Monday, January 20, 2014

"Cooksville’s Historic Waucoma Cemetery," by Larry Reed

Cooksville Cemetery Gravestone
The Village of Cooksville’s cemetery, historically and officially named “Waucoma Cemetery,” is known as the Cooksville Cemetery these days. This cemetery replaced the village’s earliest 1840s burying ground that was located somewhere behind the Cooksville General Store on the village’s western edge. The first burial there was about 1848, according to information in the Cooksville Archives. By then, Cooksville—first settled in 1840 and “expanded” in 1846 by its next-door neighbor, the Village of Waucoma— had apparently experienced its first deaths after being established by the Cook and Porter families.

On November 11, 1861, Cooksville’s new official cemetery—Waucoma Cemetery— was established when 2.5 acres of land were purchased from the neighboring Village of Waucoma’s founder Dr. John Porter for $25. The location was directly south of old Wisconsin and South streets (now Church Street), at the southeastern corner of Waucoma. The new Waucoma Cemetery Association was soon formally established, and this first formal cemetery began serving the greater Cooksville area.
Cooksville Cemetery Gravestone

Apparently, some memorial grave markers and perhaps burial remains may have been moved from the first burying ground to the new Waucoma Cemetery. An early death date on a stone in the new 1861 cemetery is listed as 1846. However, Cora Atwood, a Cooksville historian in the mid-twentieth century, relates that a village resident’s grandmother told her that there were only a few burials in that first burying ground with no stones on its graves and with no remains moved to the new cemetery.

Within a year or so, a board fence was erected around the new Waucoma Cemetery and trees were planted, with money from “cemetery subscriptions.”

After the Civil War, about 1865, an earthen memorial mound was constructed in the southern area of the cemetery to commemorate those men from the community who had died in the war and were buried in the south. A wooden marker with their names painted on was erected on the mound. Apparently, about 12 names were on the marker, but the marker was lost over time. Only four names of those men have been discovered: Perry Brooks, John Shurrum, Ira Sturtevant, and James Melvin Van Vleck. Later, a modern flag pole was erected on the grassy mound.

Between 1868 and 1881, cemetery records indicate a total twenty additional burial lots (each lot contained five burial plots) were purchased for $7, some for $10.

Improvements were made to Waucoma Cemetery over the years. Steps were added to climb over the protective fence, and in the 1870s, a small gate was added, with corner stones placed to delineate the cemetery blocks and more trees planted. About 1882-83, at least portions of the “old dilapidated board” fence were replaced with a wire fence. Later, larger gates were installed.  In addition, the Association decided to restrict the haphazard planting of trees and shrubs.

 In 1897, the Norwegian Lutheran Church was built to the west of the cemetery, to replace the 1892 church destroyed by fire when struck by lightning. Now named the Cooksville Lutheran Church, it never had any official relationship to the nearby cemetery.

In 1945-1946, an effort was begun by the Waucoma Cemetery Association to create a record of all the old burials and the inscriptions on the markers, with an alphabetical listing of all those buried there.  Burials in the southern part of the cemetery were found to have been irregularly placed and unlisted in any records; some graves there had markers, some did not, and some were only marked by “Mother” or “Grandmother.” And there were a number of fallen and broken stones in that area.  The research work was carried out by Cora Atwood and Fritz Hanson, and a new cemetery record book was donated by Frank Viney, Secretary and Treasurer of the Association, in memory of his son, Lieutenant Earl Viney. (The original book from 1861-1868 was lost and the existing book was reported “in poor condition.”) Officers and board members at that time were: Hans Haakenson, Edson Brown, Ole Haakeson, John Furseth, Jo Porter, Frank Viney, and Cora Atwood.

The cemetery was expanded to the west in 1947 with about 1.4 acres of land acquired south of the Lutheran Church. A new plat map of the cemetery was completed in 1952, with the old 1868 map redrawn. The new map included the original land purchased in 1861 (blocks 1 to 26) and the land purchased in 1947 (blocks 27 to 32). This map also indicated the haphazard burials in the southern-most block 26, which contained 56 burials that could be identified by name.
The Cooksville Cemetery Sign

 In 1999, the cemetery was expanded again with the purchase of two acres of farmland to the east.  In 2000, a metal “Cooksville Cemetery” sign was erected at the front of the cemetery, designed by Larry Reed, funded by Reed, James Danky and Christine Schelshorn, and fabricated by Bill Howard of Stoughton. (The old fence and other identifying signage, if any, were long gone.)

In the 21st century, Waucoma Cemetery became more generally known as the “Cooksville Cemetery.”  The name “Waucoma” had began to fade from community usage. However, the original name of “Waucoma” remains the legal name for the cemetery, as well as for Porter’s village established to the east of the Cook brothers’ smaller village.

The cemetery is now part of the Cooksville Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, which includes most of the two mid-19th century villages.

St. Michael's Cemetery, Caledonia Road
Other cemeteries located in Porter Township include Ball Tavern Cemetery, Fulton Cemetery, St. Michael's Cemetery, Wheeler Cemetery, and several family grave sites: Gibbs Burials, Richardson Burials, and Bragg Burials.

Many of Cooksville’s early settlers and Porter pioneers, some born in the 18th century, lie at rest in the old Waucoma Cemetery beneath their weathered marble headstones and granite memorials. They remain a part of the community’s history and have been joined in the shade of old pine trees by their many descendents, as well as by new residents of the community, and by others who wanted a quiet resting place. They represent several centuries of birth—the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries—and, soon, the 21st century. About a thousand are at rest there now.

Of course, there is always room for more. Contact John Julseth (608) 698-6916 or Larry McDonnell (608) 873-5483 or (608) 302-8766 for information about the Cooksville Cemetery.