyors named it, perhaps mistakenly, the “Bad Fish,” after the nearby Bad Fish River. And Dr. Porter may well have chosen the name “Waucoma” for his new village, one of the many pleasant, musical names that the Indians had long ago given to the land and its features that once was theirs to name and to claim.

The rather silly “myth” that the name “Bad Fish” came from an Indian husband who blamed his upset stomach on a dinner of bad fish from the creek rather than disparage his new wife’s bad cooking can be easily dismissed if for no other reason than the Indian husband most likely did not utter the English words “bad fish” —or “bad fish fry”—as he rubbed his troubled tummy. (But, then, how did the “Bad Fish River,” now the Sugar River, get its original name?)

Both of these names are part of Cooksville’s story, and the two names—Badfish and Waucoma—reflect two characteristics of the time: the long Native American occupancy of the land and water and the brash spirit of the American frontier as it quickly moved westward into the Wisconsin Territory.

Knowing (or making an educated etymological guess) at the reasons for a particular name can prove interesting. For instance, thanks to the Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who first realized in 1507 that the two continents in the western Atlantic were not Asia, and especially thanks to Martin Waldseemüller, the German cartographer who made the continents’ first map in 1507 and applied Amerigo’s first name to those mysterious, new continents— thanks to them, we are known as “Americans” and not as “Vespuccians”!
[Excerpt from “The Village of Cooksville: A Chronicle of the Town that Time Forgot,” being written by Larry Reed.]

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The 2nd Annual Carving on the Commons happened June 25 and 26. The weather was absolutely perfect. 11 carvers worked Saturday and Sunday to finish their pieces in time for the auction. Cooksville Lutheran Church sold lots of brats, hot dogs, barbecue and homemade pies. Nearly 40 people volunteered their time to help with ticket and t-shirt sales, parking, and clean up. It was a good event.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ralph Warner Arrives in Cooksville, 1911

Ralph Lorenzo Warner, a Milwaukee native living in Racine, bought a house in Cooksville in 1911, thanks to his friendship with village resident Susan Porter (a teacher in Racine), who told him the “house next door” was for sale. (Porter was living in Waucoma Lodge on Webster Street.)

Warner bought the Cooksville-brick Duncan House for $500.

Thus began Ralph Warner’s 30-year love-affair with the quaint, quiet, little village, during which he filled his house—the historic Duncan House (built 1848) on the corner of Webster Street and Highway 59—with early American antiques and crafts (and some English art works), created an elaborate English-style garden, entertained special guests at lunches and dinners, and helped promote the “wee bit of New England” that Cooksville represented in Wisconsin.

Warner became a beloved figure in village life in the 1910s,’20s and early ‘30s, stimulating interest in early American arts, crafts and architecture, collecting local antiques that otherwise might have been tossed out, and sharing his keen aesthetic interest in 19th-century life and music and gardening, including preparing simple meals of fresh local ingredients for visitors who discovered him and his antiquarian corner of Cooksville. A number of journalists beat a path to the cobblestone walkway to his famous House Next Door.

All in all, Warner led the way, preserving that special “sense of time and place” of America’s early years that was beginning to appeal to the country in the first decades of the 20th century. By doing so, he single-handedly put quiet little mid-19th century Cooksville on the map.

Ralph Warner's undertakings marked the beginning of historical “awareness” in the village, and his efforts inspired many others during the following 100 years to preserve and celebrate historic Cooksville.

On Sunday, August 14, 2011, at 7 p.m., a program will be presented at the Cooksville Community Center entitled, “Cooksville since 1911: Ralph Warner, the House Next Door, and a Century of Historic Preservation.”

The slide program will include scores of photographs and artifacts to illuminate the story of Ralph Warner and the House Next Door, and will be presented by Will Fellows, best-selling author who grew up near Cooksville and now lives in Milwaukee, and Larry Reed, Cooksville’s local historian.

