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)

         *     *     *     

“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.)

         *    *    *   

“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)

        *    *    *   

 “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

                                    *    *    *   

 “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.)

                                *    *    *


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

                               *    *     *

“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.) 

*   *   *

 “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.)

                               *    *    *

 “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.]

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Cooksville’s Beginnings: 180 Years Ago (1842-2022)

The founding of the Village of Cooksville 180 years ago, in 1842, began a special story of 19th, 20th and 21stcentury life in Wisconsin, a story that can still be told today because the Village’s historic rural character is largely preserved. 

The first settlers and eponymous founders, John and Daniel Cook, arrived in 1840 and platted their Village in1842. The Cook families, however, spent only about ten years in their Village, migrating further west to Iowa in about 1850. (The historic Cook House remains in the Village, as does an old metal cow-bell with the name “Cook” stamped on it.) 

The story of the Village began, of course, before the Cooks arrived.

The land was the home of Native Americans, with names such as Yahara, Koshkonong, and Waucoma on area water features, as well as such names as Wiskonsan and the French version, Ouisconsin. After the French and English departed, the land and its wide prairies and oak savannas became part of the U.S. Northwest Territory in 1787, which in turn became a succession of named territories: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and, finally, the Wisconsin Territory in 1836.

The Cooks’ story began a year later, in 1837, when the southern part of the Wisconsin Territory land was surveyed and put on sale to the public by the U.S. Government for $1.25 an acre. That’s when John and Daniel Cook of Ohio bought 40 acres of land south of the Bad Fish (or Waucoma) Creek, and, in 1840, the Cook families traveled by ox cart to their new Territorial property. Apparently, they first built a small log house and barn and constructed a saw-mill on the creek in order to build a proper house of sawn lumber in 1842. (The water-powered mill was used for many decades as a saw-mill and a grist-mill until it burned down in 1905.)

(Cook House, 1842)

And in 1842, the Cooks officially platted their new little Village of Cooksville on the prairie next to the creek and soon sold Village lots to other settlers.

(Daniel Webster, 1834)

Another part of Cooksville’s story also began in 1837, thanks to the famous U.S. Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. He invested in about 12,000 acres of the newly-opened prairie land east and north of the Cook brothers. (Apparently, Senator Webster wanted his sons to eventually move to the newly-opened western land, but they never would.)

In 1842, another step in the Village’s history took place: Senator Webster sold about 950 acres of his Wisconsin land bordering the Cooks’ new Village to Dr. John Porter, his friend and neighbor in Massachusetts.

(Dr. John Porter and his brother, Dr. Isaac Porter)

Dr. Porter and his nephew, Joseph K.P. Porter, traveled to Wisconsin via the Great Lakes in 1846 to inspect his new land. There Dr, Porter, with the assistance of John Cook and a local land-surveyor from the near-by stagecoach stop of Union, drew up the plat for a new, large, 14-block Village adjoining Cooksville. Porter’s platted Village was more than four times as large as the Cooks’ Village. Porter named his new Village “Waucoma,” a name meaning “Clear Water,” and recorded it on July 15, 1846.


(Map of Waucoma, 1846)

“Waucoma” was the Indian name for the creek flowing along the northern edge of the Village and was suggested to Porter by Governor James Doty. Porter reserved the central block of his Village as a Public Square, a nod to the tradition in New England. 
(The Cooksville Schoolhouse and Community Center,
with a close-up of the Waucoma side of the Cooksville historical marker.)

Eventually, Dr, Porter's three Porter nephews—Joseph, Isaac and William—would settle in or near Cooksville, Some early maps used the name Waucoma for the two Villages.

The Cooks and the Porters lived side-by-side in their Villages in the Town of Oak, soon re-named the Town of Porter in 1847. And both Villages still legally retain their names of Cooksville and Waucoma on the land records.

In a sense, historic Cooksville has had two official historic beginnings: one in 1842 by the Cooks and the other in 1846 by Porter with his adjacent Village of Waucoma. In 1917, the last officially appointed postmaster for the U.S. Post Office in the Villages apparently was the store-owner on the Cooksville side of Main Street, now Highway 138, and that’s probably why the Villages retained the name of “Cooksville” for the community.

