Friday, November 25, 2022

The Historic Cooksville Trust Seeks Funds for the Cooksville Archives and Collections Project

The Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., is seeking funds to continue its “Cooksville Archives and Collections Project” in the basement “parlor” of the historic Cooksville Congregational Church (built in1879), which it now owns.

The Cooksville Congregational Church Archives/Collections Project is underway.

 The Historic Cooksville Trust (HCT), a non-profit IRS 501 (c)(3) charitable organization was established in 1999 and assists the preservation and conservation of the historical heritage of Cooksville and the surrounding Town of Porter in Rock County. Projects in the past have included the preservation of important historic buildings and sites, as well as various educational programs and the "Welcome to Historic Cooksville" highway signs.

This major Church project has begun but recent inflation has greatly increased the costs, so additional funds are needed for this undertaking, as well as for assisting other future preservation projects in the historic village. (HCT has financially assisted about 20 other projects in the past.) 

"The Little Brown Church on the Corner"

Over the years the HCT, has been donated and has collected materials and objects related to the history of Cooksville and the Town of Porter. The new Archives and Collections Center Project is an essential undertaking to preserve and maintain the collections for the future. 

The Church basement Archives/Collections plan.

Visitors, researchers, residents, and groups will be able to utilize the Archives and Collections Center in the Church basement. Of course, the existing upper nave or auditorium of the Church will continue to be available for various ceremonies, musical programs and public events.           

The Church as the Town Hall, c.1950s

In the past, the historic Church served the community for church services, social events, lectures, and club meetings. Then in the 1940s-1960s, the Church became the Porter Town Hall, after which it was sold in 1971, and once again began serving as a venue for weddings, ceremonies and musical performances. 

Now the renovation of the landmark Church and the use of the basement as the new Archives and Collections Center will expand its purpose in the community.   

The Village of Cooksville, established in 1842, has been recognized as a special, well-preserved historic community for the past 180 years. The Cooksville Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places and is also designated a Historic Conservation District by the Town of Porter in which Cooksville is located.


Donations to fund the Church renovation project, as well as future projects, can be made to Historic Cooksville Trust, Mary Zimmerman, Treasurer, 10706 N. Tolles Rd., Evansville, WI 53536.  Questions can be addressed to Mary at (608) 628-8567 or to Larry Reed at (608) 873-5066. Donations are income tax deductible.


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Friday, November 18, 2022

Cooksville Cookbooks: Cookies Cakes, Candies, Curries and Casseroles, even a Cancer Cure

Recently, a copy of a 1941 cookbook was donated by Nancy Remley to the Village of Cooksville Archives. Titled the “Golden Anniversary Cook Book, Cooksville Lutheran Ladies Aid, 1891- 1941,” it was “dedicated to the pioneer women of this congregation” and contains about 65 pages of recipes contributed by the ladies.

The Village of Cooksville, in Rock County, Wisconsin, has been a busy community of cooks for about 180 years, appropriately enough. The Cooksville Archives collection contains a number of cookbooks from the past, including an1850s hand-written cookbook with a recipe for a “cancer ointment.”  

The old 1850s cookbook with the "cancer treatment" is a slender,18-page, hand-written cookbook that does not have a title nor an identified writer or owner. It is bound, written in ink with a neat, old-fashioned script and contains that “Receipt For making Cancer Ointment,” as well about fourteen other medicinal recipes and a similar number of cake, pudding, gingerbread, sausage, syrup, currant wine, and cordial “receipts.”

The various medicinal “receipts” are for the treatment of illnesses such as dropsy, dysentery, coughs, colds, itches, piles and tape worms, as well as cancer, with ingredients such as various roots, leaves, berries, flowers and tree barks, as well as the occasional sulfur, turpentine and pumpkin seeds.

The cancer ointment recipe is interesting because it contains tree barks (white pine, elder, elm, hemlock, red dogwood) as ingredients, two of which are now associated with the treatment of some cancers, namely, pine bark and the red dogwood (osier) species bark.  The “receipt” in the booklet for making the cancer ointment is as follows:

          “Take of red Ozier, Stinking Elder, Hemlock Boughs, White pine bark, two quarts each. Boil them together until the strength is gotten out, then strain it. Put to this Mutton tallow, honey, bees-wax, the marrow of a hog’s jaw and fresh Butter of each the size of a hen’s egg. Simmer it moderately over a slow fire until it becomes an ointment.”