The program will be presented at the historic Cooksville Schoolhouse on August 14th at 7 p.m., sponsored by the Cooksville Community Center, and is open to the public.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Jody Did It (With a Little Help From Her Friends)


The back of the Cooksville Store was the site of the many hour session of making dreadlocks in Jody's hair. There was food. There was laughing. It was a regular dreadlocks party. Jody was so happy. She's been wanting to do this for a very long time.
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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stoughton Chamber Singers Concert


The rain quit in plenty of time for the 2011 Stoughton Chamber Singers Concert in the Cooksville Church. There was a good crowd and the choir got a standing ovation for their performance. Afterwards, choir and audience enjoyed cookies and tea and lemonade in the Cooksville Community Center.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the Trail of Garlic Mustard


A few folks, led by Jody Foster and her friend, Mary, went after the garlic mustard in the woods of the Cooksville Commons last weekend. Several large garbage bags were filled with the stuff which continues to develop even after it is pulled. The DNR recommends bagging it for the landfill in order to prevent its spread.

A number of people had experience with cooking common weeds and happily shared their knowledge. There is a wealth of food growing right under our feet here in Cooksville.

Garlic mustard has a 2 year growth cycle, so even if we got every single blossoming plant this year, we would still need to come back next year and attack it again. So count on another garlic mustard day next May. And thanks to all who came to help out.
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Get a Grip On Garlic Mustard Sat., May 8

The Cooksville Community Center will hold an educational program entitled “Get a Grip on Garlic Mustard” on Saturday, May 7 from 9:00 a.m. until noon on the Cooksville Commons located on Hwy 59, 2 blocks east of the intersection of Hwy 138 and Hwy 59.

Anyone with an interest is welcome to join in for a day of education and community service. The topic will be the invasive Garlic Mustard plant. Cooksville resident, Jody Foster, will be leading this activity. She has been foraging wild foods for over 10 years. Last year she began teaching others how to identify and use the abundance nature offers us right outside our doors.

Participants will learn how to identify garlic mustard at the various stages of its life, how to control its spread, as well as how to serve it for dinner. The class will be making an effort to pull this year’s growth from the woods at the Cooksville Commons. Attendees can expect to go home with handouts and recipes to try this nutritious and delicious weed on their table. A black trash bag or two would be a welcome donation and will be put to good use! This event is being sponsored by the Cooksville Community Center. For more information email: borrowedearth@litewire.net .

The Center is Clean!

Thanks to all who helped.

Indoors Earlene, Mary Z. and Ilene swept, vacuumed and wiped surfaces. Ralph Pelky washed interior windows.

Outdoors Keith, Larry McD., Bill Z., and Carl Franseen raked and hauled brush.

Jennifer weeded & cleaned the flower beds along the south side. She has bark up there to put down still.

Karl Wolter showed up just as the group finished. He was all ready to wash windows. He will return another day & wash some exterior windows with Patrick. He & Jennifer walked the borders & found garlic mustard along the highway which he said he would take care of.

Mary Kohlman phoned somebody & said she would clean the outhouses.

So we are ready for another season. Many thanks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Bridge is Coming Down

Some Cooksville ladies went for a walk yesterday and noticed that work has begun on the project to dismantle the Leedle Mill Bridge just north of Cooksville. I must be getting old. I don't like to see things change, even if it will mean easier access for some of the neighbors. That's assuming another bridge is to be built. Guess there are no guarantees there.

To learn more about the bridge's story, see the recent blog post called "Bridge to History" on this site (www.cooksvillenews.blogspot.com.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Light on the Prairie: Outdoor Neon/ Illuminated Art Exhibition

50 artists from Wisconsin and across the nation installed their art for two nights on the prairie, combining art and nature. The event was open to the public at no charge. The works were illuminated each evening and the artists were on hand to discuss their work as well as to sell examples in some cases. Sponsored by Preserve Our Rural Landscape. Location: 261 State Road 138, Stoughton, WI (4 miles south of Stoughton and 2 miles north of Cooksville.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bridge to History

COOKSVILLE - In high school, we called guys like Peter Egan gear heads.

They had the fastest and coolest cars, and some of them wound up racing or working in the pits at race tracks in Jefferson, Beaver Dam and Columbus.

Egan, 63, never had a car in high school but took his love of motors to a different level.

