Saturday, December 7, 2013

"The Historic Stebbins House: R.I.P.", by Larry Reed

Stebbins House “Windermere” circa 1890

The historic Stebbins House, a mile east of Cooksville, was demolished by the owner on November 27, 2013.  The1850 limestone Federal-Greek Revival style farmhouse was an important part of the “Historic Resources of the Cooksville Area” listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The elegant and impressive farmhouse was significant both for its architectural value and for its role in the history of the Town of Porter with its association with Harrison Stebbins, a prominent early settler in the 1840s.
Stebbins House, 1850-2013

For a number of months, the Historic Cooksville Trust had been working with the owner who wanted to remove the house from his property. The Trust undertook an effort to find a new owner and a new location for the historic house. Several potential new owners and new locations were identified.

In early November 2013 a very interested person agreed to accept the house and move it to a new location. The new site required the house to be moved across either one of two bridges over the Badfish Creek enroute to its new location, and, unfortunately, it was determined by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that neither of the bridges could support the weight of the heavy stone house. That meant a new prospective owner and a new site were needed.

Another plan was then quickly developed by the Historic Cooksville Trust to save the house by moving it to a different location, without any bridges to cross, under new ownership. But the owner decided he could not wait another week or two and was determined to demolish the house immediately, before winter, so that “the hole could be filled in and grass planted before winter.”

The plan—and hope— to relocate the house and preserve it for future generations as part of Wisconsin’s and the Town of Porter’s heritage was not to be realized. The house was demolished.

The lesson is—and it is a not a new one— that it takes patience, perseverance and persistence, as well as a sense of the importance of our heritage and a commitment to preserving it, when historic buildings are threatened with destruction.

Once gone, they are gone forever.

The Stebbins House: R.I.P. And, as some say, “Rest In Pieces.”


            [For more information on historic preservation and the Historic Cooksville Trust, contact Larry Reed (608) 873-5066.)









Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Stoughton Chamber Singers Concert, Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Stoughton Chamber Singers and the Bel Canto Strings under the direction of John Beutel will present their annual Victorian Holiday Concert titled "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind" on Sunday, December 8, at 2:00 PM in the Stoughton Opera House.
The varied program will open with "Psallite" a lively motet by the German composer, Praetorius. and will be followed by the beautiful contemporary motet, "O Nata Lux" by Morton Lauridsen.  Edward Elgar's beautiful composition, "Snow" along with two choruses by John Rutter, the concert title song, "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind," and "Good Ale". The Bel Canto String Ensemble will perform the beautiful "Intermezzo" from Cavaleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni and a lively Concerto by the Italian composer, Albinoni. The Singers will close the program with such familiar carols, as "In The Bleak Midwinter", "Mary Had A Baby",  "Still, Still, Still" and "Good King Wenceslas".
Tickets are $5.00 and are available at McGlynn Pharmacy, from Choir Members, and at the door.  Children under 12 are admitted free.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Genealogy of the Cooksville Cemetery, by Jeff Julseth

The Village of Cooksville has more than a thousand people resting in the cemetery.  These people lived in the Rock county area and many were members of the Cooksville Lutheran Church.

I have often wondered how many of these people are related in one big family tree and how their lives were interwined in Cooksville.  With the modern computer search tools of and, I am in the process of slowly linking this cemetery with families and photographed documentation.

My inspiration is my second great-grandmother, Karen Dorthea Jensdtr Haug (Vagstad) Julseth.  In 1891 the Stoughton Congregation decided to build a new church.  Financial help was expected from the Cooksville people.  Reverend Dahl, with a solicitar, called at the home of Amund and Karen Julseth (south of Cooksville) to secure their contribution.  In the course of the conversation, Karen Julseth asked if it would be possible to begin a congregation in Cooksville.

Reverend Dahl  immediatley favored Karen Julseth's suggestion and on October 15, 1891, a meeting was held at the Cooksville Schoolhouse to discuss the proposed venture.  Twenty-three voting members attended this meeting and 21 people voted in favor of the Cooksville Lutheran Church. is a free online website that documents gravestones across the country.   I have photographed the gravestones in October 2013 and slowly placing the photographs online with the family links and information about these people.

If you have any information on your family or friends at the Cooksville Cemetery, please update or you can contact me at   My goal is to document and photograph the entire Cooksville Cemetery online at  It is sometimes difficult to figure out maiden names and parents of the people buried there and your help would be appreciated.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Memories of Cooksville’s Snack Shop by Larry Reed

The Village of Cooksville had its own soda fountain and hamburger joint—both were in its very own snack shop.

Ed Ortman
From 1947 to 1958, the Ortman family operated the popular “Snack Shop” in Cooksville in a new little building constructed by Edward Ortman on the lot north of the historic Betsy Curtis House located just north of the General Store on State Highway 138.
Donna Ortman Clark, one of the Ortman’ daughters, remembers how the Snack Shop began:

“People were very skeptical, including some of our family when my father decided to start this business. My parents had sold the Cooksville grocery store earlier [to Miles Armstrong in 1946] because my father had been injured in an accident.  He was returning with a load of groceries which he had purchased at the wholesalers in Madison.  His panel truck was hit by a car that did not stop for a stop sign. It was said the scene resembled a tossed salad with salad dressing and produce all over the highway.  During the war and for a while after the war, because of manpower shortages, grocers had to pick up their own grocery stock.  A year later, Dad decided to build the Snack Shop.
“I was thirteen years old and my parents always needed help at the Snack Shop.  Because we were a large family, it was a family business.  I ‘enjoyed people’ more than cleaning house,” says Donna.

