We moved to Spring Green Wisconsin on Saturday, and are now parked near the shores of the Wisconsin River. Temperatures have been unusually warm for this area at this time of the year- throw in high humidity and air conditioning is very much needed! Fortunately today the temperatures have dropped and the humidity is gone. We were ready to spend time outdoors so we drove to the town of Mineral Point. Southwestern Wisconsin is known as the Driftless Area, meaning that it is unglaciated. Absence of drift, or glaciated silt, makes it relatively easy to find and extract mineral riches under the ground. Non-native people came here in the 1820s to mine lead ore from shallow deposits in the ground. They were largely itinerant men who lived in crude dug-outs on the hillsides, having no desire to build permanent homes because they could only lease the land. This group of people became known as badgers because of the similarity of their dwellings to badger’s dens. From now on when I hear the term “Badger State” (referring to Wisconsin) I will not only think of a particular animal but also I will remember the early miners.
The 1830s brought the end of shallow lead mining. Cornish immigrants arrived at what we now know as the town of Mineral Point in the 1840s. They came with deep shaft mining experience. They were also expert stone masons and introduced rock houses to the area, much like their homes in England. In 1935 two men, Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum, began restoring those houses. That is now known as the Pendarvis State Historic Site. There are ten restored stone and log houses with furnishings of the period in them, most of them opened to the public. Row housing of some of those buildings are pictured above. We also toured nearby Christmas Mine Hill and saw abandoned mine shafts and “badger holes”.
The mine hill also contains 43 acres of restored prairie. It thrives with indigenous grass and wildflowers. Bees, white butterflies flitted around us and a couple blue jays flew overhead as we walked through the colorful prairie on the trail over the mine hill. The sun was hot but there was an ocasional cool breeze.
Another area we visited while at Mineral Point was the Shake Rag Alley. That was the name given to the neighborhood of Cornish immigrants in the 19th century. The name referred to the custom of the women to wave rags outside their home when calling their men in from the hillsides. The Alley is 2.5 acres of restored homes now owned by local artists. It has award-winning gardens and artisans working in the buildings. Pictured below is a log school house built in 1830. It was added to a stone cottage which had been built in 1840. “Tea Kettle Anne” lived in it until 1958. I will write more on Mineral Point in my next posting.