Abolitionist ties run deep at Milton House
MILTON — Since 1926, February has been a month designated to remember the people, places and events associated with the history of African-Americans in the United States. Historian Carter Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History that year established the second week of February as Negro History Week because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Today, as we observe Black History Month in February, many African-Americans in this region of the United States have a family heritage that can be linked to what is known as the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century black slaves to escape to “free” states or even Canada, with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via this Underground Railroad.
One of the stops on this freedom network was in Milton, where Joseph Goodrich is believed to have dug a 45-foot tunnel from his family cabin at Storrs Lake to the six-sided Milton House hotel and stagecoach depot he began building in 1844.
Visitors can walk through this tunnel today, the only location on the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin that can be toured.
“The tunnel was originally all hand dug and only 3 feet tall,” said Cori Olson, director of the Milton House Museum. “Now it’s 6 feet tall, concrete lined and has lights, so nobody is made to crawl on their hands and knees.”
When fugitive slaves would arrive at the Goodrich cabin, they would crawl through the tunnel to the cellar of the hotel, which was a cold food storage area.
“It had to be absolutely excruciating to crawl 45 feet and finally get into the cellar and realize you’re actually safe,” Olson said.