The Snack Shop was well-known throughout southern Wisconsin for great hamburgers and delicious malted milks.  Some customers liked raw hamburger—steak tartare—with just an onion and bun.  Donna remembers that her “Mother always kept an egg handy for our bread delivery man so that he could have an easy-over egg on his raw hamburger!”
“Norwegian coffee” was on the menu, made in a regular commercial coffee pot with a raw egg put into the coffee ground holder, and the customers loved it, according to Donna.

The Snack Shop had a large teenage following, with students from Stoughton, Evansville, Edgerton, Brooklyn and sometimes from Bellville and Footville high schools. Donna recalls “going to football games and at the end of the game hearing students say, ‘Are you going to Ortman’s?’  Sometimes Dad would just load the grill with hamburgers before the crowd appeared.”
Regular customers came from Madison, as well, and many said the Snack Shop had the best hamburgers between Madison and Janesville. “Cooksville was considered a neat place to take a Sunday afternoon ride to, so they would stop for ice cream….  Sometimes in the summer on a busy Sunday we would run out of ice cream,” says Donna.
Sharon Ortman

“One very busy Sunday sister Sharon and I were in the Snack Shop by ourselves for a few hours.  For some reason we wanted to make certain no one could come and rob us of the money we were taking in, so each one hundred dollars we made we would hide.  I think we took in a lot of money that day.  One day my brother Terry and Sharon were working.  Terry filled a car with gas and the customer took off without paying.  I think Terry did get the license plate and called the police.  The young man did pay for his gas! “
The Snack Shop had gas pumps out front and checked people’s automobile oil for them.

“My mother had taught school and loved young people and they loved her.  Once one of the high school girls put her gum in a bottle of ketchup.  Fortunately, mother saw her do it.  She went to her table and removed the ketchup bottle without saying a word.  The young lady was so embarrassed and couldn’t apologize enough.  Unfortunately, people seemed to chew gum a lot and it would end up placed on the underside of the table.  It was one of our most undesirable jobs—cleaning it off.”
Ortman Family, 2011, with Donna 3rd from right
The Ortman family lived just across the street in the historic Cooksville brick house known as the Collins House. In the 1940s they had a party telephone line and when the Snack Shop closed about 11 p.m., the family would know when the Snack Shop phone rang because all the phones on the party line would ring, and the Ortmans could answer it at home. If the caller asked if the Snack Shop was still open, the Ortman parents would say “yes” and run across the street to open up the Snack Shop for the bowling team or a square dancing group.  “My folks always wanted to accommodate everyone,” Donna says.

“I was a soda jerk. We had a soda fountain and made many soda drinks, ice cream sodas and floats and the best hot fudge sundaes.  Instead of mixing our hot fudge with water, as the recipe called for, my folks mixed it with milk. Back then the jukebox played a tune for a dime; hamburgers were a quarter; and cheeseburgers and malts, thirty cents.”
Eventually, the Snack Shop building was sold to Donna’s sister Sonia, who added an addition, making it into her first home.

Greg Armstrong, whose parents operated the Cooksville General Store for many years and lived in Cooksville, also has fond memories of the famous Snack Shop.
Greg recalls, “I went to the Cooksville School with the Ortman children. I still remember the {Snack Shop] bar with swivel stools with chrome bases and red plastic seat covers along the north wall. There was a row of tables along the South wall. I think the chairs had those bent, round wood-backs. I also fondly remember getting malted milk shakes there and marvelous hamburgers. The Snack Shop became a popular hang-out for the teenage and young adult crowd.

“I think another very fond memory is the souped-up old cars with glass-pack mufflers that sounded fabulous…..On Saturday nights (maybe it was Friday nights) there often were so many cars that they filled the parking lot and then were parked along Highway138. It was a jumpin’ joint…. I also seem to remember, although this one is a bit vague, that my brother Steve Armstrong wore his blue suede shoes down to the Snack Shop on their first outing. Mostly the clientele at the Snack Shop were older than I was. I thought those older bigger people were really cool.”  [Greg was about ten years old or so at the time.]
Even earlier, in the late 19th century, Cooksville had an ice-cream “shop” in the home of Electa Savage, who lived in the Benjamin Hoxie House and provided the community with fresh home-made ice cream frozen with ice from the mill pond on the Badfish Creek.

And later in the 20the century, after the Snack Shop closed, the General Store fulfilled Cooksville’s—and the surrounding area’s— need for soda pop, snacks, ice cream and happy times.

[Thanks to Donna Ortman Clark and Gregory Armstrong for sharing their memories with us.]

#   #   #

Monday, September 16, 2013

Cooksville Store Grand Opening

The Cooksville General Store has opened after about 1-1/2 years of inactivity. The new proprietor, Sue Ebbert, opened for business on Labor Day weekend. Sue also operates Simple Country Living near Fort Atkinson.
There will be a Grand Opening on September 28 and 29. Currently the Store is open Saturdays and Sunday 10-6, and it will be open Tuesday through Sunday, 10-6  after the Grand Opening.

Built in 1847 and located in the Cooksville Historic District, the historic Store may be the oldest General Store in Wisconsin.  The building is owned by the Masonic Lodge (Waukoma #90), which occupies the second floor; the Store occupies the first floor.
Sneak Preview August 14
The interior of the spacious first floor has been remodeled by Sue to meet her needs. The old shelving has been removed, new coolers have been added, and the store has restocked with fresh baking items, spices, homemade pies, locally grown produce and other specialty items.
“I’m excited about coming to Cooksville and re-opening the store,” Sue says. “ I’m offering a unique product mix and am looking forward to working with the Cooksville community to provide the entire area with a broad mix of items that aren’t available elsewhere, with the exception with my store near Fort Atkinson.
The community is eager to cooperate with Ms. Ebbert and assist in providing an exciting business addition to the historic Cooksville community.
For more information about the General Store contact:

Sue Ebbert at 262 707-4503 or 920 563-4469.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cooksville’s Hank Bova Has Died

A. Henry Bova, “Hank,” died on August 23, 2013.  He was 77 years old and a longtime resident of Cooksville.  Hank, born in Dearborn, Michigan, was retired after 36 years as a Professor of French at Beloit College.  His partner, Maurice Gras, born in Draguignan, France, in 1928, was a retired Professor of French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and preceded Hank in death in 2003. Both were very active in Cooksville community organizations; Maurice had been president of the Cooksville Community Center, and Hank was a member of the Historic Cooksville Trust Board for 8 years and then an Honorary Board member for the past year. Both were active participants in the historic village activities.