(Map of Cooksville and Waucoma, 1891)

Because Cooksville-Waucoma was by-passed by the new boom in railroads in the 1850s, the Village(s) soon became known as the “Town that Time Forgot.” The lack of a railroad, of course, ended the Villages’ growth and that's the reason much of its distinctive early mid-19th century pioneer architecture has survived, mostly unspoiled by “progress.” (In the 20th century the Village was once suggested as a perfect location for an outdoor museum of Wisconsin’s early historic architecture.)

(Isaac Gallup Porter, 1827-1899)

Besides the Cook House (1842), the homes of Joseph, Isaac and William Porter, nephews of Dr. John Porter, remain, as does the Cooksville (once the “Waucoma”) Cemetery (1861), the Cooksville Congregational Church (1879), the Cooksville (once the “Norwegian”) Lutheran Church (1897) and the Cooksville Schoolhouse (1886). In addition, about 30 other historic homes and barns of the earliest settlers, as well as archeological sites, remain in and near the Villages, as does a wealth of documents and photographs.

Some of the earliest settlers’ families in addition to the Cooks and Porters included the Dow, Hoxie, Seaver, Fisher, Van Vleck, Newman and other families. Some descendents still live in the area.

Cooksville experienced another important new "beginning" in the 20th-century by being officially recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, the State Register and the local government for the community’s well-preserved and well-documented history and historic architecture. 

Thanks to preservation efforts, Cooksville continues to tell the story of life in 19th century Wisconsin. And planning is underway to commemorate the 180th birthday of the historic Village of Cooksville.                              

("Welcome to Historic Cooksville," from Joe, Mary and Larry)
[Thanks to John Diefenthaler for the recent donation of the photograph of Isaac Gallup Porter.]                                              
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Thursday, July 29, 2021

The 175th Anniversary of the Village of Waucoma (1846-2021), Part of Cooksville

The year 2021 marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of Cooksville’s larger “sister-village,” the Village of Waucoma, established in1846 by the Porter family of New England.

Waucoma was founded on Wisconsin Territorial land that was first placed on sale by the U.S. Government in 1837 and was quickly purchased by the famous Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster. Then in 1842, Webster sold 952.22 acres of his new land to his Massachusetts friend and physician, Dr. John Porter for $1,572.00.

Doctors John and Isaac Porter

In June 1846, Dr. John Porter and his nephew Joseph K.P. Porter, son of his brother Dr. Isaac Porter, travelled to the Wisconsin Territory to inspect his new land. They hired Alanson Vaughn of the nearby Village of Union to survey the land and to draw up the plat of a new, large, 14- block village adjoining the three blocks of the earlier Village of Cooksville adjacent to the west, which had been established in 1842 by John and Daniel Cook. Both villages would share a joint north-south Main Street.

1846 Village of Waucoma plat map

The Porters named their new village “Waucoma,” a name suggested to the Porters by Governor Doty, who said Waucoma was the Native American name for the creek that flowed just north of the two villages. Doty said the name meant “clear water.” The undeserved name “Bad Fish Creek” came later.

1858 Map of Waucoma with Cooksville on the left

Waucoma was much larger than next-door Cooksville, which contained about 15 lots or parcels for sale. The new Waucoma village contained 160 lots in 13 blocks, all for sale, with a 14th block reserved as a Public Square for community use, a nod to the New England tradition. The many street names of Waucoma included Washington, Wisconsin, Rock, Water, South and Fourth streets, as well as Webster and Dane. The two villages shared the soon-bustling commercial Main Street area.

1873 Map of Waucoma 

The name Waucoma appeared on maps for a time because it was much larger than the Cook brothers’ village. The name was also used for the Mason’s “Waucoma Lodge No. 90” of 1858 because it was first located in Waucoma, and for the village’s cemetery originally named Waucoma Cemetery because of its location. (The name was later changed to the “Cooksville Cemetery.”)

In 1847, the township name was officially changed from the Town of Oak to the Town of Porter, to honor the Porter family.