The cake recipes also in this old cookbook include a Mrs. Pecks Cake (perhaps this is from Rosaline Peck, Madison’s first innkeeper in the late 1830s), a Tea Cake, Temperance Cake, Cider Cake, Caroline Cake, and a couple of nut cakes and a Rice Plumb (sic) Pudding.  Some measurements are in “gills” and some require butter the size of a walnut, a hen’s egg or a goose egg. 

Another nineteenth-century cookbook found in the village—actually a famous nationally published cookbook titled “Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book,” by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, 1889— was originally owned by Mrs. J. W. Sales, probably of Janesville. She apparently passed it on to Cora Atwood of Cooksville. The last ten unprinted pages of the published book have been filled with more than 50 hand-written recipes of various kinds from friends (one is dated 1915), including a recipe for “Scotch Woodcock” (chopped hard-boiled eggs in cream sauce on toast).

Two World War II era commercial recipe booklets are also in the archives. One entitled, “A Guide To Wartime Cooking” (1943) has 46 pages and was published by the H.J. Heinz Company of Pittsburg and includes a “Nine Point Plan for Wartime Eating.” It addresses the need for “managing the food supply: shopping under the point ration program… packing a lunch pail that will keep your man strong and healthy, wide awake on the job.”

Another WW II booklet (undated) with 26 pages is titled, “Wartime Recipes From Canned Foods” and was published by the American Can Company, New York. It states: “It is imperative that we plan our menus carefully and use our ration points for the canned foods which help to make the family meals adequate from the standpoint of good nutrition” and to “show you many different ways of making a can of food serve more People.”

A 1951 "Cook Book: Favorite Recipes” was compiled and printed by the Cooksville Mother’s Club and contains 78 pages including a section on helpful hints that “may be there to help you when your husband’s help won’t do.” Lillian Porter’s preface, titled “Cooksville: Community of Culinary Culture,” describes the history of the Village of Cooksville and its creative cookery as a “pleasant mixture of nationalities, creeds and customs,” including a brief history of Cooksville, its early settlers and the women who were “expert wielders of the egg beater and rolling pin.” One intriguing “Sandwich Hint” is an “Orange - Cream Cheese - Peanut Butter” spread containing those three ingredients. The Club was associated with and provided support to the Cooksville School with various fund-raising efforts.

In 1981, the Cooksville Lutheran Church published a 104-page cookbook of its “Lutheran Favorites” and titled it “Our Daily Bread," with recipes of cakes, cookies and other sweets and a number of favorite soups, salads and “main dishes."

Another addition to the collection is a more recent “Cooksville Lutheran Church Cookbook,” dated 2006 and re-printed in 2016. The cook book, below, contains about 362 pages of recipes including a section titled, “Canning & Freezing, Norwegian, Nationality & This and That” and shares recipes for Lefse and Tres Leches Cake, among others.

These old cookbooks reveal the tastes of the times and the foods prepared, preserved and eaten— with many desserts to be devoured. They are illuminating and sometimes tempting records of the nourishing breakfasts, lunches and dinners through more than 180 years of cooking in and near the little—and always hungry and well-fed— Village of Cooksville.

Perhaps there are other personal village cookbooks with Cooksville family recipes (or “receipts”), sitting on back shelves or stored in attic boxes, waiting to see the light of somebody’s kitchen and to help fill the cookie jars.

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                      Larry Reed


Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Cooksville Schoolhouse and the Cooksville Community Center: Serving the Historic Village

The first schoolhouse built in the Village of Cooksville was a log structure, probably constructed in the late 1840s and possibly located in block 9 of the Village of Waucoma, which is now the eastern part of Cooksville, which was founded in 1842. A schoolhouse was an early and important addition built by the first settlers.
Cooksville's brick schoolhouse, c.1850
The log school served until a new brick schoolhouse was erected sometime in the early1860s in block 11 of Waucoma, facing the Public Square. (It would also become the site of the present wood-frame schoolhouse). The land for the early brick schoolhouse was formally deeded to the Town of Porter School District by John and Ann T. Porter on November 2, 1864. It was “to be used for school purposes, also to be fenced at the expense of the District.” The distinctive vermillion bricks for the school—and for several village houses— were made locally in the Village,

By 1886, the brick foundation of the schoolhouse was deemed unsafe and the school too small, so it was replaced with the present wood-frame structure. This new and typical one-room schoolhouse had two front doors, one for boys and one for girls, with a small bell-tower to summon the children to class and undoubtedly to announce other important occasions in the village.

