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

Copyright 2011 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

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 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 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 ( 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

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 We are trying to schedule another bagpipe demonstration by the Shriners Pipe & Drum Corps. Stay tuned. Check out 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,
Martha Degner, Programs - 608 335 8375,
Bill Zimmerman, Maintenance, Membership, Rentals – 873 1652,
Joan Weiss, Ralph Pelkey, Larry McDonnell

Village Barns, Dairy Barns, Sheds and Outhouses of Cooksville