Thursday, March 30, 2017

In the Beginning, There Was….. Cooksville, by Larry Reed

In the beginning, 175 years ago, the new land in Middle America beckoned to settlers with waves of endless fertile prairies, undisturbed oak-openings, springs of clear water, and flowing creeks and rivers with Native American names. And it was good….

Wisconsin in 1718
The land of “Wild Rushing Waters”—called Meskonsin or Ouisconsin or Wiskonsan or, the final choice, Wisconsin— had finally become part of the United States. The nation had succeeded in acquiring, winning, and finagling it from the French, the British and then the Indians (although the latter remain as 12 nations within the state). The good news then, in 1787, was that anybody—French, English or otherwise—who wanted to remain in America’s new official Northwest Territory could and that, importantly, slavery was abolished within the Territory.

U.S.A. map of 1783

In the 1830s the American government began surveying its new lands west of Lake Michigan. Surveys divided the land into more counties, one of which became Rock County, previously part of Brown County and later part of Milwaukee County, named for a famous landmark rock near the river. And the counties were divided into townships and sections, which allowed the U.S. government to sell the land for the first time in 1837, a year after the Wisconsin Territory was established in 1836.

The buyers, mostly eager migrants or land speculators who lived elsewhere, out East in New England for instance, or overseas in the British Isles. Sometimes buyers were early trappers, entrepreneurs and “squatters” that had already “discovered” the land and made their “claims,” often associated with companies that had long pursued fur-trading and mineral-extraction.

Wisconsin Territory in 1836
The genesis of Cooksville was in 1837. That was the year that brothers John and Daniel Cook of Ohio purchased their portion of Wisconsin from the U.S. government for $1.25 an acre. The Cooks’ land, between the two new small settlements of Janesville and Madison, bordered on the fish-filled Waucoma Creek, later to be re-named the Badfish Creek, in the Town of Oak, later re-named the Town of Porter in 1847.

And it was a good choice. The Cook brothers and families arrived in oxen-drawn wagons in 1840, usually following Indian trails, to their fertile, well-watered, wood-filled land on the promising frontier of an expanding 59-year-old nation.

In the beginning, the new settlers used their wagons as shelters but quickly built rough log cabins and animal shelters. Thanks to an early saw mill on the Badfish Creek, lumber sawn from oak and other trees soon provided construction materials for houses and barns and the nearby limestone hills supplied blocks of stone for foundations as well as for a few early houses. 

The Village of Cooksville was formally founded and drawn up by its eponymous founders in 1842, 175 years ago. The plat of their new little town on the prairie consisted of just three blocks divided into a number of lots for sale along its several platted streets. And the Cooks built the first house for themselves that same year of 1842, as well as that first saw mill on the creek.

And it was good. But there was no time to rest after these early efforts—except maybe on the seventh day when an itinerant Primitive Methodist preacher presided over church services in the saw mill—because Cooksville quickly began to grow.

Waucoma plat map of 1846
The settlement along the Badfish Creek quadrupled in size in 1846. That is when Dr. John Porter and his brother Dr. Isaac Porte of Massachusetts laid out their own new village across the street from the Cook brothers’ village. The new village was four-times as big as its neighbor and stretched eastward along the creek —which the Porters learned was called “Waucoma” by Native Americans and which became the genesis of the name the Porters gave to their new community:  the Village of Waucoma. They hoped it would be a successful and lucrative speculative land development, as well as a new home.

For Waucoma the Porters created a “New England” style layout with a large Public Square in the middle for all to use and enjoy, with 14 blocks each usually with 14 building lots and wide streets and alleys. John Porter had purchased the land from U.S. Senator Daniel Webster, so a street was named in his honor: “Webster Street.” Soon two brickyards were producing tens of thousands of vermilion-colored clay bricks that would add handsome brick houses to the simple, graceful pioneer architecture of the village and nearby farms.

