Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Village of Cooksville in the 1954 Book ,“Wisconsin Heritage”

In 1954, a large format book by Bertha Kitchell Whyte, titled “Wisconsin Heritage,” was published in Boston, containing sixteen chapters, with one chapter devoted to “Ralph Warner and Cooksville.” Other chapters in the book addressed such topics as Wisconsin’s early taverns, octagonal houses and barns, the lumber era, potteries and glass works, and Norwegian heirlooms.
In Chapter 15, Whyte focused on the historic village and its famous resident Ralph Lorenzo Warner (1875-1941) and his antiquarian work of art, the “House Next Door.” She wrote:

             “So successful was he in choosing for his setting the town, the house, the furnishings, the very flowers in the garden and food for the table, that for twenty years his home was a mecca for all who shared his pleasure in such things.”

She further praised Warner’s accomplishments:

            “Nothing was put in the house that did not belong in a home of the period or that could not be blended into a harmonious whole by the sensitive touch of the new owner… No telephone or other anachronism was permitted to break the spell of the interior. Many of the rugs the owner hooked himself in his workshop in the barn where he also had his loom…..  
Warner's parlor in the "House Next Door"
            “He was one of the earliest and most intelligent collectors in the state and knew better than anyone else how to display, and make desirable his own treasures. Usually these treasures were not for sale. A story he told with particular relish concerned one distinguished visitor, Joseph Hergesheimer, the author (popular 1920s novelist and passionate antique collector. Ed.), who rolled on the lawn in rage when he was not permitted to purchase a certain Stiegel bottle.” (Henry Stiegel was a mid-18th century American glass maker. Ed.) 
Visitors to the "House Next Door"
Whyte included eight photos in her story about Warner and the village, which she noted had been attracting visitors for about forty years. (And still does.)

Regarding the village, Whyte wrote:

             “Cooksville itself deserves a niche in any consideration of Wisconsin villages, a niche that is not in proportion to its present size. In its spacious central Common laid out according to the ancient pattern of commons in Colonial America and the charming mid- nineteenth century red brick houses which border it, it represents a part of New England that our pioneer ancestors transplanted to the prairies of southern Wisconsin.” 

The author ended her ten-page story about the village with:

              “Cooksville would make a lovely setting for a novel.”

 Unfortunately, Whyte made a number of factual errors in her Cooksville story. The inaccuracies, discovered just after the book was published, were pointed out by the new owners of Warner’s house at the time, Chester Holway (1908-1986) and Marvin Raney (1918-1980). In a letter to Whyte in early 1955, Holway lamented the fact that he had not been consulted when she was writing about his house and the village. (Nor had Raney, the local historian.) Holway— himself a writer, editor, journalist and gardener— listed “a number of errors” and misrepresentations in his long letter.  

Whyte replied that she hoped some of the errors would be corrected if the Boston publisher agreed and if a second edition were to be printed. (Apparently a second edition was published about 1961, but it is not in the Cooksville Archives.) 

Chester Holway
Here are some of the inaccuracies pointed out by Holway:

·         It was not true that the late Ralph Warner’s house could no longer be seen by visitors. “It has, in fact, been visited in these recent years by numerous individuals and by several groups,” Holway wrote to Whyte.
·         One photo labeled “Parlor” was actually Warner’s Morning-room.
·         The photo labeled “Porter home” is actually the Hoxie House, not a Porter home.
·         Warner purchased the house in 1911, not 1912.
·         Warner died in 1941, not 1939.
·         Chester Holway was not the “nephew” of Warner.
·         Warner did have a modern “anachronism” in the house that he concealed from guests: outlets for electrical lights.
·         The Old Settlers’ Picnic was no longer an annual event, having been discontinued after 1950.
·         Warner’s garden did not contain only old-fashioned flowers but included many new,  fashionable and exotic plantings, and was more “English” than “19th Century American.” 

However, Holway did compliment Whyte on her effort and assured her that her book, even with its errors, “does not diminish an appreciation of the labor you have assuredly put into ‘Wisconsin Heritage.’ And it is a volume that is most welcome.”
Duncan House, or the "House Next Door"

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