The Milton House Museum is home to Milton House, a hexagonal-shaped stagecoach inn built in 1844. The inn served as a stop on the Underground Railroad to Freedom, and visitors can walk the same steps taken by freedom seekers in an actual underground tunnel.
Although the basement and tunnel will stir your emotions the most, you’ll start your tour above ground and learn a bit about the founder of Milton House.
Joseph and Nancy Goodrich
Joseph and Nancy Goodrich came from the Burned-Over district of upstate New York, an area of extreme religious evangelism, and their distinction as Seventh Day Baptists and big believers in temperance set them apart immediately. They were also outspoken abolitionists, thus leading to the fact their inn became a place of safety for those who sought freedom.
Joseph was also well known for his generosity toward the community. He donated land for a park, church, cemetery, and school and he would give land to anyone who was willing to move to Milton and start a new life.
The Public Face of Milton House
The Milton Inn’s hexagon shape pre-dates the octagon houses, and Joseph created the first “grout” out of gravel, lime and water to build it. The lower block section was rented out to businesses and the upper floors were rented out to tenants.
Although it’s not clear why the Milton House was built in a hexagonal shape, the six-room design did allow for wonderful window cross-ventilation and heat efficiency.
Milton House Historical Artifacts
The inn is full of historical treasures, and my guide had wonderful tidbits and stories about them. Kids will really appreciate this part of the tour.
Many of the furnishings are period-pieces, but they do have the original door from the Goodrich frame home.
This bell came from a period locomotive called the Joseph Goodrich, and my guide rang it to give an idea of what people heard as a train came into the depot. (Spoiler: it’s loud.)
An interesting pioneer custom was that if someone wanted their portrait painted, they would choose from several pre-painted torso options, and then the artist would paint the subject’s face onto the previously painted torso. This led to slight imperfections, such as the very long neck with two collars in this painting.
Kids will get a kick out of this jar of communal toothpicks. Can you imagine?
You’ll also see a chamber pot husher. There were typically multiple people in a rented room, and though it was common to use the chamber pot with other people around, it was considered very rude to make clanging noises with the jar when everyone was sleeping. The husher prevented this. Who knew?
Another especially interesting period piece was this clock, which also served as an early means of advertising. The spools would rotate business advertisements every few hours. Though not from the Milton House, it’s a fascinating bit of history.
The Hidden Mission of Milton House
Once you tour the museum’s public face, you’ll be taken to the basement for the most impactful portion of your visit. Directly under the ladies’ sitting room is a chamber where slaves stopped and rested in safety on their journey to freedom.
It was bare, dark and chilly, but it was safe.
In this room, you can see actual documentation that a slave named Andrew Pratt stopped at the Milton Inn. Because of that written record, the Milton Inn has been certified as an Underground Railroad Station and designated a National Historic Landmark.
Slaves would arrive hidden in wagon carts, enter the Goodrich log cabin and then make their way through a dirt tunnel into the root cellar.
When the tour guide suggested I walk through the tunnel, I hesitated but made my way through the narrow passageway. It probably goes without saying that it was deeply affecting.
It’s a very sobering experience, but yet it’s equally uplifting because there were people like the Miltons who offered their homes as Underground Railroad Stations in an effort to fight against the horrible injustice of slavery.
Visit the Milton House Museum in Milton, WI:
A short 2-hour drive from Chicagoland, and less than an hour from Madison, the Milton House Museum is well worth a visit, and it’s appropriate for all ages. To be able to see an actual, certifiable Underground Railroad Tour stop is something you’ll never forget.
For more area information, see the Milton House Website and Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you’ve ever been to The Milton House Museum, I’d love to know your thoughts. Be sure to check out my other posts on the Southern Wisconsin area too. There are more to come as well!
Comments & Reviews
Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says
That is so cool! I love seeing history up close and personal like that. I have NEVER heard of a chamber pot husher before.
Jen Rattie says
Milton House sounds amazing. I love to learn about history like this, and I love to think of people doing good in the world even then.
robin Rue says
That is s cool. We have tons of Underground Railroad stations around here and I love to see them. I would love to visit this museum someday.
Rebecca Bryant says
Wow, what a cool place. I like sites like this that take you back in time to learn about the history of our nation. So my thing.
Catherine Sargent says
This would make a neat and educational trip. I would love to visit the Milton House Museum if I am ever in the area.
Kristina Paché Ferency says
This is so cool! I’d love to see this because I love museums and history. This would be good for my kids to do as well. Teach them more about history.
This is honestly the best way – for me, personally – to learn about history. I prefer experiences like this than actual museums. Makes you more invested.
Our Family World says
It is amazing how some of the original house pieces were preserved through all these years. Just by looking at the door you’d have an idea of how people from the 1800s lived their lives.
I love going to museums like this. I like anything that is actually Panera because it makes you feel so much closer to it and want to learn more about it.
