Wednesday, August 9, 2017

“Cooksville Has Quaint Old English Houses and a New England Commons,” According to a 1929 Newspaper Article

An article with the above headline, clipped from an unnamed newspaper (probably the Evansville Review), is filed in the Cooksville Archives with a hand-written date of “1929.” The writer, Jessie M. Hill, relates some “quaint” stories about the village—which he found to be a bit of “Old England” as well as a bit of “New England.” (Of course, when Cooksville was founded in 1842, all of America had been legally “English” until 59 years before.)

Here are excerpts from Hill’s story. It begins:

            “A lost aviator whose plane might chance to land in the little village of Cooksville in the northwest part of Rock County would have a hard time determining where he was by looking around the town.  The open square of five acres in the center of the town would remind him of some old New England Hamlet, but the red houses with their many gables and low inviting doorsteps would remind him of old England.
Newell House , photo c.1920s
            “There probably is not another village of its kind in this state, and possibly not in the entire middle west.

            “It is a quaint and unusual town which has not changed much during the last 75 years. William Porter, who is now 79 years old, can not remember the building of a single new house in the village….For many years the town had a post office on a stage coach line and at an early date, the village was larger than Evansville….

            “A history of Rock county says Cooksville was laid out in 1842 by John Cook, who purchased the west half of section 6…. [Porter] platted the ground on his east half of this section…. and laid out the village of Waucoma. Although it is not known commonly by that name today, it is still used in registering land transfers.

            ‘Fight Over Store’

            “An unusual story is told about these two villages. The owner of a store in Cooksville is said to have sold out his business to another man with the understanding that he would not open another store in Cooksville for at least a year. The promise was kept to the last letter of the agreement, but he went across the street and started a store in Waucoma almost at once….
General Store, photo c.2010

              'Houses Are Brick’

            “A half dozen or more of brick houses, all of the same color red bricks and built in an old English style with inviting entrances and lawns filled with large shade trees, attract the visitor’s attention as soon as he arrived in Cooksville. Benjamin S. Hoxie, a man of English descent, is credited with the designing and the building of most of these houses…. more than half of the buildings…. [face] the commons which is now used as a playgrounds for the Cooksville school children, the grounds for the Porter township play day and the annual old settlers’ day…. The rest is a natural Burr oak grove, said to be one of only two in the United States….
Susan Porter's home, "Waucoma Lodge"
            "Much of the material for this story was secured from….Miss S. [Susan, ed.] Porter, who lives in another of the fine old brick houses.

            “One of the important early land marks has been torn down during the last 20 years. This is the wooden tavern, famous among travelers as a gay place with a ball room and a bar.   

Sketch of "Waucoma House," Cooksville's stagecoach inn and tavern
            “Another building which has been taken down is the shop run by John Van Vlock [Vleck, ed.]. He was an inventor and made the first corn planter and farm gates. For a time the post office was in his shop.
Van Vleck Farm Implement Factory, demolished 1928

            ‘Brings Material Fame’

            “R.L. Warren [Warner, ed.], whose house is pictured, had done more to bring recent fame to the village than any one else. Eighteen years ago he purchased one of the largest houses in town, and moved from Chicago [Racine, ed.]. The house is famed for its beautiful old furniture and the garden is said to be one of the best in the state. Stories about the place have appeared in many magazines including “House Beautiful” it is said. During the summer the owner occasionally serves tea or meals to visitors who make appointments in advance.

R.L. Warner's "House Next Door" built 1848


                    "House Next Door" Interior photos c. 1920s

“It is impossible to list all of the families that have lived here, but the list includes such names as Seaver, Savage, Stebbins, Morgan, Dow, Shepard, Porter, Cook, Dr. Smedt, Chambers and Blackman.”

John Seaver House, built c.1849

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[This is another in a series of articles published about Cooksville over the years, found in the Cooksville Archives. Larry Reed, editor.].


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