For almost 30 years, the Elroy native, Vietnam War veteran and UW-Madison graduate has written about cars and motorcycles for Road & Track and Cycle World magazines.

His stories have taken him around the world, but for the past 21 years, he's also been keeping a close eye on a bridge. It crosses Badfish Creek, just a few yards from the end of his driveway in northern Rock County, about six miles south of Stoughton.

But for Egan and his wife, Barb, Stoughton is about a nine-mile drive. That's because two months after they moved into their home, built in 1878 on West Leedle Mill Road, the town of Union closed the bridge because of structural integrity concerns.

That was in the summer of 1990.

While they've gotten used to the detour, at one time they fought to save the steel bridge. Now they regretfully admit the time has come to replace it.

Technically known as a Pratt through-truss bridge, the 120-foot-long, single-lane structure was built in 1916. This summer, the rusting steel will be turned to scrap and a concrete bridge with two lanes and little character will be built to replace the historic structure and make West Leedle Mill Road whole again.

"It's a beautiful old bridge, but it really wasn't very strong," said Egan, who has to put up with a dead-end road for just a few more months. "There will be more traffic," he admits.

Attempts to give away the bridge never panned out. Like a free horse, taking possession would mean substantial costs.

Robert Newbery of the state Department of Transportation said he received fewer than 10 requests for information on the bridge and of those, only one was serious. The potential taker, who wanted to move the bridge 95 miles to the northeast, near West Bend, backed out when he came up $75,000 short of the $125,000 it would cost to dismantle, move, restore and reassemble the bridge at his farm.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm a realist," Newbery said. "It really takes a special combination. The bridge has to be in good enough shape to be worthwhile, and you have to be a little lucky. There has to be a use nearby."

The Egans were among about 200 people who signed a petition in the early 1990s to have the bridge restored. It was ignored by the town's leadership, and plans to replace the bridge kept getting pushed back for higher-priority projects by the state and federal governments, which will fund 90 percent of the $422,000 project. The remaining 10 percent will be paid by the town. Restoring the bridge carried a $680,000 price tag, but it would have remained a one-lane bridge, said town Chairman Kendall Schneider.

"I understand the money end of it, and it comes down to dollars and cents," said Schneider, elected in 2000. "If we get a new bridge, you're probably looking at two to three times the longevity."

Perhaps. But bridges often define an area.

The new bridge over the Wisconsin River near Spring Green is safer, wider and more stable, but I still miss the green trusses every time I pass through that area on Highway 14.

The concrete Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge, built in 1916 in Chippewa Falls, is still open to motor vehicles, but officials are talking about limiting the downtown bridge to foot and bike traffic.

The Michigan Street Bridge, built in 1930 over a shipping canal in Sturgeon Bay, is undergoing an $18.5 million restoration project that was started in 2009 and is scheduled for completion this fall.

All of those bridges contribute or contributed to the identity of their regions.

The Leedle Mill Bridge is no exception, even though it is partially covered in vegetation, its steel flaking away and its concrete crumbling.

Cooksville is one of the state's historic gems, founded in 1842 and home to dozens of historic homes and structures, including the Cooksville Store, founded in 1846 and one of the state's oldest businesses.

A few years later, in 1849, John and Betsy Curtis built a mill along Badfish Creek near the site of the current Leedle Mill Bridge.

William Leedle and his son bought the four-story mill in 1878 and built the house now owned by the Egans. The dam created a mill pond where the Leedles harvested ice in the winter and where fishing was popular in warmer months.

The dam failed in 1918 and the mill was torn down in 1948.

Egan, a history buff who recently spent seven years restoring a 1964 Lotus Elan, still has a piece of the millstone in his garage. The stone at one time could grind 30 bushels of grain an hour, according to historical accounts.

The coming of a concrete bridge across the creek, home to brown trout and history, may be necessary but it just doesn't seem to fit.

"I think initially it's going to look barren," said Egan. "It's never going to be as pretty as the old bridge."

Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at badams@madison.com.