Both villages attracted eager settlers to the new fertile farmlands where hunting, fishing and wild fruits, along with their productive vegetable gardens, would sustain them. Of course, occasional imports of salt, tea, coffee, gun powder and oysters were obtained now and then from the growing settlements of Milwaukee and Chicago. More solid, well-constructed, handsome American homes rose on the prairie, usually designed like very simplified Greek temples, a foreign architectural style popular at the time. And soon several mercantile stores and blacksmith shops were built to serve the growing community of pioneers.

In the 1840s, the area was serviced by a stagecoach. At that time, only the little Village of Union existed on the stagecoach route between Mr. Jane’s village and President Madison’s eponymously-named settlement on the Four Lakes. Union provided the needed change of horses and a hotel at the halfway point between those two settlements until the new Village of Cooksville—then often called Waucoma—was established on the route, becoming a stagecoach stop for the growing area. Soon “Waucoma House,” a stagecoach stop, hotel and tavern for travelers was erected. From there, stages dashed from Cooksville up Old Stage Road to join the old Territorial Road, the first well-traveled route through Rock and Dane counties.

However, in the late 1850s when railroads traversed Rock County, replacing stagecoaches, Cooksville was bypassed. The village slumbered, but its sturdy, well-designed 1840s and 1850s buildings continued to shelter the old pioneers and their children, and then those children’s children. The peak population was about 175 during the Civil War era but its growth stopped and its population dwindled. Early maps often called the village “Waucoma,” although the name “Cooksville” would prevail, thanks to the Post Office housed in the old General Store in the Cooks’ village.

Cooksville, 1891
By the beginning of the 20th century some of the residences had become “summer homes” in the quiet old rural community. The saw mill, which became a grist mill, ground to a halt; the village’s second-floor “Opera House” above the local meat-market was lost to fire in 1893; Waucoma House hotel fell into disrepair; and the Farm Implement Factory, the first in Wisconsin, was torn down in 1928.
"Cooksville 1938" by Dorothy Kramer
But—happy revelation!— not all disappeared into the mist of time or in flames and smoke. Historic houses remained standing (and still do) along with the two churches, the schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop and the oldest General Store in Wisconsin housing the Masonic Lodge on the second floor. And the Public Square is still used in common by all, as it once was for picnics, horse-races, the Cooksville Cornhuskers’ ball games, “Old Settlers’ Reunions,” and especially by the children from the one-room schoolhouse facing the Square.

"Cooksville, 1955" by Dorothy Kramer
Cooksville became the special little historic “town that time forgot.” In some respects, it is indeed a revelation that the village has survived and even thrived in its own unique way during those many years of quiet rural life in the 19th, 20th and 21st.centuries. Many other similar early settlements have disappeared or had their earliest beginnings vanquished by progress and new construction.

And now, in 2017, the Village of Cooksville, an officially-designated National, State and Local Historic District, is able to celebrate 175 years of existence, which is old for a Ouisconsin or a Wiskonsan or, finally, a Wisconsin village. (Governor James Doty urged spelling the Territory’s name “Wiskonsan” but was over-ruled by the government in 1845, so “Wisconsin” it is.)

And so “Cooksville”— as well as “Waucoma,” the legal name for many of its properties —remains an early Wisconsin pioneer village from 1842, a “wee bit of New England in Wisconsin.”
"Cooksville Tour Map, 1984" by Mike Saternus
*   *   *   *   *
[The Cooksville Archives and Collections welcomes photographs and other documents related to the history of Cooksville and the Town of Porter. Contact Larry Reed for more information. (608) 873-5066.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

News from Tree Restoration Committee of Cooksville

The Tree Restoration Committee received a DNR Grant for Cooksville Urban Forestry and Commons. The grant will be matched with volunteer hours, in-kind services and fund-raising which will help fund or support these components:

  • Tree inventory
  • Professional Tree Management Plan
  • Arbor Day Celebration and Tree Planting
  • Community and Educational Outreach Programming

Future Dates:

Arbor Day Celebration - April 30, Sunday   2-4 pm   Refreshments to follow at the Cooksville Community Center after the proclamation and tree planting on the Commons.