Hank and Maurice purchased Cooksville’s historic Longbourne-Roberson House (built c.1854) in 1968, and restored and rehabilitated the house under the guidance of their friend and architect, Michael Saternus. The project included a new addition to the rear and a new garage, designed by Mike. Extensive landscaping of the property was also undertaken
Marvin Raney, local historian and antiquarian, wrote a history of the Longbourne-Robertson House up to 1968 as a gift for Hank and Maurice, and Hank wrote a continuation of the story in 2004, both of which are in the Cooksville Archives.
Hank’s story relates that he and Maurice had been searching for a rural residence halfway between Madison and Beloit and happened upon Cooksville, where, thanks to Marvin Raney, they discovered the Longbourne-Robertson House, then owned by Miles and Beth Armstrong, was for sale. The two were not impressed. As Hank wrote, “It did not appeal at first.”
Hank’s story continued: “After meeting with Michael Saternus, another friend of Marvin and a budding architect who convinced us that this was a beautiful house, full of promise, we contacted the owner, Miles Armstrong. We made a ridiculously low offer. To our considerable surprise, he accepted. Mike Saternus advised us to buy as much land as we could afford with the house and we did…. We moved in in March 1968…. We promised Mike Saternus to restore the front elevation of the house as closely as possible to the original….The new addition was completed in about November, 1974….The photographic portraits which hang in the stairwell are of Paul Savage and his sister, Avis. Paul… was a colorful personage. He became a folk hero in this house where legend has it that his ghost lingers.”

Hank and Maurice both became “legends” of their own, for accomplishments in their own time— in the restoration of their house, in their extensive gardens, in their beloved village’s activities, and in the gracious, fun-loving  and productive lives they lived—and for the wonderful, legendary meals that were cooked in their “French House.”

{Remembered by their friend, Larry Reed, who learned a lot about cooking, partying, and enjoying Cooksville from Hank and Maurice.]

Monday, July 29, 2013

Historic House Near Cooksville Available Free to Mover

If you would like a free historic house and can move it to a new location, you might be interested in the limestone Stebbins House, built 1850, near Cooksville in northwestern Rock County.
Built in the Federal-Greek Revival style, the old rural residence has been called one of the finest mid-19th century farmhouses in Rock County. It was the home of prominent Porter Township resident Harrison Stebbins in the 19th century, and in the mid-20th century an old and unusual heritage apple tree was discovered on the property and was named “Bonnie’s Best” Historic Cooksville Apple.
The Stebbins House is a solid, quarried -limestone structure with approximately 2400 square feet under the Federal-style roof with stone parapets, stepped-gables  and chimneys at each end. The five-bay residence has stone lintels above doors and windows and bulls-eye louvers in the gables of the attic.                       

            Stebbins House (1850), photo late 20th century.
Located near the historic Village of Cooksville, the house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 as part of the greater Cooksville area’s historic and architectural heritage.
The Cooksville Historic District is well-known for its mid-19th century village architecture and history and has been called “a wee bit of New England in Wisconsin.”  Located along the banks of the Badfish Creek in the Town of Porter, the village has also been called “the town that time forgot.”
The historic house must be moved and re-located and is available free of charge. Several qualified lots in or near Cooksville are potentially available for purchase for its re-location, and a house-moving company has stated that the house can be easily moved.
Solidly constructed, the stone house retains much of its interior woodwork and other architectural details. The late 19th-century front porch has collapsed, the present wood-frame addition is not moveable, and, of course, the house will need rehabilitation.
The Stebbins House is available from the owner or through the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., a non-profit charity, which helps to preserve the area’s heritage. The Trust is cooperating with the owner to help coordinate the move and the relocation of the historic house.

For more information about the house, contact the owner Ted ­­­­at (608) 444-3951 or Larry Reed at (608) 873-5066.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Old Cooksville Cookbooks: Cake Recipes and Cancer Cures by Larry Reed

