Sunday, December 9, 2012

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chapel for Cooksville By Larry Reed

It’s a little-known fact that in 1934, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a chapel for Cooksville, which he named the “Memorial to the Soil Chapel.” The chapel was commissioned for the Gideon Newman family of Cooksville, one of the early families to settle in the village.

According to Wright, the small Prairie School style family chapel was to be a “Chapel Cast in Concrete” that was inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”
Wright’s Cooksville Chapel drawing

However, the project was never built, and its exact proposed location is unknown. The only existing evidence of the chapel is an exquisite prospective elevation and plan drawn by Wright, as well as several brief mentions of the project in the Madison Capital Times newspaper in 1934.

Wright’s plan for the Cooksville Chapel became better known in 1992 when it was featured on the cover of the catalogue for an exhibit in Milwaukee celebrating the 125th anniversary of Wright’s birth. The exhibit was titled, “The Wright State: Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin.”

Apparently, the chapel was designed for the side of a small hill, and, as a Milwaukee newspaper described it in 1992, “[The chapel] breaks from the brow of a hill—a smooth-walled, flat-roofed jewel of parallel lines. Molded from cast concrete, the building both accentuates and pays tribute to the land it embraces.”

On the only existing drawing of the chapel, Wright wrote a description of his design as a “Memorial to the tiller of the ground making the earth a feature of the monument or vice versa.” The plan is a Wrightian design, very horizontal, with very simple geometric shapes inside and out.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Unfortunately, not much more is known about the project. The proposed location near Cooksville is not known, nor is the story behind the Newman family’s commission known. And the reason it was not built is likewise unknown.

The family of Gideon Newman commissioned the chapel. But which family member(s) actually dealt with Frank Lloyd Wright is not known. And the “Gideon Newman family” was a large family that included two “Gideon Newman” members: one, the original pioneer settler of Cooksville and the second, his youngest son with the same name.

The elder Gideon Ellis Newman (1823-1911) and his family settled in Cooksville in 1850, where he lived in what is now the Cooksville Farmhouse Inn on the northwest corner of State Highways 59 and 138,. Newman was a prosperous farmer on land northwest of Cooksville and north of the Badfish Creek.

His youngest son, who may have instigated the project, was also named Gideon Ellis Newman (1860-1944). He attended the University of Wisconsin in the 1880s, taught at the Cooksville School, and owned the family farm for a while and was a lawyer in Nebraska, a banker in northern Wisconsin, and an operator of an orange grove for a time in Alabama. He also lived in Chicago, Dallas, Janesville, Evansville, and San Francisco, where he died.

This younger Gideon Newman may have known Frank Lloyd Wright at the University of Wisconsin, where both were in attendance in 1886, and Newman most likely knew of this famous architect by the 1930s. It seems very likely that he initiated the 1934 Wright commission for the family. (Of course it is possible another member of the “Gideon Newman” family—children or grandchildren—may have played a role in commissioning the design of the “Cooksville Chapel” for the pioneering “Gideon Newman family.”)

And it seems reasonable that the proposed location for the Cooksville chapel may have been on the old Newman farmland north of the village on the north side of the Badfish Creek.

Unfortunately, the “Memorial to the Soil Chapel,” was never built in or near Cooksville. It would have been a unique addition to the architecture and the history of “the Town that Time Forgot.”

A Wright-designed window

Monday, December 3, 2012


Cooksvillians found many ways to entertain themselves, according to newspaper clippings, diary entries and remembered anecdotes found in the Cooksville Archives.
Jack Robertson, award-winning fiddler, c. 1920
The Centennial of the U.S.A. in 1876 was celebrated in several ways. In Cooksville a 100-foot flag pole was erected on the Public Square with appropriate patriotic music, songs and speeches. Also, in 1876, as the Evansville Review reported, the people of Cooksville were “celebrating the 17th of June, in Mr. Dow’s beautiful grove, with some appropriate national jollification ….with a fine breeze, excellent music…They always have a good time over there.”

An “Apron and Necktie Supper” party in Cooksville scheduled for December 11, 1886, was announced in the Evansville Review by its Cooksville Correspondent: “The Good Templars [a temperance group] will give an Apron Sociable in the basement of the [Congregational] church Sat. Evening, Dec. 11th. Each lady will please make an apron leaving six inches unhemmed and a necktie of the same material as the apron. The neckties will be placed in envelopes and sold. Each gentleman is to finish hemming the apron like his necktie. Two prizes will be given, one to the best hemmer, and one to the poorest hemmer. Each lady will provide supper for two. Apron, necktie and supper all for twenty-five cents. It is astonishing how patiently and perseveringly the boys are practicing sewing in preparation for this event. There promises to be quite a strife for the best prize—and for aught your humble correspondent can tell, the prize may be the neatest little housekeeper in town, providing of course, that the winner is not already married, in which case a wig may be substituted.” (Two weeks later it was reported in the newspaper that, “The first prize at the Apron Social was a moustache cup, and a young fellow won it who hadn’t a sign of down on his lip!’)