The present Cooksville Schoolhouse has served the community in the 19th and 20th centuries by hoisting many functions in addition to its primary role of educating the children. It was used for church services, with Thomas Morgan, a neighbor, bringing his little melodeon pump organ across the street from his house for the musical portion of the services. And it was the focus of other social and cultural community events
Cooksville School with a class photo, c.1920s

More school kids
School with added windows to the south, c.1930s.
In 1950, an addition to the old Schoolhouse was built to the east to accommodate boys and girls indoor toilets and to and a furnace room, with a new back entryway. Also, the front exterior entry stairs and the two entry doors were removed, and a new smaller entrance door was placed near the southwest corner of the building. (Apparently, an expansion of the building was anticipated.) By then, the rear playground featured added swings, teeter-totters and a merry-go-round. 
Cooksville School basement games 1952-53
The Schoolhouse and the village’s nearby Public Square were the location for many popular “Play Day” events in the village to which other area schools in the township were invited and which featured competitive sports games and other events, And the new Cooksville Mother’s Club continued to provide local support and services to the school and community, including compiling and selling the Club’s cook book in 1951 to help raise “cold cash…subtly and painlessly extracted at card parties, dances, bake sales, teas, and auctions for the welfare of the community.”
On the Public Square

Eventually, in 1961, the nine local rural schools in the Town of Porter were consolidated into nearby cities, and the rural one-room school buildings were no longer needed, with most being converted into residences. However, the concerned Cooksville citizens gathered together in 1962 to preserve the Village’s historic school building. They raised funds and formed the new “Cooksville Community Center,” to which the local school district authorized the sale of the school property on July 23, 1962, for the appraised price of $2,150.

The Cooksville Community Center, Inc., was formally incorporated on August 22, 1962, as a corporation “without stock and not for profit” with one class of members entitled as “Voting Members.” And the Cooksville Schoolhouse began its new life as a center for community activities, including the continuation of educational programs, card parties and other events. 

In 1980, the historic Schoolhouse was listed in the National Register and the State Register of Historic Places as part of the official Cooksville Historic District, and the Schoolhouse was also included in the Town of Porter’s new Cooksville Historic District preservation zoning, as well.
Teacher Edith Cavey Johnson was surprised 
to see herself and her Cooksville students
 at a Community Center history program.

In 1985, as part of the building’s restoration, the original western front entrances and porch and stairs of the Schoolhouse that had been removed were restored, and the southwestern corner entrance was removed. The Schoolhouse once again faces the Village’s historic Public Square or Commons. 
The historic Schoolhouse continues to serve the Village and others as the Cooksville Community Center, providing a setting for members and friends to hold various events—music, lectures, weddings, plays, and meetings. 

The recent June 18th celebration of the Village of Cooksville’s 180th anniversary of its establishment in1842 featured the Community Center’s Schoolhouse, along with other historic buildings in the village.

And in 2022 the Cooksville Community Center celebrates the 60th year of its organization and ownership of the historic Schoolhouse.
                                                        [Larry Reed, Local Historian]

Saturday, August 13, 2022


In the 19th and 20th centuries, the little Village of Cooksville, founded in 1842 on an endless prairie with oak-opening in southern Wisconsin, received a good amount of attention. Facts of life in that early Village are contained in the first settlers’ letters, diaries and scrapbook, as well as in the first area newspapers and publications and in the research and writings of Cooksville’s historians.

