The Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway
A drive through history to honor an American hero
Recently it was announced that Harriet Tubman will serve as the face of the new twenty-dollar bill as the U.S. Department of Treasury revamps much of the nation’s paper money to include various women from history. Even more fitting is that the rockstar abolitionist will be pushing slaveholder and noted opponent of the national banking system Andrew Jackson to the back of the bill.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland around 1820. She escaped in her 20s and fled to Pennsylvania. Later, Tubman returned to assist her family and hundreds of other slaves in escaping to freedom through a network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, Tubman was employed by the Union Army as a scout, spy, and nurse. In her later years, she founded the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged.
In addition to being slated for recognition on U.S. currency, Harriet Tubman has been honored and remembered through the Harriet Tubman House, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, several statues, schools named in her honor, and even a Liberty Ship called the SS Harriet Tubman. Perhaps coolest of all, however, is the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. We may be biased, but a scenic drive - notably designated as one of the United States’ select “All-American Roads” - seems like the perfect way to honor a legacy. So pack up the car and hit the highway in honor of American hero Harriet Tubman!
Covering 125 miles across Dorchester and Caroline counties, the byway weaves through Maryland from the Dorchester County Visitor Center to the Delaware State line, with more than 30 points of interest relevant to the life and work of Harriet Tubman along the way! In addition to historical sites such as the Dorchester County Courthouse and Webb cabin, the journey includes beautiful scenic stops from Church Creek to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Though the official guide only covers the Maryland side of the drive, the byway continues into Delaware where it includes several more historical sites related to the Underground Railroad.
You can drive straight through in a few hours, spend several days exploring every site, or choose a handful of favorites and make it a day trip! Here’s a small sampling of places you may choose to visit during your road trip along the Byway:
Harriet Tubman spent part of her childhood at this farm along Greenbrier Road in Bucktown, MD where her enslaver, Edward Brodess lived. The structures on the site today are not related to Tubman or the Underground Railroad and the property is privately owned.
Bucktown Village Store
Referred to as the “site of Harriet Tubman’s first act of defiance,” the Bucktown Village Store has been fully restored and is now operated by the Bucktown Village Foundation. It was at a store on this crossroads in the mid 1830s that Tubman was hit in the head with a two-pound weight that had been hurled at another slave who she’d refused to help tie up. The injury fractured her skull, and left her with lifelong health problems in addition to spiritual visions.
Built around 1852 by James H. Webb, a free African-American farmer, this Webb Cabin is a rare survivor. Webb, his enslaved wife, and their four children resided in this one-room home. Situated along Grove Road in Preston, MD, Webb Cabin represents a typical dwelling for many African-American families of the time.
Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House
Built around 1802, this structure was among several other Quaker meeting houses. Many members of the Quakers who met here helped to sustain the local Underground, and Quakers became powerful abolitionists, supporting the end of slavery in addition to women’s equality. The Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House is along Meeting House Road in Denton, MD.
This historic grist mill was built around 1840 and was one of the last water-powered mills on the Eastern Shore of Maryland when it ceased operation in the 1970s. Visitors can explore the grounds of Linchester Mill including a nature trail, and tours of the mill itself can be arranged upon request.
Dorchester County Visitor Center
The Dorchester County Visitor Center sits on the Choptank river in Sailwinds Park East. Nearby there’s a beach, a fishing pier, and opportunities for picnicking. The center includes an exhibit dedicated to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and the staff can assist in mapping out your own route along the ‘tracks’ or finding other things to do in the area!
Harriet Tubman Museum
The oldest community organization dedicated to Tubman, local residents created the Harriet Tubman Organization to honor her life and local history through the development of a cultural center. Operating out of a storefront in downtown Cambridge, MD, the museum offers tours by appointment.
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center are among the newest additions to the Byway itinerary. The landscape preserved in the park has likely changed little since Tubman lived, worked, and made history here. Still in construction, the Visitor Center will include a memorial garden, research library, and an interpretive experience that begins with an orientation film. The grand opening is scheduled for March 10, 2017.
Joseph Stewart’s Canal/Parson’s Creek
This 7-mile canal’s construction was orchestrated by Joseph Stewart of the wealthy, influential, slaveholding Stewart family. He and other local landowners designed the canal to carry their goods to nearby wharves, and it was dug by enslaved African-Americans over the course of two decades.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Halfway between the site of Edward Brodess’ plantation where Harriet Tubman worked for part of her childhood and the plantation on which her father worked, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge offers the opportunity to explore 28,000 acres of land in it’s natural state. The Refuge was established in 1933 as a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl. The wetlands and forests are home to various other wildlife, too. You might even see a bald eagle!
The Adkins Arboretum is a 440-acre site committed to encouraging the preservation and appreciation of native plants. Tours, educational programs, and a wide variety of events are offered.
Long Wharf sits near High Street and Water Street on the Choptank River in Cambridge, MD. Hundreds of years ago, kidnapped Africans would have been brought here by ship and sold into slavery along the waterfront. Today there is a public marina and plenty to do. Enjoy the picturesque Choptank River Lighthouse, find a boat for charter and set sail, or throw out a line and see what you reel in - no fishing license required!
A road trip on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway packs culture and history into a fun-filled vacation! It’s the ideal way to remember the woman who fought relentlessly for freedom, risking her life for others and ultimately earning her the title ‘Moses of her people.’ The journey is a testament to the American experience, highlighting the struggles of the past, and paying homage to “the many ways ordinary people did extraordinary things.”
Originally, the Treasury Department had intended to replace Alexander Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill with a woman. Much of the feedback received by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew however, indicated a serious public demand to see the twenty-dollar bill reinvented instead. Some have even suggested that it was the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical Hamilton that helped the father of the United States financial system keep his place on the $10.
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