Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cooksville Celebrates 175 years with "Art In the Park", July 22, 2017

Wisconsin Assemblyman Don Vruwink, left,  presented a plaque depicting a proclamation congratulating Cooksville on its 175th anniversary to Cooksville Community Center President Kathleen Hipke and Porter Town Chairman David Viney at the July 22 celebration at the Cooksville Commons. Rep. Verwink's district includes Cooksville. Also signing the proclamation was State Senator Janis Ringhand. 

WHEREAS, Brothers John and Daniel Cook settled along Badfish Creek in 1840 in the community that became Cooksville, which was platted in 1842, six years before Wisconsin became a state; and

WHEREAS, Brothers Dr. John and Dr. Isaac Porter settled a community east of Cooksville that became Waucoma, which was platted in 1846; and

WHEREAS, The two villages became home to pioneers from New England, New York, the British Isles, and later Norway; and

WHEREAS, Development in Cooksville came to a screeching halt in the 1860s when railroads bypassed the village in favor of connections in Evansville and Stoughton, giving the community the moniker “the town that time forgot;” and

WHEREAS, Preservation work by Larry Reed, Michael Saternus, and Ralph Warner have played a critical role in preserving Cooksville’s eclectic charm; and

WHEREAS, In 1973, Cooksville was designated the second historical district in the state of Wisconsin; and

 WHEREAS, Many of Cooksville’s buildings, such as the farmhouse, cheese factory and general store – the oldest general store in the state – are designated on the National Register for Historic Places; and

WHEREAS, on July 22nd, 2017, Cooksville will commemorate its 175th Anniversary with a day-long celebration on the Village Commons; now

THEREFORE, State Representative Don Vruwink and State Senator Janis Ringhand congratulate “this unique, wonderful, quaint village,” Cooksville, on 175 years of community spirit and offer thanks for humbly representing the values of the people of Wisconsin.

_______________________                                      _______________________
Representative Don Vruwink                                      Senator Janis Ringhand
43rd Assembly District                                                 15th Senate District

July 22nd, 2017


The event drew more than 500 people who enjoyed good food, entertainment from four musical groups, a vintage car show, activities for young people and more. 
About 24 artisans offered their pieces for sale during the July 22 event.

Former Cooksville Store proprietors gathered at the store.  Also on hand was Sue Ebbert, current owner.

The Merry Horde from Fort Atkinson
One of many interesting cars in Chris Beebe's collection.

The Oak Street Ramblers

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Sleepy and Picturesque Cooksville Scorns Gasoline Pumps, Highways" : the Title of a 1940 Milwaukee Journal Article

A story about “sleepy and picturesque Cooksville” appeared in The Milwaukee Journal newspaper, State News Section, Sunday, May 26, 1940, called a “Journal Special Correspondence,” but by an unnamed journalist.

The article itself is a rather “picturesque” portrait of the village on the brink of World War II. Here are excerpts from a transcribed, typed copy in the Cooksville Archives......

“Cooksville, Wis. — It is a drowsy Sunday afternoon, warm sun beating down, distant song of birds coming faintly through the still air. By the side of the dusty road leans a tired sign bearing the name ‘Cooksville,’ not bothering to give the population.

“A little further on is a crossroads store, paint peeling from its walls. Two gasoline pumps in front are a grudging concession to modernity. The proprietor dozes in his chair. At a casual glance that would seem to be Cooksville.

“But it is not. Holding itself aloof from gas pumps and stores, the tiny village lies over the crest of a slight hill where dignified old homes wear their mantle of age and quiet in a New England setting. They line three sides of a grass grown square, nearly all made of red brick, nearly identical in their simple style.

“‘Ought to be,’ says a man puttering in a grape arbor with a pair of shears. ‘The brick came from old Chandler’s [Champney’s. ed.] brickyard here in town and they were all built about the same time.’

