Preserve America Community Close-ups: Mineral Point, Wisconsin
The town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, (population 2,617) is Wisconsin’s third oldest city, with permanent settlements of Cornish immigrants dating to 1827. The town’s origins can be traced to the discovery of lead, or “mineral,” in the late 1820s in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin.
A MINING HERITAGE
The discovery of lead deposits led to a steady stream of miners from Cornwall, England; Ireland; and Germany. The Cornish miners brought hard rock and deep mining skills to the town, in addition to their unique stone building tradition. Many early Cornish structures have been preserved at the Pendarvis Wisconsin State Historic Site in Mineral Point.
The arrival of the railroad in 1856 helped spur commerce in Mineral Point, allowing the ease of transportation of the minerals to other economic centers, such as Chicago and Milwaukee. Following the Civil War, the discovery of zinc carbonate in the 1870s led to a second mining boom in Mineral Point. Today, the historic buildings are now home to artists, specialty shops, and distinctive restaurants. The entire town of Mineral Point was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Today, Mineral Point draws upon its unique mining and Cornish history through various community heritage and preservation activities.
PROTECTING LOCAL RESOURCES
A recent public-private partnership project is the creation of the Mineral Point Railroad Museum. The Mineral Point Railroad Museum is the product of a partnership between the City of Mineral Point and the Mineral Point Railroad Society (MPRS). The Mineral Point Railroad Depot was built by Cornish stone masons and was an important intermediary between the lead and zinc mines and the nation during the second half of the 19th century. The depot closed its doors after 128 years of service in 1984. However, a private owner of the depot formed the MPRS to rehabilitate the structure for a new use. The partnership between the MPRS and the City was formed in 2000 in order to apply for Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds from the Department of Transportation. The City of Mineral Point sponsored the Depot’s rehabilitation, while the MPRS is now accountable for the ownership and operations of the museum.
The depot reopened as the Mineral Point Railroad Museum on September 2, 2004. Exhibits cover the history of the depot itself and Wisconsin railroad history. The museum houses many original photos of the depot, a collection of railroad construction tools, and an original bell from a Mineral Point steam locomotive. A highlight of the museum is the H0 scale model railroad of the Mineral Point rail yard, circa 1917, unveiled in 2009. The museum is entirely staffed by community volunteers who provide tours, answer questions, and promote the museum. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays throughout the entire year and additionally on Thursdays and Fridays during the summer months.
The Town of Mineral Point received a Preserve America Grant in 2007 for the project “Bringing Back History: Mineral Point Municipal Building Historic Structures Report.” The Municipal Building (1915) is centrally located in the downtown but is currently under-utilized. The grant helped finance a Historic Structure Report for the building, which includes the Mineral Point Opera House. With the planning grant nearing completion, the project has moved into the restoration phase. The restoration phase will include new mechanical systems, historically accurate seating, and the restoration of interior painting. Funding for the restoration is coming from grants and a number of private donors.
With the Historic Structure Report for the Municipal Building, the restoration project will ensure the building maintains integrity while reopening as a destination for tourists and residents of Mineral Point. The use of the structure for arts and cultural events is intended to provide an economic catalyst in the downtown for residents as well as visitors, and other uses expand this potential further. Parts of the building will be used for tourist amenities, such as handicapped accessible public restrooms, an accessible archive for local history, and a centralized location for tourism materials. The theater is home to the Mineral Point Film Society, which shows films from across the world that are typically not available to local or regional audiences.
The seven member Mineral Point Historic Preservation Commission was established in 1971 by the Mineral Point common council. The commission is responsible for overseeing building permits within the Local Overlay Historic District. The commission also assists with preservation projects, such as the restoration of the Mineral Point City Hall. Mineral Point has also been designated as a Certified Local Government. In 2007, Mineral Point was designated one of the annual National Trust for Historic Preservation Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE
A major annual event in Mineral Point is the Midwest Cornish Festival, held every September by the Southwest Wisconsin Cornish Society. The event started in 1993 as a way to celebrate the Cornish heritage of southwest Wisconsin. The event is an opportunity for local heritage resources, such as the Railroad Museum and Archives, to open their doors for a larger audience. Other events incorporate historic resources, such as the Pub Night at the Pendarvis State Historic Site. The evening includes live music, traditional pub games, and a cash bar. Another event is the Tribes of the Blue Rose reenactment, which focuses on the “Dark Ages” (5th through 8th century A.D.) in Britain. The group reenacts military combat as well as arts and crafts, and wears period armor and clothing, all at the Pendarvis State Historic Site. Other events over the course of the weekend include a tour of historic homes, 1850s style church service, Fibre Arts Faire, and the Taste of Mineral Point. All these events highlight the history of Mineral Point, while drawing upon local historic resources for their implementation.
The importance of history and architecture to Mineral Point dates to the 1930s. The Orchard Lawn House Museum includes the Gundry House and orchards, gardens, and pastures. The Gundry House was the home to Joseph Gundry and his family from 1868 to 1936, immigrants from Cornwall, England. The Gundry family were prominent members of Mineral Point, with mining, land speculation, and banking interests. After the death of the last member of the Gundry family in 1936, the house was slated for demolition. However, a group of residents formed the Mineral Point Historical Society in 1939 and raised $800 to buy out the demolition contract. Heirs of the Gundry property deeded the property to the Historical Society, which has operated the house as a museum.
For additional information
Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce: www.mineralpoint.com
Mineral Point Opera House: www.mpoh.org
Mineral Point Film Society: www.mpoh.org/mpfs.html
Midwest Cornish Festival: www.cornishfest.org
Posted November 25, 2009