These bits and pieces—mostly facts, some gossip— give glimpses of life including its fancy new wooden sidewalks and the frequent fresh oyster which were suppers supplied in salt-water-filled wooden barrels from distant Milwaukee or Chicago.  Here are a few glimpses:

 Vote at first town meeting, April 6, 1847: “ For Equal Sufferage (sic) – Twenty-Eight.  Against Equal Sufferage (sic) – Thirty Four.”

“The first church at Cooksville was organized in 1842, a Free Will Baptist church with 12 or 16 members, who held their meeting in Mr. Cook’s log house. Their pastor was Elder Low who preached without a salary. He had a small farm where he made a living like the other settlers. The first yearly meeting was held in a saw-mill that Mr. Cook had erected and was largely attended.”

“Up to 1848, the principal centers of business for the whole country between Janesville and Madison were at the village of Union or Cooksville, on the Badfish creek…”

Town of Porter Meeting, April 1, 1856: “A Resolution was presented to the Electors to prevent pigs from running at large upon the Highways under a penalty of  Five Dollars was postponed…until the next annual meeting.” April 7, 1857: “Resolved that all Sheep and Swine in the Town of Porter be restrained from going at large on the Highways under the penalty of fifty cts for each head found running at large.”

 “Post office established in Cooksville in 1849, mail brought horseback from Union…”  “Official letter, dated 24 Dec 1864, designating Cooksville Post office 5th class, setting the salary of the Postmaster at $37 annually…”


Cooksville General Store c.1930s

Masonic Lodge. Jan. 20, 1859:  “Trustees leased the second story of the store now owned by Abigail Woodbury to be used for a Masonic Hall at $50 for the first year, $45 for the next three, lease to run for four years …” “Specifications for hall drawn up in 1864; contract provided for completion by August 1, 1864…” Dec.16, 1864: “:…master and wardens bought store….” Dec. 1879: “…a few days papering and otherwise repairing the Masonic Hall…with new chandeliers, new carpets…this is now a very attractive room.”  Sept 1882: “The Masonic Lodge are improving their building by a new front to the store.”

 Dec. 17, 1873: “Stage to Stoughton via Union, Cooksville, &c will leave here (Evansville) at 7:45 a.m. instead of nine o’clock, as heretofore, and return about 8 o’clock same evening, Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays.”


Arrow-heads found in Rock County

1875. “Mr. Hoxie found, a few days since, an unfinished arrow, a spear head, convex on one side, slightly concave on the other, which measures five inches long and two and one-fourth wide. This is one of the largest of this kind of Indian relics ever found in that vicinity.” 

Cooksville Congregational Church (1879) with horse/carriage shelter at rear

Jan.1879: “Understand that our friends at Cooksville are about to perfect an organization that foreshadows the building of a church this season.” Feb. i879: “The people of Cooksville have finally located their church on the corner as you pass by the Union road. The location affords good ground for a basement, which they purpose to construct in connection with their church properly.  Dec. 18, 1879: The great event for the last week was the dedication of the new church, and it was a good omen to see Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Universalist and Unitarian all on one platform… The basement of the church will now be finished as soon as possible, with assembly room for Lodge meetings, sociables, lectures, &c., &c., and at one end a furnace room, kitchen, closets and stairway...”

1875. “The terrible mud has started a subscription paper to raise funds to build sidewalks and enough has been pledged to lay them on streets where most needed… So, hurrah for the sidewalks.” April 1875: “The sidewalks are laid down, or at least enough so that one can get to the post office without getting lost in the mud…”  3 May 1878: “ This town is putting on some style with side walks, and now a street lamp at the crossing in front of Mr. Robertson’s store. “

Dec. 5, 1879: ”This ‘burg’ is putting on metropolitan airs with four street lamps. Mr. James Fairgrieves, our tinner, has displayed both taste and skill, besides a generous gift of a fine street lamp, and the same has been put in position at the corner of the church by B.S. Hoxie.”

July 28, 1880: “Cooksville Gossip: Sunday while Mrs. Aris of Janesville was walking down town she fell through one of our trap sidewalks and received some slight injuries,”

1879.  “A visit to the mill formerly owned by N. Davenport but now by W. Leedle & Son, shows it is much improved.” April`1881: “About a dozen boys had some rare sport one day last week. As the gates of the upper mill were shut down to make some repairs, they discovered fish by the hundreds and spears, pitch-forks and the hands scooped them out. So for once about every family in town had fresh fish for breakfast.”