Dr. John Porter, like other purchasers of land in the new Western frontier, must have been pleased to buy the choice prairie land where woods, water and fertile wheat-growing soil was plentiful. It would soon become the new home for the Porters, especially the three sons of Dr. Isaac Porter: Isaac, William and Joseph, who would soon settle in Waucoma, or in Cooksville, or near Cooksville.

The villages, Cooksville and Waucoma, linked by their shared Main Street, attracted many newly-established businesses to accommodate the rush to settle Wisconsin. The villages included about 175 residents at its peak with many nearby farm-owners. However, the new railroads that came to southern Wisconsin by-passed the villages in1857, which, of course, slowed their growth.

By 1900, the single name of “Cooksville” became popular, and the quiet village was soon called  “the town that time forgot.”

The two village names, however, still legally exist on land records. The local U.S. Post Office had changed locations from one village to the other during the years, depending on which store-owner was appointed as the U.S. Post Master, Then in 1917, the last village Post Office formally closed, and since it had been located on the Cooksville side of Main Street (now State Highway 138), the name of “Cooksville” was commonly accepted for both villages.

1904 Map of Cooksville, with Waucoma in fine print

And 175 years later, the Village of Waucoma and the 179-year-old Village of Cooksville, remain as a combined historic village with many original buildings still standing , including historic homes, barns, churches, a schoolhouse, a store, a blacksmith shop, a cemetery, and the historic Public Square  Nearby are other important historic buildings.

The Joseph K.P. Porter Farmhouse near Cooksville, 1895

In 1973, the Cooksville Historic District was listed in the National Register and the State Register of Historic Places, and in 1980 the listings were expanded to include more historic village buildings as well as important places near Cooksville that contribute to what some refer to as “a wee bit of New England in Wisconsin.”

                                 *   *  *   *   *

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Cooksville Community Celebrates the Fourth of July with El Grito Taqueria

The Village of Cooksville in Rock County celebrated its traditional Fourth of July this year with friends and neighbors---some near and some far---on the village's historic (1846) Public Square, sponsored by the Cooksville Community Center, with help from the El Grito Taqueria. 

About 50 people attended the event under the shade of the old burr oak trees on a  sunny July Fourth Sunday. A few new oak trees have been planted to replace the old oaks and to help conserve the original "oak opening" in what was once a vast "prairie savannah" before the land was opened for sale by the U.S. government in 1837. The historic Cooksville Schoolhouse (1886), home of the Community Center, stands next to the Square. 

The Porter family of Massachusetts, who had purchased this land in 1842 from their neighbor Senator Daniel Webster, established  this public "green" square as part of their new "Village of Waucoma" in 1846. The Porters platted their village next-door to the earlier village that the brothers Cook (John and Daniel) had platted in 1842 on land the brothers had purchased from the U.S. Government in 1837. The two historic villages now stand side-by-side. And the Square remains a public park maintained by the Town of Porter.

Picnic tables and folding  chairs were set up on the grassy Square, or "commons," that occupies the center of  the Porters' village layout. 

The special food event at this year's Fourth was provided by the generous El Grito Taqueria Food Truck, which served free tacos to the gathered folks. El Grito is inspired by the history and culture of street food from around the world and caters its food in Madison and the surrounding area, now including Cooksville. 

El Grito at a wedding

El Grito Taqueria brings the flavors of Mexico to the streets of Madison---and  to a Cooksville picnic---to pay homage to the Mexican tacos that have been served for generations in the different regions of Mexico. El Grito is passionate about the food  it serves and about the Madison area's eclectic community --- which  El Grito is proud to call home.

El Grito in Madison

The proprietor  of  El Grito is Matthew Danky, who grew up near Cooksville with his parents, Jim Danky and Christine Schelshorn. And Matthew has now established El Grito's working kitchen in Cooksville's historic General Store (1847).

(Thanks to Chris Beebe for providing the photographs of this year's July Fourth picnic.)

