History of Mineral Point
The geography of this region of the midwest, named “Driftless,” was left untouched by glaciation, leaving forested ridges, river valleys, bluffs of limestone, and minerals that were easily accessible at the surface. Native American women first mined these minerals in the 1600s to trade with French fur traders. In the 1800s, lead ore paid quick rewards to prospectors and adventurers who swarmed the hills and dug out crude, temporary caves for homes that resembled badger holes – the provenance of Wisconsin’s nickname, The Badger State.
In the 1830s, news of these rich deposits of lead reached Cornwall, England. These early immigrants possessed advanced mining skills and expertise in stone building construction. Their legacy is reflected in a remarkable inventory of mid-19th century architecture found throughout the city.
Mineral Point was an important center of early Wisconsin government. In 1829 Mineral Point became the county seat of the newly formed Iowa County. Mineral Point is “where Wisconsin began” when Henry Dodge was inaugurated the first governor of the newly formed Wisconsin Territory on July 4,1836, in downtown Mineral Point. In the 1830s Mineral Point was a bustling, growing city that attracted many politically significant and influential people. Historians say that for over a decade the lead-mining country controlled Territorial Wisconsin, and the politics of Mineral Point controlled the mining country. In 1849, the California Gold Rush resulted in an exodus from the young city, and Mineral Point fell into a state of depression.
The discovery of zinc near the bottom of empty lead mines soon followed, and by 1891 the Mineral Point Zinc Company was the largest zinc oxide works in the United States. Agriculture became an important part of Mineral Point, and by the turn of the century the dairy industry was well-established. “Mineral Point” beef earned its own brand at the Chicago Stock market due to the quality of meat produced by cattle grazing on the native blue grasses.
1935 marked the beginning of a preservation movement when Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum began restoring stone and log houses on Shakerag Street and named the site Pendarvis. Preservation developed on a larger scale in the 1960s and 70s when artists, craftspeople and preservationists began restoring more and more historic buildings.
The city was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, the first Wisconsin city to receive that designation. The pre-Civil War homes of some of Wisconsin’s leading families still stand, and their legacies echo throughout the town.