“Evansville Review Feb. 22, 1882. [T]he current tobacco boom… In 1881, 12,000 acres of tobacco in Wisconsin; Dane County 4,8674 acres; Rock County 5,704 acres. Banner town in state Christiana, Dane County, with 1,125 acres; second is Porter, Rock County, with 1,118 acres. “


Tobacco barn, now demolished

1883: (Christopher) Preston & (John) Searles, broom and brush manufacturers of Cooksville, are turning out good work and will sell at wholesale as cheap as any house  this side of Chicago…making six dozen brooms a day” “…1887: “ In the old Hoxie shop:…received a large shipment of broom corn Tuesday, with a large demand for their make of brooms..”  1890: “Mr. Jack Robertson (blacksmith) now occupies the shop…formerly used as a broom factory.”


Robertson Blacksmith Shop

1883. Cooksville: “This is indeed a land of artists. Most every other one you meet has brushes and a palate or an easel under his arms.”

Enterprise Newspaper. From Cooksville, Feb. 4th, 1885: “Our library prospects are so flattering that I cannot resist the desire to inform your readers of its future outlook. A few of us banded together last December and incorporated a ‘Public Library Association of Cooksville’ and since January first we have accumulated upwards of $40 and no skating rink about it either. We hold sociables every two weeks, Last night we had a box sociable where the ladies brought nicely decorated boxes and the gents bid them off at various prices. The boxes brought by Mss. Belle Rice and Miss Mable Woodbury sold each for $1.25….Next week, the Editor willing, I will give the list of books just received.”


Belle Rice in her parlor

Enterprise Newspaper. Dec. 15, 1885: “Social Life. The Cooksville people seem to enjoy themselves about the best of any community we know of…they have had some delightful gatherings where all joined together as one family without any jealousies or hard feelings, and no scandals or brawls have their starting place there. As a progressive, literary, talented people we think they are above the average.” 

Enterprise Newspaper, Dec. 22, 1885: “The ‘Jolly Club,’ of Cooksville, will give a rousing New Year’s Party at the Masonic Hall in that place on New Year’s Eve.” Jan. 1886:“The Jolly Club dance was an entire success, about thirty couples in attendance…Arrangements are in progress for the laying of a new canvass (on the wood floor) so the ladies can wear their Cinderella slippers.”


Electa Savage with Paul and Avis c.1880

Enterprise Newspaper. Feb.6, 1889: “We understand that Mrs. J.E. Savage is having her ice house ready for the summer campaign. We can almost taste her cool and refreshing icings as we write.”


Cooksville's Public Square, created in 1846

July 20, 1889: “Cooksville: The workmen have begun working on the race track around d the park (Pubic Square)  which will be ready to drive on in a few days…. June races will take place on this track in the future…” Sept. 4, 1889: “The race track is nearly ready for use. There will be a base ball ground laid out and all league clubs including Evansville and Chicago will be invited to play on this ground.”  Oct. 12, 1889: “Our Race Track is now in good condition for driving. Driving tickets can be purchased at the Post Office or the Broom Factory.”

Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter.  6 Nov.1891: “E.M. Stebbins has been appointed postmaster at Cooksville in place of C.H. Woodbury, resigned. Mr. S. (Stebbins) is the successor of Woodbury in the store at that village.”

Tobacco Reporter.  9 Oct.1903:” The Cooksville post office has been discontinued and all mail formerly addressed to that office should be addressed to Evansville RFD.”

Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter, 22 June 1894: “Cooksville:  Mr. Forest’s family arrived from Chicago Tuesday and is living in what is known as the Collins House. Mr. Forest has the frame up for his new blacksmith shop... That makes five blacksmith shops in town: Graves, Berry, Courter, Hanson and Forest.”


Graves Blacksmith Shop, restored
Dec, 8, 1894. Cooksville: “Carpenters are at work on the 24 ft addition to the store. The Masonic Hall will be enlarged and the room over the new part will be used as a dining hall.”


Good Templars at work (but not Cooksvillians)

1895. “Good Templar members… at a meeting on January 12, 1895… 8 gallons of oysters were disposed of and a barrel of crackers was cleared.”


