Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cooksville School Students of 1947 and the 1881 “School Rules”: Two New Donations to the Village Archives

Two recent donations to the historic Cooksville Archives document the history of school life in the past. One donation is a collection of photographs of pupils from the Cooksville School in 1947, all students of teacher Edith Cavey Johnson.  The second donation is a framed piece of stitchery from 1881 listing the “Rules of Our School,” ten sensibly strict admonitions stitched on a piece of cloth.

Some of  Cooksville's class photos of 1947

The collection of student class photographs was donated by Edith, the Cooksville School teacher in the mid-1940s. The donation came about because Edith had attended the recent “175th Celebration of Cooksville: 1842-2017,” a program presented in the Cooksville Schoolhouse on June 10, 2017. Edith’s son had driven her down from her home in Oshkosh to attend the event, which featured a presentation by Jerry Apps and a slide show by Larry Reed about the history of Cooksville, from the past to the present.

Edith with her Cooksville Class in the old photograph
One of the slides in the history presentation was the photograph (above) of  Edith's Cooksville school class miss-dated “1934” with the young teacher standing behind her students next to the schoolhouse.

Edith viewing her and her class, at the June 2017 "Celebration" in Cooksville
When Edith saw that slide projected on the screen at the presentation, she quietly laughed and  mentioned that she was the teacher in the photograph with her students!  Except, Edith said, the caption on the photo should read “1944,” when she was teaching in Cooksville, not “1934.” She wasn't that old! The audience cheered and applauded at the wonderful coincidence of Edith being in attendance to see herself up on the screen—and applauded loudly when she corrected the date of the photo. Edith happily posed for more photos that day this past summer, including one of herself looking up at the screen, where she was then 19 years old  posing with her students in 1944. That was 73 years ago, and now Edith is… oh, well, we shouldn’t tell a lady’s age.

When Edith returned to Oshkosh after the program this summer she sent a letter to Larry, the Cooksville historian, in which she enclosed a number of individual class photos of her pupils from 1947—young smiling boys and girls of varying ages, most identified with their names—names that still resonate in Cooksville’s family histories.

Edith wrote in her letter accompanying the photos:

“Cooksville is a special place. I am happy you & others are keeping it vital. Your church (Larry’s) was a town hall when I was in Cooksville. Franz & Melvin kept the township road equipment in the basement. In 1946 we had our annual Christmas program there because our school was too small for the crowd. In 1946, I became 21 & Olga Porter came to Holm’s (where she was boarding) to get me & take me to the polls. She wanted to make sure I voted. Keep up the good work. (signed) Edith Cavey Johnson.”

The second recent school-related donation to the Cooksville Archives was a framed piece of stitchery stitched by someone named “Elizabeth” in 1881. The stitchery stated the ten strict “Rules of Our School.”(Number nine was “Don’t spit.”) But we do not know which well-mannered one-room schoolhouse in the Town of Porter was the one where students were admonished by these rules not to “fidget,” not to say “bad words,” and to do “what the teacher says.”
"Rules of Our School" 1881
The simply framed “Rules” sewn by "Elizabeth" were recently discovered in, and rescued from, the Town of Porter dump, now known at the “Recycling Center,” by the sharp-eyed Center Monitor, Russ Skjolaas, who gave the charming artifact to Bob Degner, a Saturday regular at the Recycling Center, who in turn donated it to the Cooksville Archives.

Thanks to Edith, Russ and Bob for saving and sharing these pieces of  bygone-school days in old Cooksville and the Town of Porter.
Cooksville Schoolhouse, c.1930
The historic Cooksville Schoolhouse (1886) next to the village’s Public Square (1846) is now home to the Cooksville Community Center (CCC), which has owned the schoolhouse since 1962 after the area school districts were consolidated. To become a member of CCC or for more information including how to rent the schoolhouse for various purposes, contact Bill Zimmerman (608) 628-8566 or Mark Ballweg (608)-334-9653.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cooksville in the Newspapers: 1926 Article about R. L. Warner

The little historic Village of Cooksville has been making news in magazines and newspapers for the past hundred years or more, probably since 1866 when the area’s first newspaper was printed in nearby Evansville, with gossip-column tidbits about 19th-century Cooksville’s comings-and-goings.

