|Cooksville School children|
In the 1940s—and earlier and for years afterward— the eight rural one-room school houses of the Town of Porter (the ninth schoolhouse, the Stebbinsville Schoolhouse, had burned down in 1942), celebrated the end of the school year in late spring with a special event. They joined together for a combined and competitive “Play Day” on the Public Square in the Village of Cooksville.
Greg Armstrong recently recalled his school-days in Cooksville, especially the excitement of “Play Day”:
“I attended the Cooksville School for 8 years starting in the fall of 1949. During the ensuing 8 years, there were several special events each year that were exceptional and outside of the ordinary three R’s, including the Lutefisk Dinner (we all walked up the street to the Lutheran Church at lunch time). And there was the Christmas Program held in the evening at the school several days before Christmas, and there were annual field trips, on a bus, usually to Chicago or Milwaukee. (I could regale you with the experience of touring the Armour Star slaughter house in Chicago when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old sometime if you wish—memorable!)
|Cooksville School Class of 1944-45|
“Play Day was held late in the spring a week or so before school let out for the summer. All of the one-room school houses in Porter Township came to the Public Square next to the Cooksville School for an annual set of competitions. Softball was by far (at least in my mind) the most important of them, but there was also pitching horse shoes, running races, and bean bag toss for the younger kids. I’m sure I am not remembering all of the events. Parents of the kids from the one-room schools organized and refereed these events. It seemed to me they always knew what they were doing, probably because they went to one of the schools when they were a kid. Cooksville School was always a bit of a power-house as I remember it. This was probably because we had more students (therefore more athletic talent to choose from). I also remember the Lienau School, Forest Academy and Wilder School were pretty stiff competition and beat us some times. It could well be that students from those other schools might have a different recollection of Cooksville School’s competitiveness. The whole affair took most of a Saturday.
“One of the other things I remember vividly was that my father, Miles Armstrong, who operated the Cooksville Store, was asked to set up a concession stand under those huge bur oak trees on the Square. There were four big oaks that essentially made a square, and dad would rig up some long “deacon’s benches” so they enclosed the square amongst the trees at about 2 feet off the ground to make a counter over which to do business. Inside the square of benches dad set up a couple card tables on which he had boxes of candy bars, gum, licorice sticks and other delights. We had, I think, four big galvanized wash-tubs in which he put blocks of ice and lots of pop. So from within the square dad and some helpers sold pop and candy all day long. If my memory serves well here, I think a candy bar was a nickel and a bottle of pop a dime. My sister Jean remembers crawling around on the ground, under where money had changed hands earlier in the day, looking for pennies, nickels and dimes that had been dropped. No wonder she was richer than me.
“What an exciting day it was, every time. After it was over, we were psychologically exhausted from the stresses of competition. I don’t remember being physically tired at that age. When school opened again the next fall, we immediately started practicing for the next play day.
“The schools that attended the Porter Township play day in Cooksville were: Cooksville, Lienau, Forest Academy, Eagle, Miller, Stevens, White Star, and Wilder.”
An annual county-wide Rock County Play Day was held in Janesville in early summer at the fairgrounds, where the winners of competitions from all the townships’ one-room schools went to compete with each other.
Greg remembered that “one year LeRoy Furseth and I were the Rock County champions in horse shoes.”
Greg Armstrong, now living in Madison and the retired Director of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, concluded his fond remembrance of his Play Day experiences: “As they used to say in that august newspaper, the Cooksville News: A good time was had by all.”
The early 1960s school consolidation would, of course, eliminate one-room rural schoolhouses, thus ending that special and memorable event of “Play Day” in rural Porter Township. Seven of Porter’s nine schoolhouse buildings have found other uses and still stand.
In the face of the consolidation, concerned citizens of the Village of Cooksville gathered together in 1962 to preserve the old Cooksville school building and the part it played in the community’s history. The local school district authorized the sale of the school property to the community on July 23, 1962, for the appraised price of $2,150. The group formed the Cooksville Community Center, Inc., which was incorporated on August 22, 1962, as an organization “without stock and not for profit” with one class of memberships titled “Voting Member.”
Thus, the Cooksville Schoolhouse began its new life as a center for community activities, including various programs, presentations, meetings and social events. The Cooksville Community Center also made the schoolhouse available for rent for private events.
And in 1980 the Cooksville Schoolhouse was included in the Village of Cooksville Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an important part of Cooksville’s heritage.
|Cooksville school class in hats, circa 1900|
To complete the histories of all the Town of Porter’s school houses, it would be helpful to have more complete information about all nine schools—dates of construction, special events, memorable teachers, interesting accomplishments, outstanding students, popular pranksters, as well as other fond memories. Feel free to share them with Larry Reed in Cooksville at 12035 W. State Road 59, Evansville, WI 53536, telephone (608) 873-5066, hopefully in writing for deposit in his Cooksville Archives.
[Thanks to Greg Armstrong for sharing his Play Day memories.]