Built to Last

The stone homes erected by Cornish miners in Mineral Point are just some of the gems that make this central Wisconsin town a jewel of the Midwest

Wisconsin owes its beer-making reputation to Milwaukee, and its fame as a producer of Super Bowl-worthy sportsmen to Green Bay. But the Badger State’s nickname has its roots in tiny Mineral Point, established in 1837, two decades before Wisconsin became a state. Early settlers, attracted to the area’s deposits of lead and zinc, slept in “badger holes”—makeshift shelters carved into the sides of local limestone cliffs.

Happily, lodging options have since improved. Today’s Mineral Point, a town of just 2,500, has plenty of B&Bs and guesthouses to accommodate tourists. My partner and I have booked the Cothren Cabin, a refurbished log structure on the south side of town. It’s snug but charming—with a stone fireplace, lofted bedroom, and complimentary bottle of wine waiting for us when we arrive after a five-hour drive from the Twin Cities. We’re impressed: It’s certainly cozier than a cavern.

The next morning, however, we discover that limestone dwellings, not log homes, are the main draw in Mineral Point. Stout residences of locally quarried rock were built by the Cornish miners who settled the town, and elegant commercial buildings of dressed stone line the town’s main avenue, High Street. On a visit to Pendarvis, an historic site where half a dozen structures have been preserved, we learn that much of this heritage was in shambles—crumbling and in danger of being turned into landscaping material and fencerows—before two men moved in and began saving the homes in the 1940s.

But Mineral Point has other charms, too. We take the advice of a shopkeeper and have breakfast made by “the Omelette Man” at the local farmers’ market. Later, we sample Cornish pasties, filled with meat, and figgyhobbin, made with raisins and walnuts, at the Red Rooster Café. The rest of the day is spent checking out the studios of numerous potters, painters, and other artists attracted to this region, a land of rolling hills known as the “driftless area.” More than a century and a half after its founding, we’re happy to see that Mineral Point is not only surviving, but thriving—tenacious as an old badger.
 

MNMO’S GUIDE TO MINERAL POINT, WIS.

WHERE TO STAY

The Cothren House and Cabin offer a unique experience amid historic digs, as well as access to a private garden, 608-987-1522, cothrenhouse.com

WHERE TO EAT

Basic country cooking is available for breakfast and lunch at the Red Rooster Café, 608-987-9936. For dinner, try the wood-fired pizzas at Café Four at the Chesterfield, 608-987-2030, fourcafe.com. Brewery Creek Brewpub offers lunch, dinner, and, of course, fresh pints, 608-987-3298, brewerycreek.com

WHAT TO DO

Folk musicians and other performers regularly appear at the beautiful Mineral Point Opera House, which reopened last spring, mpoh.org.
Tours of the Pendarvis State Historic Site are available daily, mid-May through October, 608-987-2122. The Shake Rag Alley arts center offers a variety of classes, 608-987-3292, shakeragalley.com. Among the area’s best arts studios is Brewery Pottery, on Shake Rag Street, 608-987-3669, brewerypottery.com

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Joel Hoekstra writes frequently about design and architecture for Midwest Home and has contributed to a wide range of publications, including This Old House, Metropolis, ASID Icon and Architecture Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis in a 1906 Dutch Colonial that is overdue for a full remodel—or at least a coat of fresh paint.