Saturday, July 30, 2016

Cooksville’s Lutheran Church Celebrates 125 Years With a Program and Tour of Cooksville’s 155 Year Old Cemetery

The Cooksville Lutheran Church is celebrating its founding 125 years ago in 1891 with an event planned for Sunday, August 14, 2016. Both the establishment of the Lutheran Church in 1891 and the establishment of the nearby Cooksville Cemetery in 1861 will be commemorated.

The day will include a special church service, a luncheon and a history program followed by a tour of the Cooksville Cemetery.  The program will begin with a church service at 10 a.m., luncheon at 11:15 a.m., a history program at 12 noon, and a guided tour of the cemetery at 12:30 p.m.  Church founders’ graves will be marked, and families of the founders will be available for questions and guidance.  A free-will offering for the lunch will be accepted from attendees. All interested persons are invited to attend any or all of the events
Cooksville Lutheran Church, photo 1941
The Cooksville Lutheran Church officially began life as the Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1891, a result of the increased number of immigrant from Norway who settled in the Cooksville area and who had been attending the nearby Stoughton Lutheran Church.

On October 5, 1891, at a meeting in the Cooksville Schoolhouse, the Norwegian settlers in the area decided to organize and erect their own Norwegian Lutheran Church in the village. The constitution of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church was adopted, with the first Cooksville congregation consisting of twelve families. The Reverend Theodor H. Dahl from Stoughton agreed to conduct services in Norwegian every third Sunday at an annual salary of $125.00

A campaign for funds to construct a Lutheran church in Cooksville was successful. The new Norwegian Lutheran church was a small, handsome Gothic Revival church with some Shingle Style details in the tall, graceful bell-tower and steeple, and it was dedicated on December 14, 1892, on South Street next to Cooksville’s existing Cemetery.

Unfortunately, the church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground on September 13, 1896.  The loss, calculated at $2,339.00, was mostly covered by insurance.  The congregation decided to re-build, and a second, similar church building was constructed in the same location in 1897, with more elaborate stained-glass windows.

Cooksville Lutheran Church today
The elegant rural Lutheran Church still stands, with several new additions and a restored bell-tower, a significant part of the history of the Village of Cooksville as well as an important part of present-day life.

The adjacent historic Cooksville Cemetery was established 155 years ago. Many of the original Lutheran Church family members as well as founders of the Village of Cooksville are buried there. The two separate historic properties, the church and the cemetery, adjoin each other on Church Street in the historic Village of Cooksville.

Cooksville Cemetery sign
The old Cemetery in Cooksville, founded in 1861, was historically named “Waucoma Cemetery” after the Village of Waucoma that had been platted next to Cooksville in 1846. The Cemetery replaced the village’s earliest burying ground used in the 1840s and 1850s and located northwest of Cooksville’s General Store.

Polly Woodward headstone, 1851
The Cooksville Cemetery contained 2.5 acres of land purchased from Waucoma’s founder Dr. John Porter for $25. The cemetery expanded to the west in 1947 with about 1.4 acres of land acquired south of the Lutheran Church, and in 1999, it was expanded again with the purchase of two acres of farmland to the east. 

The Cooksville Lutheran Church and the Cooksville Cemetery are both located on Church Street at the southeastern corner of the village. Both the Cemetery and the Lutheran Church are part of the Cooksville Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, which includes most of the small Rock County village.
The church will again celebrate its 125th anniversary in November this year when a commemorative “Lutheran Church Memory Book” will be available.

For more information about the August 14 events at the Cooksville Lutheran Church and the Cemetery, contact Ilene Axford at (608) 873-6914.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cooksville: A Community’s Heart and Soul

People have been in love with little old Cooksville for more than a 100 years—probably longer, since its founding 175 years ago.
Cook House, photo c. 1930
 The Village of Cooksville was founded in northwestern Rock County in 1842, and began life as a small frontier settlement of talented pioneers, farmers, merchants, and artisans in the Wisconsin Territory.

The village soon welcomed more immigrants—craftsmen and women, artists, teachers, gardeners, retirees, and, eventually, home restorers— all attracted by Cooksville’s rural setting and its small village charm, which continues to appeal to both residents and visitors in the 21st century.

Cooksville Lutheran Church, photo c.1930
What is that attraction? People have been commenting for years about the small “Town that Time (and the railroad) Forgot,” and which is now officially designated as a historically significant village by the national, state and local governments. People have  been traveling to visit it, returning for the memories it holds in their hearts and praising it for its special history and architecture—and for its unique character as a survivor from the mid-19th century.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Cooksville and the Famous Unity Preacher Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, by Larry Reed