In 1888, an unusual kind of party popular in Cooksville was reported in the Evansville Tribune of Feb. 4, 1888. Apparently, folks would burst into someone’s home, unannounced, to instigate a party. “They call ‘em surprise parties, one came to our house last Tuesday as we were gathered around our evening meal, with our favorite dish of raw onions and vinegar for desert (sic). We ‘riz right up’ and made them welcome, then we played all the kissing games from Copenhagen to ‘spat ‘em out’ and finished up with a good old fashioned codtillion (sic), while the good Deacon looked on and wished, alas, that he was young and could trip the ‘light fantastic toe’ its way home to the music of the ‘bells, bells, bells.’” Wild times in Cooksville, with this party probably at the home of one of the Danish Hansens. (Maybe you had to be there.)
Pony cart on the Square with the flag pole, c. 1900
The Cooksville Public Square was the scene of many community events, especially picnics. In 1889, a race track was constructed around the perimeter, “which when completed will be very handy for those who have horses to train.” Tickets to use the track could be purchased at the Post Office (in one of the Stores) or at the Broom Factory across Webster Street on the west side of the Square. And in the same year, according to this Evansville newspaper article, “there will be a base ball ground laid out and all league clubs including Evansville and Chicago will be invited to play on this ground.” The ball games on the Public Square brought the men and boys of the village together on Saturday afternoons. A 1900 photograph shows the Cooksville Cornhuskers baseball team posed for a group picture. And in the winter, “The boys had fine sport skating on the mill pond.”
The Cooksville Cornhuskers baseball team, 1900.
There was even a wrestling match in Cooksville reported in 1858: “The contest between Graves of Cooksville and Lane of Fond du Lac came off at Cooksville Tuesday—Graves won the stake of $100. Everything went off pleasantly.” In the late 1880s, the circus came to Cooksville—or, at least, it passed through the village. As a child, Lillian Graves remembered it: “Circuses would perform in Stoughton and then travel overland to Evansville by way of Cooksville. My father would get us up at 4 a.m. on circus day, and we would line up on Main Street to see the animals and circus wagons as they went by. The calliope would play in parade and horses, elephants and camels were led on foot with the wagon cages displaying the more ferocious beasts. It never occurred to us that we might attend a circus performance, and this brief glimpse of circus life was quiet sufficient. We would talk about it for days.” Another form of entertainment, occasionally presented at the Cooksville Schoolhouse for the children, was the ‘panorama show.” This was an early form of a “picture show” in which a series of scenes or pictures, sometimes of Civil War battles, that had been painted on large, rolled-up canvases were slowly unrolled in panoramic succession before the audience, like a moving mural. In 1886, the children eagerly watched the pictures unfold before their eyes, although the adults apparently were not so fascinated by this old-fashioned “class of entertainment.” “Play Day” was an exciting and eagerly-anticipated event for the Cooksville School children and for the kids from the other Town of Porter schools who came to the Public Square to compete in sports and other events, and those happy Days were fondly remembered long after all those one-room schools closed in the early 1960s. In the mid-20th century out-door movies arrived in Cooksville. In 2012, when the Cooksville General Store was being re-painted, it was reported that, “Jerry [Julseth] is enjoying watching the store being painted and now that they are painting the north side, he plans to go over and tell Mr. Imhoff [the painter] about how the Cooksville store showed movies on that side of the store on Saturday evenings in the summer. The village kids remember going into the store and getting pop corn and watching Roy Rogers and other cowboy movies which were projected on the side of the store. They would bring their blankets along and enjoy the show.” Life in old Cooksville also included its share of “fun” pranks that amused the village, or at least pleased the pranksters. One of the more “popular” and frequent pranks reported was the stealthy late-night opening of the gates on the mill pond, which lowered the water level and left the Cooksville mill inoperable and the miller unable to grind that day.
Making apple cider with Ralph Warner, 1917
Other pranks recorded included the Halloween-night tarring of Ralph Warner’s front stoop—sticky steps that may or may not have amused the owner. At another time, the rope was taken from the flagpole on the Public Square and stretched across the road and broken into pieces (either by horse-drawn carriages or Model-T Fords). And William Porter’s water pump got filled with sand, and Mr. Newell’s hay-mower mysteriously ended up on top of his blacksmith shop one night. “Who did it?” The answer given in the reports was often, “The Boys.” Asked one reporter, “Is it ‘The Boys’ that lower people’s woodpiles in the night?” Another prank—really, a turning of the tables on young Halloween pranksters who loved tipping over outhouses— was the moving of his out-house by Mr. Van Wormer himself, about three feet off its foundation and away from its hole-in-the-ground, so that the nighttime pranksters who approached the outhouse, no doubt to turn it over or steal it, had an unexpected and unpleasant “drop-in” down the hole— much to Mr. Van Wormer’s great delight, no doubt. In the 1890s, village boys played an elaborate prank on William and Marshall Ray. The Rays were two middle-aged bachelor brothers who lived on the Square and owned farmland outside the village, which they worked with a pair of mules. The ownership of mules was unusual at the time. The Rays brothers were well-liked and the local boys would often visit them. According to Lillian Graves’ reminiscences, one evening, village boys, including her two younger brothers, Wayne and Willie, “managed to get the two mules out of the barn and changed their colors from brown to white by administering liberal coats of whitewash. Then Wayne and another boy went to call on the Ray brothers who were sitting on their front porch. Two other young pranksters had been delegated to hitch up the mules and drive them by the Ray home. As they came into sight, one of the [Ray] brothers remarked with some surprise, ‘Other folks have mules as well as we.’ This simple yarn was repeated over and again in Cooksville, and almost became a folk legend.” Even Cooksville’s young pranksters helped to entertain the village.

[These bits of Cooksville life and history—and many more— are found in the diaries, memoires, newspaper clippings, letters, personal interviews and oral histories, all of which are contained in the Cooksville Archives. The Archives is available to interested persons. Donations of photographs, clippings, anecdotes, family histories, etc., are welcomed. Contact Larry Reed, (608) 873-5066 or email]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cooksville Lutheran Harvest Dinner 11/11/12

Cooksville Lutheran Church, Harvest Dinner November 11th Members of the Cooksville Lutheran Church are busy preparing for the annual Harvest Dinner, scheduled for Sunday, November 11th, noon-3 PM. Church services will precede the meal, commencing at 10:15 AM. Tickets will be on sale the day of the event in the new church addition, the Fellowship Hall, which is handicapped accessible and air-conditioned. . Individuals /families are invited to eat at the Church; or carry-out meals are available. The meal will consist of the traditional homemade Thanksgiving meal: turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked squash, cranberries and lefse, and pie. The church building is handicapped accessible and air-conditioned. The Cooksville Lutheran Church is located in northern Rock County, at the junction of state roads 59, 138 and Tolles Road, between Edgerton, Stoughton and Evansville. The mailing address for the Church is 11927 West Church Street, Evansville, but it is located in the village of Cooksville. The website address is Please call me if you have questions, 1-608-302-1722;

