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.]

                                *   *   *   *   * 

No comments:

Post a Comment