MINERAL POINT, Wis. — A special site is still around today because a gay couple made it their mission to preserve Wisconsin history.

What You Need To Know

  • Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum fell in love in the 1930s

  • They dedicated the rest of their lives to preserving their property in Mineral Point

  • Pendarvis became their life's work, and they restored multiple homes

  • Their restaurant became nationally-known 

Pendarvis sits on a piece of property in historic Mineral Point, in Iowa County. It has a few stone homes on it, plus a visitor's center. The homes date back to the mid-1800s.

They were built when Mineral Point was lead mining country, mostly occupied by Cornish workers. In the 1930s, those buildings were going to be torn down so the stone could be repurposed.

Pendarvis from the street. (Spectrum News 1/Savanna Tomei)

That’s when Mineral Point native Bob Neal came home. His grandmother was from Cornwall and had taught him all her favorite recipes.

“He saw it as a destruction of not only his family’s heritage, but his city’s and his region’s heritage,” said Bethany Brander, Pendarvis site manager. “He wanted to save at least one building.”

Around that same time, he met Edgar Hellum. Hellum was Norwegian, and from Stoughton.

“They fall in love, and they decide to buy this home together. They pay $10 for it,” Brander said.

Because of unpaid back taxes, they actually ended up paying about $200.

“It’s in pretty poor shape when they purchase this building,” Brander said.

Their new mission was to save the home.

“Bob and Edgar were told that every Cornish home has a Cornish name, and they were given a list of Cornish names. They picked Pendarvis because it sounded nice,” Brander laughed.

The other buildings on the property are called Polperro and Trelawny.

Bethany Brander in the lower level of Polperro. (Spectrum News 1/Savanna Tomei)

Neal and Hellum employed some experts to help with the restoration, like a Cornish stonemason who worked for Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in Spring Green.

Otherwise, they were mostly self-taught, and figured it out as they went along.

Inside Pendarvis House restaurant, set up the way it would’ve looked in 1952. (Spectrum News 1/Savanna Tomei)

Then came the restaurant. They opened the Pendarvis House Restaurant in the first home they purchased.

Bob Neal preparing a pasty. (Wisconsin Historical Society)

Their specialty was the Cornish pasty, meat and vegetables stuffed into pastry dough. They perfected it and were famous for it across the nation.

Photographs show that it was often bigger than customers’ heads. In fairness, one pasty was made for about six people.

Edgar Hellum and Bob Neal with Duncan Hines and his wife Clara. (Wisconsin Historical Society)

Pendarvis House Restaurant gained notoriety for its dedication to Cornish cuisine. An overnight visit from Duncan Hines required an indoor toilet, which is why one building has indoor plumbing.

It showed up in National Geographic, Life Magazine and Time Magazine. All those resources help the staff make sure it’s authentic to how Neal and Hellum kept it.

Over time, they bought and restored surrounding homes. People started coming to them for restoration advice.

They likely faced hardships for being a gay couple during that time. They’ve left extensive documentation of their lives, their properties and their restoration efforts.

However, they haven’t left any evidence of negative experiences because of their sexual orientation.

“They owned businesses and property all over town, people sent their kids to work here,” Brander said.

Neal was even on the city council for a few years.

“They were well-respected around town,” she said.

They ended up beloved by their community and beyond.

“What they were doing is what we would call quiet activism,” Brander said. “They weren’t participating in anything like Stonewall, but they’re living together openly, they’re running a business together openly, and doing so for 35 years.” 

They sparked a restoration movement that still lives on in Mineral Point. The city was the first in Wisconsin to get put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It all started with their love for one another.

Pendarvis is now owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. It opened for the season on June 1, and is hosting a Pride event on July 30.