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.”

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