Copyright 2011 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

.Posted in Local on Sunday, March 20, 2011 11:33 am Updated: 11:46 am. On Wisconsin, Peter Egan, Cooksville, Robert Newbery, Badfish Creek, Truss Bridge, Kendall Schneider, Wisconsin River, Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge, Leedle Mill Bridge, William Leedle, John Curtis, Betsy Curtis

Monday, March 21, 2011

Carving Again

The chainsaw is buzzing again and Tom is back at it after his hand surgery. We're looking forward to seeing what he comes up with for the Carving on the Commons event in Cooksville on June 25 and 26, 2011. There is more information at www.carvingonthecommons.blogspot.com.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cooksville Store News

The Cooksville Store has a new owner. Jeanine Holzmann acquired the store on January 1st, and since then she has been working hard to make the business her own. She has made many changes, and she says we should continue to look for more. She carries wine, movies for rent, pottery, hand made soap, and a nice variety of grocery items including farm fresh eggs. Soon there will be handmade jewelry as well, and a display of historical Cooksville artifacts. Locally grown produce will be available as it comes into season.

One of the few rural stores left in Wisconsin, the Cooksville Store has been altered little since the turn of the century and it has retained its architectural integrity. Since 1846 the store has remained open, making it the longest continuously run general store still operating in the State of Wisconsin.

The Cooksville Store offers a nostalgic air of yesterday blended with the convenience of today. Come in and walk the creaky floor boards as many a grandparent did years ago. Buy a pop from the ol’ wall cooler! Sit on the porch and rest your bones while you visit with the cat.

Jeanine is in search of photos and stories of days gone by in Cooksville to add to the display case. Contact her at cooksvillestore@gmail.com or drop by.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cooksville Community Center 2011 Calendar

2011 Cooksville Community Center Calendar
Including other Cooksville Area Events

Light on the Prairie: Outdoor Neon/ Illuminated Art Exhibition
Friday and Saturday, April 15 & 16, 7:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

50 artists from Wisconsin and across the nation will install their art for two nights on the prairie, combining art and nature. The event is open to the public at no charge (though we welcome donations.) The works will be illuminated each evening and the artists will be on hand to discuss their work as well as to sell examples in some cases. Visitors should wear comfortable shoes as the prairie paths are uneven. Sponsored by Preserve Our Rural Landscape. Location: 261 State Road 138, Stoughton, WI (4 miles south of Stoughton and 2 miles north of Cooksville.)

Clean Up Day at the Center Saturday, April 30, 9:00 a.m.
Come join the crew to shine up the center for a new season. Bring a rag, sponge and bucket, broom and dust pan. Inside the center we will sweep up the bugs, mop floors, clean bathrooms and kitchen, and wipe flat surfaces. We will also clean the basement and outhouses. Outside we will rake, trim and weed. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Get a Grip on Garlic Mustard Saturday, May 7, 9:00 a.m. - noon
Join us for a day of education and community service on the Cooksville Commons. Our topic will be the invasive Garlic Mustard plant. Learn to identify it at various stages of its life, how to control its spread, and how to serve it for dinner. Join us in making an effort to pull this year’s growth from the woods at the Commons. Go home with recipes to try this nutritious and delicious weed on your table. A black trash bag or two would be a welcome donation and will be put to good use! Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Stoughton Chamber Singers Concert Wednesday, May 25, 7:00 p.m.
The Stoughton Chamber Singers is returning to Cooksville for this Cooksville Community Center sponsored event entitled "America Sings", which will celebrate American music with selections from a variety of Colonial composers and the Southern hymn tune tradition. Three choral pastorals by the 20h Century composer, Cecil Effinger, will highlight the middle of the program and selections by such American songsters as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Hoagy Carmichael will close the program. Suggested donation of $5 at the door. Reception follows in the Community Center. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Church, Hwy 59 and Hwy 138.

Carving on the Commons Saturday, June 25, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday June 26, 10:00 a.m. -3:00 p.m.
This two-day open air event sponsored by the Cooksville Community Center will feature chainsaw carvers from throughout the Midwest. Come explore this powerful specialized form of woodworking and see art in the making. Admission is $3 per person per day, and free admission after 2 on Sunday. Children under 5 admitted free. Food and refreshments will be available for sale. Auction of carvings Sunday at 3:00. For more information see the Carving on the Commons Blog at http://carvingonthecommons.blogspot.com/ Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Food sales by Cooksville Lutheran Church. Location: Cooksville Commons

Independence Day Family Potluck Picnic Monday, July 4, 12:00 noon
Bring a dish to pass and your own silverware to this traditional community event for a communal meal and games at the Cooksville Commons. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Commons or Community Center in case of rain.