The Village of Cooksville was a busy village of cooks, appropriately enough.  It produced a number of cookbooks over the past 160 years, including one with a recipe for a “cancer ointment.” 
Hand-written cancer ointment recipe
It may not have been a true “cure” for cancer, but one old, handwritten Cooksville recipe book contains a “receipt for making cancer ointment,” as well as other recipes for concocting  medicines and some for the more usual cakes, cookies and sausages.
This old, small, slender (18 pages) cook book does not have a title and is not identified as to ownership or writer. It appears to have been written in the early or mid-19th century by an unknown hand in ink with a neat, old-fashioned script. (An occasional old-fashioned “f” letter is used instead of an “s-shape” for the first “s” when a double “ss” is required, as in “fs,” which indicates a late-18th century- or early 19th century penmanship-schooled writer.)
“The Old Cooksville Recipe Book” (its new name now) contains about fourteen medicinal recipes and a similar number of cake, pudding, gingerbread, sausage, syrup, current wine and cordial “receipts.” In addition to the “cancer ointment receipt,” the old book contains formulas to treat such illnesses as dropsy, dysentery, coughs, colds, itches, piles and tape worms.  Their ingredients include various roots, leaves, berries, flowers and barks, as well as the occasional sulfur, turpentine and pumpkin seeds.
The old dessert recipes include Delicate cake, Pound cake, Mrs. Pecks Cake (perhaps this is from Rosaline Peck, Madison’s first innkeeper in the late 1830s), Bakers gingerbread, Tea cake, Temperance Cake, Cider cake, Caroline cake, and a couple of nut cakes, ginger nuts, as well as a Rice Plumb (sic) Pudding.  Some measurements are in “gills” and some are in “the size of a hen’s egg.”
The cancer ointment recipe is interesting because it contains various tree barks (white pine, elder, elm, hemlock, red dogwood) as ingredients, two of which are now associated with the treatment of some cancers, namely, the pine bark and the red dogwood (ozier) species bark.  The “receipt” in the booklet for making the cancer ointment is as follows:
            “Take of red Ozier, Stinking Elder, Hemlock Boughs, White pine bark, two quarts each.    Boil them together until the strength is gotten out, then strain it. Put to this Mutton tallow, honey, bees-wax, the marrow of a hog’s jaw and fresh Butter of each the size of a hen’s egg. Simmer it moderately over a slow fire until it becomes an ointment.”
This probably should not be tried at home. But, then again, why not?

Another early Cooksville cookbook is the “Eliza Longbourne Cookbook” begun in 1857. Longbourne (1812-1868) passed it on to Electa Johnson Savage (1845-1927), who gave it to her son Paul Savage (1876-1951); it was passed on to Chester Holway and Marvin Raney in 1947; then to Beth Armstrong who was living in the Longbourne House in 1952; and in 1973 to the new occupants of the Longbourne House, Hank Bova and Maurice Gras. The cookbook contains mostly cake and dessert recipes (including a “Pork cake”), along with a few pickle, salad and sausage recipes and two recipes for pickled smoked hams.

Mrs. D. Lincoln’s cook book
Another cookbook found in the village—actually a famous, published cookbook titled “Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book,” by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, 1889, a how-to-cook book with recipes— was originally owned by Mrs. J. W. Sales, probably of Janesville, and she may have passed it on to Cora Atwood in Cooksville. The last ten blank pages of the printed book have been filled with more than 50 hand-written recipes of various kinds from friends, including one for “Scotch Woodcock” (chopped hard-boiled eggs in cream sauce on toast). 

 Cooksville Mothers’ Club Cook Book 
In 1951, the Cooksville Mother’s Club compiled its own book, “Cookbook: Favorite Recipes,” with 94 pages of recipes for cakes and candies and other desserts, as well as casseroles, pickles and jellies, vegetables and salads, and “Norwegian Foods,” along with many “helpful hints” for homemakers. An opening essay, written by Mrs. Lillian Porter, is entitled, “Cooksville: Community of Culinary Culture.” One intriguing “Sandwich Hint” is an “Orange - Cream Cheese - Peanut Butter” spread containing those three ingredients.

Cooksville Lutheran cookbook
The Cooksville Lutheran Church also published a cookbook of its “Lutheran Favorites” in 1981, mostly of cakes and cookies and other sweets, but with a number of favorite soups, salads and “main dishes.”  “Ralph Warner’s Chocolate Cake,” no doubt served in his “House Next Door” dining room in the early 20th century, is included. The Lutheran Church has continued to publish cookbooks about every ten years.

In 1991, Bonnie Keehn published her cookbook titled “Bonnie-Best Farm Cooking.” It is named after an old and unique apple variety discovered by her family on the Keehn farm east of Cooksville. The tree has been propagated and is sold as the “Bonnie-Best “apple tree. The cookbook contains 195 pages of family recipes, including those for Bonnie’s famous apple pie and crust. (Her hint for a flaky crust on the bottom is to brush it with melted butter, then sprinkle with corn flake crumbs, before adding the sliced apples.)

Undoubtedly, there are other personal village cookbooks, full of Cooksville family recipes (or “receipts”), sitting on back shelves or stored in attic boxes, waiting to see the light of somebody’s kitchen again. Some no doubt are used now and then.

These old cookbooks reveal the tastes of the times and the foods prepared, preserved and eaten— and the many, many desserts devoured. They are an illuminating and sometimes tempting record of the nourishing breakfasts, lunches and dinners through more than 160 years in and near the little—and always hungry and well-fed— Village of Cooksville.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Spring Concerts in Stoughton & Cooksville

The Stoughton Chamber Singers & the Bel Canto String Ensemble 
under the direction of John Beutel present

 Music and the Human Experience

Friday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House
Wednesday, June 12, at 7:00 p.m. at the Cooksville restored church. 

The theme for the concert is the connection of music in our everyday lives.The music reflects the power and influence of music over humans through the ages.We think you will enjoy the variety of music in this unique concert.

Tickets are $5
All students have free admission.

Tickets for the Stoughton Opera House performance are available at the McGlynn Pharmacy on Main Street in Stoughton. Tickets may also be obtained from members of the Chamber Singers, or purchased at the door prior to the performance. Tickets for the Cooksville concert will be available at the church door.

The concert opens with a tribute to the power of music,featuring "Let Their Celestial Concerts All Unite" by Handel, and the madrigal "Music Thou Most Noble Art" by Johann Jeep.  The longstanding spiritual aspects and influence of music will be represented in "Adoro Te Devote", a 13th century plainsong with a text by St. Thomas Aquinas; "Locus Iste" by Anton Bruckner;  and "Praise His Holy Name," a gospel hymn by Keith Hampton.