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Entertainments of various kinds—parties, community gatherings, occasional pranks—were part of the active social life of 19th century Cooksville. They were the highlights in the hard-working, semi-isolated Cooksville community, before small villages were “hard-wired” with telephones, radios, televisions, the Internet, and the internal combustion engines of the 20th century.
Being neighborly and sharing simple pleasures were important attributes in small towns in the mid-and-late-1800s, with self-organized activities serving as sources of social interaction, individual pleasure and sometimes intellectual stimulation. As recorded in journals, diaries and local newspaper gossip columns, the village tea-time parties and supper-parties that lasted until the wee hours were frequent events, often with music, singing, dancing and lively discussions. At one party at Mr. Duncan’s, “we fell into a pleasant little discussion upon the sounds of the vowels.” (Maybe not all the talk was lively.) Recipes, home remedies and plants were exchanged and gossip shared at house visits in the afternoon or the evening. Picnics, especially school picnics, were popular gatherings on the village Public Square or in Dow’s Grove west of the village by the Badfish Creek. And Waucoma House, the village’s stagecoach inn and tavern, was the site of social interaction (and alcoholic refreshments) before it was demolished in 1915. Card-games, especially euchre and whist, were enjoyed and holiday parties and family festivities usually involved friends and neighbors. The Porters, just east of Cooksville, once gave a party gathering for eighteen guests where fresh oysters— a popular dish to serve— were to be featured; however, the barrel of oysters, shipped in from Milwaukee or Chicago and stored in the cool basement, had spoiled, and the hostess, Ann Eliza Porter, had to improvise on that occasion. But, she wrote in her journal, “we got along quite well without them” and at 3 a.m. “our company went home under a mellow flood of moonlight.”
Ann Eliza Porter and Joseph K.P. Porter had arrived in 1847, and Ann brought the first piano to the community. She was a well-trained musician and was the moving spirit in the many musical events in the community, including productions of “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “Laila.” She was also a popular one-woman “elocutionist,” dramatically reciting poems and stories. She was also remembered as shocking the community by sitting beside her husband in church instead of sitting on the side reserved for women. Village neighborliness sometimes took the form of “donation parties.” Such parties, the fund-raising charities of their time, were common, especially to assist the elder and were usually held at the Masonic Hall or the Congregational Church basement. At one such party, for the Widow O’Brien and her five children who faced a bleak winter, neighbors who had little money to donate came with gifts of pork, flour, and vegetables. At the Widow’s party they danced and played games, one of which involved a large flat pan half-filled with raisins and half-filled with whiskey, which was then set afire. The players had to pick the raisins out of the burning whiskey with their fingers. One little boy remembered crawling around on the floor beneath the crowd of adults and snatching up the hot raisins that were dropped. “Black berrying” was turned into pleasurable social outings. In the 1860s many diary entries by the Dow family recorded outings into the woods near Bellville and Dayton where black berries were picked, picnic suppers were eaten, and partiers camped overnight in the woods or in a nearby barn if it rained, and came home in the morning. “Had a fine time,” the diarist wrote. In 1876, a major July 4th celebratory project was undertaken by two Cooksvillians, who otherwise had extremely different religious beliefs but shared very patriotic feelings. Gideon Newman was a Maine Protestant, and John Savage was a Vermont Puritan, They argued frequently about religion, wasting time and energy, until finally both men decided to cease discussing religion and divert their energies into something constructive. Both men decided upon a project to raise a “liberty pole” in the Cooksville Public Square to celebrate America’s 100th birthday on July 4, 1876. (Liberty poles were erected during the Revolutionary War as protests against British rule, and continued to be popular public expressions of American freedom in the 19th century, as are flag poles today.) The community supported the idea of a Cooksville liberty pole wholeheartedly, and Newman and Savage were selected to secure the logs. The two men took their horse teams and journeyed to northern Wisconsin and brought back two fifty-foot logs. William Graves, a local blacksmith, and John Fisher, a local carpenter, went to work to taper the two logs together from 36 inches at the base to 8 inches at the top, with a splice at the center fastened with steel bands and bolts to connect the two fifty-foot sections. On July 4, 1876, it was reported that three thousand people gathered on the Public Square to watch the raising of this impressive Liberty Pole. A ten-foot hole was dug, with a forty-foot trench leading into it. The pole was rolled into the trench, and then slowly raised with ropes, pulleys and sheer strength. The Liberty Pole, a ninety-foot symbol of the American Spirit, was a result of the efforts of two men who disagreed on religion but agreed on democratic principles. As part of the ceremony, ten little girls, “Future Mothers of America,” raised the flag. Ann Eliza Porter, Cooksville’s talented soprano, sang two patriotic solos, and John Savage sang a song, “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground.” Community singing was led by Thomas Morgan accompanied on the portable melodeon, a small organ, by his daughter, Net. The program that day also included a fife and drum corps and “talks” by Thomas Earl, Benjamin Hoxie, Joseph Porter, Harrison Stebbins, James Gillies, John Savage, J.P. Van Vleck and John Dow. The Liberty Pole remained in place for six years, towering over the village. In 1882, the Evansville Enterprise newspaper reported that the Liberty Pole had been sawn down. (However, photos from about 1910 show a tall flagpole standing in the middle of the Public Square, perhaps a replacement .) (TO BE CONTINUED.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

“The Best Dam Man in the World!” by Larry Reed (PART TWO)

John Savage grew up in the small village of Cooksville (“a wee bit of New England in Wisconsin”), attended school there, as well as the nearby Evansville High School. He then attended the Hillside Home School at Spring Green for two years, a private academy operated by Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts. In 1898 his family moved to Madison and he completed his junior and senior years at Madison High School, and then studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin for the next four years, graduating in 1903. Here is Savage about 15 years old.
His first job in civil engineering was with the U.S. Reclamation Service “Temporary Force” as an engineering aid at a salary of $60 per month to work on the Minidoka irrigation project in the Snake River Valley of Idaho. Thus began his life’s work, advancing in his profession with many impressive achievements and awards to come, although he modestly called himself just “one of Uncle Sam’s employees.” Savage always had great affection for his hometown of Cooksville on the Badfish Creek with the nearby Yahara River with their dams powering the four grist mills from their flowing waters. His father was Edwin Parker Savage (who served as chairman of the Town of Dunkirk in 1889) and his mother was Mary Therese Stebbins. He grew up on the family farm, which had been established by his grandfather who came to Wisconsin in 1842 settling in the Town of Dunkirk north of Cooksville. (Unfortunately, the historic farmhouse that he grew up in was destroyed by fire in 1996.) He first married Jessie Burdick Sexsmith of Milton Junction, Wisconsin, in 1918; she died in 1941. He later married Olga Lacher Miner in 1950. He had no children. When Savage died in 1967 at the age of 88, he was lauded for his designs of the world’s great dams, for his many impressive water project-related accomplishments throughout the world and for his dedicated service, his modesty and his self-effacement. As one person wrote, “Perhaps the final irony of his life was that John L. Savage, a man who hated publicity and was dedicated to public service, had actually left to posterity monuments as permanent as any created in the entire history of mankind.” No doubt: John Lucian Savage (1879-1967) was the best dam man in history. [Excerpt from “The Village of Cooksville: A Chronicle of the Town that Time Forgot,” by Larry A. Reed.]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

“The Best Dam Man in the World!” by Larry A. Reed (PART ONE)

