Virtual tour of Tubman State Park given by Park officials

Special to Dorchester Banner Pictured from left, Pat Neild, president of the South Dorchester Folk Museum, Harriet Tubman Park Manager Dana Paterra, and Robert Parker, park superintendent.

Special to Dorchester Banner
Pictured from left, Pat Neild, president of the South Dorchester Folk Museum, Harriet Tubman Park Manager Dana Paterra, and Robert Parker, park superintendent.

CAMBRIDGE — “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” This was Harriet Tubman in her own words speaking in 1896 at a Suffrage Convention.

A Sept. 7 presentation sponsored by the South Dorchester Heritage Museum and held at the Dorchester County Historical Society focused on “The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.” The well-attended event featured Dana Paterra, Harriet Tubman Park manager and Robert Parker, park superintendent. The pair presented a virtual tour of the recently constructed visitor center, including a sneak peak at the exhibit designs that are scheduled to be installed by early spring 2017.

Dana holds a bachelor’s degree in Environment Science and has 16 years of experience interpreting natural and cultural resources following a park manager’s post in South Carolina. A 15-year veteran of the National Park Service, Robert has served in various management, education, and interpretation positions and is currently working toward his PhD in US History at Howard University.

While she is revered in Dorchester County for her part in helping slaves escape during the Civil War, she was less known nationally until March, 2013 when President Barak Obama issued a proclamation declaring the land on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where Tubman was born, lived and traveled as a national monument. That set the stage for a National Historic Park Designation. In December 2014 the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park was authorized to protect the landscapes and locations that were important in Harriet Tubman’s life.
Why was this location chosen? According to the Department of Natural Resources Park Service there are no buildings from her era so the view, preserved by the surrounding Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, is “a large part of the experience.” Historians believe she “most likely walked through here going between Madison and Bucktown.”

The design, “The View North,” expresses the need for the slaves to move northward to freedom.

The layout of the exhibit building is a series of four pitched roof volumes that can be interpreted as “stations” on the journey. They are connected by a linear spine which represents the northbound journey of the Underground Railroad.

The 15,000 sq. ft. visitor center is slated to open on March 10, 2017 and will include an exhibit hall and theater, memorial garden, trails, a picnic pavilion, gift shop, information desk, and a research library.

The Memorial Park management notes the center “will immerse visitors in Tubman’s world through exhibits that are informative, evocative and emotive.”
Visitors will learn about the Underground Railroad resistance movement and Harriet Tubman’s work as a freedom fighter, liberator, leader and humanitarian. “The Life and Legacy of Harriet Tubman” video offers an historical overview of Tubman’s connections to the Underground Railroad as it highlights the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway that is marked with signage throughout the county.

A walking path outside of the visitor center meanders through the legacy garden and offers a place for quiet contemplation. The 17-acre site is adjacent to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, along MD 335 with about nine acres in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program will be administered by the park service from the site.

Check out the DNR website ( for one of the most comprehensive, informative, and fascinating descriptions of “Myths and Facts” about this Dorchester County icon.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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