In the final part of the concert, the Singers present two songs from Africa that represent the power of song in revolution and the power of song describing everyday events; several folk songs; “Requiem for the Masses” a war protest songof the 1960's performed by the rock group The Association; Hoagy Carmichael's ballad "Skylark"; and a medley of Beatles songs.

During the Singers' intermission, the newly named Bel Canto String Ensemble, composed of Stoughton Area string players, will perform "Andante Festivo" by Jean Sibelius, originally commissioned in Finland for the 25th Anniversary of the founding of a sawmill and later revised to be performed at the wedding of the composer's niece. (A radio recording of this piece in the 1930's is the only recorded instance of Sibelius conducting his  own music!) The string ensemble will also perform three movements from Gustav Holst's "St. Paul Suite", composed in honor of his students while Holst taught at St. Paul School in England.   

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Settling New Land near Cooksville—and Claim Jumping! PART TWO by Larry Reed

McCarthy House 1975
The McCarthy family of Porter Township related an incident involving “claim jumping” in the early days of land settlement near Cooksville. It begins with a question: Can a man on foot beat a horse-drawn buggy in a race from the Town of Porter to Milwaukee, a distance of nearly a hundred miles? The answer is “yes,” if the country is new, without many roads and with rivers to cross—and with a very determined pioneer on foot.

That happened in 1843, and the race was won by Dennis J. McCarthy who had settled on land just east of Cooksville near Caledonia Springs but had not yet formally claimed or registered it. 

The cause of the” race” was an incidence of “claim jumping.” In 1843, McCarthy settled in Section 9 of the Porter Township intending to establish his residency on his claim—and to be the first individual to ever own that piece of government land— but he had not yet filed the necessary papers with the U.S. Land Office.  Before he could file the papers for the land, McCarthy heard that a Mr. Lyons from the nearby Town of Dunkirk intended to jump McCarthy’s claim by traveling to Milwaukee in his carriage the next day to file papers. McCarthy immediately set out on foot for the Milwaukee Land Office himself. He did not have a horse available. The race was on.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Settling New Land near Cooksville—and Claim Jumping! PART ONE by Larry Reed

Several stories that describe the trials and tribulations of settling the newly-opened land in the Cooksville area of Wisconsin —and settling the disputes—were told by Joseph K.P. Porter and the McCarthy family. The stories reveal the rough-and-tumble land “rush” that sometimes occurred in southern Wisconsin in the early1840s.

Before government surveys were completed in the 1830s and for years afterward, land “ownership” on the new western Territorial frontier was often determined by a messy “border law”— basically a “first-come, first-served” informal set of “rules” for the squatters or early settlers. The earliest arrivals “enforced” their (illegal) land claims by “registering” them by simply carving their names on posts erected at the corners of the land they had measured off by pacing the boundaries on foot. And then later the claimants would appear at government land sales with some of their friends and fellow squatters armed with weapons to ensure that rich land speculators and other richer new-comers did not out-bid these earlier and poorer pioneer settlers.

Of course, some land speculators (such as Cooksville’s famous Senator Daniel Webster) and serious-minded settlers (such as Daniel Cook) bought their land as soon after the U.S. Government opened the land for sale in 1837 and registered it as soon as feasible. Their claims were settled early.

Joseph Porter, in his reminiscences as an “old settler” printed in the Evansville Badger newspaper of April 6, 1895, describes some of these disputatious events. His uncle, Dr. John Porter, had purchased land near Cooksville in 1842 from the famous Massachusetts, Senator Daniel Webster, a land speculator, who had bought it from the U.S. government in 1837 when it first went on sale. Joseph Porter, Dr. Porter’s  young nephew, was instrumental in helping transform the newly-purchased land into a potential settlement that he had platted as the Village of Waucoma in 1846, next to the Cook brothers’ little village of Cooksville.
Eliza and Joseph Porter

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cooksville Community Center 2013 Calendar of Events with some annual Cooksville Lutheran Church events

Clean Up Day at the Center,                           
 Saturday, May 4, 9:00 – 12:00 a.m.
Come join the crew to shine up the Center for a new season. We will tackle both the interior and exterior part of the Center. Bring a rag, sponge and bucket, broom and dustpan. We will sweep up the bugs, mop floors, clean bathrooms and kitchen, and wipe flat surfaces.  We will also clean the basement. Treats will be served. Location:  Cooksville Community Center.
Stoughton Chamber Singers Concert                     
Wednesday, June 12, 7:00 p.m.
The Stoughton Chamber Singers under the direction of John Beutel have chosen "Music and the Human Experience" as the title for their June performance.  The concert program will include music that is representative of how every day lives are connected to music.  Many composers will be represented: G. F. Handel, Johannes Jeep, John Blow, a 13th century plainsong, a Bruckner motet, a gospel hymn, two African songs of Famine and Freedom, several folk songs, and music by the Association "Requiem for the Masses": "Skylark", a ballad by Hoagy Carmichael; a Lennon/McCartney Beatles Medley; and the rousing "Up The Ladder To The Roof." Admission is $5 per person. Location: Cooksville Church at the corner of Highways 138 and 59. A reception will follow at the Community Center, two blocks east on Hwy 59.

Independence Day Family Potluck Picnic with music               
 July 4, 12:30 p.m.
Come and socialize with friends and neighbors, and eat a communal meal about 12:30 p.m. on the Commons. Bring a dish to pass and your own plate, silverware and liquid refreshments to this annual event. Cooksville native, Jeanne Julseth-Heinrich, an accomplished accordion player, will begin entertaining about 1:15 p.m at the Center. Some members plan to kick up their heels and dance! Location:  Cooksville Commons and the air-conditioned Community Center, in case of rain and/or extreme heat.

