Take Hwy. 133
north to
Cassville, WI

Potosi and Tennyson, Wisconsin

Take Hwy. 61 south to Dickeyville, WI

 

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Potosi as well as its sister town Tennyson, lies in the heart of what was once the great lead-mining region of Grant County in Southwestern Wisconsin. Potosi also was once a major port on the Mississippi River, shipping out lead from it's local mines, lumber and agricultural products. Now known as Wisconsin's Catfish Capital, Potosi can also boast about it's world's longest Main Street without an intersection - at three miles in length, it is also it's only street. Here lies the home of St. John Lead Mine, believed to be the oldest mine in the state, an authentic, hand-dug mine.

This particular part of Wisconsin (the Southwest) is part of the unglaciated region. It was first traveled by white man in the early exploring days of our country by the fur traders. Shortly after Marquette and Joliet canoed down the Mississippi River, lead was discovered in this unglaciated area. The first information we have on this area is from when the Indians showed a Frenchman, Nicolas Perrot, lead in a cave.

The lead rush followed the signing of a treaty with the Indians, which allowed the white man to come into the area with out trouble. Many of the early miners came from Galena, Illinois. First they explored the region around Hazel Green and worked farther north. In 1828, a fellow from Galena by the name of Willis St. John and his partner named Whitaker, staked a claim. They developed then mine (later called St. John's Mine) and took out a lot of valuable lead ore, which is called galena. In 1832, Willis St. John built a smelter across the creek from the mine.

The miners sent for their families and finally built decent houses in which to live. Previously, they had simply dug into sides of the hills, put up stones on the sides, placed bows and trimmings over the top and put a sod roof to keep out moisture. Observers say that the miners were "digging in like badgers", and the term badgers has been the nickname of the state and its people ever since.

After the Blackhawk War, the village grew up around the mine was called Snake Hollow. Two other villages grew up in the same valley - Van Buren, which is where the Potosi Brewery now stands, and Lafayette, near the Mississippi River. In 1841, all three villages were incorporated into the village of Potosi. Potosi is an old Spanish word which means "mineral wealth."

Except for one last boom during the Civil War, the mining of lead declined when miners left in droves after gold was discovered in California. Gradually, the area changed from a mining to a farming community. This was not a difficult transition because many of the men farmed in the summer and mined in the winter.

Because of the rugged hills and valleys, the area is quite scenic. Many tourists are now enjoying the natural beauty of the area as well as the activities which attract so many people, including fishing, canoeing, biking, camping, boating, swimming and cycling.

In Potosi and Tennyson you can tour St. John Mine and see how the lead was taken from the veins, carried to the entrance to the mine, then slid down the bluff to be taken to the smelters. You can also see the remains of some of the original badger huts. Later you may want to see where the smelted lead was taken to the old port area, loaded on rafts to be floated down to St. Louis.

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