Point of Return to Historic Mining Town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin

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When recently revisiting the Little Sugar River Farm in Albany, Wisconsin, I took a trip to the nearby town of Mineral Point, one of the oldest communities in the state. It was first settled by Cornish miners, who were drawn to the discovery of lead, along with copper, in North America.

Lead was easily accessible in Mineral Point, which became a leading lead producer in the 1840s. But the 1848 California Gold Rush attracted lots of miners, including those from Mineral Point. The original stature of the town’s importance in lead was never re-established, although zinc and smelting industries flourished there through the 1920s.

The Mineral Point Zinc Company was founded in 1882. By 1891, it was the largest operation of zinc oxide works in the United States.

My first Mineral Point stop was at the Brewery Creek Brewpub. It was originally a warehouse, which was built in 1854 by George Cobb, who managed the Mineral Point Railway. Fast forward to 1998: the building was re-purposed and reopened as an English-style pub.

A few footfalls away is The Foundry Books, founded by Gayle Bull. The store’s specialty is material on the regions of Wisconsin and Western Great Lakes. But there are other finds among Gayle’s collection of rare books and maps. Her bookstore’s name was an inheritance of the building’s original use in 1847, when Lanyon Foundry crafted iron equipment for lead and zinc mining and transportation. The building has evolved into a bookstore in the new millennium. To Gayle, a bookstore is the building’s “true vocation.

From the bookstore is High Street. Both sides are flanked with small businesses like restaurants, art centers and collectible stores. A highlight is a guardian who has remained on watch over the town’s 130+ years of history. When the Gundry and Gray store (now for sale) was established in 1871, it carried the British custom of having animal statues help passers-by identify stores. Gundry and Gray’s Zinc cast Pointer dog keeps watch.

I was drawn to the town’s 19th century architecture. Though mining is the town’s past, its preservation is the town’s crowning presence. In 193435, a chance meeting between Robert Neal, a native of Mineral Point, and Edgar Hellum resulted in a movement to keep the town’s architecture as vibrant and intact as possible. Their attention was first given to preserving some of the old cabins (below image) built by the Cornish miners during the 1830s and 1840s.

Neal’s and Hellum’s first restoration was called Pendarvis. The Wisconsin Historical Society owns the site, which serves as a museum of Wisconsin’s early lead-mining history, telling the stories of tools and the miners who used them and lived on the site.

This movement, established by Neal and Hellum, gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s and continues today, with the growth of artists”potters, painters, glass, woodworkers, sculptors, fiber”drawn to the town’s history and friendliness. Having more than preservationists’ care for a place’s character and survival is a legacy worth maintaining, for all places where such care is appreciated.

Here’s one visitor who is looking forward to returning to experiencing Mineral Point, a town whose authenticity has proven staying power.

Nate Burgos

Comments (4)

  1. Donnie Pendarvis Davis says:

    I am a Pendarvis and wasnted to know where the name originated from
    ( alittle more in foramtion on the name… This was interesting reading!

  2. James says:

    In 1935, after Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum completed renovations on their first house – a two story limestone cottage built nearly 100 years earlier – one of their mentors offered some advice. “Your house should have a name, just like they have in Cornwall,” said William Gundry, himself of Cornish descent. Gundry presented a list of possible names and Bob & Edgar chose “Pendarves,” after Lord Pendarves, who had an estate in Cornwall. However, they deliberately changed the name to Pendarvis, out of respect for Pendarves. Pendarvis House (in Mineral Point) developed into an internationally known restaurant, serving Cornish food by appointment. The tiny dining room could only seat 20, but the dining experience was unlike any other. Pendarvis House operated from 1935-1970. During its heyday, the Saturday Evening Post named it one of the seven finest restaurants in the United States. After it achieved fame, word reached Lord Pendarves. “They’ve misspelled my name!” he supposedly said.

    Today, visitors to Mineral Point can tour the site of the Pendarvis House Restaurant and William Gundry’s 1868 home “Orchard Lawn.’

  3. Gerald C. Jacobson says:

    My mother, Lela Jacobson, was widely known as the “Pasty Queen” in Mineral Point and surrounding area during the 50’s – 80’s. She prepared pasties, as well as other Cornish dishes for many restaurants in Mineral Point, including the Pendarvis House. She also worked as a guide for the Pendarvis cottages, teaching hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people the history of the homes and area. I remember well her descriptions of life in the times of the early miners, and how the “funny” names all came to be. “Shakerag Street” was so named because the wives would come out of their cottages and wave a bright rag at their husbands working in and on the hill on the other side of the creek to let them know that lunch or supper was ready. The names in the town, Trelawney, Polpenny, Tredinnick and Pendarvis, as examples, bear truth to the old adage, “By the Tre, Pol and Pen, ye can tell they’re Cornishmen !”

    Funny comment: When mom first got onto the internet, she used the name “Pasty Queen” for her e-mail. She immediately got several requests from “ladies” in Las Vegas and Reno, as well as Los Angeles and New York, who were in the “Burlesque Business”. They thought the “A” in “pasty” was a LONG “A”. LOL

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