SPECIAL:  Christmas in Summer                         
Saturday, August 10, 4:00 p.m.
Former student Jeanne Julseth-Heinrich will orchestrate and direct a Christmas party from her memories as a student at the one room Cooksville Schoolhouse. There will be roles for children and adults to perform in skits, recitations, singing, a short Christmas play, and perhaps a visit by Santa Claus. Christmas is being scheduled in August as the Center does not have heat or water in winter. This could be the first event for a summer theater at the Cooksville Community Center. Please notify Jeanne of your interest in participating in the event: Location: Cooksville Community Center. 

Cooksville Lutheran Church Fall Festival      
 Tentative: Sunday, Sept. 8, 11 a.m.
Activities will begin directly after the worship service: arts & crafts, collectibles, antiques, produce, fall mums, Silent Auction, and more. Home cooked meal prepared by church members to begin serving at noon. Sponsored by and proceeds to benefit Cooksville Lutheran Church. Watch newspapers and church bulletin for specific details re. date/time.

Cooksville Community Center Annual Meeting    
 Monday, September 23, 7 p.m.
Learn what has happened this year and what is on the agenda for the future at this annual event.  This is your opportunity to voice your opinions about the Center. We want your input to help us manage the Center. Location:  Cooksville Community Center.

“Remembering Cigar Eddie”                                
 Sunday, October 6, 11:30 a.m.
The Center has decided to organize another memorial service for one of its patriarchs, Eddie Julseth, who died two years ago. October is the month of Eddie ‘s birthday. This will be a potluck with story telling. He loved apples so consider bringing an apple-based dish to supplement your main dish. Plates, silverware and drinks will be provided. The event is sponsored by the Cooksville Community Center and the Cooksville Lutheran Church. Location: handicapped accessible Cooksville Lutheran Church by the Cemetery.  

Annual Halloween Party                                     
Saturday, October 19, 6:30 p.m.
Join us for our 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 Center at 12:00 noon on the same day. Location:  Cooksville Community Center.  
Cooksville Lutheran Church Harvest Dinner            
Tentative date: November 10, 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. 
Enjoy a home cooked Thanksgiving meal prepared and served by members of the Cooksville Lutheran Church. Proceeds from the event will benefit the church.  Location: Cooksville Lutheran Church.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Historic Cooksville Cheese Factory by Larry Reed

The prize-winning Cooksville Cheese Factory was established in 1875 adjacent to the village on the present State Highway 59 (then called “Union Road”), just to the west of William Porter’s farm. The multi-talented Cooksville resident Benjamin Hoxie bought the land that was part of the large Dow farm and erected the small building, obtained the necessary apparatus, and began manufacturing and selling cheese on May 10, 1875.

Hoxie had tested the interest in the Cooksville area for a cheese cooperative business with meetings in the schoolhouse and by canvassing the community in March of 1875. The results were favorable with many “patrons” willing to send their milk to the new factory.
Hoxie House etching 1873

Hoxie was, among other things, a very active architect, carpenter and builder of a number of houses and structures in Cooksville, including the Cooksville Congregational Church, as well as buildings and churches elsewhere in the area. He was also a maker of bee hives and butter churns and had a keen interest in agriculture and horticulture.

The Evansville Review reported on Hoxie’s venture into cheese-making as follows: “Cooksville Cheese Factory. This Institution commenced operation Monday morning with even better prospects than what it was expected it would have. The building is 18 x 28, two stories high, with an ell 20 x 26 one-story high.  The main building is provided with a fine basement which can be kept at good temperature for curing cheese at any season, when the weather is not suitable for the two upper rooms. The building is well made—closely boarded, papered and sided, which gives a substantial effect, and preserves a more uniform temperature for the business.  The pumping is done by hand; but the heating is done with steam apparatus.”

To ensure “a perfectly fine flavored cheese, the factory’s walls were double-thick and plastered, and the basement had stone walls and ‘cemented’ floors, with every precaution taken to have an even temperature in the curing rooms.” Probably a well-cured “English” cheddar cheese was produced or perhaps the new Wisconsin brick, or maybe a purely local variation.

George H. Kemp, an Englishman and “a gentleman who has worked at the business a year or two…thoroughly experienced…will have charge of the business.” The newspaper continued:  “A meeting of the patrons was held at the Factory Saturday and resulted in the election of the following officers. Harrison Stebbins, President; J. T. Dow, Secretary and Treasurer; B. S. Hoxie, salesman; W. M. Porter, Isaac Wright, Josiah Sperry, Associates. B. S. Hoxie, Proprietor.” The farmers’ cheese cooperative was up and running.

Benjamin Hoxie (1827-1901)
 The Cheese Factory initially received about 3,000 pounds of milk each day, and samples of the cheese were ready to be distributed locally in June. Over 200 wooden cheese boxes were made in Evansville and delivered to the factory in August, and business increased rapidly.  Near the end of October, the factory closed for the season, the patrons were paid off, and the remaining cheese was moved from the factory to the cellar of William Porter’s nearby farmhouse.

The next year, after hauling in many loads of wood in March (“A big wood pile at the cheese factory, means business again this summer…”),  the Cheese Factory opened for the season on May 1, 1876, having been “overhauled  and put in thorough trim for business, and looks as neat as a maid’s parlor,” the Evansville newspaper reported.  “There is certainly not a neater looking, or more thoroughly appointed cheese factory, for its size, in the State than the Cooksville factory.” 

The first shipment of cheese was sent to St. Paul, Minnesota, where the local St. Paul Press newspaper gave “the Cooksville cheese a marked notice, for its excellent qualities.” Later in the summer, a Montreal, Canada, cheese buyer shopping in the area gave “especial praise of the curing rooms of the Cooksville factory—being so cool that July cheese are about as mild in flavor as ordinary August cheeses are,” according to the Evansville paper. “Wisconsin butter and cheese stands as high in the market as any made at the east.” The cheese did “not become old and hard.”

