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A pleasant spring day, when all is fresh and green and new, is the perfect time to go back to the beginning – Wisconsin's beginning, when "badgers" were digging mines around Dickeyville instead of smelling roses in California.
Just south of Hazel Green, where the fourth principal meridian crosses the Illinois/Wisconsin border, you'll find Wisconsin's Point of Beginning – the spot from which U.S. government surveyor Lucius Lyons began to mark out the sections of land that would later become the state of Wisconsin.
Lyons and his crew created the benchmark in 1831 by building a mound six feet tall by six feet square and driving a thick oak post through the center. Here the public land surveys began in 1832 and would continue until completion in northern Wisconsin in 1867.
The boundaries of each Wisconsin county, city, village, township, farm, lot, road, lake and stream were mapped from this point.
State surveyors dug up what remained of the old oak post in the 1970s and replaced it with a modern concrete marker. Travelers today will find a historical signpost along Highway 80 about a half-mile west of the actual point.
The Point of Beginning is a great place to start your own survey of Southwest Wisconsin. Take a spring weekend to drive, bike or hike through the region at your leisure, and be sure to bring along a copy of "Point of Beginnings: Heritage Trails of Southwest Wisconsin" a handy guide featuring maps and places of interest.
The many points at which "picks, politics, pulpits and plows" converged in the area offer a fascinating view of Wisconsin's earliest days. Feuding lead miners James Hardy and Moses Meeker prompted some wisecracking pals to name the area around the Point of Beginning "Hardy's Scrape" in the 1820s. Later, the place became known as "Hard Scrabble." And in 1838, when upstanding folk incorporated the town, they chose genteel "Hazel Green" as the name for their community. The town has several historic buildings, including a classic Opera House built in the 1890s.
Near Blanchardville at the junction of Highway 78 North and County Highway F, you'll find Graceland Cemetery. In the 1840s it was known as "Zarahemba," a Mormon settlement built by followers of murdered prophet Joseph Smith. Some of Smith's descendants rest now in the cemetery's old section.
The region has historic churches from many denominations. East Wiota Lutheran, the oldest Norwegian Lutheran church still in use in America, stands as it has since 1847 on Highway 78 east of Wiota. Near New Diggings, once the heart of the "lead rush," Father Samuel Mazzuchelli used wood planks to build St. Augustine's Church in 1844.
Another point of interest is Mineral Point – the third oldest city in Wisconsin, where the restored log and stone homes of Cornish lead miners now house museums and shops. On the corner of Front and State streets stands the first Odd Fellows Hall built west of the Alleghenies, in 1838.
History, nature, worship, commerce – you'll enjoy hitting the high points around the Point of Beginning. For a copy of the guide, go to the source. Write to POB Heritage Area, Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, 1 University Plaza, 426 Karrmann Library, Platteville, WI 53818. Or call (608) 342-1214.