Opening weekend hosted at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center
CHURCH CREEK — People from across the country joined the Underground movement this past weekend in Dorchester County.
A project roughly 20 years in the making, the $21 million Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center finally hosted its grand opening. Many officials attended the invitation-only event Friday, including Gov. Larry Hogan, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Sen. Ben Cardin, who played a significant role in funding the new center. Special events were held Saturday and Sunday for the public to enjoy.
At 4068 Golden Hill Road, Church Creek, the visitor center is the gateway to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. The byway includes interpretive signs at 31 historic sites across more than 125 miles of Dorchester and Caroline County roads.
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in the Bucktown area. The Moses of her people used the Underground Railroad to find freedom in 1849. She then returned to Maryland approximately 13 times to rescue about 70 people through the Underground Railroad.
Following the Civil War, the heroine of freedom settled in Auburn, N.Y., where there is now another national park. She died March 10, 1903. Now, March 10 is honored as Harriet Tubman Day in Maryland, and the visitor center’s grand opening was planned to coincide with her special day.
More than 60 relatives of Ms. Tubman, many of whom came from New York, were guests of honor at the grand opening ceremony. After the ceremony and ribbon cutting, Ms. Tubman’s family was invited to tour the visitor center, as a jubilant and anxious crowd lined up and waited to enter.
Speaking before the ribbon-cutting, Dorchester County Council President Ricky Travers welcomed the many guests to the Eastern Shore.
“Words cannot describe how important this visitor center is, not just to Dorchester County, not just to the Eastern Shore, but the State of Maryland also, and the nation. This will allow us an opportunity to showcase how proud we are to be the birthplace and the home to one of America’s great heroes, Harriet Tubman,” Mr. Travers said. “We all know that we are blessed to live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and its landscape and it’s so symbolic of her life and her legacy. To think that she toiled in the lands. She trapped muskrats. She logged with her father. She worked in these fields right here, the very land that you can immerse yourself into today.”
Mr. Travers said Harriet Tubman had no special training other than a God-given gift to help others.
“Even now, 160 years later, this woman is still inspiring people today,” Mr. Travers said. “We invite you to explore the county while you’re here, make plans to come back, spend time getting to know the land that had such a special place in Harriet’s heart. And remember, Harriet Tubman was a living, breathing person and not a myth.”
On Sunday, visitors from out of state were inspired to get to know the landscape where Ms. Tubman was born and later found her way to freedom.
Jewell Jones, of Portsmouth, Va., set foot Sunday in the Bucktown Village Store, a stop on the Underground Railroad Byway just a few miles from the visitor center. She was inspired by a story her mother told her about Harriet Tubman.
Ms. Jones said when she was a child, she suffered a head wound. She faced a choice of keeping the scar, or removing it through plastic surgery. Her mother told her about Harriet Tubman. At the Bucktown Village Store, an overseer threw a heavy metal weight while intending to strike another slave. The weight instead hit Ms. Tubman in the head. Harriet recovered from the injury months later, and became narcoleptic as a result of the blow. After her mom told her the story about Ms. Tubman, Ms. Jones decided as a young child not to remove the scar. On Sunday, she finally visited the place that helped to shape Harriet Tubman’s life, as well as her own, and saw some relics associated with Mother Moses.
Robert and Kandace Tabern, a team of husband and wife travel writers who have authored more than 10 books, were inspired to fly Saturday from Milwaukee to BWI and stay at the Days Inn in Cambridge. The two are national park enthusiasts. Mr. Tabern has visited about three-quarters of the nation’s parks. The visitor center was national park No. 336 for him.
On Saturday, they took in what Mr. Tabern described as, “an amazing sunset and a stunning full moon rise over the Chesapeake Bay,” at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Having enjoyed Blackwater so much, the pair decided to get up early — even after losing an hour of sleep because of the time change — to return to the wildlife refuge before heading to the visitor center at 9 a.m. They went to Old Salty’s for lunch, and then made three stops on the Underground Railroad Byway — the Brodess Farm; the Bucktown Village Store; and Linchester Mill in Caroline County, just across Hunting Creek from Dorchester. They were back at BWI on their way back to the Midwest by 5 p.m.
The two said they learned a lot during their brief tour of the Mid-Shore.
“We’re really excited. My wife is a big Civil War buff,” Mr. Tabern said. “We really learned so much from this. We didn’t know when they traveled or how they traveled. I was a history minor. I thought she went down to Alabama and Mississippi and helped total strangers. We learned that she made trips, but it was where she is familiar with here in Maryland, and it was to get people she knew, her loved ones.”
This wasn’t the Taberns’ first visit to Delmarva, and they appreciate Shore hospitality.
“Everyone is very welcoming here. I think this is great for local tourism for the Eastern Shore. Now, with the designation of a National Historical Park, I think that turns this up a notch to the national level, and national attention.”
By visiting sites on the byway, the Taberns learned that slaves escaped to the North by following waterways and woods.
Looking at the shallow, clear water of Hunting Creek at Linchester Mill, Mr. Tabern said, “This is the Underground Railroad.”
Bob Zimberoff is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at email@example.com.