Annemarie LeBlanc says
I have to get a chance to visit the Milton House Museum. The underground railway is something I’d like to see in my lifetime. So much of history can be learned in this one place alone.
Arlett (Chasing Joy) says
The pick your torso portraits sounds interesting. The communal toothpicks are gross. The underground rail road basement is moving. Overall it sounds like a good place to visit.
Neely Moldovan says
Im such a history nerd so I love stuff like this. What a cool and interesting place to visit!
This would be a super cool place to visit, love that you were able to share your experiences. The Milton House Museum really does have a great selection of things to see 🙂
Janell Poulette says
I am going to visit family for the first time in WI, I would love to visit the Milton House Museum! How interested about the pot pusher!
Amy Desrosiers says
Wow, this place has such cool architecture! I would have not been able to go through that passageway though!
This is something right up my alley. I LOVE historical spots, and I love randomly designed buildings even more. A hexagon shape seems to be pretty awesome to explore.
valmg @ Mom Knows It All says
That must be such a feeling to be standing where on a spot where history took place. I’ve never heard of a chamber pot husher either. The Goodyear name – any relation to the tires?
I love visiting places like this when I travel! I want to visit an Underground railroad site!
Pam Wattenbarger says
This is a really neat museum. I imagine that it would be really emotional to visit.
I am adding this to my list of places to take our children when they are a bit older. I love how well you captured your visit in your photos.
Stephanie Jeannot says
One of my favorite parts about traveling is visiting museums to see what is on display. What a lovely place to visit. Would love to check this place out.
Nicole Aguilar says
A little slice of history! that’s my favorite part about traveling… immersing myself in the history and culture.
Aimee Smith says
What an amazing experience. It is amazing what you can feel in places like this.
This is really cool. I would like to take the kids to something like this since they have been learning a lot about the underground railroad and other American history in school.
Lois Alter Mark says
Wow, that’s fascinating and I’m going to try to visit when I’m in Wisconsin later this summer. I love learning more about history.
I love hands on learning and this sounds like such a cool piece of history. I would love to visit the Milton house.
I love history and visiting historic sites. I am lucky to live near many of them. I would love to visit the milton house museum.
colleen kennedy says
Wow, love historical and significant places. That clock is REALLY cool as well as is the scrap of note. Thanks for sharing!
What a unique experience. Walking through the tunnel must have been so emotional.
Oh wow. This place is so rich in history. I’d love to take my whole family for a visit! Awesome post!
What an interesting bit of history there. I had no idea that the Milton House was just a few short hours from my own home. Maybe we’ll make a day trip to visit sometime soon.
katrina gehman says
i grew up in WI and have never been there. looks like fun.
Lisa Collins says
I love museums like this! Focused on one certain thing or era, and full of education. I’m loving that clock that doubled as advertising too – very neat!
This would be a great place to visit. There is so much history to be seen here.
I enjoy learning about history and would love to visit this site. I can just imagine how emotional it would be.
This would be such a fascinating place to explore in person. I love to learn the history of places I go to.
Paula Atwell says
What a cool place to visit. I have been to other places on the underground railroad and can’t imagine the fear these people endured. Although my own ancestors had to escape from Europe.
Great way to experience history in real time. It would definitely make a great stop on vacation.
I was just teaching a lesson to my class on the Underground Railroad. I love knowing there were people who stood up for what was right. I’d love to see the Milton House in person!
Janis @MommyBlogExpert says
I am such a history buff as well as museum-a-holic. Thanks for introducing me to the Milton House Museum, it sounds fascinating.
Oh wow, what an incredible little house! I love discovering unique places like that to visit and learn about. Thanks for sharing!
Seattle Travel Blogger says
This certainly looks like an interesting destination. My father-in-law would love that clock!
You took some great pictures in general.
Marcie W. says
What an awesome place to visit and learn about our country’s history. I am pretty sure I would be overcome with emotion in the basement.
Alissa Apel says
I love how everything has an old look and feel. I simply love history. What a great trip.
Victoria Sconion says
This is so cool! I love learning about historical figures and seeing how they lived in the past before electronics and electricity took over. I think its cool that they were able to survive with it and its always a great reminder to appreciate the small stuff.
Wow, I have not heard of this before, I live in Wisconsin and somehow missed this museum. It seems like a great one with interesting history. I love seeing the old letters, such a neat relic to have of the past.
Kelly Hutchinson says
I would love to visit the Milton House Museum! I gagged a bit at the thought of the communal toothpicks. Ugh.
Wow what a neat little place. I love the idea of the hexagonal building, it is so different. The historical pieces look so well preserved, communal toothpicks, ha.
Omg what a neat place!! I would love to visit the Milton House Museum one day. I bet the whole family would enjoy it
Tami Qualls says
A stagecoach inn would be an awesome way to spend a vacation. I’m off to convince hubby to take some time off.
Marissa Zurfluh says
So much history in such a small place. My family loves to learn history facts and they are easier taught when the kids can see, touch and be at the physical place. This is amazing! I never knew it existed!