As a boy, John Lucian Savage—who would later become known as the best dam man in the world— undoubtedly explored the four dams on the Badfish Creek and Yahara River near his hometown of Cooksville in the late 19th century. John Lucian Savage was born on December 25, 1879, a little north of Cooksville on his father’s farm in the Town of Dunkirk, Dane County, not far from those four separate, water-powered grist mills. He attended the Cooksville School as a child and later received his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1903. Savage went on to design the world’s greatest dams, earning the title of the “Best Dam Man in the World.” He served as the Chief Designing Engineer at the Bureau of Reclamation in the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1924 to1945, and supervised the design of about 90 dams and related structures in the U.S.A. and throughout the world. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science in 1934 from the University of Wisconsin, and he consulted with numerous countries on water resource projects after he retired from the Bureau. Savage is also credited with inventing and developing several significant construction techniques and devices used in hydraulic engineering. One of his most important innovations was to pour the massive amounts of concrete needed for those huge dams in sections that were cooled by circulating water through pipes embedded in the concrete; otherwise it would have taken about a hundred years for the heat to dissipate as the concrete cured.
He designed the highest dam, the Hoover Dam, and the biggest, the Coulee Dam, and initially designed the largest water project in the world— the Yangtze Gorge Dam in China in 1944, which was finally begun in the 1980s following Savage’s basic design. During his career he designed and advised on projects throughout the world— Australia, Mexico, Panama, South Africa, Japan, Canada, India, Afghanistan, Palestine, Taiwan, Spain, Puerto Rico, Colombia, China. The photo is Savage on the Yangtze River, 1944.
“If you spin a globe of the world and jab a finger at a continent, the chances are good that you’ll strike a part of the earth that has been changed by John Lucian Savage. A modest, humble man Jack Savage is a dynamic force in turning deserts into crop-bearing soil, in sending electric power into kerosene-lamp country, in raising the living standards of millions of people,” stated an article in Collier’s magazine in 1953 titled, “The Best Dam Man in the Business.” (To be continued.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

“The Night the Cooksville Opera House Burned Down” (Part Two) By Larry Reed

On December 5, 1893, the Cooksville Opera House (and Meat Market) burned down. It was the village’s first big loss to fire. The nearby Evansville Enterprise newspaper published a tongue-in-cheek story about the loss, which did not amuse the Cooksvillians. According to the newspaper account, the red glare of the flames lit up the sign of a nearby businessman, so that the letters stood out as follows: E M STEBBINS dealer in Soft and hard coal, ice cream, wood, lime, cement, perfumery, nails, putty, spectacles, and tomato catsup, chocolate caramels, hides, tallow and maple syrup, fine gold jewelry, silverware, salt, glue, codfish and gents neck wear, full line of patent medicines, diseases of horses and children a specialty. The “inflammatory” news article continued. “The Cooksville Hook and Ladder Company got to the fire and were soon ready for action, but refused to enter the burning building. It was discovered that some valuables had been left in the office of VanPatten & Co.’s Packing establishment. T’was a thrilling sight to see Mr. VanPatten as he entered the burning building and in the full glare of the devouring element rushed out with a link of bolognia [sic] and a summer ulster. This was greeted by a wild applause from the bystanders, during which the Hook and Ladder company fell over each other and added to the horror of the scene by a mad burst of pale blue profanity. Twice Mr. VanPatten was seen to shudder, after which he went home and filled out a blank which he immediately forwarded to the insurance company. Just as the town seemed doomed the fire company came rushing down the street wrapped in heavy rubber suits, and physical calm, and after discussing the valuation of the building for a time began to twist the tail of the fire fiend. It was a thrilling sight as Mr. Jack Robinson (foreman of company A) ascended one of the ladders and at the height of seven feet from the ground fell off again, and was encored by the large and aristocratic audience. This morning a space 28 feet long and 16 feet wide, where but yesterday, all was joy, prosperity, and beauty, is covered over with blackened ruins. The Red Wolf Comedy company was just closing a four week’s engagement in the opera house and sustained a heavy loss. Bertie Love, a member of the company, lost his entire wardrobe which consisted of a very fine gauze undershirt tatooed [sic] with red paint which he valued very highly and one which he always wore in his great scalp-dance act. We understand that a movement is on foot to give a literary and musical entertainment to raise funds for those who suffered the heaviest losses, at which the ex-Prohibition Glee club has consented to sing “When the Robins Nest Again” and his honor the village justice will deliver a fitting address for the occasion. A.G. Franklin and William Johnson will give a joint talk on the care of Stockers and fall Shoats, which no doubt will be interesting. Ellen Love has promised to recite “Ostler Joe” a selection that never fails to offend the best people everywhere. D.M. Johnson will recite the beautiful poem entitled “Queen of the Meadow” which is a nice thing when recited well, and is also good when taken internally.” Cooksville folks were not amused by the newspaper article. A week later, the following rebuttal by Cooksville was printed in the Evansville newspaper: “We notice an article in the Evansville Enterprise of last week relative to our late fire, while it may strike some people as being funny, we think the majority will unite with us in saying that the person who wrote it is utterly devoid of any feeling of sympathy and seems rather inclined to make a joke of what is a great loss and misfortune to others… If it was the writer’s intention to slur and hurt the feelings of all parties concerned, he failed. Although they lost by the fire all their property, they will yet be able to recover without having their horse taken for board or their clothes attached for debt.” With the loss of the second-floor Opera House and the first-floor Meat Market in 1893, three other buildings remained as venues for village performances, entertainments, parties and other gatherings: the Cooksville Schoolhouse, the Cooksville Congregational Church and the Masonic Lodge above the General Store. And other stores, often the front rooms of residences, would serve as meat markets in the absence of the one destroyed by fire. Fortunately, other fires have been very rare in Cooksville—although a few years later in 1896 the new Norwegian Lutheran Church would be struck by lightning and burn to the ground. [Excerpt from “The Village of Cooksville: A Chronicle of the Town that Time Forgot,” by Larry Reed]

Monday, July 2, 2012

“The Night the Cooksville Opera House Burned Down” (Part One) by Larry Reed

The night of December 5, 1893, was a night of loss and lament in Cooksville—the Opera House burned down! The Opera House building was the first important building to be lost¬¬¬¬ in Cooksville. Known as Van Vleck’s Hall (it was enlarged by the man who owned the Van Vleck Implement Factory nearby), the building housed Van Patten’s and Newkirk’s Meat Market on the main floor and the Cooksville Opera House on the second floor. Erected about 1845 as a merchandise store, it was one of the oldest landmarks and served multiple purposes on the northern corner of Main and Dane streets, east of the present General Store At the time of the fire, the second-floor Opera House was being used by Dr. Red Wolf for his lectures and entertainments. He had a large display of rare coins, medicines, “curiosities” and “paraphernalia,” as well as musical instruments used by himself and his two assistants. Not one article of his was rescued from the devastating fire. The neighboring Evansville Enterprise newspaper didn’t think much of the little village’s fiery disaster. In fact, the Enterprise thought the loss was an occasion for humor and took surprisingly great pleasure in reporting the “Cooksville Conflagration,” with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, which did not please Cooksvillians. Excerpts from the newspaper story illustrate this lame, late-19th century attempt at humor: “The Opera House block, better known as the Cooksville auditorium, was totally destroyed by fire this morning. The building was a large two-story structure on the corner of Main street and Waucoma avenue. The fire was supposed to have originated in the boiler room of VanPatten & Newkirks Lard Rendering establishment, which occupied the first floor of the entire building. The Opera Hall covered the second story. “Fire Warden Whaley was first to discover the blaze, and after partaking of an early breakfast promptly called out the entire department, but the fire was beyond control before they got there with the “Invigorated Squirt” ready for action. “With a degree of forethought worthy of better cause, Mr. E.T. Stoneburner suggested the hook and ladder company, an organization of which everyone seemed to be justly proud. Some delay ensued in trying to find the janitor of the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company No. 1’s building, but at last he was secured after he had gone home for the key. Mr. Stoneburner then ran swiftly down the street to awaken the foreman, but after he had dressed himself carefully and inquired anxiously about the fire, he said he was the foreman since the 2nd of April. On the streets was all confusion. The hoarse cry of fire had been taken up by the excited crowd and passed from one to another until it had swollen into a dull roar. The cry of fire in a small town is always a grand sight. As the devouring elements burst through the roof of the building, the spectators whose early education had not been neglected could plainly read the sign of our esteemed fellow-townsman, E.M. Stebbins, which was lit up by the red glare of the flames so that the letters stood out as follows: Meantime the fire fiend continued to rise up and ever and anon on its hind feet and lick up chicken crate after chicken crate, in close proximity to the doomed building.” (End of Part One. To be continued.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gardening Event Program at the Community Center