Friends of Badfish Creek Presentation Tuesday, July 19, 7:00 p.m.
The Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed will present a Cooksville Community Center sponsored program about Badfish Creek and their group’s efforts to improve the health of the creek and its watershed. Join us for a short slide show, some creek talk, and homemade refreshments. You’ll also have a chance to sign up for our annual canoe outing from Cooksville to Riley Road and get involved in our various projects. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center and The Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed. Location: Cooksville Community Center.

Cooksville since 1911: Ralph Warner, the House Next Door,
and a Century of Historic Preservation Sunday, August 14, 7:00 p.m.

The Cooksville Community Center will sponsor an event by author and Evansville area native, Will Fellows and Cooksville resident historian, Larry Reed for a presentation on Milwaukee native Ralph Warner, who “discovered” Cooksville in 1910, through his friendship with Susan Porter, and bought the Duncan House in 1911. This marked the beginning of historic preservation in Cooksville. Scores of photographs will illuminate the story of the House Next Door, its first keeper, and some of those who have been inspired to further the village's restoration and preservation through the 20th century. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Cooksville Lutheran Church Fall Festival Sunday, September 11, 11:00 a.m.
Home cooked meal, prepared by members of the Church, with children’s games, items for sale (arts & crafts, collectibles, antiques, produce, fall mums), Silent Auction, and more. Sponsored by and proceeds benefit Cooksville Lutheran Church. Location: Cooksville Lutheran Church

Tour of Dr. Evermore’s Art Park with Birthday Cake Saturday, September 17, 12:30 p.m.
Enjoy a coach bus ride to Dr. Evermore’s Art Park, north of Prairie du Sac, for a guided tour of the Park with sculptures created from salvaged metal parts. (You can google Dr. Evermore’s Art Park for information about the park.) Advance registration is required before September 1st.. Please contact the Cooksville Store 608-882-0575 for additional information or to reserve a spot. $20 fee includes transportation and cake. Co-sponsored by Cooksville Store and Cooksville Community Center. Location: bus leaves from Cooksville Store.

Cooksville Community Center Annual Meeting Monday, September 26, 7 p.m.
Learn what has happened this year and what is on the agenda for the future at this Community Center event. This is your opportunity to voice your opinions about the Center. We want your input to help us manage the upkeep of center, the programs offered and the impact on the community. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Annual Halloween Party Saturday, October 15, 6:30 p.m.
Please come & help with set up and decorating at noon the same day. There will be games and activities for kids and a bonfire for adults. Bring your own beverages and a snack to pass. Flashlights are encouraged for all. Come join us for a Community Center sponsored event, which has become a local tradition! Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Cooksville Lutheran Annual Harvest Dinner Sunday, November 13, 12-3 p.m.
This is a Cooksville Lutheran Church event. A home cooked Thanksgiving meal will be served. Sponsored by and proceeds benefit the church. Location: Cooksville Lutheran Church.

We Are Looking for Help with Carving on the Commons, the chainsaw carving event in June which is our main fund raiser, as well as for other program events. Please contact Martha Degner if you are willing to volunteer (madegner@litewire.net) We will give you a call to work through your specific involvement. Also, do you have a suggestion for a future program?

Quarterly Community Center Board MeetingsThe board meets the 2nd Monday of March, June, September and December. Members of the Center are invited to attend the quarterly board meetings.

Email Addresses: We would like to send you updates and reminders by email in the future. If you are willing, please send your email address to Jennifer Ehle at hopkins@litewire.net

Changes and updates to the Calendar of Events will be posted at the Cooksville Store as well as on the Town of Porter website which is www.porterwi.com. We are trying to schedule another bagpipe demonstration by the Shriners Pipe & Drum Corps. Stay tuned. Check out www.cooksvillenews.blogspot.com for pictures and stories. Find the Cooksville Community Center on Facebook and become a friend.

