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Drift to Mineral Point

Driftless Fibre Arts Faire on May 30, 31 in Wisconsin arts community

Suanne Huffman photos

Explore this Pendarvis Historical site on your trip to Mineral Point, Wis. Pendarvis was a settlement of Cornish miners in the 1830s and 1840s who unearthed an ore that led to a mining frenzy in the area. Miners headed West and in the 1930s the area was restored and later became a historic site.
Suanne Huffman photos Explore this Pendarvis Historical site on your trip to Mineral Point, Wis. Pendarvis was a settlement of Cornish miners in the 1830s and 1840s who unearthed an ore that led to a mining frenzy in the area. Miners headed West and in the 1930s the area was restored and later became a historic site.
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Mineral Point lies in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region. Carved hundreds of years ago by glaciers, the town seems to have eluded the forces of metaphorical glaciers like strip malls and big box stores.

It is said that visiting Mineral Point is good for the soul.

What makes a village with just 2,500 inhabitants in southwestern Wisconsin so special? Is it the landscape? The history? The arts? Maybe the restaurants, lodging options and entertainment?

Visitors will find it’s not just one of these attributes but a blend of everything that make Mineral Point a great destination to do some soul-searching.

Drifting glaciers

Credit for the scenic landscape of deeply carved rivers and valleys goes to glaciers, or rather the lack thereof. The land around Mineral Point had the good fortune of being bypassed by retreating ice that left drift, or debris. Terrain without these gravel-like deposits is called driftless. Other nearby states like Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois are also part of the Driftless area, but 85 percent is in southwestern Wisconsin.

A serendipitous history

It’s undeniable that the history of Mineral Point has taken many serendipitous twists and turns. While attracting many immigrants, the largest ethnic group came from Cornwall, England, in 1827. Noted for their skill mining tin, the Cornish were particularly adept at extracting lead ore from shallow pockets. These became known as badger holes, giving Wisconsin its nickname as well as a competitive mascot. As a place referred to as “where Wisconsin began,” the mining industry put Mineral Point on the map. It became the county seat in 1829, boasting a population larger than Milwaukee and Chicago combined.

With the California Gold Rush in 1849, though, many miners left with dreams of more lucrative digs. As often happens in an economic downturn, shanty towns and dilapidated buildings are all that’s left of its past glory. This could have easily been Mineral Point’s fate, but for the vision of one of its former residents.

Pendarvis Historic site

In the 1930s, the chance meeting of Mineral Point native Robert Neal with Edgar Hellum would result in the restoration of some of the stone-and-log cottages. Pendarvis was their first restoration project. Named for an estate in Cornwell, Pendarvis was constructed of 18- to 20-inch thick walls of locally quarried limestone and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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At Pendarvis, hikers can get a trail map and climb Merry Christmas Tree Mine Hill to view remnants of the early lead-mining industry. The 43-acre restored prairie replicates the unspoiled terrain of the former Wisconsin Territory.

Pendarvis offers guided tours with a costumed docent or you can explore on your own. Tours will run throughout the days of the Fibre Faire. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children and $8.50 for seniors. Yearly tours are given from May 7 to Oct. 31.

Shake Rag Alley

Think about a fairy garden and then imagine it enlarged to accommodate real people. With its historic stone cottages, Federal Spring, a stream that winds through an expanse of meadow, stone cottages, and winding pathways through woodlands ... well, that’s Shake Rag Alley, a non-profit arts education center, in a nutshell.

Legend has it that the name Shake Rag Alley came from miners’ wives who were thought to shake rags outside their doors to call their husbands home from the mines. The truth, though, appears to be less romantic. It’s more likely the name was given to any neighborhood in poor mining towns, described by locals as a “shake rag.”

Founded in 2004, Shake Rag Alley’s mission, simply put, is to inspire creativity. More than 200 weekend adult workshops, children’s programs, and performances at Alley Stage, an outdoor theater, attracts people from all across the United States. Taught by nationally — and locally — talented artists, the classes run the gamut from garden arts like crafting bent willow furniture to the finer arts of jewelry to the preserved arts of blacksmithing.

The Driftless Area Fibre Arts Faire

Today Mineral Point has a flourishing art scene. The town is a mecca for artists and tourists alike with more than 20 galleries and studios. There are many yearly art events like Gallery Night, Woodlanders Gathering and a book festival, but one that stands out is the Driftless Area Fibre Arts Faire.

For the third year, area fiber artists and The Pear & Salvage Home, a fiber art gallery and reclaimed architectural salvage, are sponsoring this May 30 and 31 event at the Pendarvis Historic Site, 114 Shake Rag St., Mineral Point.

A wide variety of fiber products such as felted apparel, yarn for knitting and weaving, and wool roving will be for sale. Alpacas and sheep will be on-site for “sheep to shawl” demonstrations. Visitors can watch the entire wool process from shearing, cleaning, combing, spinning yarn to weaving and knitting to the finished product. Admission is free.

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Other activities on Saturday at Pendarvis include the Fibre Faire Bonfire (weather permitting) and a Potluck Chocolate Feast (7 to 9:30 p.m.). Bring a favorite chocolate dessert to “share.” Voting will take place for the most tempting chocolate concoction.

For more information, contact The Pear & Salvage Home, (608) 987-2902, driftlessfibrearts@gmail.com or email the Pendarvis State Historic Site at pendarvis@wisconsinhistory.org.

If You Go

Driftless Fibre Arts Faire: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and May 31, free, driftlessfibrearts@gmail.com

Pendarvis Historic Site: 114 Shakerag St., Mineral Point.

Restaurants:

Red Rooster Cafe, 158 High Street, serves traditional Cornish food such as pasties, a baked meat and vegetable crescent-shaped hand-held pie favored by the miners. This lunch fare could be taken in the mines to be heated on a shovel held over a candle. Another Cafe menu favorite is figgyhobbin, a sweet pastry made of raisins, cinnamon, and nuts.

Brewery Creek Brewpub, 23 Commerce St., is located on the first floor of a restored stone 1850s warehouse and brews beer a mere 20 feet from your table. Enjoy lunch or dinner from an acclaimed menu. On the second and third floors of the Brewpub is the Brewery Creek Inn. There are five guest rooms with all the amenities. www.brewerycreek.com

MP Dining Company, 20 Commerce Street. Ply your tastebunds with marinated beef, slow-roasted with Burgandy, bacon, onions, and mushrooms and served with bread dumplings by chef Charlie Socher. His 30 years of culinary experience features American cuisine with a creative twist. Outdoor patio seating available. Dinner is served 5 from 9 p.m. www.mpdiningcompany.com.

For the many other restaurant and lodging options, contact the Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce www.mineralpoint.com or www.MineralPointLodging.com

Other Event:

Gallery Nights: June 6, Aug. 1, Dec. 5, www.artsmp.org/gallerynight

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Woodlanders Gathering: Rustic Arts & Nature Crafts, July 9 to 12, www.ShakeRagAlley.com

Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival, Sept. 13. info@swwibookfestival.com

Fall Art Tour, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 16 to 18, www.fallarttour.com. (608) 588-7509

Driftless Film Festival, Nov. 5 to 9, driftless@driftlessfilmfest.org

For more information, go to info@shakeragalley.com or call (608) 987-3292.

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