Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Milton House--Wisconsin's Only Certified Stop on the Underground Railroad


by Pamela S. Meyers

Current view of the Milton House
Source: Fox 6, Milwaukee WI, February 2018

Growing up in Wisconsin, I learned about the underground railroad in school, but I didn't realize that a strategic stopping point for escaped slaves was very near to my home. As the escaped slaves traveled farther and farther north, they needed assistance from abolitionists along the way to get to Canada. One stop along the route was a stagecoach inn in Wisconsin called the Milton House.

According to the Milton House website: 

“Slavery was prohibited in Wisconsin under the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, which also founded our state. However, in 1850, the federal government passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which forced all citizens to help return any escaping enslaved people to their enslavers. Anyone who refused to assist the authorities, or who helped enslavers to escape, was subject to heavy penalties. The Fugitive Slave Act became a rallying point for abolitionists, who felt morally compelled to disobey it and so become criminals in the eyes of the law.” 


Joseph Goodrich
The Milton House, located in Milton, Wisconsin, was built by Joseph Goodrich after he and his wife, Nancy, along with several other members of the Seventh Day Adventist church, arrived from New York in the newly formed Northwest Territory and claimed land along the Rock River.  A strong abolitionist, Goodrich’s long-range intent was to provide a safe haven for escaped slaves (herein called "freedom seekers") traveling through the underground railroad system. To provide means and income, he built a stagecoach inn which he named The Milton House. The inn also provided a perfect cover for his nighttime activities working with the freedom seekers. He also built a log cabin just behind the inn that served as a kitchen for the inn’s stagecoach guests and also a place of protection for his secret guests. The freedom seekers never stayed longer than a night or two as they were on a path marked out for them that would eventually take them to what is now Racine, WI. There, they boarded steamships that took them into Canada. 

Interior of the cabin that served as both the kitchen for the inn and the secret entry into the lower level of the inn for the freedom seekers. Source:

A display in the former root cellar where the freedom seekers 
spent time at the stop.  

The root cellar of the hexagonally shaped Milton House offered a safe place for the escapees in the area directly below the inn’s public room. 

When Goodrich built the Milton House, he incorporated a secret entry into its foundation that would eventually lead to a tunnel between the inn and the cabin. After the tunnel was completed a rather ingenious system evolved. The freedom seekers, hidden beneath potatoes and other root vegetables and sometimes firewood, would arrive under the cover of darkness on horse-drawn wagons from another stop along the route. After they were dropped off at the cabin, they would descend a narrow stairway and enter the tunnel that would take them 45 feet to the root cellar. There they would be fed and given warm clothes. When it was time for them to depart for the next stop, they would return to the cabin in complete darkness through the tunnel and be on their way before dawn. 

The enlarged tunnel today allows people to pass through.
Source for both photos:

Initially. the tunnel was no more than four feet high, but in later years, the passageway was widened, and the walls bricked, making it easier for people to walk between the two buildings. As shown above, people today can somewhat experience what the freedom seekers did by entering the cabin, then descending steep, narrow stairs to the tunnel. At the tunnel's end, they enter the former root cellar in the main building. 

Because the cabin also served as the inn’s kitchen, it was a busy place. Thus, any activity caused by the Underground Railroad wouldn’t have drawn much attention. 

The Milton House is a museum where you can learn more about the Goodriches, see the small apartment where he and Nancy lived, and even have your picture taken next to a life-sized photo of the couple. Tours are available that include a walk through the tunnel. More information about the museum and how to obtain tickets for a tour can be found at

Check out this video that gives a quick visual snapshot of the Milton House.


The Milton House is the only certified stop in Wisconsin. Have you ever toured a stop on the Underground Railroad? 

All resources for this post are shown beneath the photos.

Pam Meyers lives with her two rescue cats in northern Illinois. She describes herself as a Wisconsin girl who happens to live in Illinois. She's grateful she's only a short distance from her hometown of Lake Geneva, where she often sets her novels. When not writing she volunteers at her church and enjoys reading and watching her favorite oldie TV shows. 

Her books are available on Amazon and select stores in the Lake Geneva area.


  1. Thank you for your post today, and for your contributions to the blog overall. Information like this is exactly why I enjoy the blog so much! I've never toured a stop on the Underground Railroad. It would be interesting to see if there are any near where I live. Thanks for the idea!

    1. Thanks, Connie. I appreciate your comments here most every month.

  2. I lived in Fort Atkinson and on a farm near Milton as a youngster. We all toured the Milton House. I also write historical fiction, but live in the Chicago area.