Mineral Point, Wisconsin has a strong Cornish heritage and lead mining history. In the early 1800’s when the mines in Cornwall, England started closing up, the miners emigrated to the USA in search of work, eventually settling in this corner of the Midwest. Today, the Pendarvis Historic Site allows visitors to take a look into past.
Disclosure: Thank you to the Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce and Pendarvis for making my visit possible! As always, opinions are my own.
The houses at Pendarvis were built in the 1840’s. They were made from limestone and built in a similar style to how the miner’s homes would have been like back home in Cornwall. The best rock was used at the front of the house as this was what created the first impression, as the rock got further back it had a more ‘rubble’ look to it.
The site is located opposite Merry Christmas Mine (where the miners would have worked), along Shakerag Street. The street got its name from when the wives would stand at the front door waving a white rag in the direction of the mine, signalling that it was time for dinner!
The 1 hour long tour takes you into 3 of the buildings: Pendarvis, Trelawny and Polperro. The mine in Mineral Point closed in 1912 and once again, the miners left to find work. Many of the stone cottages were demolished. In 1936, Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum bought Pendarvis House for just $10 as they wanted to restore it to try and keep Mineral Point’s history alive!
Pendarvis House is the smallest house out of the 3 but it’s the most famous! To help with the costs of the restoration process, Bob and Edgar decided to open up a Cornish tearoom in Pendarvis House. However, being a 1 roomed house, there was only enough space for 20 diners at a time! In nice weather, the courtyard provided additional space.
The tearoom operated on a reservation basis only, walk-ins were turned away because they were worried that they’d get flooded by people and have no room to be able to serve everyone! When people rung up to reserve a table, they would also give their food order. Being a Cornish tearoom, they served traditional Cornish pasties and desserts. A pasty cost $4 and served 6 people! It was in operation as a restaurant between 1936-1970 and during its time, it was named the 7th best restaurant in the USA!
The outside of Trelawny looks similar to Pendarvis but has a more traditional house layout with multiple rooms and an upstairs. The inside is set out how it would have looked in the 1940’s. Bob and Edgar lived in this house for the longest and it acted as the kitchen for the tearoom next door.
The final house is Polperro. It originally cost Bob and Edgar $450 to buy. It was during the renovation that they gave the 3 houses their Cornish names, just like the way that people would have named their houses back in Cornwall! Polperro is the biggest house, has 3 floors and the middle floor looks similar to how the miners would have lived in the 1800’s.
One of the most interesting aspects of this house was the ‘rope bed’! In the 1800’s, the base of beds looked like spiderwebs made from rope which then had a mattress made with straw on top. Each night the rope would have to be tightened up before bedtime to stop the mattress falling through. This is where the saying ‘sleep tight’ originates from!
The house also has a ‘root cellar’, a form of early refrigeration. Stone rooms were built into the hillside which naturally stayed a temperature of 50F year round, keeping food cool in the hot summers and stopped things from freezing in the cold winters.
The ground floor of Polperro is dedicated to the mining history, displaying artefacts and old images. People could start working for the mines from as young as 9. Both boys and girls were able to work above ground separating rock from the ore. Only boys and men worked down in the mines and could start at 14 years old. In the early days they used wax candles tied to their helmets to see in the dark before progressing to head torches!
Mineral Point looked completely different during the mining days. Due to the poor air quality from the mines smelter, vegetation struggled to grow which is a complete contrast from the leafy town it is today! Merry Christmas Mine Hill has now been restored to prairie land with a couple of short hikes to see where some of the mine shafts were and the ‘Badger Holes’.
Wisconsin is known as ‘The Badger State’ but it’s not actually after the animal. As some miners were only passing through, they didn’t have proper homes. They lived in holes that they built in the hillsides. Because of their dusty faces and they lived in a hole, they looked like badgers!
Tours cost $5 for an Adult, $2.50 for a child. (Make sure you visit the gift shop, they have 100s of awesome looking books about the history for Mineral Point!) For more information visit: www.pendarvis.wisconsinhistory.org
Looking for other Cornish links in Mineral Point? Check out my post: Mineral Point, Wisconsin – The Most Cornish Town In The USA