The factory was now using about 4,170 pounds of milk a day. In an experiment with the milk at the factory, it was discovered that it took 26 ¼ pounds of milk to make one pound of butter, and with the cost of milk at 90 cents per hundred pounds, it put the cost to produce butter at about 24 cents a pound.  Cheese was selling at about 7 cents per pound; more could be produced; and cheese could safely be shipped long distances without refrigeration.

In 1877, the little Cooksville Cheese Factory won second prize at the Wisconsin State Fair—but only after a tie vote that was settled by the toss of a penny, giving the top prize to a Sheboygan factory.  The prize was won competing with over twenty other more established factories from throughout the state.

The Cheese Factory flourished for the next few years, with cheese shipped to such places as Chicago, New York, and Lawrence, Massachusetts. Wisconsin was becoming famous as a quality cheese producing state, and the new Cooksville factory was contributing to the state’s early prominence in the growing agricultural enterprise of cheese-making.

In 1878, Hoxie added another vat and during the year used 1,189,081 pounds of milk to make 114,242 pounds of cheese.  At the beginning of 1879, the cheese factory closed out its entire lot of last season’s cheese at 7½ cents per pound, and at the end of that season, cheese was selling at ten cents a pound. Mr. Kemp, the cheese-maker, called one of his products “Young America” cheese, each of which weighed about eight pounds.

 But by 1880, although there were favorable prospects for a good supply of milk and efforts to ensure that “the reputation will be maintained” were favorable (“Wisconsin cheese is commanding a better price in New York’s market than New York cheese”), some of the cheese-makers—as well as some of the dairy farmers—began moving west to the Dakotas.  George W. Kemp leased the factory from Hoxie for the season, and although he had to temporarily close it down in mid-season for lack of milk, the local newspaper reported that he intended “to buy the cream and fresh butter from the farmers as soon as suitable arrangements can be made for regular delivery.”  Business declined; there was greater competition for milk from other local cheese makers. At the end of 1880, Kemp married Mary, the daughter of Hoxie, but that didn’t help his business prospects.

In January 1881, Hoxie placed the Cooksville Cheese Factory up for sale.  “He will also sell his house and lot in connection with the same, if desired,” reported the Evansville Review.   By the next year, the cheese factory was “used as a dwelling house by two families.”  Larger cheese-making operations elsewhere diminished the supply of milk. Hoxie, it seems, was headed for retirement, as was his cheese factory.

“The Dakota fever has broken out afresh,” reported the Evansville Enterprise, and cheese-maker George Kemp (who had been making cheese in Lodi by 1882) and Frank Newman left Cooksville to visit the “beautiful land” of Dakota, the new Western Frontier.

The Dakota Territory had been established in 1861, and the federal Homestead Act of 1862 (160 acres of free land if you remained for five years) made farming prospects there rather appealing.  The Black Hill Gold Rush of the mid-1870s made Dakota even more appealing to the adventurous.  But what ensured a more massive exodus of people to the new Western frontier of Dakota was the completion of the Chicago and North Western Railroad and the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad in 1880 to the Dakota Territory.

 Early in 1883, Kemp and Newman went for another visit to Dakota, this time joined by several other Cooksvillians.  By the middle of 1883, the Stoughton Hub newspaper reported that the wives of Kemp and Newman “expect to ship their household goods to Dakota this week, for the ‘boys’ write they have the shanties ready…”

A rumor was reported, both in 1883 and 1884, that the Cooksville cheese factory might be started up again, either for cheese or as a creamery.  The Stoughton Hub hoped “the farmers will look to their interests and be ready for their patronage. Dairying will pay and must be the measure of our success in Wisconsin.”  But in March 1884, Hoxie sold all his cheese fixtures to a Mr. Fish of Lone Rock in Richland County.

The Hub also reported on April 3, 1884, that “Mr. B. S. Hoxie has sold his house and lot in the village to Julius Savage, and has taken a temporary residence in his factory building until he decides for a change of location or business. He will sell his fruit farm of fifteen acres, with the building, which can be made into a fine residence at a trifling expense.”  Hoxie retired to Evansville in 1884, and in 1886 he sold the cheese factory building, but he kept his hand in his design business and in his horticultural interests.

Hoxie had been very active in the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society for many years, and in 1893 he managed the Society’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Many years later, Hoxie’s unusual apples from his fruit farm behind the cheese factory would be re-discovered and re-cultivated. Apples and cheese must have been an especially tasty combination for him.

Today, the prize-winning Cooksville cheese factory has become a simple residence and survives                                  as one of Cooksville’s historic structures.

The Cooksville Cheese Factory

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Formally organized groups and clubs abounded in 19th century America, even in the Village of Cooksville. These organizations provided entertainment, amusement and sometimes intellectual stimulation for the residents in this small, isolated village by-passed by the railroad — “the town that time forgot.” 
Wilder Newell, c.1880, farmer

The Cooksville Debating Society spoke out on a number of subjects. For instance, on February 27, 1860, the debate at the schoolhouse by six local men was on the subject, “Secret Organizations are contrary to the spirit of Free Government,” which was decided in the negative. Another debate on March 5, 1860, was on the subject, “Woman’s Rights should be identical with Man’s”; six men and women debated, but the records do not indicate which side prevailed. The debate still goes on in some circles.
Dinner party: Margaret Rice, daughter and dressmaker, Anna Belle, and friends, c.1890

On February 16, 1864, the Stoughton Reporter announced, “The young ladies of Cooksville have a ‘Grand Leap Year Party’ [planned] at the Masonic Hall in that place, Friday evening. The tickets read ‘yourself and gentleman are respectfully invited.’ Room managers, Ellen Galt, Stella Savage, Melvina Howard, and Electa Johnson. Music by Love’s Band. Tickets 25ȼ.”

