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.]

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