Ralph Warner at his "House Next Door" in Cooksville c1920

1912.  Cooksville..:“Mr. Ralph Warner is settled in his new house  (Duncan House) which he purchased principally because the old-fashioned fireplace appealed to his love of old things….It is finished up in an old style… He loves everything that is old and is pleased to show his curios to interested friends. We will tell more of him later on.”

     [From items in the Cooksville Archives and Collections. Larry Reed]

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Friday, May 6, 2022


The 180th Celebration of the founding of the Village of Cooksville will be held on Saturday, June 18th, 2022, throughout the historic village, and the public is invited.

Cooksville Schoolhouse and Community Center -1886

Cooksville, established in 1842 is located in the Town of Porter in northwest Rock County. The Celebration will begin at 3:00 p.m. at the Cooksville School House at the corner of State Highway 59 and Church Street in Cooksville. The event is free and open to the public, with parking on the Cooksville Public Square next to the historic School House.


Public Square-1846

The Celebration will start with an opening program at 3 p.m. in the School House with brief presentations about the history of Cooksville . This will include comments by the six participating village organizations, which are the Cooksville Community Center, the Cooksville Lutheran Church, the Low Technology Institute, the Cooksville General Store, the Masonic Lodge, and the Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc.


Cooksville General Store and Masonic Lodge-1847

Following the School House program there will be walking tours of the village from 4 to 6 p.m., with maps provided and with stops at the participating organizations’ five historic village buildings. At each site, representatives will be available with information and with refreshments.


Cooksville Congregational Church-1879

The historic Village of Cooksville looks forward to sharing the village’s special story of 19th, 20th and 21stcentury life in southern Wisconsin.

Longbourne House-1854- and the Low Technology Institute

The story of old Cooksville---“A Town that Time Forgot”--- can be experienced today because its historical character is largely preserved. More than 30 historic buildings, structures and archeological sites remain in the village including the Public Square or Commons, the Cooksville Schoolhouse, the oldest General Store in Wisconsin, the old Cemetery, two historic churches---the Lutheran Church and the Congregational Church---and more than 20 historic homes and barns.


Cooksville Lutheran Church-1897

The original settlers, John and Daniel Cook and their families, bought the land from the U.S. Government in 1837, when Wisconsin Territorial lands first went on sale in the area. Then in 1840, they journeyed by oxen wagon from Ohio to their new farmland, built a home and then platted their Village of Cooksville in1842. Other settlers followed, and the village quickly grew, including a large new Village of Waucoma platted next door to Cooksville in 1846, which is part of the village’s long story.

Because Cooksville was by-passed by the boom in new railroads in the mid-1850s, the village’s growth slowed, which meant the survival of much of its distinctive 19th century pioneer architecture. The village became known as “A Wee Bit of New England in Wisconsin” and was once suggested as a perfect location for an outdoor museum of Wisconsin’s early historic architecture.         


In the 20th century, Cooksville experienced early and important historical recognition by being officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Wisconsin State Register, and designated a Historic District by the Town of Porter---all because of the village’s well-preserved and well-documented history and historic architecture.

Thanks to preservation efforts, Cooksville continues to celebrate and share its story of an early settlement in Wisconsin.

For more information about the Celebration, contact Mary Zimmerman at (608) 628-8567,

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Monday, April 25, 2022


The Cooksville Archives contains many newspaper clippings, some in personal scrapbooks, some in journals or letters, many undated but helpful in telling the story of the old Village of Cooksville in northwestern Rock County.

On June 18, 2022, Cooksville will celebrate 180 years since its settlement in 1842. The public is invited.

Some of the village’s history is recorded in hand-written reminiscences by the early settlers or their descendents, some by later residents of Cooksville, and some stories are by newspaper reporters or are contained in local gossipy “news” columns. They date from the 1830s to the present.

