Photo of a trap door that leads to a 4'x4', 8' deep room that was used to hide slaves running to freedom, in Winterset, Iowa.

Weekly Gem #222, A Dark, Scary, Claustrophobic Stop on The Path to Freedom

Published 2/2/20

Location: This hidden gem is located at the intersection of John Wayne Drive and West High St., in Winterset (Madison County), Iowa (see the Clue Me! Map).  Winterset, Iowa is known as a charming little town, home of the Bridges of Madison County. What you might not know is that Winterset was a “station” on the Underground Railroad, with several townspeople working together to provide food, rest, and when needed, hiding places for runaway slaves.

This is one of those hiding places, a small detour on the path to freedom. A trap door, hidden under the rug, leading to a tiny room. It is 4 feet by 4 feet across, and 8 feet down. Not much of a cellar, but it will do in a pinch when you need a place to hide! A pitch black, scary, claustrophobic, no-other-way-out, place to hide.

But, imagine being a runaway slave, and knowing the consequences if you’re caught …and now, tired, thirsty, and hungry, you have a couple minutes to decide whether to put your life into the hands of people you’ve never met, and climb down into this hole. It would have taken incredible courage, and a cool head, to make decisions like this.

Luckily, those who made it to Winterset would have found help. Tunnels connected certain houses, and there were hiding places like this, which these citizens of Winterset used to help many brave souls achieve freedom. 


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


The path to freedom


Trap door to an underground room

Why It's Interesting

The trap door leads to a 4'x4', 8' deep room that was used to hide slaves running to freedom. It may have been a tunnel to the house across the street at one time. 

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