The Town of Porter, in the northwestern part of Rock County, was initially incorporated by the Wisconsin Legislature on Feb. 2, 1846, as the Town of “Oak,” because of the large oak trees in the oak-openings on the prairie. However, at the next session the name was changed to “Porter” to honor Dr. John Porter, from Massachusetts, one of the principle early settlers. Other early settlers included John Cook, Daniel Cook, Robinson Bent, Solomon Griggs, Joseph Osborn, John Rhinehart, Charles Stokes, Joshua Webb, William Webb, John Winston. Among the largest early farmers were Stephen Allen, Horace Fessenden, Daniel Lovejoy, Dennis McCarthy, J. P. Miller, Samuel Pound, Roger Shepherd, Jerome Vaughn, William Webb, John White, and Earle Woodbury.
History of Cooksville
The historic Village of Cooksville in the Town of Porter was platted in 1842 by John Cook, who settled in the area with his brother Daniel in 1840. Cook purchased land south of the Badfish Creek from the U.S. government in 1837 when it went on sale for $1.25 an acre. Cook built a sawmill on the Badfish Creek in 1842, which was converted into a grist mill in 1847. The first store in Cooksville was opened in 1845 by John Chambers, and the village and surrounding area began to be settled by people from New York, New England and the British Isles.
In 1846, Dr. John Porter platted the Village of Waucoma on the eastern edge of Cook’s village on land he had purchased from his Massachusetts neighbor, Senator Daniel Webster. Waucoma was three times the size of Cooksville and was laid out around a New England style Public Square donated to the village by Porter. A post office was established in 1849 and was located in various mercantile stores in Cooksville and Waucoma. (The post office, discontinued in 1903, was generally located in Cooksville, which is why both villages became known collectively as “Cooksville.”)
The village soon had several general stores (the present general store dates from about 1847), a stagecoach inn-tavern (“Waucoma House”), several blacksmith shops, two brickyards, a brick schoolhouse (replaced by the present frame school in 1886), a door, sash and blind factory (converted to an agricultural implement factory about 1861), and a tin shop. Eventually, a cheese factory and two churches (the Congregational Church, 1879, and the Lutheran Church 1897 were also constructed.
In 1857, the planned railroad to Cooksville was not constructed, and the frontier village’s growth soon slowed. In the 1870s, Norwegian settlers to the area stimulated agricultural activities, but the village’s population never surpassed 200. Economic growth had by-passed the little community.
However, in the 20th century, Cooksville became well-known as a “wee bit of New England in Wisconsin” and as “the town that time forgot” because of the well-preserved and relatively unspoiled mid-19th century Greek Revival and Gothic Revival architecture and because of its locally-made vermilion brick residences. And because of its unspoiled, pre-statehood historical architecture, it was suggested as a site for an “Old World Wisconsin” outdoor museum.
The Cooksville Historic District consists of about 35 historic buildings and sites, including the old Cooksville Cemetery. The Cooksville Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Historic Places. The historic district is also designated a Historic Conservation Overlay District by the Town of Porter, to help protect the local, state and national historical heritage represented by this well-preserved rural village. The Town of Porter’s Historic District Committee serves as the focus of the historic preservation effort.
The historic Cooksville Schoolhouse on the Public Square is now the home of the non-profit Cooksville Community Center, Inc. Established in 1962, the Community Center serves as a focus for local activities such as educational programs, children’s activities, community meetings and history tours. The Community Center is also available for rent.
The Historic Cooksville Trust, Inc., a charitable, non-profit organization, has been organized to help preserve the historical, architectural and natural environment of Cooksville and the nearby area through educational and fund-raising activities. For more information, contact Larry Reed, (608) 873-5066.
The Cooksville Archives, which contains information including photographs and articles about the history, the people and the settlement of the village, is maintained by Larry Reed, who may be contacted at (608) 873-5066. New additions of photographs and information about Cooksville and the Town of Porter are always welcome.