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.