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.]

No comments:

Post a Comment