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.
“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….
“[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.