Here are a few excerpts:

“The First Impression of the New Wisconsin Territory by William R. Smith c.1837”

“The prairies may be passed over in any direction in a wheel carriage with ease and safety. The groves surrounding and interlacing and sprinkling and dotting the vast ocean of open fields can be treaded as easily with a carriage as if you were driving through a plantation of fruit trees. The undergrowth is generally small bushes readily passed over; the black current, the furred and smooth goose berry, the red and white raspberry, the blackberry, the haw, the wild plum, and the crabapple. All these are indigenous fruits and are found throughout the territory. The strawberry literally covers the prairies and groves. The hazel with its nut-laden branches is the most common bush in the country. Acorns, black and white, walnuts and history nuts are plentiful….

“The flowers of the prairie are various and beautiful… The red, white and purple chrysanthemums are very common… Delicate snowdrops and violets form a carpet… The strange peculiarity of the prairie sunflower or compass plant is that its leaves invariably point north and south… Perhaps there is not to be found any region in the United States better watered than Wisconsin…”

(William R. Smith (1787-1868) apparently wrote this in an 1837 letter to his brother which was quoted by Cora Atwood, a Cooksville historian, at an Old Settlers Reunion. Smith became President of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in 1854.  Later Smith’s “first impression” was also included by Bertha Whyte in her book, “Wisconsin Heritage.”)

Willam Randolph Smith (1787-1868)

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“Wisconsin’s First Implement Factory”

“Nobody knows exactly when this ancient wooden structure was built, but it is standing in ruins in the center of the quiet old village of Cooksville, on the Rock and Dane county line. It was built to be used by a Mr. Van Vleck as a corn-planter factory, and was probably the first small implement factory built in south central Wisconsin. Hand planters were made here before the Civil War, and tradition tells us they were good ones. Two of this man’s sons are living within a stone’s throw of the old building. One of the residents of Cooksville, Mrs. Savage, tells us that during the Civil War the settlers gathered in the upper floor of this building to listen to reports brought in my courier concerning the fate of the northern armies. It served both as a lyceum hall and academy.”

(Undated and un-named newspaper clipping, c. 1920s. The Factory was first built as Hoxie’s Sash and Door Factory in 1848 and was demolished in 1928.)

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“Early Settlers’ Reunion”

“One of the red-letter days in the history of Cooksville, occurred on the occasion of an Old Settlers’ Reunion, Sept. 20, 1901. Its first inception sprang from the neighborly talk of two or three: but the suggestion received instant favor and grew into large proportions as it became circulated abroad.

“Then on the above date there assembled a goodly number of the present and former residents of this pretty rural hamlet to celebrate the interesting event….their rank swelled to one hundred and fifty smiling, eager faces…. The Masonic hall, kindly donated for the occasion, proved a commodious apartment, handsomely carpeted and well lighted….Gideon E. Newman was chosen Chairman by acclamation. He came here in the early forties and was one of the boys of the early sixties who followed Old Glory for three long years o’er many a bloody field.

“The first speaker…was B. S. Hoxie, long a prominent citizen of Cooksville…giving many pleasing reminiscences, and calling attention to the numberless inventions and conveniences of the present day as compared with the past...

“Enthusiasm grew apace and it was finally resolved to form the meeting into a permanent organization…”

(Newspaper clipping not identified but probably from the Evansville Review, pencil-dated 1901.)

Benjamin Hoxie (1827-1902)

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 “Late Joseph Porter, Truly a Pioneer (1819-1907)”

“…For the past few years, Mr. Porter had been the only man residing in Wisconsin who had ever looked upon the face of the great French friend of the United States, the Marquis de Lafayette. Mr. Porter saw General Lafayette in Boston in 1824. This was the occasion of his visit to America to accept the return of the money which he had loaned George Washington and by which the continuation and culmination of the war of the revolution was made possible. Mr. Porter was present when Henry Clay, then speaker of the House of Representatives, welcomed Lafayette to the country…”

(A typed copy of a portion of the Janesville Gazette’s obituary of Porter, February 16, 1907.)

Ann Eliza and Joseph Porter

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 “Story of ‘Underground Railway’ for Fugitive Slaves Told by Miss Susan Porter, Former Teacher”

“Stories were related by Miss Porter of some of the fugitive slaves who found their way to freedom through Wisconsin to Canada. ‘From 1840 to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation, Wisconsin was the one state in the northwest which favored strongest the emancipation,’ declared Miss Porter…. ‘The portion of southwestern Wisconsin was called Abolition Hollow…’

“According to Miss Porter more than 1,000 slaves were helped to freedom through this ‘railroad’ while 3,200 people were in active service on this road….