Thanks to a recent gift to the Cooksville Archives by Stanley James (“Jim”) Naysmith of Cooksville more is known about the famous Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones and his missionary influence on the Village of Cooksville. Jim’s gift was the “Unity Society of Cooksville: Secretaries Book, Sept.1880,” a small, neatly hand-written notebook that contains the minutes, the finances, the activities and the constitution of that local Society.
Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones
Jenkin Lloyd Jones, the famous “Unity” preacher and advocate of Unitarianism in the late 19th century, was based in Chicago and was a frequent visitor to Cooksville. Rev. Jones gave a dedicatory sermon at the first church constructed in Cooksville, the Congregational Church, on Dec. 18, 1879. And he was a frequent visiting lecturer after that, invited no doubt by the many New England pioneer settlers in the village who viewed with interest his philosophy of uniting all religions instead of focusing on just one in a creedless, universal, ethical, spiritual belief that had its roots in New England’s liberal Congregationalism.
Cooksville Congregational Church (1879), photo c.1900

In August 29, 1880, the Secretaries Book tells us that Rev. Jones “closed a course of lectures" in Cooksville at the Congregational Church, and the local sponsors of his visit issued an invitation to those in attendance who felt “friendly to the work” to meet the next day at the house of Benjamin Hoxie for a “a social and to greet Rev. Jones and to consent in regard to future work” in the village.

The next day, August 30, 1880, according to the Secretaries Book, “an organization was affected to be known as the Unity Society of Cooksville.” The attendees adopted a constitution, and twenty persons signed the constitution and became members. The preamble stated that they would “band ourselves together for the purpose of mutual helpfulness, intellectual improvement and the advancement of practical righteousness in the world.” Officers were elected at the first meeting: J.P. K. Porter, President; Eliza B. Porter, Vice-President; Jane I. Dow, Vice-President; J.T. Dow, Secretary; and James Fergrieve, Treasurer. They decided to meet every two weeks on Sunday evenings in the church with a special invited speaker or with “readings” by various local persons.

Eliza and Joseph Porter, photo c.1895
According to a local newspaper account, when that first business meeting was concluded, Rev. Jones “found himself in that somewhat novel situation for a preacher—a listener, not a talker,” because Benjamin Hoxie took the floor and proved “that he could talk, and talk well and to the point.” Then Hoxie presented Rev. Jones with a complete set of Herbert Spencer’s works, which took the preacher by surprise, and at a loss for words, he thanked them “in a somewhat broken way” and told the group how hard it was to leave Rock County and travel back to Chicago. (But he would often return to Cooksville to preach on other occasions.)
Benjamin Hoxie (1827-1901)

The Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones (November 14, 1843-September 12, 1918), who inspired the Cooksville group, was born in Wales, England. As a one-year-old, he immigrated with his parents and nine siblings to Ixonia (in Jefferson County), Wisconsin, and then ten years later to a farm near Spring Green in Iowa County.

Jones was a pioneering Unitarian minister, missionary, educator, and journalist. He expanded the ranks of Midwestern Unitarians and built up much of the structure of the Western Unitarian Conference. He founded a major program church in Chicago, All Souls, together with its associated community outreach organization, the Abraham Lincoln Centre. A radical theist, he tried to move Unitarianism away from a Christian focus towards non-sectarian engagement with world religion. Later in life, during a time of popular enthusiasm for war, he was a prominent pacifist
Unity Chapel, near Taliesin, Spring Green
In 1886, Jones directed the building of Unity Chapel in the valley near Spring Green. His nephew, Frank Lloyd Wright, served as a draftsman on this project with Joseph Silsbee as the designer. Jones's ties to family and the Wisconsin River Valley remained strong. There, on Tower Hill, with the help of his brothers, he founded a retreat center for city ministers and families. In 1890 this became the Tower Hill Summer School of Literature and Religion. For two months each summer, he vacationed there and used the Summer School as a channel for his energy. Worship was held in Unity Chapel near Tower Hill, where he eventually would be buried in the churchyard and where, nearby, his nephew Frank Lloyd Wright had built Taliesin in 1911.

In Cooksville, the Unity Society met regularly, often in the basement of the Congregational Church, which it voted to “furnish ½ the wood and lights” and help maintain the church where the Society held many “socials” and “entertainments” to help raise funds to pay for guest preachers and to pay the $5.00 annual dues to the Western Unitarian Conference. At one social in 1885, “chocolate & cake, sandwiches & pickles, coffee & doughnuts, pumpkin pie and cheese, and peanuts, constituted our Bill of Fare,” according to the secretary’s minutes. A “Social and Dance” was held at the Masonic Hall with “Nett proceeds $10.71” on Dec. 11, 1885.

With that last entry, the “Secretaries Book” entries end on Dec. 11, 1885. Whether Cooksville’s Unity Society continued its programs is not known.

Other religious communities had settled in Cooksville or nearby from the 1840s onward, some briefly. These included Free Will Baptist, Primitive Methodist, Methodist, Universalist, Congregational, Catholic, and finally Norwegian Lutheran, the latter established in 1891 and still in existence as the Cooksville Lutheran Church. 
In an interesting footnote, Frank Lloyd Wright, nephew of Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, would design a small. Prairie-style chapel for Cooksville in 1934, commissioned by the Gideon Newman family, but it was never built.
Jim Naysmith on his 80th birthday

[Thanks to Jim Naysmith for donating the “Secretaries Book” to the Cooksville Archives.]