Harriet Tubman Visitor Center on the rise

MD-Black History Harriet Tubman exterior_3x

Special to Dorchester Banner/Jill Jasuta
The visitor center on Route 335 is partly sided in cedar and partly clad in zinc that will develop a patina in time.

BLACKWATER NWR — The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center are coming to life on land close to where Dorchester County’s most well-known resident once walked. The grand opening of the 17-acre complex on Route 335 near Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Church Creek is planned for March 2017.

The state park and visitor center focus on the theme of “the view north,” which relates to the journey north that enslaved people took to reach freedom in the 1800s. Everything from the location of the buildings to the exhibits tie in to the theme.
While the construction of the buildings is nearly complete now, much work remains on fabricating the interactive exhibits and a 10-minute film that will share stories of Harriet Tubman, who was born in Dorchester County and became the Underground Railroad’s most famous “conductor.”

A virtual tour of the 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall shows thought-provoking and interactive ways of presenting the stories. The exhibits will touch on three main themes — the Choptank area and Harriet Tubman’s family, community, and faith; the Underground Railroad as a national resistance movement; and how Harriet Tubman is still relevant today. Ms. Tubman herself escaped to freedom in 1849, and then returned to the Eastern Shore at least a dozen times to lead more than 70 people to freedom.

“The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center pays tribute to a great American heroine by immersing visitors in Tubman’s world through exhibits that are informative, evocative, and emotive,” said Dana Paterra, manager of the new park. “Upon completion, visitors will have the opportunity to understand the value of Ms. Tubman’s early years in Maryland, experience a rescue mission on the Underground Railroad, and become inspired by her work as a freedom fighter, liberator, leader, and humanitarian.”

The complex will also feature a memorial garden, 3/4-mile in walking paths, and a 2,700-square-foot outdoor pavilion. Complete with fireplace and picnic tables, the open-air pavilion will be available for rental for family reunions and other events. Also situated at the site will be offices for the Maryland Park Service, the National Park Service’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, and the Network to Freedom national headquarters.

The buildings are designed to earn the silver LEED green building certification with vegetative roofs, geothermal heating and cooling, permeable parking areas and paths, and solar-powered external lighting.

Helping to construct the $21 million project have been expert craftsmen from around the world. The buildings incorporate reclaimed barn wood, exposed timbers, stone, and views of the surrounding landscapes, which look much like they did in Harriet Tubman’s time. The destination is expected to draw visitors from far and wide.

One of the goals of the new visitor center is to encourage people to get out and explore the historic sites that are part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a self-guided driving tour of more than 30 sites of historical significance in Dorchester and Caroline counties.

Residents and visitors can explore the Tubman Byway now with the free map and guide, available at the Dorchester Visitor Center at 2 Rose Hill Place in Cambridge, or by e-mailing info@VisitDorchester.org or by calling 410-228-1000. There is also an audio guide available for download at HarrietTubmanByway.org.

For more information about the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center, visit the website at dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/tubman.aspx.

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