Mineral Point is one of the oldest towns in Wisconsin thanks to the lead mining industry. It also has a strong Cornish heritage! Cornwall is a county in the UK (and a place I have visited 6 times, it holds a special place in my heart!). In the early 1800’s when the mines in Southwest England started to close down, the Cornish miners emigrated to the ‘New World’ in search of work. Some miners settled in Mineral Point. During the 25th Annual Cornish Festival, I decided to dig deep and find some of the British connections!
Disclosure: Thank you to the Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce for making my visit possible. As always opinions are my own!
Take a Tour of Pendarvis
Pendarvis is a collection of stone houses that were originally built by the Cornish miners in the 1830s. They were built in a similar style to the homes they would have lived in, in Cornwall! When the mines closed, a local named Bob Neal and another Wisconsinite, Edgar Hellum, purchased the buildings to restore them and to save them from being demolished. Each building was given a Cornish name.
As a way to earn money to fund the project, they opened a Cornish Tearoom in ‘Pendarvis House’. It became very successful and was in business for 34 years, even being named the 7th best restaurant in the USA!
Guided tours last around an hour and visitors are taken into 3 of the houses. Adults admission $5 (Children $2.50), find out more at www.pendarvis.wisconsinhistory.org
Blog post: Pendarvis Wisconsin Historic Site
The Mulberry Pottery
Mineral Point is full of galleries and art spaces. For example, the old miner settlement at Shake Rag Alley has now been transformed into an ‘Art Education Center’ and frequently holds classes and workshops. However, going back to the Cornish link, Frank Polizzi at The Mulberry Pottery creates pots from ‘China Clay’ which is mined just outside the town of St Austell in Cornwall and shipped over to Mineral Point!
Frank’s enthusiasm for the art is amazing. He even offers pottery wheel demonstrations where he’ll create a pot or a vase in front of your eyes! The way he talks about the art form will have you thinking about pottery in a whole new light, from it being like the life cycle of a volcano to comparing the clay to an employee of a business…you have to push the clay to its max, but push it too far and it will collapse! We even bought ourselves a pot to take home with us.
High Street Sweets
When researching for my visit, I had read in the travel guide that High Street Sweets sell British sweets so I knew it was a place I’d have to call into! Just like Frank, the owner of High Street Sweets was so friendly! Just think about the name of the shop for a second… HIGH STREET Sweets…how many High Streets do you know of in the USA? They are all Main Streets! ‘High Street’ is what us Brits call the main road through town, usually the one with all the shops along. Mineral Point’s ‘Main Street’ is in fact called the ‘High Street’!
It was in this shop that we first learnt about Mineral Point’s ‘twinning’ with the town of Redruth in Cornwall. In the UK when you first see the sign welcoming you to the town, it’ll often have ‘twinned with’ and then list a town that’s similar somewhere else in the world (usually in Europe). My hometown in England is twinned with a place in France and I don’t really know what exactly the connection is.
However Mineral Point is very much in partnership with its twinned town, Redruth. They have a foreign exchange programme where a group of kids from schools in the 2 towns will switch places for a couple of weeks to experience life in the other country. The owner of the sweet shop was telling us how he’ll be hosting one of the Cornish students in a few weeks time! I was part of a foreign exchange project and it’s a really great experience for a young person, especially for promoting international friendships!
High Street Sweets, stocks a range of UK chocolate bars (I bought a Cadbury’s Twirl!) as well as PENNY (!!!!) sweets, American candy and even chocolate from a local Amish community. It’s well worth stopping by.
The Mineral Point CollectioN
(Yes with a Capital N, that’s not a typo!)
I stumbled across this place completely by accident and I thought it was a really interesting little shop! As the name suggests, it’s a collection of mini shops that sell items that include; Cornish/Celtic books, jewellery, gifts AND BRITISH FOOD.
You have no idea how excited I was to find Weetabix sat on the shelf! I’m not going to lie, the food items are EXPENSIVE. The Weetabix I bought had £1.60 printed on the box which currently is around $2 as a straight exchange, however it cost me $6.50. This is completely normal for food that’s been imported on a small scale. A jar of Vegemite, like British Marmite but the Australian version, cost over $8!
It just made me all warm and fuzzy inside seeing things on the shelf that I’d see in a shop at home. They even had products that are local to my UK hometown such as Tiptree Jam and Maldon Salt…I have been to or drove by both factories several times!
Eat Cornish Pasties!
Cornish Pasties are a cross between a pot pie and a calzone. They have meat, potatoes and onions/vegetables folded up in pastry creating a similar shape to that of a calzone. They were popular with miners, often being taken into the mines to eat for their lunch. They are on sale everywhere in Cornwall!
I had my pasty during a special ‘Pasty Supper’ at the Cornish Festival event. It was served with salad, a drink and Figgyhobbin for dessert. Figgyhobbin is another Cornish tradition. It consists of raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon rolled in pastry.
The Pasty Supper is held at The Walker House, one of Mineral Point’s hotels. The hotel was built in 1860 and is said to be haunted!
The Red Rooster Cafe on the High Street serve both pasties and Figgyhobbin year round!
Cornish Fest ‘Piskies and Tommy Knockers – Sights, Sounds and Stories of Cornwall’
Another special event during the Cornish Festival is the ‘Piskies and Tommy Knockers’ night at the renovated Mineral Point Opera House. It included slideshows of historic images, a brass band, a chorus Acappella singers and story tellers.
The show was split into 3 parts. Part One was ‘At Home in Cornwall’, I loved the slideshow showing old photos of Cornwall.
Part 2 was based on ‘The Journey’ that the immigrants took from Cornwall to Wisconsin. I’m not going to lie, I cried my eyes out during one of the stories, it may have been based on something that happened 200 years ago but as an immigrant myself, I could relate to the feelings that were being portrayed. I could imagine exactly how they felt. Some left their families behind as they could only afford one fare and hoped that they’d be able to make enough money for their family to be able to join them in the future. Others were able to emigrate as a unit but still left parents, siblings and friends behind.
In the story, a family of 4 made the journey from Cornwall, to Liverpool further north in the UK. They then caught a boat to New York that cost $100 for 4 tickets and took 3 months to make the journey across the Atlantic. From New York, it cost another $100 for the family in this particular scenario to travel along the Ohio and Mississippi River up to Galena (Illinois) and then onto Mineral Point in Wisconsin.
Part 3 focused on life in Mineral Point. There was a story about Piskies and Tommy Knockers. Piskies are a Celtic mythical character, a little like a pixie/goblin. They are harmless but mother Piskies will often swap a Piskies child with a human child because they feel humans can protect their children better. Tommy Knockers can be mean if not treated with respect. They live underground in the mines and will protect the workers. However, they expect the miners to leave them the crusts on their Cornish Pasties! The crusts are the best bit though!
I loved Mineral Point and the stone buildings! The business owners I met were all lovely and proud of their Cornish heritage, the locals loved the fact they had tourists coming to their little town. There are other historic attractions, such as the Mineral Point Railroad Depot Museum or if you like the outdoors there’s a 47 mile ATV trail connecting Mineral Point to Monroe, WI!