The committee is having a tree inventory work date in late May if anyone is interested in learning how to identify trees, leaves and bark.

June 10 - Art Activity- Tree Art  for all ages on the Commons before and after the Jerry Apps lecture -   Community and Educational Outreach

Friday, March 17, 2017

More “Before and After” Rehabilitations in Historic Cooksville, by Larry Reed

A previous article here told the story of the restoration of historic buildings in the Village of Cooksville through “before and after” photos. These preservation projects re-capture the original historic architectural character of the village’s nineteenth-century buildings—homes, churches, barns, schoolhouse, even out-houses— and have been going on for many decades and continue to this day, helping to retain the significant character of this 175-year-old village.

Such projects are evidence of wise investments, smart re-uses and re-cycling, and the pride owners have in improving their village. And the owners can take very real pleasure and satisfaction in saving a part of Wisconsin’s and America’s heritage.

Here are more “before and after” pictures that help tell the story of preservation and its role in the appreciation and aesthetic enjoyment, as well as the economic benefits, of living in a historic community like Cooksville.
John Seaver House (c.1849) - BEFORE
John Seaver House - AFTER

Some of the village’s houses required major exterior rehabilitation to reveal the hidden original materials and historic architecture from the mid-nineteenth century, This sometimes meant the removal of modern metal or vinyl siding to once more expose original wooden clapboards and old exterior trim underneath, which allowed the symmetrical design elements of the early, simple Greek Revival and Gothic Revival styles to be appreciated. 
Smith House (c.1845-46) - BEFORE
Smith House - AFTER

On occasion, the restorations required only some repairs and minor replacements of missing details or trim work.  Sometimes more extensive work was required to restore original porches or major exterior stylistic features that had been covered over or removed in the past. Usually, early photographs or the discovery of physical evidence provided the needed documentation of original appearances.
Gunn House (c.1852) -  BEFORE
Gunn House, "Breckhurst"- AFTER

Many of the small historic houses required large modern additions, sensitively and carefully designed to provide bathrooms, closets, larger kitchens, etc., which would ensure continued modern use of the original structures. Whether the early houses were small one- or two-room residences or were somewhat larger Cooksville brick structures, they could all be made to easily accommodate modern needs.
Longbourne House (c.1854) - BEFORE
Longbourne House - AFTER

Sometimes the original use of buildings had to be changed to accommodate new uses. This different use served to give new life to the structure, preserving the historic building. Two examples are the village’s one-room schoolhouse that became a community center and an old dairy barn that is now a new, spacious home.
Erickson Barn (1914) - BEFORE
Erickson Barn - AFTER

Cooksville Schoolhouse (1886) - BEFORE
Cooksville Schoolhouse - AFTER

Even a few old village outhouses have been lovingly repaired and re-painted—and even re-used now and then, or converted a new use as a garden shed. Some young and not-so-young visitors have never seen (or used) an original “two-holer” in a backyard!

The Cook Outhouse (c.1900) - BEFORE
The Cook Outhouse - AFTER

As time goes by, these restored buildings will only become more valued as important historic Wisconsin structures—especially as some historic buildings are needlessly and foolishly demolished.

This year, Cooksville celebrates the 175th anniversary of its founding in 1842, and plans have been made to welcome friends and visitors to attend programs and events and tour the historic village.