Cooksville Community Center – Gardening Event Program to be presented at Community Center - the old schoolhouse on the Village Commons, Highway 59 Sunday, June 24, 2012 4:00 pm “Learn to Love Your Hostas” Deb Sharpee, owner of Norwegianwood in Deforest and unofficial “hosta lady” of the Dane County Farmer’s Market, will bring us up-to-date on what is new in the world of hostas. She will talk about some of the new hosta varieties on the market, how to divide and propagate your plants, and problems with hosta pests and viruses. Come to this informative and entertaining presentation and bring your questions about growing hostas. You are also invited to tour Charlie and Ralph's hosta gardens, across from the Cooksville Community Center. This event is free and open to the public. Charitible contributions to the Cooksville Community Center are encouraged and accepted.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cooksville Story and Summer Events are in the “2012 Lakes Edition”

The recently published Edgerton Reporter’s summer “2012 Lakes Edition” contains a story about Cooksville and the Cooksville Community Center’s schedule of events and programs for the summer and fall. The “2012 Lakes Edition” also includes articles about events and activities in all the cities and communities in the greater Edgerton (and Cooksville!) area. This special edition of four sections of 88 pages is free at various locations. The Cooksville article is in Section 4.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The First Dandelion Arrives in Cooksville! by Larry Reed

In 1849, the first dandelion arrived in the Cooksville area, according to David Sayre, an early settler and resident in the Town of Porter. Sayre reported that, “In the fall of 1849 I rode eight miles, at the request of a doctor, to find a weed which he needed for one of his patients, a weed which covers the state today.” According to Sayre, this desirable plant—or weed— very rare at the time, had been brought up from Lexington, Kentucky, in 1849 and had been planted in a garden in Section 9 of the Town of Porter, just to the southeast of Cooksville. (Sayre recorded his memories of “Early Life in Southern Wisconsin” in The Wisconsin Magazine of History,” June 1920.) The “weed” the doctor needed—the humble, edible, medicinal dandelion—had been imported by someone from Kentucky and planted in a garden near Cooksville. No doubt, it was soon planted in many other pioneers’ gardens in the area, and the dandelion— the English name comes from the French Dent de Lion, meaning “lion’s tooth” referring to the jagged points on the leaves—has since spread like the weed it is. The first dandelion in the Cooksville area may have come from distant Kentucky, but it probably was the early Colonists who brought it to America from Europe, maybe as early as the arrival of the Mayflower. Early settlers brought with them many of their favorite herbaceous plants, like dandelions, some intentionally introduced as garden plants and others arriving as weeds in soil or livestock fodder. The dandelions quickly took root— and have traveled far afield. Settlers used all parts of the plant— even the roots were roasted and ground for a coffee-like drink— and the frontier healers often recommended dandelion greens as a spring tonic, a healthy dose of vitamins unavailable to pioneers during the winter. The dandelion’s Latin name is Taraxacum Officinale, which means “the official remedy for disorders.” In 1868, by the way, garlic mustard was introduced from Europe by immigrants: its first recorded outdoors cultivation was on Long Island, New York. Maybe it’s time to eat more of the invaders—dandelions, garlic mustard, burdock root…. [Excerpt from “The Village of Cooksville: A Chronicle of the Town that Time Forgot,” by Larry Reed.]

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Badfish Canoe Outing on May 12!

You're invited to join the Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed on a Canoe Outing, Saturday, May 12th. Meet at the Hwy 138 bridge by Cooksville at 9 am sharp. Set up shuttle. Paddle to Riley Road. Picnic to follow on Cooksville green. BYO boat, PFD (required) and lunch. Hope you can join us!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Stage Coach to Cooksville – Part 3 by Larry Reed

The arrival and departure of stagecoaches to and from Cooksville was an exciting and important event, probably the highlight of the day when the dusty stages pulled up in front of the Waucoma Inn on the corner.

All along the way, the stage driver would blow his horn to announce his arrival at each tavern and post office, warning folks to be ready for his quick stop, because the stages tried to run promptly on their scheduled times. The names of some of the drivers have come down to us: Nay Smith, Martin Saxie, Warren Briggs, Ed Lovejoy, Joshua Nichols, and Tommy Lee. Lee drove four white horses and about him it was said: “He was a good driver, but a hard one, and it was a bad day when he did not come in on time.”

The stagecoach vehicle itself had evolved from a wagon with benches and a light roof with leather curtains to an elegant egg-shaped body suspended on thick leather straps or metal spring-braces. The famous Concord, New Hampshire coach, which appeared about 1827, made the earlier models obsolete. The Concord, with side-doors and seats both inside and on top outside, was comfortably suspended on the axles and had the typical large rear wheels and smaller front wheels. It was used until the end of the century.

The exchange of mail was an important part of the stage lines service. The early cost of postage then was 14.5 cents (or more) per one-page letter—expensive for the time— and the postage was collected in cash from the recipient-addressee at the receiving end. Then in 1845, the official U.S. postage rate was set at 6.3 cents for a ½-ounce letter sent less than 500 miles and twice as much for more than 500 miles. In 1851, the rate was 5 cents for up to 3,000 miles and if prepaid was lowered to a flat 3 cents per ½ ounce for any destination.