Saturday, May 29, 2021


The “Old Settlers” picnic reunions of the early Cooksville pioneers and their descendants made big news in The Wisconsin State Journal newspaper in 1941, along with Hitler complaining about Russia and the University of Wisconsin buying Picnic Point property in Madison.

The Cooksville gatherings, which began formally in 1901, celebrated the village’s beginnings and commemorated the first settlers’ successful role in Wisconsin’s early history. These feelings were especially meaningful as the fast-paced 20th century took hold of the lives of those 19th century pioneers of the 1840s.

The sentimental annual gatherings over the years were a time for remembering and sharing the history of the village. The settlers renewed friendships and celebrated the best of their difficult but rewarding “pioneer” past, and the picnic provided a time for recitals, music, plays and reminiscing on the village’s Public Square and in the old Cooksville Schoolhouse. Some gatherings were held in the old General Store and in the old Congregational Church, as well.

The first Old Settlers’ Picnic, apparently initiated by Mrs. Belle Lee and Mrs. Ellen Wells Love on September 26, 1901, took place in the Masonic Lodge above the General Store. About 150 people, “present and former residents of this pretty rural hamlet,” attended, according to Irene M. Wells, the village’s newspaper reporter in 1901. 

[The Wisconsin State Journal, June 22, 1941, page 8.]

Forty years later, the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper article from Sunday, June 22, 1941, described the 40th of these nostalgic gatherings with big headlines and several photographs.

The major headline read, “Clover, Bagpipes, and Coffee Spell Nostalgia at Cooksville,” and the smaller sub-headline added, “Old Settlers Gather for 40thTime.”

Under the top headline were three large photographs of people at the gathering with this italicized description underneath:

          “The old, and the young, and the ‘in between’ had a good Thursday, just getting together at the annual old settlers’ picnic in Porter’s grove or square near Cooksville.

          One of the most inconspicuous of the 300 or more persons there was Henry Porter, 81, a descendent of the family which bought the grove from Daniel Webster, then turned it over to the township of Porter. Henry is shown at the left above. [Actually, his photo is on the right. Ed.]

          Next to him is Webster Webb Johnson, 74, who sounded out one of specials on the program, a bit of bagpipe music.

          There’s nothing better than a cold drink from a well-worked pump, as the three girls in the next picture could tell you. Marjorie Nelson, 8, dressed as a boy, is shown gulping a drink, while her sister, Yvonne, 11, and Norma Hatlen, 6, work the pump. Before that picture was taken, they had been in a Norwegian song and dance presentation, with appropriate costumes.”

Then the 1941 article by Fred J. Curran with pictures by Robert C. Oething began. Here are some excerpts:

 “COOKSVILLE—To anyone who ever has been near a farm, there is nothing more nostalgic than the smell of new mown hay, that pungent scent of fresh cut timothy, that cloying odor of clipped off clover.

“They had those nostalgic scents at the 40th “old settlers” picnic in the heavily oaked grove which once belonged to Daniel Webster, back in the days when one of America’s firsts had more land than he knew what to do with. He sold this.

“He sold it to the Porter family, and in 1846, the grove, bounded now by green fields of fresh hay, was turned over to the town of Porter, It’s known as Cooksville square or grove, and it’s a grand place for a picnic, as some 300 or so persons could have told you Thursday afternoon.


[Old Settlers picnic of 1945, four of the attendees, left to right, George McGee, 83; Frank Newman, 93; James Gillis, 95; and Webster Johnson,80.]

“The third Thursday in June is the time for this remembering get-together, and the folks come from all around, from as far away as Madison and Chicago. They don’t forget home.

 “The grove is about six miles south of Stoughton. It has no signs, no billboards. It just has old oak trees and, now, the new mown hay.

 “Thursday they didn’t go in so much for historical speeches, but mostly visited and listened to a varied program of entertainment.


[A 1946  Old Settlers Picnic postcard invitation.]

“At least at one time, the only historical reference came when Alex Richardson, president of the old settlers group, let out that he had just been telling a reporter about Daniel Webster and the Porter place, and would Henry Porter, a descendent of the family, please let the photographer know where he was.

 “Henry did.

