A thriving town remains an attraction for the way it has retained its Cornish attributes.
Wisconsin attracted early settlers in the 19th century for a host of reasons: great farmland, abundant forests, mighty rivers, a growing industrial base, and an abundance of work to do. At Mineral Point, the reasons related to a particular mineral, lead ore. Although the town is no longer a mining hotbed, what’s been left behind offers plenty of reasons to add it to your Wisconsin road trip to-do list.
First, a bit of history…
Mineral Point became the bustling mining town it used to be because European settlers in 1827 discovered large amounts of lead ore in shallow, easily accessible deposits.
Lead mining 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 territory of Wisconsin. It has hosted major events like the first inauguration of the first Territorial Governor, Henry Dodge.
In the 1840s, the largest group of European settlers in the region came from Cornwall in the United Kingdom. They brought more advanced techniques to extract the increasingly inaccessible iron ore. In 1845 about half of the town’s population had Cornish ancestry.
Only a few years later, as easily accessible ore deposits were depleted, gold was discovered in California. Even as Wisconsin became a state, many experienced miners left Mineral Point to try their luck out west. The city lost about 700 people in dreams of even greater prosperity.
The Cornish miners are long gone, but what they built remains some of the city’s most recognizable architecture. About 100 years ago, when some of the old mining structures were being dismantled, two local artists, Robert Neal and Edgar Hellum, came up with the idea of acquiring and restoring some of the buildings. By turning one of them into a popular restaurant serving Cornish-style cuisine, they were able to fund more restorations and create an artists’ colony.
And this is where we come back…
The present and things to do
Today, at 2,600, the population of the thriving former town is half of what it was at its height, but you’ll still find historic Cornish traditions and an artists’ centre, as well as a newer historic architecture and great places to eat, drink, and try rolling that elusive “300”.
Discover the historical site of Pendarvis
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 the first lead mines and some restored cabins. The dwellings resemble what you might find across the pond in Cornwall – simple wooden or limestone houses. 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 farmhouse with a lovely garden and expansive grounds to stimulate creativity.
The art center, which was established by Jim Kackley, Sandra Scott and Judy Sutcliffe, welcomes artists from across the country with more than 200 adult workshops held year-round and a popular children’s program held during the summer.
The center also offers bed and breakfasts, an outdoor theater and personalized retirement rentals. In addition, visitors are welcome during normal office hours.
Visit Shake Rag at 18 Shakerag St.
Grab a bite at Gray Dog Deli
So you’ve learned the history of Mineral Point and seen some beautiful artwork – you’re probably hungry. Check out Gray Dog Deli; they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but only from Wednesday to Saturday. Although the menu tends to change, the food is always exciting. They use old fashioned recipes and offer gourmet pizzas when they have live music on the terrace.
Visit Gray Dog at 215 High St.
Discover the estate of Frank Lloyd Wright
Now that you’ve fueled up for the rest of your day, bring some more historic architecture! Visit Taliesin just outside 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 is so much to do on this site that you may need to spend a whole day there, they offer one, two and four hour tours of the buildings and grounds. In addition, for the photographer, the site offers full weekend photography workshops; and for your resident baker they offer artisan pastry workshops.
Find the domain at 5607 County Road C, Spring Green WI
End the evening with a bit of bowling
So you’ve spent a large part of the day learning, which means you can end the evening with a little more fun. Play a few frames at Midway Lanes. Since you have already experienced some historic sites, why not use these bowling shoes to enjoy “a classic old fashioned bowling experience on real wooden lanes”.
On Friday nights they offer $1 per game of bowling and cod fries.
Visit Midway Lanes at 1850 Midway Rd.
local council: Try the Big Split Burger.