“In 1842 the first fugitive, a woman named Caroline came to Wisconsin. Miss Porter related at length about Caroline’s escape from her mistress and her trip to Wisconsin and finally to Canada and freedom…she traveled with a group of college girls and was mistaken as one of them…she was taken to Milwaukee where she was taken care of by one of the conductors of the ‘underground railway’…she hid in a barn about four weeks…Later she was taken to Detroit…”

Susan Porter (1859-1939)

(This newspaper clipping is undated and unidentified, probably printed in a Racine newspaper. Susan Porter (1859-1939) grew up in Cooksville and was a teacher there in the Town of Porter as well as several other schools, retiring to Cooksville from Racine High School in 1924.)

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William Porter (1818-1891


“Who filled Wm. Porter’s pump with sand so it will cost a nice little sum to get it running once again? ‘The Boys.’ Mr. Porter offers a reward of five dollars to find out who did it.”

“Who worked harder and perspired more freely than they ever did in any hayfield to get that heavy mower on top of Mr. Newell’s shop? ‘The Boys.’ ”

“Is it ‘The Boys’ that lower people’s woodpiles in the night?”

“Four animals went to a circus—a duck, a pig, a frog and a skunk. All of them got in except one. The duck had a bill, the pig had four quarters and the frog had a greenback, but the skunk had only a ‘cent.’ ”

“A good many cisterns are dry and people are getting ice from the pond to wash with. Some fall in and find two feet of mud under the ice.”

(An unidentified and undated local area newspaper clipping with Cooksville’s local “news” by an unidentified reporter.) 

Bad Fish Creek

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“For Auld Lang Syne: Another Old Settlers Reunion”

“The Old Settlers of Cooksville and Vicinity … gathered together in Annual Reunion on that date (the second Reunion, September 9, 1902)… A basket picnic in the grove had been planned, but wireless suggestions of possible frost made the cozy fire in the basement of the church an immediate center of attraction…It was opened with music by a wonderful little orchestra, the four young daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Santos Soverhill of Janesville….

“This was followed by G.E. Newman Sr. (who) emphasized the importance of the annual re-union, so few such gatherings being possible to the older members.

“J.K.P. Porter Sr. pictured the surrounding country as it was in 1846, when he came west and the pleasant gatherings of the old time, after which he read a very appropriate poem written by his wife, Mrs. Eliza Porter…John Porter alluded to melon patches, and youthful escapades… Mrs. Minnie S. Savage read a brief In Memoriam entitled “Our Dead,” in which she spoke of the harvest of affection brought in from the field of life….

“About seventy were present, and six deaths had occurred during the year…”

(Unidentified September 9, 1902, local newspaper clipping.) 

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 “Married 50 Years: Mr. and Mrs. W.M. Tolles”

"…Mr. Tolles has ever been active in political and community affairs. He was a member of the Wilder school board for 20 years, a town supervisor and a member of the Porter Republican committee…About 35 years ago he helped organize and manage the Porter band, and a band hall for that organization was built on his farm. The band was very active for a number of years, playing many engagements in Janesville and other cities in this state and Illinois.”

(The band hall, built c.1890, still stands on the old Willis Miron Tolles farm on the corner of Tolles Road and County Highway M. The unidentified clipping dates from c.1926.)

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 “Pet Cat, 16 Years Old, Hunts Animals, Birds”

“A great white cat, 16 years old, that hunts rabbits and other wild animals and birds, is the pet of Mrs. Electa Savage, residing at Cooksville, a few miles south of Stoughton. Last week the big cat brought in eight rabbits, a meadow mole, and several sparrows. She will tackle a ground-hog without hesitation, and more than one dog has met with disaster while encroaching on her territory.”

(An undated clipping, probably from a Stoughton newspaper, about Electa Savage (1845-1927) and her cat.)

Electa Savage (1845-1927)

[The Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., welcomes contributions to the Cooksville Archives and Collections. Contact Larry Reed at (608) 873-5066.]