Another stage coach line apparently served Cooksville for at least for a brief period of time, as stage lines competed for the travelers’ business in the growing southern portion of Wisconsin. An old handbill-poster promoting the “Eagle Lines” describes a daily line of coaches from Beloit to Helena (on the Wisconsin River near Spring Green) via Cooksville, Roxbury and Sauk City, with “H. Stebbins, Agent, Cooksville.” Passengers who desired “accommodations for river travel west to Prairie du Chien or Cassville” could make arrangements with “F. Pyre, Eagle Agent” in Helena. Although not much is known about this stage line, it probably did not flourish because some of the communities it served (e.g., Cooksville, Roxbury, Helena) did not themselves grow or flourish.

Letters, packages and shipments of goods, as well as the arrival and departure of passengers, made the appearance of the stagecoach an exciting and important event in the daily lives of the small and rather isolated frontier communities along the stage route.

However, the arrival of the “iron steed”— the railroad—in the late 1850s and 1860s would soon end the era of galloping horses pulling their stagecoaches. And Cooksville, without a railroad and eventually without a stagecoach line, had to rely on mail delivery by horseback from Union and later by horse-drawn mail coaches that traveled to the village from Evansville enroute to Edgerton. People often hitched rides on those mail wagons. But Cooksville, not served by the new and expanding railroads, was off the beaten path.

However, in fifty years there would be new “horseless carriages.”

[Excerpt from “The Village of Cooksville: A Chronicle of the Town that Time Forgot,” by Larry Reed]

Friday, March 30, 2012

The State Coach to Cooksville - Part 2 by Larry Reed

The Village of Cooksville was served by the newest system of transportation—the stagecoach— between Janesville and Madison in the 1840s and ‘50s. It was an important link to the outside world.

The start of the route was the Stage House in Janesville, the settlement’s first hotel, which opened about 1838, owned by Charles Stevens. It was located on the east side of the Rock River, near the ferry that transported travelers across to the west side, until a bridge was built about 1843. In the fall of 1846, Stevens built a new hotel, the Stevens House, on the west side of the river, and this apparently was the new starting point for the stage line until the hotel burned down in 1853.

The stagecoach left Janesville early in the morning for Madison. The initial route went diagonally northwestward from Janesville toward Leyden, but was soon changed so that the stage went out of Janesville to the north about four miles, where Justine Dayton had built a tavern called the Dayton House, also known as the “Rock River House.”

Then the stage traveled three miles west to Leyden, where Ben McMellen had built a tavern in 1841. The next stage stop for mail was four miles further at William and Catherine Warren’s Tavern, built about 1842, which Frederick and Emily Fellows purchased as part of their farm in 1854. The post office and the stage stop were apparently then moved a half-mile west, where John Winston opened a tavern in 1843. (Stagecoach stops changed, of course, as the region evolved and more settlers established farms and small communities grew.)

The next stop on the stage route was the Ball Tavern, built by Joseph Osborn in 1840 and named after the sign that hung from an oak tree in the shape a large wooden ball. A small stone marker commemorates the tavern’s location just west of the present Ball Cemetery and Tolles Road on the north side of Highway 14.

Union Hotel, built c. 1834

From there, the stage ran five miles northwest along Territorial Road to Union. (Evansville was not yet in existence.) The Union Tavern, built about 1834 by Dan Prentice and later operated by Dan Pond, became the important halfway-house on the roads to Madison, where horses were changed, meals were served to passengers, overnight guests were accommodated, and where travelers to the new Village of Cooksville could disembark to complete their journey three miles to the east.

When the stage line ran to Cooksville directly, it probably came up from the south along Tolles Road or came from Union in the west, on a daily schedule. In Cooksville the stagecoaches first stopped at one of the general stores, whichever housed the post office at the time, and, then later, stopped at Waucoma House, Cooksville’s stagecoach inn and tavern. The stage then would have galloped off to the north for a mile and then headed northwest along the Old Stage Road to Rutland to join the main route to Madison. (The large, stone Graves barn on Old Stage Road, five miles from Cooksville, probably served as stop on that route.) Or the stage also could have just back-tracked to Union from Cooksville, if necessary.

In the early days, Union was a thriving village and logical mid-way stopping point for stages. It eventually boasted not only the tavern-hotel, but four general stores, three blacksmith shops, three churches, two grain warehouses, and a millinery shop and a shoe shop. It was referred to as “a lively little burg in those days.” But little evidence of this prosperity remains, and “lively” Union has faded.

From Union, the stages with fresh horses and perhaps additional passengers headed, if not to Cooksville, for Madison via Rutland, about five miles up the road. The Rutland House, opened by Albert Waterman about 1840, was one of the earliest to be built. After Rutland, the next stop was Rome Corners, about four miles further north, near what is now Oregon, where the first tavern was built in 1843 by C.P. Mosley. From there, the stage traveled about four miles to Oak Hall and the tavern-post office constructed there by William Quivey in 1843. (Later, stops at Lake View and at Nine Springs closer to Madison were included.)

The last stop on the Frink & Walker route was Madison, which had been selected as the capitol of the Wisconsin Territory in 1836. By 1840, Madison had a population of 146 people and consisted of about 24 log and frame buildings; but as the State’s capitol in 1848, it would grow much larger.

(To be continued…)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cooksville on the Cover of BRAVA Magazine!

Cooksville is on the cover of BRAVA magazine this month—or at least a bride and groom kissing in a Cooksville cornfield is on the cover.

The couple, Gillian Morgan and Spencer Striker, who wanted a simple, rural wedding with “an old-world touch,” chose the Cooksville Public Square with a tent and the Cooksville Schoolhouse for their wedding in late summer last year.

The two-page story and inside-photos feature the Cooksville Community Center and the wedding party—with lots of chalked messages on the blackboards for the happy couple!

BRAVA, a women’s magazine, is published in Verona, Wisconsin. The cover story, called a “Wisconsin Wedding,” is in the March 2012 issue.

(By Larry Reed)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Stage Coach to Cooksville – Part 1 by Larry Reed

The Village of Cooksville was on the route of the earliest transportation system in southern Wisconsin — the Territory and the State— in the 1840s to the 1860s.

Back then the long-distance transportation system was, of course, the fabled stagecoach. When the U.S. government opened land in the area for sale in 1837, the population grew rapidly, as did the need for regular routes for transporting mail, goods and people.

The early stagecoach route from Janesville to Madison generally followed what is now U. S. Highway 14, with some deviations. The two- or four-horse coaches carrying passengers and mail stopped after ten or so “stages,” or segments, along the dirt road, picking up more mail and passengers at each stop, and changing horses once, as they traveled the forty-mile distance.

The Janesville-Madison route came very close to Cooksville and, for a time, included Cooksville as a stop. Cooksville’s stagecoach stop, tavern and inn was the Waucoma House, built in 1850. It stood on the northeast corner of Main and Rock streets (now Hwy 59 and Hwy 138). A small, simple pencil sketch of the inn exists, done from memory, showing a large Greek Revival-style building with a columned porch, a typical design of the time.

