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.
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!