 Earlier stories in the Cooksville News Blog have described some of these journalistic attempts to capture the news and the flavor of life in the 1842 village. Lengthy articles were printed in the 20th and 21st centuries, and all served to illustrate life in the village through the decades.

 An article headlined. “Antique Collector in ‘House Next Door’ Dislikes Modernism,” in the Wisconsin State Journal, dated August 8, 1926, focused on the village’s favorite (and most famous) resident at the time, Ralph Lorenzo Warner. (However the writer Richard Brayton misidentified Ralph as “H. L. Warner.”) This very romantic and sentimental newspaper article begins with a quote from Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911), a New England poet.

 Some excerpts from Brayton’s article:

 “Let me live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man.” For most of us these lines represent a pretty sentiment, pleasant enough to repeat in idealistic hours, but not out of the question for practice in this materialistic age. Yet occasionally we find a man who, weary of the bustle and the petty bickering of modern life, finds courage to retire to the side of the road and live his life in an idealistic a manner as his fancy may dictate.

Ralph Lorenzo Warner, photo c.1920
Such a man is H (sic). L. Warner, better known as :”the man next door,” whose collection of antiques, and quaint old home, as well as his reputation as an authority on antiques, have become known all over the country despite his antipathy for publicity…. Yet he is a genial, cordial man, who enjoys people and guests more than anything in the world, with the exception, perhaps, of antiques.

 In the little village of Cooksville, which is three (sic) miles from Stoughton, where Mr. Warner lives in the red, vine-covered, brick house….(the land) was once part of a land grant to Daniel Webster. Mr. Warner is the most cherished and beloved citizen…. [T]here is always the highest praise “for the man next door”…. Everywhere the villagers are seen lolling in the sun. One old man sits picking a banjo which has only two strings and no back; a buxom young woman is churning butter and laughs at a chubby baby that is trying to get its foot in its mouth….

 “Where does Mr. Warner live?” the young woman repeats, “Why, in the house next door.”… If one could only come to Mr. Warner’s house without asking directions, he would know it was “the house next door,” for there is a quaintness and an atmosphere about it that is not duplicated even in Cooksville….

"House Next Door" photo c.1915
Mr. Warner was working among the flowers in his immense beautiful old fashioned garden….Mr. Warner explained that he did not want publicity because it brought him a flood of visitors, upsetting his plans for a retired life. “It has come to a point, where it is necessary for me to absolutely refuse any visitors, who have not first written me of their intended visit.”…

 Mr. Warner has a dislike for anything modern, and therefore, he has no telephone, or other electrical apparatus of any kind in his house….

 Mr. Warner is one of the country’s leading authorities on antiques, and he has collected them all his life…. The hand woven coverlets on the beds in his upstairs rooms, were delightful to look upon. The rows and rows of pewter pots, kettles and dishes in the dining room, were a treat to the unpracticed eye, and his furniture, of which a Dutch duck-foot table of maple, dating from 1725, was deserving of unlimited appreciation… Mr. Warner, himself, made the rugs scattered freely over the floors of his home….

"House Next Door" interior

Although Mr. Warner depends for his living almost entirely upon the little money he can realize from his dinners, and the few antiques he is willing to part with, he discourages visitors…  “There are too many, who come now,” he said. “I wish those who come to do so because they have been told of my collections by mutual friends and to arrange for their coming by a note addressed to me. Other visitors, I cannot hope to give time to, even when they come from long distances, as is often the case….”

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Ralph Lorenzo Warner continued to welcome and entertain friends, neighbors and visitors for a number of years. But a stroke in 1932 ended his quietly busy days of gardening, antiquing, traveling and sharing his “house by the side of the road” for all to see and appreciate— and in the process put the Village of Cooksville on the map as one of the earliest historic preservation projects in Wisconsin, the Midwest and the nation. He died in Florida in 1941 in the care of his sister Eveline.
Eveline, photo by her brother Ralph L. Warner
[More of these printed articles from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries about Cooksville and its residents are filed in the Cooksville Archives. Larry Reed.]