Visit a Stop on the Underground Railroad at Milton House

Visit a Stop on the Underground Railroad at Milton House

I’m a big fan of being a tourist in your own backyard. There are so many not-so-hidden treasures in Wisconsin that I have yet to discover. So a couple of weeks ago, my partner and I decided to do some exploring! Our first stop was Milton House Museum in Milton, Wisconsin.

Milton is about a 45 minute drive southeast from Madison. It is a small yet charming town that boasts Milton House as its main attraction. Milton House is one of 41 National Historic Landmarks in the state of Wisconsin and is recognized as a stop on the Underground Railroad (UGRR). In fact, it is the only UGRR stop in Wisconsin that you can tour. More on that later…
​Opened in 1844 by the founder of Milton, Joseph Goodrich (1800-1867), the Milton House originally operated as a stagecoach inn as well as being the residence for the Goodrich family. One of the unique features of the Milton House is its hexagon shape. In addition, it is regarded as the oldest standing poured grout (lime mixed with coarse gravel and sand) building in the United States. Originally the building included the “Goodrich Blocks” which housed stores on the street level with living quarters above. The Goodrich Blocks had to be removed due to damage but the Goodrich Wing was added by the Milton Historical Society in 2006 on the original footprint of the Goodrich Blocks. Part of the original log cabin built in 1838 by Goodrich and his traveling companions still stands.
The Milton House provides tours beginning every half-hour and we didn’t have to wait long for ours to begin even over Labor Day weekend. There was just my partner and I so we were excited to have the tour and our fantastic guide, Tabitha, all to ourselves! The tour lasts about 45 minutes to an hour and takes you through the Milton House Inn, to the second floor, down into the basement, and into the cabin. You learn about the history of Milton and the Goodrich family as well as their involvement in the UGRR and abolitionist movement. The place is filled with artifacts from the time period and Tabitha was so knowledgable and excited to share them with us! In each room you are given an explanation of what life was like at that time and stories about the Goodriches. You are also allowed time to look at the items and read the captions on your own, which is good because there is so much to take in.
​While the tour of the house and grounds are interesting in and of themselves, the main attraction of the site is the Underground Railroad tunnel. Goodrich grew up as an active member in the Seventh Day Baptist Church, which made clear its anti-slavery stances in several resolutions. Goodrich’s involvement in the Church continued throughout his life and was a great influence on his abolitionist activities. It is believed that fugitive slaves would enter the log cabin and go down through a trap door into the tunnel that led to the basement of the inn. Once in the basement, the Goodrich family would provide them with food and safety until they were ready to move on. The tunnel is believed to have been constructed in 1845 when the house was completed and was originally only large enough for a person to crawl or duck through. It was enlarged and reinforced in 1954 to accommodate visitors to the museum. It was really amazing to walk through this tunnel and imagine the feelings and fears that people felt on their way to the relative safety of the inn basement.

“He was an uncompromising friend and advocate of the cause of temperance, and of human rights. The poor and oppressed were received by him as a legacy of the Lord…” –​Written of Goodrich after his death in 1867 in “The Wisconsin State Journal”

We enjoyed the tunnel the most but also appreciated all of the antiques that Tabitha showed us, from toys to household appliances to Civil War memorabilia. We really left with an appreciation for the Goodriches and the role they played in Wisconsin abolitionist history. Overall, this was a wonderful tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Wisconsin or Underground Railroad history.

Some tips:

  • Arrive a few minutes early to ensure you get a tour at the time you prefer.
  • Allow one hour for the tour and some additional time to take photos of the grounds.
  • Photos are not allowed inside the museum except in the entry.
  • There are some stairs leading to the second floor as well as those leading into the basement.
  • Admission fee was $8 per adult.
  • A gift shop is on the grounds.
  • Don’t touch any of the artifacts but ask plenty of questions!
To make a day of it, visit the Milton House in the morning and then:

Have you been to any sites on the Underground Railroad? Do you like visiting historical sites? Comment below with your favorites!

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