By Amanda N. Wegner
Lying amid the mineral-rich coulees of the Driftless area in the southwestern corner of the state, Mineral Point has been dubbed the “place where Wisconsin began.”
In the early 1800s, some of the first Europeans to enter this corner of the Wisconsin Territory were prospectors and miners drawn by large surface deposits of lead ore. By the 1830s, word of this mineral wealth reached struggling tin miners in Cornwall, England and Mineral Point’s first “lead rush” was on.
Great miners, these new Wisconsin immigrants were also experts at stone building construction. Their expertise is evident today in the cozy limestone cottages they left behind. “Their hard work, their innovation still course through the fabric of Mineral Point,” says local sculptor Bruce Howdle. “It’s what kept Mineral Point from falling into oblivion. That still resonates with many of the people here today.”
That hard work and innovation is seen, in part, in the community’s preservation efforts. The city is home to Pendarvis, a Wisconsin Historical society site. A complex of five historic homes, Pendarvis includes the first Cornish stone home restored in Mineral Point back in 1935. Nearby, Shake Rag Alley is another of the city’s preservation enclaves. Here, a variety of visual, literary and performance arts are taught in small workshops housed in a community of nine historic stone buildings clustered around the city’s old Federal Springs.
In the 1960s and 70s, sparked by these preservation efforts, local artists and craftspeople began turning other century-old stone skeletons, beaten by time, into the gorgeous studios, shops, homes, and hideaways that line Mineral Point’s streets today. “Architecture, art and ambiance are key here,” says Joy Gieseke, executive director of the Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce.
With numerous artisans scattered about the city, quietly plying their trades, “Mineral Point is full of hidden treasures,” says Howdle. Indeed, the city directory offers nineteen galleries and thirty-two artisans.
On Shake Rag Street, Brewery Pottery Studio, a former brewery converted into a gallery, studio and living space, shows the fine art of 150 American artists in its Johnston Gallery, including the stoneware and porcelain creations of its owners. Howdle Studio, on Commerce Street, is a must-see, not that the porcine sculptures out front will let you pass by.
With so much to do, you’re sure to work up an appetite. On Fridays, stop by Hook’s Cheese Company for fresh cheese curds. In the name of history, grab a Cornish pasty or figgyhobbin at the Red Rooster Café. Down the street at The Brewery Creek Inn, you can munch a tasty burger quaffed with a cold one, brewed on-site.
Mineral Point’s lodging choices are equally distinctive and equally historic. The Brewery Creek Inn has an original 1836 miner’s cottage available. Tuckpoint, a vintage gem beneath Howdle Studio on Commerce Street, offers an artfully eclectic one-bedroom apartment. Cothren House rents an historic cottage and cabin – with a ten percent discount if you arrive by bicycle. The Jones Mansion is a 1906 Federal beauty that bills itself as a “historic haven for creative minds.” Or, relax within walking distance of stores and studios at The Brewer House.
Amanda N. Wegner is a freelance writer and editor in Madison. Content produced in cooperation with Wisconsin Trails.