Hawks Inn, Delafield WI, 1846, looked similar to Waucoma House

A local story about Waucoma House was told as follows: Earl Woodbury was watering his two horses at the tavern’s well probably about 1860; he tied their tails together to keep them at the well and then adjourned to the inn to satisfy his own thirst. Later, after a few too many mugs of refreshment, he remembered wondering if he had the horses securely tied or not, so he apparently staggered out to check on them. When he came to his senses a few hours later, he was safe in bed at home in the village with four hoof marks painted on his body. Undoubtedly, the work of Cooksville jokesters.

Waucoma House, besides serving as tavern and lodging, was also used for various other community purposes such as a dancing school where classes were held every two weeks, taught by a Mr. Brown from Oregon. (Dance classes were eventually moved to the third floor in Mrs. Harrison Stebbins’ home east of Cooksville because she liked dancing so well.) The inn also served as a tailor shop for a brief time. Eventually, as Cooksville declined in population, Waucoma House was no longer needed as a hotel or an inn or, indeed, for any business. It was demolished about 1915.

Early Wisconsin communities were linked together by, and dependent upon, the stage lines. The Janesville-Madison stagecoach— the Frink & Walker Stagecoach Line owned by John Frink and Aaron Walker—operated from about 1840 to 1860. In the first few years, two weekly two-horse stages traveled the route. But soon a four-horse coach made the forty-mile trip daily and as business increased expanded to two coaches each way.

Janesville and Madison were not yet officially villages when the first stagecoaches ran, but they were growing. Janesville in 1842 consisted of two stores, two taverns and about ten dwelling for about 75 inhabitants. Madison was only about twice the size. Both would, of course, develop rapidly in the next ten years.
(To be continued….)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cooksville Community Center 2012 Calendar of Events

Clean Up Day at the Center (Interior only)
Friday, April 6, 9:00 – 11:00 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. We will sweep up the bugs, mop floors, clean bathrooms and kitchen, and wipe flat surfaces. We will also clean the basement. A separate date will be scheduled for yard work, cleaning of the outhouses, and removal of garlic mustard. Treats will be served. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Stoughton Chamber Singers Concert
Sunday, June 10, 7:00 p.m.

This year’s concert, entitled “Music For The Evening” will feature music by a broad range of composers from Baroque to Broadway. Location: Cooksville Church at the corner of Highways 138 and 59. Admission is $5 per person. A reception will follow at the Cooksville Community Center, two blocks east on Hwy 59.

Gardening program
Sunday, June 24, 2012, 4:00 p.m.

Deb Sharpee, owner of Norwegianwood in Deforest and unofficial “hosta lady” of the Dane County Farmer’s Market, will bring us up-to-date on what is new in the world of hostas. She will talk about some of the new hosta varieties on the market, how to divide and propagate your plants, and problems with hosta pests and viruses. Come to hear this informative and entertaining presentation and bring your questions about growing hostas. You are also invited to tour Charlie and Ralph's hosta gardens, across the road from the Cooksville Community Center. LISTEN to Deb Sharpee talk about how “It’s Easy to Love a Hosta” on Youtube:
Location: Cooksville Community Center.

Independence Day Family Potluck Picnic
Monday, July 4, 12:30 p.m.

Come and visit with your friends and neighbors and eat about 12:30 PM. Cooksville native, Jeanne Julseth-Heinrich, an accomplished accordion player, will begin playing about 1:15 p.m. Bring a dish to pass and your own plate, silverware and liquid refreshments to this annual event under the oak trees at the Location: Cooksville Commons or Community Center in case of rain.

Back by popular demand: “Wild Animals” program
Sunday, July 29, 1 p.m.

The staff at 4 Lakes Wildlife Center, hopefully with wildlife rehabilitation specialist Patrick Comfert, will return to the Center and entertain us with stories of their experiences with rehabilitation wild animals. This program is for all ages. Location: Cooksville Community Center.

Origami, the Art of Japanese Paper Folding
Sat., Sept. 15, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.

Henri Dutilly, presenter, has been folding and teaching Origami to kids and adults for more than twenty years. Join Henri to learn how to make a number of Origami models, including some moveable ones. A parent or other adult should be present to assist children ages four and younger. Supplies will be provided. There is no fee, but advance registration is required. The program is limited to 25 people. To register, contact Martha Degner, 882- 2550, Location: Cooksville Community Center.

Cooksville Lutheran Church Fall Festival
Tentative date: Sunday, September 9, 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

Cooksville Community Center Annual Meeting
Monday, September 24, 7 p.m.

Learn what has happened this year and what is on the agenda for the future at this annual Cooksville Community Center event. This is your opportunity to voice your opinions about the Center. We want your input to help us manage the Center. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Annual Halloween Party
Saturday, October 20, 6:30 p.m.

Join us for an annual Halloween tradition. There will be games and activities for kids and a bonfire for adults. Bring your own beverages and a snack or dessert to share. Flashlights are strongly encouraged for all -- the Commons and schoolyard can get very dark, especially around Halloween! You are also welcome to get into the Halloween spirit by helping to decorate for the party at 12:00 noon on the same day. Sponsored by Cooksville Community Center. Location: Cooksville Community Center

Cooksville Lutheran Annual Harvest Dinner
Tentative date: Sunday, November 11, 12:00 – 3:00 p.m.

This is another annual event in Cooksville. A home cooked Thanksgiving meal prepared and served by members of the Church. Proceeds from the event will benefit the church. Location: Cooksville Lutheran Church.

Support your local community center by:
being a member,
attending scheduled events and the Annual Meeting,
volunteering to serve on the Board of Directors and/or committees [Programming, Fundraising or Maintenance], and
making financial contributions.

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

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.

Rentals: 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, has a kitchen and bathrooms. Contact Bill Zimmerman 873-1652 or 608-628-8566 for rates and reservations.

Cooksville merchandise: The Center has note cards of historic homes in the village, guidebooks of the village, and ceramic plates of Cooksville for sale, which will be available for purchase during Center events OR phone Bill Zimmerman, 873-1652.


Carl Franseen, President/Treasurer
Keith Axford, Vice President
Martha Degner, Secretary –
Jennifer Ehle, Program Chair
Bill Zimmerman, Maintenance, Membership, Rentals
Ralph Pelkey
Larry McDonnell
Kathleen Hipke
Please phone or email a board member with questions regarding events or programs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cooksville is 170 Years Old in 2012

The Cook House, c. 1930

In 2012, Cooksville celebrates 170 years since its founding in 1842— the year the Village of Cooksville was officially platted by John Cook in the newly-opened lands of the Wisconsin Territory.

