On the surface, the Historic Indian Agency House is the residence built in 1832 by the federal government to house John H. Kinzie and his wife, Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie, when he served as an Indian Sub-Agent to the Ho-Chunk.

It’s now one of the oldest houses in Wisconsin and has been preserved and outfitted with furnishings and household items–plus gorgeous and fascinating Native American artifacts–that give an authentic sense of what it was like to live in the Midwest in the early 19th century.

The goings-on in the house also inspired Juliette Kinzie to write the book, Wau-Bun: The “Early Day” in the North West.

But below the surface, there’s another—much larger—story to be told. It’s the story of the opening of the American West before the railroad, and, more poignantly, the demise of the Native American way of life.

This was a location that many early settlers had to pass through on their way west—meaning it was a place infused with great anticipation, anxiety and hope. Likewise, the westward expansion was the broadening of America’s tragic relationship with Native peoples.

So whether you want to get a glimpse of early 19th century life in the Midwest, or a taste of what was to come, this is an essential site to visit.