“And are they old? ‘Ought to be,’ says the man with the shears. ‘Uncle Will Porter died 10 years ago. And he said that as long as he’d lived here there’d never been a house built. He was 81 when he died, so that would make it ninety-odd years, anyway.’ Then, apologetically: ‘Of course, there’s been a little remodelin’ done.’”

Senator Daniel Webster
.....Then the famous Senator Daniel Webster enters the story:

“Daniel Webster once owned this land, continues Alec Richardson, the man with the shears....but the land here he sold to Richardson’s great-great-grandfather’s brother [one “great” too many .ed.], Dr. John Porter.  Dr. John’s children took a look at the land, and went right on past it to California. The land stayed in the family, however, and back in 1846 Richardson’s grandfather, Joseph Porter, settled on it….”

.....The Van Vleck Farm Implement Factory, the first in Wisconsin, demolished in 1928, is mentioned:

 “There was never much activity in Cooksville, outside of the factory that belonged to that genius, Van Vleck, who invented a mechanical corn planter. It was a dandy. You just walked along with a handle in either hand, poked it into the ground and it planted your corn for you. Somebody offered him $50,000, they say, but Van Vleck figured if it was worth all that to them it was worth as much to him. He started a factory, but then along came the horse planter. That was the end of the factory.
Van Vleck Farm Implement Factory, demolished in 1928

No, nothing as dramatic as burning down. It just fell down as time went on. When it had fallen down the grass grew up again and you would never know it had been there.”

.....Ralph Lorenzo Warner, an exceptional Cookvillian, also appears in the story:

Ralph Warner  (1875-1941)
 “Most of the people were just working people. Except Ralph Warner. He was a bachelor and he was different. He came from near Milwaukee and he always puttered around the house—cooking, making hooked rugs, collecting antiques and the like…. [He] met Susie Porter in Racine, where she was teaching school…. ‘Any houses for sale?’ he asked Susie, and she primly said the house next door was….and from then on it was always called ‘The House Next Door.’ He used to go abroad with Harry Johnson, who was born nearby and made his money in the publishing business. They say the two spent as much as $10,000 on a single trip.

“Warner liked to cook and he served meals to prominent persons who came from as far as several hundred miles away to ‘The House Next Door.’ He always got $3 a person, too.

“It was Warner’s personality that brought them, more than the food. He could talk and he could play the piano. Well known singers would come and sing while he played. You could hear them all over town…

Ralph in Florida
“About 10 years ago Warner became paralyzed.

"Now the old man spends his years in Florida. But occasionally a big expensive car rolls down the quiet street and people look in the dusty windows of ‘The House Next Door’ to see if Warner has come home again.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    
[Warner died in Florida the next year, in 1941. The newspaper article and the various historic photos and building images are from the Cooksville Archives. Larry Reed, Ed.]

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Another Writer Looks at Cooksville: In “Wisconsin Tales and Trails,” 1963

In an article titled “Cooksville, The Town That Time Forgot,” in the Autumn 1963 issue of Wisconsin Tales and Trails magazine, Virginia A. Palmer finds the village “unique, lovely, and secure in its quiet charm…”

Palmer, the writer, gathers the bits and pieces of Cooksville’s past—the people, the events, the struggles, the successes, the failures—and  tells the story of the Cook brothers arrival in 1840, the founding of the village of “Cooksville” in 1842. Then in 1846 came the arrival of Porter family members, founding their village called “Waucoma” right next door, with both villages along the Bad Fish Creek (so named by American land surveyors), otherwise known as “Waucoma Creek” (so named by Native Americans). Both villages would soon be located in the Town of Porter, so re-named in 1847 (previously named “Oak”) as Rock County got re-organized by the Territorial government.

Palmer praises the talented pioneers. Their accomplishments transformed the prairie landscape of oak-openings into hewn wood beams and converted the flowing creek waters into powered saws for lumber to build the sturdy Cooksville homes and barns. And the early settlers also shaped the local clay into kiln-fired bricks for beautiful vermilion-colored brick homes, designed by themselves in simplified Greek Revival and Gothic Revival styles of architecture. And, of course, the talented settlers became skilled farmers as they and their children plowed the rich soil and planted the grains, vegetables and fruits that grew so plentifully they could feed them to their animals as well as to their growing families.

