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Quick Trip to Mineral Point, Wisconsin

A folksy art scene. Glorious leaf peeping. And Cornish delights for all ages.

  Photos: Cassie Walker


Brewery Pottery Studio

Some say it’s a Great Dane, others think it’s a mastiff, but the truth is, no one really knows what breed of dog guards Mineral Point. The zinc-cast canine has been a fixture on High Street in the tiny downtown for more than a century, looking over the artists who come here to create and over the visitors who come to shop. Today the city is an artists’ enclave, but 175 years ago, Mineral Point was bigger than Chicago and Milwaukee combined, a Cornish mining community so important that it formed the seat of the Wisconsin territory.

The history is rich-Wisconsin’s nickname, “Badger State,” comes from “badger” holes miners dug here during the lead rush of the 1830s and ’40s-but today visitors come for the art, concentrated near the intersection of High and Commerce streets, the heart of the town’s gallery scene. Start at Longbranch Gallery (203 Commerce St.; 608-987-4499), which boasts a sizable selection of regional work including that of the 86-year-old folk artist Peg Miller and Tor Faegre of Evanston, a rustic furniture maker. A few doors down, drop in on the space shared by Chestnut Hill Studio and Howdle Studios (225 Commerce St.; 608-987-3335). Most galleries are staffed by the artists themselves, so the person behind the register is uniquely poised to talk about the creative process-and to haggle a deal. This mom-and-pop feel makes shopping fun for collectors, but also makes gallery hours unpredictable, so call ahead.

 
One of the town’s historic buildings.

That rule certainly applies at the appointment-only studio of the photographer/visual artist Jamie Ross (310 High St.; 608-987-3463), whose collection of antique and vintage patterned quilts and Navajo weaving covers every surface imaginable. The kamikaze tour is worth an hour-Ross is justifiably enthusiastic about the textile collection he has amassed. Across the street, catch the curated monthly exhibition at the stylish Green Lantern Studios (261 High St.).

Sack out at Brewery Creek (23 Commerce St.; 608-987-3298), a cozy bed-and-breakfast and popular restaurant with four rotating homebrews. The strong but sweet Keeping Ale soothes, as do the whirling hot tubs in each guest room. Next morning, catch the spectacular changing fall leaves from the best vantage point in southwestern Wisconsin: the Military Ridge Trail. To reach the trail, which can be walked or biked, pick up a connecting path behind the Comfort Inn on Highway 151 or drive 17 miles to the trailhead in Dodgeville.

 
Pitchers to go

If you stay in town, buy an architectural walking tour guidebook for $3 at the Chamber of Commerce (225 High St.). The comprehensive guide details dozens of significant buildings, such as the aristocratic Orchard Lawn (234 Madison St.; 608-987-2884), built in 1868 and open weekends only. Also visit Wisconsin’s oldest treasure, the Pendarvis State Historic Site (114 Shake Rag St.; 608-987-2122). Costumed interpreters lead one-hour tours through restored homes, explaining how Cornish settlers imported their expert mining and stone masonry skills. Sample a bit of the town’s Cornish heritage at the Red Rooster Café (158 High St.; 608-987-9936), which serves up piping hot beef pasty and figgy hobbin studded with raisins.

Or try the sandwiches and homemade desserts at Gundry & Gray (608-987-3636), which bears the name of the prominent Cornish family, the Gundrys, who built Orchard Lawn. Before leaving town, make a pit stop at Brewery Pottery Studio (276 Shake Rag St.; 608-987-3669) near the intersection with Highway 151. The converted brewery houses the Johnston family’s studio, gallery, and living space. Their affordable, warm-hued pottery makes an excellent souvenir, as does a chat with the affable owners, whose lives, like so many residents, are happily entwined with their art.

Mineral Point, Wisconsin, lies 200 miles northwest of Chicago. The drive takes about three hours.

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