Lead Mining Boom Lures Cornish Immigrants
In the early 19th century Wisconsin lead mining was more promising and attractive to potential settlers than the fur trade. Hundreds of immigrants poured into southwestern part of the state.
Experienced miners began arriving from Cornwall in southwestern England in the 1830s. The Cornish settled in Mineral Point and throughout the Upper Mississippi lead region and constructed small, limestone homes similar to those they had left in England.
Mineral Point became a thriving commercial center that housed one of Michigan Territory’s first land offices and served as a territorial county seat. The boom continued into early Wisconsin statehood, when lead and zinc mining and processing became the dominant mining activity.
Saving Mineral Point’s Cornish Heritage
Almost a hundred years later, Robert Neal and Edgar Hellum found Mineral Point’s history and heritage teetering on the brink of oblivion. Neal had just returned from London to find many of the stone cottages, built by the early 19th-century Cornish immigrants, had vanished. He struck up a friendship with Hellum who shared his interest in the old rock dwellings. Together as life and business partners, Neal and Hellum decided to preserve at least one of these tangible symbols of Mineral Point’s past.
Keeping the Cornish Traditions
Starting in 1935 Neal and Hellum acquired and rehabilitated not one but several original structures. Later they would acquire and restore a rowhouse just up the hill. Following the Cornish tradition of giving a name to each house, they called their first restoration Pendarvis, after an estate in Cornwall. They gave the other houses curious Cornish names too — Polperro and Trelawny.
Garden and Prairie Restorations
Neal and Hellum created the artistic and verdant gardens of Pendarvis in the 1930s to recall those the Cornish settlers planted upon their arrival in Mineral Point a century earlier. In 1988 a 43-acre prairie restoration project began as a joint venture between the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Conservation Corps. Today the prairie thrives with indigenous grasses and flowering plants, comprising one of the largest native prairies in southwestern Wisconsin.
In need of a livelihood to support their continuing work on the restoration, Neal and Hellum established the Pendarvis House Restaurant. They specialized in serving tea, cakes and preserves, and simple Cornish pasties. They ended up earning an international reputation for authentic Cornish fare and welcomed diners from every state in the Union and many foreign countries. They operated the restaurant for 35 years before retiring in 1970.
Pendarvis Becomes a Wisconsin Historic Site
In 1970, the Wisconsin Historical Society acquired the property. The following year it began operating the restoration as a historic site interpreting the history of Cornish settlement and Wisconsin’s lead-mining heyday. Today, the site focuses on the preservation of these stories through the ventures of Neal and Hellum and their lives together.