Benjamin Hoxie
One of the early settlers’ sons, Benjamin Hoxie (1827-1901), who came with his family from Maine, is described by Palmer:

“Benjamin Hoxie was an amazing man. Although he had little formal education, he was exceptionally well-read. By trade a carpenter and self-taught architect, he designed and built a number of Cooksville’s houses, among them his own, a striking example of American Gothic style. He also designed and built the Congregational Church in Cooksville, as well as numerous homes, schools and churches in Evansville, Albany, Stoughton, and Edgerton. Besides the building, which he did, Benjamin Hoxie established Cooksville’s first cheese factory, patented a bee hive, was a constant propagandist for dairy farming as the key to Wisconsin’s agricultural future, was a notable experimenter in horticulture, and has a considerable interest in spiritualism.”
Cooksville Congregational Church (1879)
Palmer reports that when the railroad companies by-passed many villages in the 1850s, as they did the Village of Cooksville-Waucoma, those villages tended to quickly disappear. But not the two-fisted, strong-willed, two-named little Cooksville-Waucoma, which survived the fatal blow of a railroad-bypassing. (“Cooksville” became the accepted village name when the last local Post Office, discontinued in the early 1900s, was located on the Cooksville side of the dividing line of Main Street between the two communities.)

 Palmer writes about the consequences of towns without railroads, but adds:

“In Cooksville, however, although the blow might have been painful, it was by no means immediately fatal…. Cooksville’s population remained about the same. People were absorbed in the literary society, church activities, the Unity Society, the temperance organization, singing schools and elocution contests, and regular meetings of the Grange. In short, railroad or no railroad, Cooksville was too busy living to die.”

But the village did not thrive.

“By the late 1880’s, however, Cooksville was definitely on the wane. Many of the old Yankee settlers were dead. And their sons and daughters had left to follow the frontier to new land in the West. It was about this time that the first Norwegian Lutheran Church was established in 1892, and its lutefisk suppers became an attraction for the whole countryside. The industrious Norwegian element proved to be a bright strand in the closely knit village.”

The first Norwegian Lutheran Church, 1892-1896

Like most writers about Cooksville, Palmer introduces the famous Ralph Lorenzo Warner into her story:

“When Ralph Warner settled in Cooksville [in 1911] it was all but a ghost town… However, Ralph Warner had a certain instinct for old things… he began collecting furnishings of the correct period to go with his house [Duncan House, 1848]. His taste… made him one of the earliest and best antique collectors in a day when you could visit any farm house and buy a wagon load of ‘that old junk’ for three dollars….
"House Next Door" parlor
"Warner was, also, an extremely successful gardener… It didn’t take long for word of his artistic restoration to spread, and many who heard of it wanted to see The House Next Door for themselves…  For over twenty years, until Ralph Warner suffered a stroke in the early 1930’s, Cooksville was a mecca for people who enjoyed beautiful things.
Ralph's dining room

"The influence Ralph Warner had on Cooksville was, and still is, far reaching. This forgotten hamlet remains unspoiled, largely because of the precedent he established. Even today, Cooksville lives on, unique, lovely, and secure in its quiet charm—the town that time forgot.”

Fifty-four years later, Virginia Palmer’s tale of Cooksville, with five photos and a map to guide her Wisconsin Tales and Trails readers, still serves those who seek a trail (or Hwy 59 or 138) to a special part of Wisconsin’s early history.
Map of Cooksville, 1955, by Dorothy Kramer
The Cooksville Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the State Register of Historic Places, and is a designated Town of Porter Historic District in Rock County.

Booklets for a self-guided tour of the historic village—“Historic Cooksville: A Guide”—are available at the historic Cooksville Country Store, the oldest operating General Store in Wisconsin.
[The Cooksville Archives, maintained by the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., welcomes additions and donations.  Larry Reed (608) 873-5066.]