The Community Center Building is available for rent throughout the summer and fall for graduation parties, baby/bridal showers, dinners, family events and meetings. The building is air conditioned. Contact Bill Zimmerman 873-1652 or 608-628-8566 for rates and reservations.

The Center has note cards, Cooksville guidebooks, ceramic mugs and plates for sale, which will be available for purchase during Center events.

Please phone a board member with questions regarding events or programs.
Support your local community center
by attending program events and the Annual Meeting.
Carl Franseen, President/Treasurer
Keith Axford, Vice President
Jennifer Ehle, Secretary – 235 6924, hopkins@litewire.net
Martha Degner, Programs - 608 335 8375, madegner@litewire.net
Bill Zimmerman, Maintenance, Membership, Rentals – 873 1652, mra@litewire.net
Joan Weiss, Ralph Pelkey, Larry McDonnell

Village Barns, Dairy Barns, Sheds and Outhouses of Cooksville

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The "Early Settlers Reunions" in Cooksville

Fifty Years of Picnics and Remembrances
by Larry Reed

The “Early Settlers Reunions” were a very important part of the life of Cooksville for fifty years, from 1901 to 1951. These picnic-like gatherings of the original Cooksville settlers and their descendents succeeded in perpetuating a real sense of time and place and personality—a sense of shared community— especially as the fast-paced 20th century took hold of the lives of the 19th century pioneers.

And the sentimental gatherings also provided a valuable time for sharing and re-living the history of the village, for maintaining and renewing friendships, and for re-uniting with the best of their difficult but rewarding “pioneer” past.

The first “Old Settlers’ Picnic”—another affectionate name given the gathering—was apparently initiated by Mrs. Belle Lee and Mrs. Ellen Wells Love and took place in the Masonic Lodge above the General Store on September 26, 1901. About 150 people, “present and former residents of this pretty rural hamlet,” attended, according to Irene M. Wells, the local newspaper reporter.

They listened to reminiscences from Gideon E. Newman, chosen chairman for the event, and Benjamin Hoxie, Isaac Hoxie, and Joseph K.P. Porter. The assembly was also treated to “two or three humorous stories” by Will Gillies. A “memento letter” from J. T. Dow was read, and Helen P. Richardson sang a song that “proved her a true descendent of her nightingale mother,” Ann Eliza Bacon Porter, wife of Joseph K.P. Porter, one of the three nephews who helped their uncle, John Porter, lay-out the new Village of Waucoma in 1846 next to Cooksville (platted in 1842).

“For this one day the rush of life was checked,” reported Ms. Wells, “ its cankering cares forgotten, and gazing into each others eyes they clasped hands, thanked God and took courage.” The Masonic hall “was handsomely carpeted and well lighted. The resident ladies had arranged draperies, pictures and potted plants most effectively; at the west end of the room were several tables decorated with choice flowers and fruits, and loaded with the most delectable achievements of the culinary art.”

So enthusiastic were the participants that they resolved to form the meeting into a permanent organization to be known as the “Early Settlers’ Reunion of Cooksville,” to gather folks together each year.

Succeeding Early Settlers Reunions were held on the Public Square, although inclement weather —possible frost was predicted on the new “wireless’— necessitated that the second gathering on September 9, 1902, be held in the basement of the Cooksville Congregational Church. Several pioneers spoke at that gathering, including John Porter who “alluded to melon patches and youthful escapades,” and music was provided by Helen Richardson and the four daughters of Sanford Soverhill.

Pioneers who had died during the previous year were memorialized by Minnie Stebbins Savage (who also was the reporter for this event). Ms. Savage “spoke of the harvest of affection brought in from the field of life by William Porter; her early recollections of bluff, genial, hospitable Hamilton Wells; the Scottish accent and loving Scotch loyalty of Mrs. J.G. Robertson; the inspiration of Benjamin Hoxie’s life in the use made by him of the days’ margins; the reverent, sincere devotion of James Gillies, instinct with the sacredness of religion; and the courage with which Mrs. Noah Davenport met the duties of life after the death of her husband.”

