During the mid-1800s, the population of Mineral Point was greater than Milwaukee or Chicago. As a once-bustling historic settlement, Mineral Point has gone from mining town to arts and cultural center, bringing it all together today for an experience that’s a microcosm of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s coat of arms is an outline of Mineral Point’s past. The pick and shovel, lead bars, and the badger represent the city’s mining history. Miners came in waves, first from the east coast and then further afield from England and other countries, and mined for lead and then zinc. They also dug holes in the hillsides, called badger holes, for their shelter.
Cornish miners brought their skills and culture with them, which included snug stone cottages that dotted the hillsides. They also brought a love of baked goods, particularly Cornish pasty, a comfort food still regularly found in Mineral Point—especially at the Cornish Festival, held in September.
While many of the stone cabins disappeared, two residents, Robert Neal and Edgar Hellum, made it their life’s work to preserve some, establishing a link between the past and the present. The structures were given Cornish names, with the first being Pendarvis, named after an estate in Cornwall.
Neal and Hellum also established the Pendarvis House restaurant, which operated until 1970. The Wisconsin Historical Society then acquired the property and preserved these examples of Cornish life. Today, you can visit Pendarvis and its associated buildings and grounds to experience Cornish culture from the mining- settlement times.
The arm and hammer of the coat of arms represents manufacturing and industry, but has also been interpreted to symbolize laborers and artisans, both compelling symbols of Mineral Point’s evolution. Mineral Point residents view themselves as a community of makers, both creative and functional. Today, the Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts is a hub for the creative energy of the community. Housed in a cluster of renovated historic buildings and modern additions, the Center complements the numerous galleries and artists’ studios sprinkled throughout the town.
Workshops, teach-ins, and longer courses are offered at the Center as well as housing accommodations. Sign up early, as these popular classes often sell out. Regular gallery nights, as well as the Fall Art Tour through southwestern Wisconsin, highlight the creative and independent artisans who call Mineral Point home.
In addition to the Center, historic buildings throughout Mineral Point have been repurposed for studios, workshops, and accommodations. Fittingly, Mineral Point was the first city in Wisconsin to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A standout is the Opera House, which was dedicated in 1915 and has served as the gathering space for community and family events. Originally, it seated over 700; included a balcony and two boxes; and featured live drama, comedy, grand opera, and symphonic music.
Renovated in 2010, the building once again serves as a venue for southwest Wisconsin, bringing in a variety of arts, music, and national acts as well as community events. Attending an event here could be the cornerstone of a weekend visit.
Hospitality has emerged in Mineral Point’s renaissance. Today, you can find a variety of accommodations to choose from, including the historic Cothren House cabin, which was lovingly reconstructed and simply furnished to make a cozy stay for two.
Wisconsin’s farming culture—symbolized by the cornucopia and plow—has always been locally grown and produced in Mineral Point. Today, Saturday farmers’ markets (May through October) feature products of local producers.
Three cheese factories have been based in Mineral Point, including the award-winning Hook’s Cheese Company, formerly the Mineral Point Cheese Company. Hook’s makes its cheese from milk purchased from local dairy farmers.
The Chicago Stock Exchange at one time distinguished Mineral Point’s high-quality beef with its own brand: Mineral Point beef. Today, you can still find locally raised beef from area farms, like Marr’s Valley View Farms, a fourth-generation family farm established in 1874.
Mineral Point was home to the oldest-known Wisconsin brewery (est. 1835). While the building does not remain, local brewing continues at the Brewery Creek Brewpub & Inn.
One of the most stunning changes in Mineral Point was the resurrection of Brewery Creek, a multipartner effort to clean up the old mining waste and the creek bed polluted by multiple sources. Finished in 1993, the results were transformative. Efforts included moving the creek bed into wetlands to improve water retention during flood events, planting of native species, and stopping discharges into the creek.1
The project opened the door for recreation, a valued asset for residents and visitors. Six state parks are within striking distance of Mineral Point, adding to the hiking, biking, and fishing possibilities.
Or stay closer to town and set out on the Cheese Country Trail that leads south from Brewery Creek Brewpub & Inn. Enjoy the renewed countryside and creek and make sure to return for a pint and a bite to eat.
If you need another excuse to visit, on July 4, the community has a double celebration: American independence and the swearing in of the first territorial governor, Governor Dodge. The Iowa County Fair happens in September along with Cornish Festival. Christmas finds the local galleries and studios welcoming visitors with decorations, good cheer, and unique gift ideas.
Not surprisingly, brides and grooms are also drawn to this location. The Historical Society’s Orchard Lawn, home to the Gundry family until 1936, provides a distinctive and unique setting for a summer wedding or live concert. The Society is housed in the building and continues to engage the community, reinventing the property as the “living room of Mineral Point,” hosting tours, concerts, events, and weddings.
The story of Mineral Point clearly shows how a community can be resilient and remain relevant. With such a breadth of experiences, it would be hard to be satisfied with a single visit. So savor your time here and look forward to something new each visit!
1 Bennwitz, Thomas M. The resurrection of brewery creek. Restoration & Management Notes, 13 (1), 1995, pp. 71–76.
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .