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Napoleon

Trap Doors and Hidden Rooms

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In 1852 in tiny Napoleon, William Love and William Howe bought a brick tavern, built in 1832 and, like many new owners made some modifications to the design. But unlike other owners, the changes these two dedication abolitionists made included a trap door that dropped ten vertical feet to an hidden and otherwise inaccessible room in the basement.

Love renamed the brick building, aging even then, the Rail Road House Hotel in what can only be seen as a contemptuous gesture towards the slave seekers. The only railroad in the small town of Napoleon was the UGRR.

“There was a dead space between two walls and then a hidden room and tunnel on the south side of the building that no one knew about,” says Helen Einhaus, former Ripley County Historian, who with Diane Perrine Coon, helped create the driving tours. “Unfortunately, though the tunnel and room are still there, the building is now a restaurant and the owners can’t let people in the basement.”

But that doesn’t mean that people following Trail 5 Napoleon Route can’t stop for a bite at the Bonaparte’s Retreat Restaurant to eat and a feel
of history. The restaurant is one of the stops on the Chicken Trail which celebrates the best places to eat this Indiana culinary treat.

Check out the old flour mill in Napoleon which still stands and is now apartments. It was here that Barbara Fox patented a fire escape “designed to save lives.” To demonstrate her invention, she had one installed on what was then the J.F. Hemsath Flouring Mill and invited the townspeople to try it out.

At A Glance

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