Underground Railroad Tour
Auburn and Cayuga County have deep ties to the Underground Railroad.
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. It began to take shape in the early 19th century by a group of abolitionists - people who believed in human rights and equality, and supported the abolition, or termination, of slavery.
The Underground Railroad was not an actual railroad, it was comprised of a network of people and safe houses. Railroad terminology and symbols were used to conceal the secret activities of the network. Individuals such as Harriet Tubman, who helped enslaved people on their journeys to freedom, were called “conductors.” The terms “passengers,” “cargo,” “package” and “freight” referred to escaped enslaved people. Passengers were delivered to “stations” which were safe houses, which were everyday buildings such as family homes, churches, and businesses. They were located in various cities and towns and were places of temporary refuge. Stations could sometimes be identified by lit candles in windows or by strategically placed lanterns in front yards.
Today in Cayuga County, you can still see some of the churches and meeting houses that were stations on the Underground Railroad by taking a
self-guided tour using the newly created maps and app.
One of Auburn’s most notable stations was the home of William H. Seward, U. S. Secretary of State, (1861–1869) and his wife, Frances Seward. Both William and Frances were abolitionists. Visit the Seward House Museum and experience the actual secret place in the basement that was used to house those on their freedom journey.
Auburn NY is the place Harriet Tubman chose to call home for over 50 years. Harriet Tubman was an escaped enslaved woman who became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, leading enslaved people to freedom before the Civil War, all while carrying a bounty on her head. But she was also a nurse, a Union spy and a women’s suffrage supporter. Tubman is one of the most recognized icons in American history and one of the most famous conductors on the underground railroad. She guided over 70 slaves to freedom on over 13 trips and it was said that she never lost a passenger. Her legacy has inspired countless people from every race and background. The Harriet Tubman Home is located just minutes down the road from the Seward House Museum.
Another stop in Auburn is the Springside Inn, it is believed that the building was used as part of the Underground Railroad and the thickets surrounding Springside’s backyard are where Harriet Tubman hid previously enslaved individuals on their journey.