One step over the city limit line into Mineral Point is all it takes to be whisked back to the early 1800s. Rightly billed by local leaders as the place “where Wisconsin began,” this little community of 2,500 is a rich and vibrant amalgam of history and art, made possible by dreamers who refused to let the soul of the buildings crumble away with the passage of time.
The preservation movement here began in earnest in 1935 when Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum, revered by residents as visionaries, began restoring old cottages that would later become the historic site known as Pendarvis.
That preservation predilection really took off in the 1960s and ‘70s when like-minded artists and craftspeople took a personal interest in restoring historic buildings, breathing new life into the structures by converting them to working studios and galleries. Today there are nearly 20 art galleries within walking distance, so best to get to at least a few on Friday afternoon.
1 p.m. – Start at Howdle Studios, where the building itself is a work of restoration art. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Bruce Howdle at work on one of his massive ceramic relief sculptural murals. There’s also the Mulberry Pottery and Windy Ridge Pottery, both must-visits in their own right.
Nearly as indigenous as the clay for potting, the cheese curds made fresh every Friday at Hook’s Cheese are also a must-try. Don’t pass up the aged cheddars and blue varieties either.
4 p.m. – Century-old houses are the norm rather than the exception in Mineral Point. You can stay in the tiny 1836 Miner’s Cottage if you like, large enough for four and with a breakfast basket provided at check-in, or opt for a bit more spacious accommodations at Brewery Creek Inn, an 1854 limestone building with five guest rooms appointed with whirlpool baths and fireplaces, both operated by the same proprietors.
The beautifully renovated Moses Strong House is a Greek Revival-style mansion built entirely of stone with original pine floors and wood finishes.
There’s also the Mineral Point Hotel, 23 Steps Inn, The Coach House at Shake Rag where coaches once rolled to a stop, High Street Suites located above the High Street Sweets candy shop, and the 10-room Walker House with an authentic Cornish pub.
Of special note are the gardens at these establishments and throughout the community, most certainly a collective labor of love.
5 p.m. – In a switch-up, fill up on homemade, hand-tossed, wood-fired pizza at the new Popolo Pizzeria. Yes, it’s brand new but it is located in the building that used to house the old Chesterfield Inn. When the weather’s nice, head to the outside dining area built into the stone hillside.
6 p.m. – Next, head to Gray Dog Deli, where there’s live music every Friday, accompanied by a menu of local wines and microbrews. Or, time your visit to take in a session of “Jammin’ on the Porch,” held the second Friday through September at the Orchard Lawn Museum's working estate.
9 a.m. – Pick up some goodies at the local farmers’ market or take a seat at Suzy’s Pointer Café, a traditional family restaurant serving breakfast all day.
10 a.m. – Now it’s time for a history lesson, with the first stop at Pendarvis, a Wisconsin Historic Site interpreting the history of the Cornish settlers and Wisconsin’s lead-mining heyday. Be sure to pause to breathe in the beauty of the restored prairie. Next stop is Shake Rag Alley just down the road, a lively arts education center comprising nine historic buildings and offering an incredible array of workshops and classes. The magical gardens here are always open for strolling. Third on the list is the Mineral Point Railroad Depot, with artifacts covering a 150-year history housed within the building’s two foot- thick stone walls.
Noon – For lunch, you must try a traditional Cornish pasty at Red Rooster Café. They’ve been making these flaky pockets filled with meat and potatoes for more than 40 years.
1 p.m. – There are a lot more art spaces to explore, so use the afternoon to emphasize the art collectives, including Johnston Gallery, Longbranch Gallery, and Wantoot Gallery. Finish up at Brewery Pottery Studio, located in a rambling old limestone brewery building built in 1850 and featuring the art of some 100 artists, including the pottery and paintings of the owners.
Pop in to The Pear and Salvage Home, part boutique, part architectural salvage shop, and 100 percent big on personality. The building is a “cat of nine lives” with a history that includes time as a carriage building, a foundry and a cheese factory.
Fuel up with penny candy and local chocolates from High Street Sweets. A fun bit of trivia – this candy shop used to be a dentist office. Buy a book from Foundry Books, but just make sure you have time to browse because there’s no such thing as rushing through their large collection of antiquarian books. Pick up prints at MayDay Press, where the owner creates original cards, art prints and notebooks using hulking vintage presses.
6 p.m. – Plan for a memorable, made-from-scratch evening meal at Brewery Creek Inn’s Brewpub Restaurant. This English-style brewpub is quaint and cozy, and the beer is brewed within 20 feet of your table.
7 p.m. – The playbill at the Mineral Point Opera House reads “A Theater for All People,” so plan ahead to attend a live music performance at this beautifully restored building, which started life as a vaudeville house.
9 a.m. – Gray Dog Deli opens early for breakfast, with a nice menu of breakfast sandwiches and coffees. The pointer referenced in the name appears in the sign above the entrance, serving as unofficial mascot for Mineral Point.
10 a.m. – Go for a run through town. You’ll be amazed at the workout courtesy of all the hills, evidence this area known as the Driftless Region was indeed untouched by glaciers. Bike or hike the Cheese Country Trail, a 47-mile trail made from a converted railroad bed. There’s also the 40-mile-long Military Ridge State Trail with a gentle grade that makes for a pleasant ride.