The Masonic Hall above the General Store was the scene of many such social gatherings, as was the Schoolhouse and the new Cooksville Congregational Church and its basement. Van Vleck’s Hall (the Opera House) on the second floor of the meat market was another venue for certain events, but the record of its use is sparse, except for the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Troupe—which was performing there when the Opera House burned down in 1893.
Fred Miller, farmer, Evansville hotel owner, c.1895

The Cooksville Dramatic Club was a very active cultural institution.  Its first productions, presented at the schoolhouse on Saturday evening, January 25, 1873, were “Miriam’s Crime,” a “glowing comedy,” and “The Irish Tutor,” a “laughable farce,” according to the handbill. Performances began promptly at “7½” and admission was 15 cents, 10 cents for children. So well-received were the plays that the Club had new “scenery painted in Evansville, which will aid in rendering their life-like plays more real still,” and took the productions on the road to Eagle School (Porter Township), and to Stoughton and Fulton. “Down by the Sea” was performed at the Cooksville Congregational Church in 1882, at which “Anderson’s Band will furnish the orchestra music and also for a dance which is to follow at Masonic Hall,” all this after an oyster supper in the church basement. The newspaper reported that the event and “social hop” dance raised “over 60 dollars… towards the church debt.”  Other plays performed were “The Irish Tutor,” “Lost in London” and “Nevada, or the Lost Mine,” which were taken on the road to Stoughton, Brooklyn and the Stebbensville Church. A very busy group of local thespians.
Myrtle Dow, actress, Buenos Aires, London, c.1895

In early 1881, the Cooksville Glee Club gave an entertainment in the new Congregational Church that consisted of “a concert of vocal and instrumental music to conclude with that inimitable play ‘Cool as a Cucumber!’” Later in 1881, the Glee Club, assisted by Porter’s Orchestra Band, presented another concert which concluded “with that mirth-provoking play: “Who is Who? or, All in the Fog.” Most of the funds raised by the ticket sales went to pay for the furnishing in the new church built in 1879, the first and only religious structure in the village for almost 20 years.

The Jolly Club of Cooksville (about which little is known, unfortunately) gave “a rousing New Year’s Party at the Masonic Hall” in early 1886, with about thirty couples in attendance at its first dance. The Evansville newspaper reported it was “a very pleasant party” and also announced that there would be another dance party in February at the Hall and that “arrangements are in progress for the laying of a new canvass so the ladies can wear their Cinderella slippers. Music by the Albion Band, four pieces.” (Rough wooden floorboards with splinters may have been a problem for the dancers.)
Avis, teacher, and brother Paul Savage, farmer, c.1900

In November 1893, the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Troupe arrived in Cooksville for a three-week stay at the Cooksville Opera House, otherwise known as Van Vleck’s Hall, located on the second floor above Van Patten’s and Newkirk’s meat market on the corner of Main and Dane streets. Led by Dr. Red Wolf, the Medicine Troupe performed a series of lectures and entertainments, with “a crowd of small boys are on hand every time,” according to the Evansville Enterprise newspaper.  Dr. Red Wolf had a large display of “old and rare coins, medicines, paraphernalia, etc.” as well as musical instruments used by himself and his two assistants.  Unfortunately, a fire broke out on December 5, 1893, and the Cooksville Opera House and Meat Market burned to the ground. Not one article of Dr, Red Wolf’s paraphernalia was rescued from the devastating fire.
Joseph B. Porter, farmer, c.1884

Beginning in 1901 and for fifty years, Old Settlers Reunions were formally organized and took place on the Public Square in June of every year, weather permitting. (Previously in the late 19th century “Pioneer Reunions” had taken place now and then.) In addition to the picnic food—“tables decorated with choice flowers and fruits, and loaded with the most delectable achievements of the culinary art” —the Old Settlers Reunions featured entertainments with fond reminiscences shared by the descendents of the old pioneers and with tributes to those who had passed on. Poetry was composed for the occasion and recited, and short plays (such as “Grandmother’s Story” and “Why the Cannon Wasn’t Fired”) depicting Cooksville events were performed.  Music was an important element in the festivities. Jack Robertson provided his award-winning fiddle music as well as tricks with his violin in the 1930s; the Cooksville Lutheran Quartette and the Janesville Male Quartette sang; Webster Johnson played his bagpipes; Eloise Eager played the violin; June Porter sang vocal solos; and a Drum Corps composed of men from the Town of Porter, Evansville and Janesville got feet tapping with their rousing rendition of “Marching Through Georgia.” By the 1950s, the descendents of the 19th century pioneer settlers had mostly marched on to other locales, and the Reunions ceased.

Later, in the mid-20th century, the Cooksville Mothers’ Club and the Cooksville Community Center continued the tradition of providing the village with social events, educational programs, and organized activities, in the old Schoolhouse and in the old Congregational Church, as well as in the Cooksville Lutheran Church, which had been constructed in 1897.
Anna Graves, teacher, c.1888

All in all, the Cooksville community embraced their pleasures, enjoyed their leisure, and had a good time. In fact, in 1885 the Evansville Enterprise newspaper concluded that, “The Cooksville people seem to enjoy themselves about the best of any community we know…they have had some delightful gatherings where all joined together as one family without any jealousies or hard feelings, and no scandals or brawls have their starting place there. As a progressive, literary, talented people we think they are above the average.”

[These bits of Cooksville life and history—and many more— are found in the diaries, written memoires, newspaper clippings, letters, personal interviews and stories told to me, 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]