An early boom town remains an attraction for the way it preserved its Cornish trappings.
Wisconsin attracted early settlers in the 19th century for a host of reasons: great farmland, plentiful forests, powerful rivers, a growing industrial base, and no shortage of work to be done. In Mineral Point, the reasons involved a particular mineral—lead ore. While the town is no longer a hotbed of mining, what’s been left behind provides plenty of reasons to add it to your Wisconsin road trip to-do list.
First, a Little History…
Mineral Point became the bustling mining town it did because European settlers in 1827 discovered significant quantities of lead ore in easy-to-reach shallow deposits.
Mining the lead made Mineral Point so popular—in what was then Michigan Territory— that it led to the creation of Iowa County. And when Michigan became a state, the new county—with more than 5,000 residents—was the most populous east of the Mississippi in the new Wisconsin Territory. It hosted large events like the first inauguration of the first territorial governor, Henry Dodge.
By the 1840s the largest group of European settlers in the area were from Cornwall in the United Kingdom. They brought over more advanced techniques for extracting the increasingly less-accessible iron ore. By 1845 about half the town’s population had Cornish ancestry.
Only a couple of years later, just as the easily reachable deposits of ore were running out, gold had been discovered in California. Even as Wisconsin was becoming a state, many of the experienced miners left Mineral Point to try their luck out west.The town lost about 700 people to dreams of even greater prosperity.
The Cornish miners are long gone, but what they built remains some of the most recognizable architecture in the town. About 100 years ago, as some of the old mining structures were being dismantled, two local artists, Robert Neal and Edgar Hellum, had a notion to acquire and restore some of the buildings. By turning one into a popular restaurant serving Cornish style food, they were able to fund more restorations and start an artists’ colony.
And that is where we return to…
The Present Day and Things to Do
Today, at 2,600 residents, the former boom town’s population is half what it was at its peak, but you’ll still find historic Cornish traditions and a center for artists—as well as some newer landmark architecture and nice places to eat, drink, and try to roll that elusive “300.”
Check out the Pendarvis Historic Site
Pendarvis was the name Neal and Hellum gave to their first restoration project. Their work on several 19th century cabins built by the immigrants who mined the land around this site will take you back in time.
The site includes a museum of early lead mining and a few restored cabins. The dwellings are similar to what you might find across the pond in Cornwall—simple houses made of wood or limestone. The site is now owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Visit Pendarvis at 114 Shakerag St.
Visit an Artist Colony
The Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts was founded in 2004 on a 1970s homestead with a pretty garden and sprawling land to spark creativity.
The art center, which was created by Jim Kackley, Sandra Scott and Judy Sutcliffe, welcomes artists from all over the country with more than 200 adult workshops held year round and a well-loved children’s program hosted during the summer.
The center also offers guest lodging, an outdoor theater, and custom retreat rentals—plus, visitors are welcome during normal business hours.
Visit Shake Rag at 18 Shakerag St.
Grab a bite at Gray Dog Deli
So, you’ve learned about the history of Mineral Point and seen some neat artwork—you’re probably hungry. Check out Gray Dog Deli; they’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner—but only Wednesday through Saturday. Although the menu tends to change, the food is always something to write home about. They use old-fashioned recipes and offer gourmet pizza when they have live music on the patio.
Visit Gray Dog at 215 High St.
Check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate
Now that you’ve fueled up for the rest of your day, bring on some more historical architecture! Visit Taliesin just outside of Mineral Point. The site includes Wright’s 37,000 square foot home and estate with buildings for just about every decade of his career.
There’s so much to do at this site you might have to spend a whole day here, they offer one-, two-, and four-hour tours of the buildings and estate. Additionally, for the shutterbug, the site offers full weekend photography workshops; and for your resident baker they offer artisanal baking workshops.
Find the estate at 5607 County Road C, Spring Green WI
Finish off the night with a little bowling
So you spent much of the day learning, and that means you get to finish off the night with a little more fun. Bowl a few frames at Midway Lanes. Since you’ve already experienced some historic sites, why not use those bowling shoes to enjoy “a classic old school bowling experience on real wood lanes.”
On Friday nights they offer $1 per game bowling and a codfish fry.
Visit Midway Lanes at 1850 Midway Rd.
Local Tip: Try the Big Split Burger.
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