The First Lady will travel to Auburn, New York, home to the 30-acre site where Harriet Tubman (1821-1913) settled with her second husband, Nelson Davis, and where she established the Home for the Aged in 1903. The Home for the Aged was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975. The site receives approximately 5,000 visitors per year, including annual pilgrimages from southern African Americans. This year the site will celebrate the 85th anniversary of her death.
The site includes:
Historical Significance Though not directly associated with Tubmans activities with the Underground Railroad, the brick home of Nelson and Harriet Tubman Davis and the associated Home for the Aged are two of the very few documented, tangible links to Harriet Tubman, renowned leader in the Underground Railroad movement and known as the Moses of her people.
Born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, as one of eleven children of Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross, Tubman gained her freedom in 1849 when she escaped to Philadelphia. Working as a domestic, she saved money until she had the resources and contacts to rescue several of her family members in 1850. This marked the first of 19 trips back into Maryland where Tubman guided approximately 300 people to freedom, many to St. Catharine, Ontario, Canada. Tubman rented a room in a St. Catharine boarding house behind the African Methodist Episcopal Church between 1851 and 1858. At one point, rewards for her capture totaled $40,000. In 1859, Tubman relocated to Auburn, New York and entered into a contract with William H. Seward to purchase 7 acres. Shortly afterward, Tubman brought her parents from Canada to settle them on this property.
While living in Auburn, Tubman married Nelson Davis and became very involved with her church, the Parker Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, where her husband was an elder. The existing church is nearly intact from its date of construction in 1892.
Having for years harbored the needy in her home, Tubman purchased the 25-acre parcel adjoining her home at a public auction in 1896. The frame building on the site became the Home for the Aged. In 1903, Tubman deeded this 25-acre property to the AME Zion Church. In 1908, the brick building on this property, lost to fire in 1949 and now just foundational ruins, was opened as the second building of the Home for the Aged.
Tubman died in Auburn in 1913 at the age of 93. Frederick Douglass once wrote of Harriet Tubman Davis, Excepting John Brown -of sacred -I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman]. She was carried from the Parker Street AME Zion Church to her gravesite across the street in Fort Hill Cemetery where she was buried with military rites. The following year, the City declared a one-day memorial to this courageous champion of freedom, and unveiled the Harriet Tubman Plaque, which, to this day, stands at the entrance to the courthouse.
Preservation needs The overwhelming preservation need at the site is gathering historic documentation about the site and assessing the historic buildings and landscape (there was an orchard on the site and it is believed some gardening and/or farming occurred here too) so that informed decisions about the preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of the site can then move forward. To that end, the City of Auburn has obtained a $4,000 from the Preservation League of New York State to hire a contractor to prepare a National Register nomination for the majority of the site which is not included in the National Historic Landmark designation. A grant request has been submitted to the NY State Council of the Arts Architecture Planning and Design Program for $10,000 to prepare measured drawings of existing conditions of the Tubman Davis home and the Home for the Aged. A decision on this grant is pending. State Senator Nozzolio has proposed $50,000 for the site through the states Community Facilities Assistance Program (administered through the Empire State Development Corporation). The Home for the Aged has been owned by the AME Zion Church for 40 years who rehabilitated in 1949 what had become an abandoned shell. Currently the Home is in need of structural repair and some interior renovations to more accurately depict the historic appearance during Tubmans time.
Harriet Tubmans former residence, built circa 1880, is currently vacant with the interior mostly demolished. The interior rehabilitation has been put on hold until investigation of the structure itself can provide clues as to the original design of the house. The mortar between some of the bricks on the rear wall is missing, causing water to leak into the house. The foundation also leaks. The house is in dire need of restoration and an effort will be made to preserve its historical significance.
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