Homes with hidden passageways have a way of taking on new roles as times change, which was the case for the Octagon House in Fond du Lac, Wis. The home was built by trader Isaac Brown in 1856 at the site of an established settlement and trading post. Wisconsin and other westward migration destinations were increasingly attracting settlers looking for work in the mining, lumber and dairy industries. As an early settler to the region, Brown was fearful he might be attacked by the Native Americans in the area, so he built the 12-room Octagon House as somewhat of a fort, complete with an "Indian Lookout" room, where Brown could keep watch. If Native Americans attacked, the family would need a place to hide, so Brown's design included nine secret passageways and a hidden room adjacent to the Indian Lookout room.
Brown gave the home to his son, Edwin, as a wedding gift upon Edwin's engagement to his fiancé, Ruth Pier. Not long after that, in the years leading up to the Civil War, the house took on a completely different role. At that time, the Underground Railroad began to help slaves reach freedom, and Wisconsin became a significant stop for slaves on that journey. The Octagon House, with its nine secret passageways and secret room, was one home in the area that hosted numerous runaway slaves who passed through.
During a renovation in 1975, the new owner of the Octagon House found another hidden passageway -- a secret underground tunnel that is thought to have been dug specifically for facilitating the slaves. Today, you can visit that same tunnel and even see a message scrawled by a slave on the wall inside the secret room.