Public Memory: Harriet Tubman House

October 23, 2007


The Harriet Tubman House is a lasting testimony of a woman who selflessly made 19 trips into the South, to escort slaves to freedom.  Harriet Tubman’s home is located at 180 South Street, Auburn, New York.  The historical site is maintained by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Connection, which purchased the property and are striving to fulfill Harriet Tubman’s dream.


The Tubman House is a visual representation of a time in United States history when the bravery and efforts of a few made a difference in the lives of African American slaves and freed blacks, in spite of legal and personal harms.  From a time capsule perspective, visitors are able to drive onto the grounds of the historical site and marvel at the restored house that was once the home and property of one of the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. The entire twenty-six acres stretches further than the eyes can see.  However, even from the lush grounds and overgrown apple tree that surround the home and other original structure, it is amazing to consider and realize Harriet Tubman’s determination to purchase the property.  However, from historical accounts of Tubman’s financial difficulties, it seems unlikely that the picturesque version of the 2007 grounds and property was correct reality of the late nineteenth century.


Understanding the need to preserve social history sites, Christine Carter, the Tubman House Tour Coordinator, welcomes visitors into the Tubman Recreation Building, where two documentaries are offered to give guests an overview of Tubman’s accomplishments, service, and hardships.  A small gallery of oil painting, reprints, and newspaper clippings line the walls.  Not only do the images illustrate of Harriet Tubman’s life, but they include reprints of historic New York newspaper articles, illustrations of slave ships, “Bull Whip Days,” “Old Bay Tom, a former slave, well-known and much beloved citizens of Binghamton.  The multiple visual aids enable the guests to understand the urgency of Harriet Tubman’s life work, caring for those who were unable to care for themselves.


Upon entering the home, tour groups are transported back into history as they walk inside.  From the first floor, guests take in the period-piece furniture of the living room, which stages the room; are able to look into the downstairs bedroom, which contains furnishing that belong to Tubman; and are ushered through the kitchen and dining room, while given a historical lesson of household items used by Tubman and were popular during that period.  The second floor is closed to all visitors.  Due to lack of financial capital, all additional restorations are on hold until a suitable donation may be gained to complete the work.  The historical value of the Tubman House is not officially recognized by federal funding.  The Tubman House is sustained by dutiful individuals who see the importance of this recovered social history, which, at present, survives as an example of public memory.