Special to Voice of the River Valley
Fine food, superb shops and historic homes made Mineral Point a splendid site for a four-day weekend vacation.
So the “Brou Crew” discovered this August when nine of us convened in the place where Wisconsin began from our homes in Metamora, Illinois; Columbia, Missouri; and Milwaukee and Madison for Brouhaha XLII.
Eight of our nontet met in 1964 and 1965 through the Marquette University Honors Program.
Beginning in 1974 at Foster Farm southwest of Metamora, we’ve had summer annual Brouhaha reunions. Tent camping for 10 adults, 11 children, and two dogs happened on our 2 acres including homegrown chicken and rabbit barbecues and assorted treats like Milwaukee’s RealChili for lunches, Madison lox and bagels for breakfast, and vegetables from the vast garden that my wife, Jo, and I grew.
Our 1936 farmhouse had no plumbing. Our two daughters were used to our WPA privy, but the other nine kids still consider it to have been child abuse.
We ceased in 1988. In 1994, we resumed the Brou Renew at Starved Rock State Park Lodge in Illinois. Each year we select a different site.
Our kids grew up. All 11 are prospering. Had we known how much fun grandchildren would be, we’d have had them first.
If we’d known how much fun Mineral Point was, we’d have picked it first.
The Brousters convened in our Quality Inn room for wine before the first, and best, meal of the five we enjoyed at Brewery Creek.
The starter was superb: Italian vegetable soup in a rich tomato broth that went well with a dark beer brewed there. I selected the bistro butter steak, adorned with rich red wine and shallot butter. Llama Malbec accompanied it. Red velvet cake crowned a royal feast.
A splendid time was guaranteed for all. I phoned them the next day to tell them so. And Brou Crew member Brenda had picked up a copy of Voice of the River Valley.
Due to a back injury suffered in 2000 when the Brou Crew visited the aptly named Devil’s Lake near Madison and I jumped into water that I thought was 5 feet deep but was only 1, I get around with my Mike Trike, Hiram Walker or/and Raisin Cane.
So Pendarvis was off-limits for me. Although it was advertised as “handicapped accessible,” after two back surgeries and a semi-successful hip replacement, for me it wasn’t. The eight who went enjoyed it.
My consolation prize was reading all of Voice. As a recovering daily newspaper city and state desk reporter and with a 34-year tenure as a college journalism professor and newspaper adviser who journalizes daily, I decided I would celebrate Mineral Point for this magazine.
“We visited during the Paint the Point weekend when artists were painting. Visitors had the opportunity to view the finished work on the Saturday of our stay,” said my wife, Jo, a retired Illinois Central College library cataloguer. “We saw some fine ones. My favorite shopping stop was the Longbranch Gallery. I just bought a piece of jewelry but loved the paintings and prints there. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the Gray Dog Deli.”
Retired University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee librarian Dave Hoose, who with his wife, Paula, had selected Mineral Point as our 2016 destination, said, “We loved the rolling hills of the Driftless Area and were intrigued by the stone houses and buildings in the Mineral Point area. The mining history and the art and crafts fascinated us.”
“There’s some remarkable art available,” said Dr. Frank Schmidt, a professor of biochemistry at University of Missouri. “Every place has its own point of view. We really liked Brewery Pottery and the Johnston Gallery.”
Dr. Schmidt’s wife, Dr. Brenda Peculis, likewise a biochemistry professor at Missouri and an avid gardener, was very impressed by the city’s native-pollinator and bird-friendly flower gardens artfully displaying a wide variety of both native flowers and cottage-garden favorites of birds, bees and humans.
Dr. Peculis, the sole adult with the octet of seniors, added: “My major disappointment was probably best attributed to the age of the town, from the perspective that few of the attractions and buildings and almost none of the historical areas were handicapped accessible.
“While I still revel in my own independent mobility, I have vicariously become increasing aware of the accessibility of public areas because of limited mobility of others who I visit and travel with. Thus I was sorely disappointed with the limited accessibility of some of the best places in Mineral Point.”
The garden that I observed outside Pendarvis’ friendly confines was splendid, as was the gray tiger cat lurking within, unsuccessfully hunting butterflies.
Afterward, we trawled the shops. At the Ben Franklin, I snared two vintage 45 rpm records, including Bing Crosby singing my boyhood favorite Dixieland instrumental, “South Rampart Street Parade,” postcards and Proustian penny candy.
A Proustian pasty enjoyed at the Red Rooster evoked my Marquette years and train trips up to Ishpeming, Michigan, to hang out with The Wylde Heard. Figgyhobbin, the Cornish dessert, was as hobbitish as its name suggests. Snagging a second Voice doubled my pleasure in this publication.
The new Popolo Pizza in the old Chesterfield Inn and its hand-tossed wood-fired gluten-free pizzas finished Friday finely.
Saturday while the shoppers shopped, I listened to lively opera on the street at the corner of Chestnut and High. An electric pianist accompanied three singers. A soprano soared on an aria from “The Turn of the Screw,” based on Henry James’ eerie novella. The second singers soared on Gershwin’s “Summertime,” fitting the morning perfectly. The baritone’s “Largo de Factotum” was a fitting finale.
The three bicyclists in our group gave Mineral Point high marks.
John Franz, a retired attorney from Madison, said of their Saturday jaunt: “Mineral Point is a great central spot for bike rides with loops in every direction that took us along the ridges through rolling farmland and oak savannahs and down along river bottom land full of pink milkweed, purple ironweed, yellow daisies, and white Queen Anne’s lace.
“During our visit, the Dairyland Dare bike race was held, featuring a timed 300-kilometer loop with over 6,000 feet of total ascent. That was enough for us.”
We lunched on splendid sandwiches sloshed down with superlative regional beers. Then while the five non-bikers shopped and viewed the plein air painters, I read and downloaded a Spotted Cow Totally Naked lager and a Lake Louis’ Arena Premium Pale Ale.
Our last supper was a family-style at Walker House, an 1836 inn.
Small world that it is, we discovered that our hostess’s husband taught at Loyola University in Chicago. He and she’d known Paul Messbarger, our Honors Program’s director.
At lunch, Cathy Miller, Marquette’s 1968 valedictorian, had spoken for us all when she said: “I’m glad we’re still friends.”
Mineral Point had cemented that friendship.
We shall return.