Thursday, November 23, 2017

Christmas at the "Cooksville House" in 1953

Almost 65 years ago, preparations were being made at the “Cooksville House” for holiday gift-buyers. This village gift shop was in the old barn in the backyard of the historic Duncan House in the center of Cooksville. The shop was owned and operated by Marvin Raney, resident of the Duncan House.  
Marvin Raney at work
Raney had created the gift shop in his barn in order to display and sell the artful creations of his Cooksville neighbors and friends, especially Dorothy Kramer who specialized in ceramics and weavings. 

Also for sale were creations by a nearby blacksmith, a silversmith, wood-workers and other weavers. No doubt Raney also included some items from his own antiques collection. (He would later open a larger shop east of Cooksville to sell antique furniture, pottery, glassware, and much more.)  

An article in Madison’s Wisconsin State Journal, dated October 18, 1953, proclaimed:  “In Cooksville Shop, It’s Christmas in October.” Good publicity for a small rural gift shop.

The article’s writer, John Newhouse, describes Marvin Raney and “Mrs. Arthur Kramer” (as the writer refers to Dorothy Kramer) and their entrepreneurial efforts to operate their special Cooksville House gift shop and prepare for the coming holiday shoppers. Here are excerpts from that 1953 article: 

            “COOKSVILLE— A fey shop, if ever there was one, is the Cooksville House, which was once a barn. At the present moment it is decorated in Yule fashion, with Christmas tree and presents underneath.

            “The shop… nicely stocked with ceramics, hand-woven work, decorated wooden-ware, and hand-decorated tiles will be open from 2 to 5 in the afternoon…Depending on the weather.

            “There is no use telephoning the shop, or the home of the owner, Marvin Raney, an engaging young man with no visible means of support, who shudders slightly when the word “work” profanes his prescense (sic. prescience?).

            “He does not have a telephone in the house because they bother him. Occasionally someone figures out the circuitous route by which he may be summoned—at his own convenience—to a neighbor’s phone. ‘It is an imposition,’ he says—though not specifying who is being imposed upon. ‘Once more and I shall have to put in a phone.’ The phone, he says with an amused glint in his eyes, shall be in the barn, where it can ring and ring, unanswered but giving some satisfaction to the person trying to call him. 
Duncan House Barn, photo 1980s
            “The barn… was converted into a gift shop because it bothered him that the talents of a neighbor, Mrs. Arthur Kramer, were going to waste.

            “Mrs. Kramer specializes in weaving and in ceramics, having her own looms and her own kiln. 
Dorothy Kramer
            “Her husband, a Chicago advertising man, comes to Cooksville on weekends, and devotes himself to ‘potting,’ as Raney puts it. He has a potters wheel in a summer house and there he sits, kicking the wheel with an energetic toe and giving life and form to a blob of clay….

            “The pots made by Kramer are decorated by Elton Beckenridge (sic. Breckenridge) a Chicago artist who has bought a house in Cooksville…. 
Kramer pottery
             “And the pots are glazed and fired by Mrs. Kramer….

            “[O]ther artists have brought in their wares. R. L. Woods, a retired blacksmith at Janesville, contributed knives he makes… Mrs. T. O. Nuzum, also of Janesville, brings in weaving. Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Chevalier, of Delavan, are working with silver, and they, too, are contributing.

            “Converting the shop into a barn (or vice versa. Ed.) called for a certain amount of energy, but Raney does not count it as work since it was very interesting.

            “The floor of the barn goes up in spots and down in spots, and threatens to decant the visitor out a door and into the gardens.

            “And these, with their formal walks and rare plantings, are not a bad place to be decanted.

            “The (Duncan) house belonged at one time to Ralph Warner, and was known as ‘The House Next Door.’ Warner, esthete, musical, and a man tremendously interested in gardens and antiques, developed gardens and house in the Early American tradition….

            “The land upon which Cooksville’s square is laid out was once owned by Daniel Webster and—so says an unverified story—he lost it on taxes. The houses, of pink brick, were built in the decade 1848-58, and Cooksville people are inordinately proud of them.” 
The" Cooksville House"  moved to Webster Street

NOTE: The “Cooksville House” was soon moved from the historic Duncan House barn on State Road 59 to the historic house on Webster Street  known as Waucoma Lodge north of Raney’s, where it was managed until the late 1950s by Marvin Raney (1918-1980) and Dorothy Kramer (1900-1971). Unfortunately, the Kramer pottery studio next to Dorothy's and Arthurs's house burned down in 1956. A few years later, Raney would open a large antique store, the “Only Yesterday Shop,” in the historic granary building on the Joseph Porter Farmstead just east of Cooksville, which Raney operated until the early 1970s.  

Some of Kramer’s ceramics and weavings, as well as some of Raney’s rug weaving and antique collection are now in the Cooksville Archives and Collections. For more information, contact Larry Reed.



Friday, November 17, 2017

More Photos of the Class of 1947 Students at Cooksville’s School

Here are more photos of Cooksville School students from 1947.Thanks to Cooksville School teacher Edith Cavey Johnson for sending these additional photos of her pupils to the Cooksville Archives collection. Also thanks to Marjorie Kloften Hipke, one of her students in the 1947 photograph, presently a resident in Evansville, who has helped to identify her classmates. (A previous Blog story here shared those earlier other  photos of the 1947 classmates.)
But you will notice that two of these student  portraits do not have last names written on them: Dale and Dennis in the bottom row. If anyone knows their identity, please share their names.

The Town of Porter once had nine rural one-room schools in operation, including Cooksville. These schoolhouses were scattered around the township on land usually donated by the farmer-owner. Four schools were in the north of the township, two in the center, three in the south— all serving the growing population for over a hundred years.
Cooksville Schoolhouse, photo c.1920-30
The nine schools included Cooksville, Eagle, Forest Academy, Lineau, Miller, Stebbinsville, Stevens, White Star, and Wilder schools.  Of these, seven remain standing; the Stebbinsville School burned down in 1942 and White Star School has been demolished. Most have been converted to residences; one is now the Porter Town Hall and one now serves as the Cooksville Community Center.
Lineau School, photo c. 1952
The earliest school in the historic Village of Cooksville was a brick building on the Public Square built about 1850. But because of structural problems and its small size, it was replaced in 1886 with the present wooden frame building, with bell tower and two entry doors, one for boys and one for girls, a very traditional New England-Puritanical design.

However, in 1961, all the one-room rural schools ceased their educational existence because the school districts were consolidated into a few large districts that would also contain higher-level “high” schools. The Town of Porter students then went to schools in the cities of Stoughton, Edgerton or Evansville, ending the 100-year history of Porter’s rural, one-room schools. 
The historic Cooksville Schoolhouse facing the village’s historic Public Square is now the home of the Cooksville Community Center established in 1962— with some learning and a lot of socializing  still going on in the old village schoolhouse.
Cooksville School Class of 1924-25

Above is a photograph of an earlier Cooksville School student body. These are the students of 1924-25, with their teacher Lloyd Porter (1882-1967), a grandson of one of the village’s original 1846 settlers, Joseph K. P. Porter. Also included with the photo is a list of the names of those pictured. (Many thanks to whoever took the time to write down the identities of the teacher and the classmates in the photo.)

A number of the photographs in the Cooksville Archives, are unfortunately not identified with names or dates or locations written on the back or somehow attached. But any and all such Cooksville photographs, etc., are always welcomed additions to the Archives.

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