For more information about the 175th Celebrations, see the schedule of events posted earlier in this Cooksville New Blog Spot.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Chris Beebe's Memories of Race Car Driving

A lot of interesting people have called Cooksville "home" over the years.  The following is an inside-the-body look at what it's like to drive a race car.  Chris lives, works on cars, draws and plays music just north of Cooksville on Leedle Mill Road along the Badfish.
The car that beat me at Road America (see end notes)
Many auto enthusiasts seem to know the power and traction required to propel a car up to 60 mph from a stop,  0-to 60 mph, requiring so many seconds.  My 1000 lb, 165 hp Lotus Super 7 has a spec of O-to-60 mph in just over 4 seconds, 0-to-80 in about 5.5.  That's up there with Corvettes.
 I wonder what you might think.  How short a period of time (in seconds) it takes a 'Can-Am' race car from a stopped position, launched up to 100 mph and then back to stopped (0-to-100-to-0)?  Realize that the brakes are terrific and the tires are wide and sticky for grip, besides the 850 horse power propelling the rig.  I'll leave the answer till later so you can mull it over. 
I was offered to drive this Can Am car in a race and these thoughts came up first. I had to stay quite fit to be competitive driving the Lotus or Tiga,  so what would be needed to be capable of tolerating these sort of loads?   I remember watching the Can Am cars shoot up the hill from turn 14 up the hill toward the start/finish at Road America. The sight of Jerry Hansen and Jack Hinkel come to mind, looking nearly sling-shot.   That had me worry about the ability to drive such a powerful car.    What does the body go through?  What was the condition and history of the car?  What had it been through?  What maintenance had it had?

As for the driving speeds of race vehicles,  I think driving a race car at 200 mph isn't as exciting as one might think, really.  The scenery just whisks past quickly.    What is impressive and hard on one's body is getting up to high speeds and down from them so quickly.  All road-course racing cars are driven as hard as the car and driver are capable to be competitive, drive as fast as the power will take you and slow as quickly as possible to deal with corners, having to accurately down-shift,  (not using the clutch is most efficient), and prepare the chassis for something completely different from the momentum carrying you.  Along with this is the human body trying to tolerate these changes, requiring all these changes to take place yet be kept mentally cool and alert enough to manage these violent up-heaving changes. 

 I don't need glasses for
driving. I can pass an eye test, but use them for racing.  A problem I had was under braking hard in this Lola race car.  Keep in mind these cars have wide (29") and sticky tires, brakes from a jet fighter and the light-weight car is easily pulled down from high speeds repeatedly,  corner after corner, with straight shoots between them.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't squint hard enough to hold and contain my eyes from protruding out of their sockets and making contact with my glasses.
               So, ...   from O to 100mph and then back to O,  ...  in just under 6 seconds.                              Just imagine what the body goes through    ...  !   
               Lap after lap,  and so many laps, left, right turns and many slowing from near 200 to 60 for some corners,    ... 
                                                                                                                                                     Unsure I'd like to do that again.
That eye-pain is my threshold of braking in a car this powerful.  I would modulate to find that tiny G-load that is just shy of eye-contact and just where my focus isn't THAT altered. More than that, my judgement is just unable to make those minuscule maneuvers that make for a correct and smooth transition so the chassis isn't surprised or 'up-ended' enough to have 'messed up' a corner. 
                                                                  Gotta rest my two fingers now...
And later he writes,
I suppose it was during a period before there was E-Mail and I was not writing or drawing much.  It was when I was in an extreme low and worn period of my adulthood.  I then took the very foolish attitude of "I don't care anymore" and accepted the challenge of driving this old powerful car offered me. It's owner was a fella who also has a Lotus Super 7, but a series 4, a model newer than my racing Lotus Super Seven.  The owner  approached me after a race, claimed, "You whooshed right past me on the straight at Elkhart."  He asked if I would work on his car so that it would at least keep up with me on the straights. It already had a professionally built 1600 twin-cam Lotus engine but I still roared right by him with my smaller engined Lotus. After spending one winter on his car he found the changes I made were terrific,  and it was after the last race of the season at Elkhart when he offered this Lola Can Am car for me to have a go at. I delightedly accepted,  but asked him to let me think it over, ... over winter.  "We'll keep in touch."   E-Mail wasn't yet known to me.

