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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Milton House Secrets

Today the Milton House in Milton, Wisconsin, is well-known for its history as a stop along the Underground Railroad. What most people don't know is that six early Milton residents were laid to rest beneath the floor of its underground tunnel, which ran between the Milton House inn and original owner Joseph Goodrich's log cabin.

In 1850 a cholera epidemic swept across southern Wisconsin, claiming among its victims six individuals in Milton. According to the Milwaukee Journal, Milton resident Will Davis was exploring the log cabin in 1932 when he came across a well-concealed trap door. Davis' curiosity sparked excavation efforts and soon layers of residue were removed. Everything from household tools to farm implements was discovered in the passage.

Following the stone-lined walls of the tunnel for nearly 100 feet, the team came upon their most disturbing find -- human bones and six fungi-covered tombstones. After scouring the personal records of the Goodrich family, it was determined that the six bodies were cholera victims. They included a Goodrich farm hand and four Goodrich family members, including two of Joseph Goodrich's nephews. The identity of the final body is unknown.

Why this final resting place was chosen is a mystery. The unnamed Milwaukee Journal writer speculated wrongly that it served as a temporary hiding place during hostilities between Indians and pioneer settlers, but the last such skirmishes predate the log cabin by more than a decade. Evidence found in the tunnel -- including food and water caches in the tunnel walls -- suggested instead that it served as a stop along the Underground Railroad.

While the log cabin originally functioned as the Goodrich home, it also served initially as a tavern and inn but quickly proved inadequate for Joseph Goodrich's many guests. In 1844, he began construction on what is now known as the Milton House. Guests resided in the new hotel building and the nearby log cabin served as the kitchen. The limestone tunnel running between the two buildings was rumored to be a stop along the Underground Railroad for many years until Davis' findings confirmed these speculations. In 1972 the Milton House was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
:: Posted in Curiosities on September 10, 2009

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