The recorded history of the Village begins even earlier, on May 9, 1840, when its eponymous founder, John Cook and his younger brother Daniel (both born in Ohio), along with a small contingent from Indiana arrived on America’s new frontier by oxen-drawn wagons. That was the date Cook purchased his piece of the American frontier; soon after, on June 22, he entered two more parcels of land from the same Section 6 in the four-year-old Wisconsin Territory.

John Cook and his fellow travelers had set out for their new lands from Indiana in early 1840. They were a typical immigrant family group in America’s Westward movement, and they traveled to Rock County, Wisconsin, across prairies, through oak openings and oak savannas, arriving on June 25, 1840, in Union, the midway stagecoach stop between Janesville and Madison. The Village of Union was the jumping off place for all new settlers in that area of Rock County—and it was the only village between Janesville and Madison. Cook’s new farmland was just three miles to the east of Union.

Cooks’ group traveled in covered wagons pulled by yoked oxen, probably accompanied by a horse or two, and maybe a cow. The pioneers included the brothers John Cook and Daniel Cook and Daniel’s wife Elizabeth and daughter Rhoda; Mrs. Cook’s brother James Shurrum and his wife Hannah Courter; and Hannah’s sister Angeline Courter Johnson and her husband David Johnson and their three children. The Johnson family remained in Union, but the Shurrums traveled on with the Cooks to their new land in the oak-openings along a little fish-filled creek.

According to a daughter of the Johnson’s, when the families arrived in Wisconsin there were “several houses and one general store” in Janesville, and only one house stood between Janesville and Union. Two houses were in the vicinity of Union; Evansville did not yet exist and only one house was on the stage route from Union to Madison. Union was the only settlement for many miles around at the time.

When the Cooks and Shurrums arrived at the place soon to be known as Cooksville, they initially lived in their wagons and in tents. Then, before winter set in, the Cook brothers built themselves a log cabin—the first house in Cooksville—to shelter the family. They probably built a log barn as well as to shelter their animals; sometimes barns for the animals were built first. The log house was about 14 feet square without floors or doors or windows, probably with a crude earthen and stone fireplace on a dirt floor; a split log floor was typically added later.

When the census taker counted noses at John Cook’s residence in 1840, his family consisted of himself, a bachelor; his younger brother Daniel Cook (born February 27, 1818), the latter’s wife, nee Elizabeth Shurrum, and their young daughter, Rhoda, aged 2. Apparently, John Cook married his wife, Nancy Ann, sometime after 1840. Little, in fact, is known about either John Cook or Daniel Cook.

In 1842, after two years, John Cook must have felt that the growing westward movement of people in America justified an effort to establish a more permanent settlement. To cash in on that westward migration of Americans (and immigrants from the British Isles), in 1842 Cook platted three blocks of a village he named “Cooksville” on the western side of the half-section line from the Badfish Creek on the north to “Union Road” (now State Highway 59) on the south, with the eastern limit being “Main Street” (now State Highway 138).

(Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts owned the land to the east, adjacent to Cook, and in four years Webster’s land, sold to John Porter, would be the site of a second village immediately joined to the Cook brothers, named the Village of Waucoma, which Porter platted in 1846.)

Cook’s 1842 plat included three blocks of six lots each, all on the west side of his Main Street. At the north end of Cook’s village was Block 1, bounded by Front Street on the north, Mill Street on the west, and Spring Street on the south. Block 2 was south of Spring Street, and Block 3 extended south to the road to Union.

In the same year,1842, Cook built a sawmill just north of his new village on the swift-running creek, with a dam and a pond. The Cooksville Mill, a significant addition to the fledgling frontier community, signaled that Cooks’ eponymously named village was firmly on the map, geared up for business, and ready to saw lumber. The industrial age had arrived, on a small scale, and the new village had great expectations of success.

The year 1842 also saw the first church organized in Cooksville: the Free Will Baptist church, with about 15 members. Meetings were held in John Cook’s log cabin and, later, in the sawmill and then, probably, in his new residence. The pastor was Elder Low, who preached without a salary.

Governmental units were also getting organized. The Town of Union was formally organized in 1842 and initially consisted of what are now the towns of Union, Porter, and the northern halves of Magnolia and Center townships. In 1847, the Town of Porter was created separately.

The Cook families did not remain in Cooksville very long. By 1852, Daniel and his family had moved further west to Iowa, and the same may have been true for John and his family.

Other settlers soon followed to Cooksville and to Wisconsin, and the state’s population jumped dramatically from about 3,000 in 1830 to 11,683 in 1836, and to 305,391 in 1850. One by one, family by family, settlers arrived, lured by the inexpensive land and by great expectations. They, too, lived in their wagons and in tents, or crude shelters, quickly constructing small log cabins, staking out their land-holdings, beginning their new lives among the oak-openings on the prairie.

In Cooksville, the fertile soil and the clear-flowing creek, which the Indians had named Waucoma and later became known as the Bad Fish, provided a relatively comfortable, sustainable, and potentially profitable setting for these early pioneers. And logs cabins quickly gave way to solid oak-framed houses, thanks to the early operating saw-mill, and to sturdy brick houses, thanks to the vermilion-colored clay that ran through Cooksville.

It’s interesting to note that other villages were planned for the area near Cooksville. These “paper cities” were usually planned and laid out on paper by speculators and entrepreneurs who hoped to sell individual plots of land to prospective pioneers back East. New waves of settlers were heading West to the Wisconsin Territory as the U.S. government began selling the newly-surveyed land. And money was to be made, they hoped.

Several of these “paper cities” were plotted in the vicinity of Cooksville. But these “imaginary villages” were soon-to-be-forgotten places. For instance, northwest of Cooksville on the present border of Rock Country and Dane County, along the Badfish Creek, the village of “Van Buren” was laid out on December 13, 1836, platted into 61 blocks. By 1843 it had disappeared without a trace into farmland.

Nearby, to the southeast, “Saratoga” was platted on January 6, 1837, with 36 blocks around Caledonia Spring. Apparently, only one sale of land was made. “Carramana,” named for a Winnebago chief of that name and translated as “The Walking Turtle,” was planned near Fulton, at the junction of the Rock and Yahara rivers, and was laid out in early 1836, consisting of about 50 blocks, but it, too, never materialized.

“Warsaw,” just south of Edgerton, with 24 blocks, was platted on September 21, 1836, and disappeared about a year later. “Wisconsin City,” another early, ambitious (containing over 200 blocks) but failed attempt, was to be located just west of Janesville. None of these “paper cities” succeeded in attracting permanent settlers.

Eventually, new villages and cities would be established to the east, west and north of Cooksville, but the little, well-preserved Village of Cooksville established in 1842—“the town that time forgot”— survives as the first historic village in northwestern Rock County.

[Excerpt from “The Village of Cooksville: A Chronicle of the Town that Time Forgot,” by Larry Reed.]