Me waving to friends at the end of the race.
Here I was in this difficult and low period,  thrown into the mess was this amazing offer,  mulling over just driving such an old powerful car, and further yet, possibly racing it.  The more I learned of this particular car, I realized how foolish accepting the offer would be.  It was a car that I viewed as having had a new heart but an old and fragile body, bones ready to break when loads were given.  It had a new and more powerful engine, brake pads, tires, etc, and I learned the 'chassis' (monocoque design)  had been re-skinned over the old skin. It was prepped by a firm that had great Can Am car background so my accepting the car in October had it being readied and fit to me (though I never saw the car) over winter.  It was this 'not caring for my well-being' attitude that had me question myself for those 5 months, right up to mid-April, the arrival of the test day held in Michigan, at Grattan Raceway.  Though I knew the track well (still hold the lap record in my Lotus' class),  I worried about all of that power and how I might adjust to it.
When we arrived it was just being rolled out of the semi-tractor trailer, and it looked long and yellow, had a hideous teal-colored wing at the back.  I sure was doubting my abilities just looking in the cockpit.  I suited up wearing the tattered suit, worn and thin underwear, tattered gloves and crummy helmet.  The adjustments took a while... moving the pedal assembly to the best place for me sitting as recumbent as I do, (The seat does not move.),  strapping myself in with assistance from a crew of fellas I didn't know.  They knew of the help needed to adjust and buckle-up all of the harness, arm and helmet restraints.   It's a job a driver can't accomplish alone.
The engine fired up with a huge blast of raw power, even easing the throttle made for more response than intended. I wended my way onto the track at the end of the pit row, very uneasy about what I had taken on. I found it required extremely high effort to steer around all of Grattan's clever and difficult corners, set amongst the rolling hills in Southern Michigan. It's a course intended for much smaller and more nimble vehicles, like my Lotus Seven.   It did have one very long straight, and early on I (wrongly) found this was the easy part of the track, because I hadn't given it full throttle. The variety and number of off-camber corners, short but sharp hills, dips and decreasing-radius turns had me work very hard at the wheel before I was able to figure out how to use the engine to assist the strength needed to steer the wide-tired chassis. I was finally getting the enormously wide rear tires to break free and that would lessen the input I was otherwise required to put into steering through each corner. As wide and sticky as those tires were, that engine could separate them from the pavement almost anytime wished for.  That controlled loss of adhesion at will left me awe-struck. Learning this took a better part of an hour, lap after grueling lap.   The loads were so great on my body, I had to pull into the pits and threw up.
Just before the start of the race at Elkhart Lake's Road America.  See end notes.

Shifting that huge transmission was wonderful, though I was taken aback at first as the car was right-hand drive (which I'm used to) but the gear lever was to the right. It was set onto the chassis sill cover, tucked under the body skin to the right of the steering wheel.  My Right arm is much stronger than Left and I needed that strength to steer the car. Shifting had to be completed before, after and away from the corner so as to not upset the chassis and allow the use of two strong arms. The ease of matching the engine/gears was easy for me, the lightweight flywheel and clutch-pack allowed the powerful and over-willing engine to rev free and respond quickly to throttle conditions, on and off, and the timing of gear selection came naturally for me kept in practice from years of racing British cars that lost their clutch operation during races.  I became quick, efficient and accurate with every shift, much quicker when not using a clutch.