 “Henry is 81, and the son of Isaac Porter, who was the brother of John Porter. Like all the other men at the picnic, Henry was comfortable in his shirtsleeves… Everybody just came and had a good time. They brought their own lunches, and got ice cream and coffee.

 “One of the special attractions on the program was the bag-pipe playing of Webster “Webb” Johnson… Other scheduled attractions were music by the Brooklyn band… dances by rural school pupils… But probably the best of the program was the chance to get together again, in shirt sleeves and suspenders, or in the modern sun-suits of the young.

 “And always around was the unforgettable scent of the new mown hay, a sign another year for everyone’s life.”

     So ends the article of the 1941 Old Settlers Picnic in Cooksville.....


[The 1928 Cooksville Picnic flyer, planning for 500 people.]

[Note: The 1941 Wisconsin State Journal newspaper (all 28 pages) with this story was provided by John Diefenthaler, the grandson of Henry Porter, who is described in the article. John is a Board member of the Historic Cooksville Trust.]

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Remembering Karl E. Wolter (1930-2021)


Karl E. Wolter

Karl Erich Wolter, a longtime resident of Cooksville, died on April 5, 2021, after a 90-year-long active, productive and fulfilled life.

Karl had discovered the Village of Cooksville—and his first new village friends, Marvin Raney and Chester Holway—in the 1960s. He soon bought a 10-acre garden-property from Chester next to the village with an old house on it, and in 1967 Karl moved to the village from Madison.

Karl had come to Wisconsin in 1958, living in Madison and studying at the University of Wisconsin. He began working at the nearby U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in 1963, and finished his Ph.D. in 1964 in the study of botany and plant physiology. Karl continued his work at the Lab, “developing a tissue culture system for the propagation of superior tree species from single cell cultures,” as he described it.

Karl and a potted plant

His discovery of Cooksville in the early 1960s —with its enthusiastic gardeners, active social circle, plant specialists, and tree-lovers— was meant to be.

Karl rehabilitated the old house on his 10-acres and began restoring, re-working and expanding the property’s previous plantings, adding many special and unusual trees. He established a prairie and a large vegetable garden and enjoyed the existing woods and the nearby Badfish Creek And he and friends enjoyed his new, heated, Finnish-style sauna at the edge of the woods.

Born in 1930, in the South Bronx, New York City, of German immigrant parents, Karl grew up a city-boy who loved nature. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served as a Captain in Korea in 1950-52 in a medical unit. After completing his undergraduate work at Syracuse on the G.I. Bill, Karl received a scholarship to the UW-Madison near the Forest Products Lab where he soon began working, studying and experimenting full-time, as well as teaching and traveling as part of his specialized study of plant growth and wood microbiology and completing his doctorate. In the early 1980s, he was invited to teach in Japan, where he spent a year and a half.

Karl retired from the Forest Products Lab in 1986. He spent his time at home gardening, advising neighbors and visitors, and socializing with his large group of friends in and near the historic Village of Cooksville, as well as with Madison friends. His July picnics and his famous Christmas wreath-making parties (with pine branches trimmed from his pine trees, of course) were big and popular. And Karl served for several years on the Planning and Zoning Commission of the Town of Porter where Cooksville is located.

Karl in a Moroccan garden

Many of Karl’s friends were avid horticulturists, nature lovers, preservationists and conservationists, world travelers, artists, and music and opera-lovers, like himself. Retirement was a busy and enjoyable time.

Karl and Patrick

In 1989, Karl met his partner, Patrick Comfert, and together they expanded their “farm,” tended their gardens and the trails that led across their prairie and through the woods under the shade of their old and new trees and through beds of newly-planted wild flowers. Karl and Patrick’s rescued and rehabilitated animals— they filled the barn, roamed the pasture and prairie, birds gathered in trees, and many creatures gathered on their backyard deck to greet guests—and some lived inside Karl and Patrick’s home, as well.

Karl, sometimes called “Eric” by old acquaintances, will be remembered fondly by many friends and probably by many other thankful animals and pets. 


Fond memories, Karl....thanks.

Larry Reed, Cooksville