These reports of the Early Settlers Reunions provide some of the best glimpses into the lives and personalities of the settlers themselves—their devotion to their new community and to their country, their pride in their pioneering past, their delight in the present and their confidence in the future. Their eager and fulsome expressiveness and the sharing of their talents, and, most vividly, their sincere affection and concern for each other are all very evident.

From then on, for fifty years, the picnic Reunions were held on the third or fourth Thursdays in June of every year, usually on the Public Square under the stand of virgin burr oak trees with a feast of picnic food. In addition to the fond reminiscences shared by the old pioneers and the tributes to those who had passed on, poetry was composed for the occasion and recited, and short plays (such as “Grandmother’s Story” and “Why the Cannon Wasn’t Fired”) depicting Cooksville events were performed.

Music, too, was an important element in the festivities over the years. Jack Robertson provided his award-winning violin music as well as his tricks with his violin; the Cooksville Lutheran Quartette and the Janesville Male Quartette sang; Webster Johnson played his bagpipes; Eloise Eager played the violin; June Porter sang vocal solos; and a Drum Corps composed of men from the Town of Porter, Evansville and Janesville got feet tapping with their rousing rendition of “Marching Through Georgia.”

In 1927, Gideon Newman, sixty-six at the time (and the man who would commission Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934 to design a chapel for Cooksville to be called “A Memorial to the Soil”—but that’s another story!) wrote a letter from his retirement in Dallas, Texas, probably in response to a request for recollections, to be read at the upcoming Old Settlers’ Picnic.

Newman fondly reminisced about the old settlers, including some of their tonsorial styles: “I spend much time visiting again and again with the old bewhiskered pioneers who settled in and around the Badfish Valley,” he wrote. “Do you know the only clean shaven men that I can bring to mind are John Savage and David Gillies. The only bewhiskered sons of the Old Guard are James Gillies and Chap Stebbins. There are probably more but I cannot recall any. There was no set style of tonsorial achievement sought. Isaac Porter and Ezra Stoneburner were very proud of their beautiful upper lips. Tom Longbourne also wanted everyone to admire with him his splendid mouth”

Newman continued on: “Then there were the wonderful heads of hair. I think if vanity visited the men of Cooksville it certainly evidenced itself in the attention given to the arrangement of the hair of their heads. We will have to except from that standing the hair on the head of the senior Newman and Joel Sturtevant. I don’t think father ever combed his himself, and I know Joel’s was never combed by anybody. No one would have known him if it had been combed. On the other hand, visualize the cupid-like curl on top of George Gillies’s head and the glossy slick perfections on top of John Dow’s head. I don’t think Dow shampooed his hair when he took a bath.

“I like to call the roll of all the men and women who ever lived in that community and dwell upon their varied qualities, eccentricities and peculiarities. Of course, I think I like best to live among their frailties rather than their virtues. But who stands out as the greatest man among them all? Call the roll and measure them, one with another, and pick the leader or leaders. I wonder. I stand them up in a row. The Gillieses, the Porters, Millers, Dow, Hoxie, Stebbins, Earle, Van Vleck… You know this last name has lingered much in my mind. He had vision and some genius. His corn planter was not quite as big as the McCormick reaper, but the planter to him was as big an achievement as was the reaper to McCormick. The list of rivals for greatness seems to stop time….”

“How big a niche in the Hall of Fame will it take to house E.G. Stoneburner, Bill Johnson, John Courter, Horace Wells, Tom Morgan or Charlie Woodbury,” Newman wrote. “But I have forgotten or left out one name that in my mind belongs to or among the rivals for the place of honor. Bill Graves [the blacksmith]. If man can achieve his goal, Bill Graves did. He was endowed with nothing but a stout right arm. And with only that right arm for nearly two generations he made it possible for all the other men to plow and sow and reap success out of the wilderness….”

Gideon Newman’s Cooksville “Hall of Fame” has, of course, grown since 1927— with both men and women— eighty-four more years of stout arms, virtuosos, friends, artists, eccentrics, dreamers, and still counting. And the Village still echoes with the Old Settlers names and their achievements, as well as with the many new ones continuously being added.

The Blacksmith Shop