It was surprisingly difficult for me to have the guts to try full throttle, only once having tried it a bit on the straight and I recall thinking, "Yikes, that was just too much." Those in the pits, watching my slow learning curve, realized I was at my personal limit, in a comfort zone.   I wasn't aware but they decided to do something to break me of myself.
The view to the rear of the very wide Lola was insufficient through the two little spot mirrors on the front fenders. They only offered a great view of the enormously wide, distractedly brilliant, teal-colored stabilizing wing over the tail.  They were nearly worthless to see rearward but they were all I had, aimed to the rear corners of the car, just outside of the big wing.  There were others setting up and testing their vehicles on the track this day but we staged our time on the track.   Occasionally overlapped occurrences would have a car appear suddenly,  startle me as they came out of seemingly nowhere, and suddenly be along side.  During an unusually calm many laps, I was SHOCKED and quite shaken when a formula 5000 Lola roared pass me on the straight. The surprise, the speed and noise as it passed really shook me.  I quickly absorbed what had just happened!  I recognized the driver and realized the reason he was there.  This is exactly what I needed. I thought,  picked up my pace, and the chase was on.   It's that mechanical rabbit a race dog instinctively chases.  Here was something I could chase.   I found what a different and raging animal that engine turned into when full-throttle was given. It was STUNNING !

 I'm one to dislike using the trite term turned so commonly used for putting a dish  away or picking something for someone.  But that raw, raging and raucous power is simply awesome.

Full throttle brought the high G-loads.  They pulled my facial skin right back filling up any voids in the rear of my loose helmet.  My eye-balls flattened and were recessed in their sockets making focus difficult.  The skin on my arms rammed back toward my shoulders.  Breathing was only available when shifting.  I heard in my helmet loud groaning and grunts I was making as I dealt with these extreme loads.  No longer was the 'straight' a place of comfort.  After some laps I realized I had control of that powerful thing back there, and managed the direction of the seemingly too-wide chassis on this narrow and clever track. I even had command of on-demand control, mastered the loss of adhesion from those massive and sticky tires.   That was a key to getting me out of my comfort zone, that and loss of fear for myself.   After some lively laps I found I was keeping up with the 'rabbit', and was ultimately able to catch it!   It took a lot of driving and mental effort but after quite a few laps, I was able to pass it. I terrifyingly breached that level of comfort by a great amount, that instinctive personal protection we all are given, wish to stay within, and rely on.

Getting out of the car in the pit lane I was met by a cheering crew of people , most I had never met before that day.  Apparently I had caught and passed Bud Bennett, a star driver in his very capable Lola F5000.  I looked down, over my driver suit, glancing across my shoes, legs and stomach and arms, ...   nothing showed to out of order, muscles still capable to hold me in the standing position though still shaking quite a bit.  I was so taken by the stress a body can withstand, the tolerance of all of that abuse.  Yet absolutely everything on my body still functioned! I saw no leakage, no blood nor urine, no messes to clean up after.   Yet on the track where I was pushed so hard, where I was being shoved, squeezed and tugged at in such high levels, I was certain I no longer was able to manage or monitor anything in my body but basic muscular input. I was, and am still, amazed. I have the 'chills' as I write this. This crew of folks realized I broke the fear factor my body I had been stuck in, the preservation of self we are all given.

This Lola T-163 was raced in its early years by Wilson, if I remember correctly.  Was it Gary Wilson?  Back then it was fitted with a 'big block', claimed to have more than 1000 horse power.  I'm glad I didn't have that to deal with. 

Additional notes on the pictures:
 Above are pictures showing the car I raced, the British made Lola T-163.    The first photo is the car that beat me at Road America (Elkhart lake), driven by Denny Hulme (seen in this photo) of New Zealand, the car is a McLaren (M-8, I believe

The middle photo is me waving to friends at the end of the race.    Denny Hulme died the very next race in the Tooheys 1000 from Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia.    A link to his fabulous history follows: 

The last is one just before the start of the race at Elkhart Lake's Road America,  the two pace cars pulling off to allow us on our own.  I'm 4th in the only yellow car that has a teal-colored wing. I qualified 4th and am in some terrific company, the quite famous red 'Simonize Lola' directly in front, Charlie Gibson in the lead position in his well-driven and capable car (white w/red stripe), the very famous UOP Shadow next to me, then David Hobbs (from England)  in a newer Lola behind it and another Lola behind me.  Denny Hulme ( the orange car directly in front of another orange car in about 11th place) won the race, I was third and Charlie Gibson was second.