The Underground Railroad is considered by many to be the first great freedom movement in the Americas and the first time that people of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice. The term “Underground Railroad” started in the 1830s and referred to an informal covert network to help enslaved people escape. One of the most well-known leaders of this initiative was Harriet Tubman, a courageous American hero. Since she had to work in secrecy, the numbers are not exact, but it is believed that Tubman led not hundreds, but thousands of enslaved individuals from the South to freedom in the North.
Cayuga County has deep ties to the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman. The area had many abolitionists and was so active on the Underground Railroad that it was not just a stop, it was considered a terminal where people could stay in freedom. Auburn, NY, (in the beautiful Finger Lakes Region of New York State) was also the chosen home of Harriet Tubman. She lived there for over 50 years of her life as a free woman.
You can experience history in Cayuga County on your own schedule with the free app called Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Tour! This is a narrated tour that offers two routes to guide you through the Underground Railroad journey in Cayuga County. The Auburn driving tour has 34 sites, and the Cayuga County driving tour has an additional 27 sites. For iPhones, you can find the app in the in the App Store and for Android phones, you can find the app in the Google Play Store. Don’t have an Android or iPhone? No problem, just click here to access the app. to download the app.
Today in Cayuga County, you can still see some of the churches and meeting houses that were stations on the Underground Railroad. Both tours will bring you a mix of historic landmarks and buildings that will be drive-by opportunities, and locations that offer firsthand experiences. You will see places such as:
- Harriet Tubman Home and Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, is the site where Tubman bought and owned the land to build her home, as well as the Home for the Aged. After the Civil War, Harriet Tubman returned to her home in Auburn and began what was to be her life-long work of caring for aged and indigent African Americans. In 1896, Tubman purchased 25 adjoining acres to her home on which stood the building now known as the Home for Aged. Here, she cared for others, often sacrificing her own needs to do so. When her health deteriorated, she was taken care of at the Home for the Aged. This is also where she died in 1913.
On a tour, you can see the outside of Tubman’s actual house, the Home for the Aged and be immersed and inspired with Harriet Tubman’s fascinating life story.
- The Seward House Museum, one of Auburn’s most notable Underground Railroad stations, was opened to the public in 1955, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. Here you will see displayed some of the most original collections of any historic home in America. You can walk the beautiful gardens and enjoy a guided tour of the 17 rooms – left almost as though the Sewards have just stepped out and will be coming home any minute. Be sure to visit the basement to see the secret place that was used to house those on their journey to freedom, and the adjoining exhibit about the relationship between the Sewards and Tubman’s.
- The Howland Stone Store Museum, originally built by Slocum Howland in 1837 as a general store, also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. One of the museum’s most prized possessions is an Underground Railroad pass brought by two enslaved people who escaped from Maryland and came to Howland in 1840 in pursuit of freedom. In addition to the pass, the museum offers a unique collection of abolition and suffrage artifacts.
Although not all noted on these tours, there have been over 100 documented connections in Cayuga County to the Underground Railroad. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Tour identifies a small number of historic sites that help tell stories of the remarkable people who risked everything to gain freedom, and the remarkable people committed to helping them. You’re invited to hop on board and take your own journey through this important part of American history.