STATEMENT OF DENIS P. GALVIN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, UNITED STATES SENATE, CONCERNING S. 2345, A BILL TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A SPECIAL RESOURCE STUDY CONCERNING THE PRESERVATION AND PUBLIC USE OF SITES ASSOCIATED WITH HARRIET TUBMAN LOCATED IN AUBURN, NEW YORK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES

July 27, 2000


Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2345, a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study concerning the preservation and public use of sites associated with Harriet Tubman located in Auburn, New York, and for other purposes.

The Department of the Interior supports this legislation with the amendments outlined in this testimony.

We should note that this study is not one of the new area studies proposed for authorization and funding in the letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Resources Committee accompanying the President’s FY 2001 budget. We would recommend that the studies in that letter receive priority for authorization and funding.

S. 2345 would authorize a special resource study of five sites located in Auburn, New York, that are related to Harriet Tubman’s life and work, including the home of William H. Seward. The study would determine the potential for incorporating one or more of these sites into the National Park System. The New York Governor’s office, state historic preservation office, City of Auburn Mayor’s office, the owners of the five properties, representatives of the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, the Harriet Tubman Foundation, and other appropriate organizations would be consulted in conducting the study.

The study would include an assessment of the national significance of each of the five sites and would evaluate their suitability and feasibility for inclusion in the National Park System. The study would define and evaluate a range of management options that would address the long term preservation of and public access to these sites.

Auburn, New York is a small city located in the state’s history-rich Finger Lakes region. The city of Auburn, and the people and events associated with it, have been highlighted in a number of recently completed and on-going studies. In particular, the Seward House and the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged were identified in the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Special Resource Study, completed in 1995. Another study that is currently in progress, the Women’s Rights National History Trail Study, has also included sites associated with Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman has long been associated with her extraordinary work with abolitionist causes and as the Underground Railroad’s most famous conductor. Her heroic efforts in personally leading 300 persons out of slavery to freedom in the North defined her as the "Moses of her People." After the Civil War, she continued her humanitarian activities to aid the poor and aged, and to establish schools for freed blacks in the South.

William Seward served as Governor of the state of New York (1839-43) and U.S. Senator from New York (1848-61) emerging as a leading anti-slavery figure in the Whig, and later, Republican parties. As Secretary of State (1861-69), he negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

Located at 182 South Street and probably constructed in the 1880’s, the Harriet Tubman Residence served as the primary residence for Harriet Tubman and certain members of her family and strangers in need from the time of its construction until 1911. This house now serves as a home for the resident manager of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. Prior to the construction of this house, Tubman had purchased a house and seven acres on the outskirts of town from William H. Seward in 1857.

With the help of the AME Zion Church, Tubman established the Home for the Aged, located at 180 South Street, in 1908 on the property that she had purchased at public auction from William H. Seward. Tubman spent the last few years of her life at this house and died there in 1913 at the age of 93. This two and one-half story, clapboard structure was the culmination of a life dedicated to uplifting the plight of those once condemned to servitude. Tubman deeded the property to the AME Zion Church, which continues to own and operate the site as a museum dedicated to preserving the humanitarian vision of its founder. This property is open to the public by appointment.

Harriet Tubman played a significant role in the formation and progress of the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, located at 33 Parker Street. The church had a central importance in the life of Harriet Tubman. There are accounts of her enthusiastic rejoicing, leading the congregation in singing and praising the Lord. She also worked to strengthen the Church in central New York and took an active part in seeing that the new church was built on Parker Street in 1891. Although the historic church building still stands at this location, the congregation moved to another location within the City of Auburn in 1993.

Harriet Tubman was laid to rest at Fort Hill Cemetery, with military honors. At the time of her burial, the grave was marked only by the Norway spruce tree that still shelters the site. According to oral tradition, this was planted several years earlier to mark the nearby grave of a relative. In 1937, the Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs placed the present marker on the site. The grave is also a focus of the annual Pilgrimage conducted by the A.M.E. Zion Church to commemorate Harriet Tubman’s life and work.

William Henry Seward’s Home, located at 33 South Street, was his permanent residence from 1824 until his death in 1872. The house was originally constructed in 1817 by Seward’s soon-to-be father-in-law, Judge Elijah Miller. In accordance with a pre-nuptial agreement, Seward agreed to take up residence in the house upon his 1824 marriage to Frances Miller. The original property was much smaller than the existing structure; beginning in 1840, Seward began a considerable expansion of the property with the end result being a 30-room mansion. Throughout his life in Auburn, Seward continued to provide financial support to Harriet Tubman’s efforts culminating with his estate forgiving her debt. The Seward Home is now a museum open to the public for a limited time.

We recommend the addition of two technical amendments be included in this bill. First, on page 3, line 21, we suggest striking "feasibility of long-term preservation" and inserting "feasibility and suitability of long-term preservation". On page 4, line 14, after "National Park System." we propose inserting the following new sentence: "In conducting the study authorized by this Act, the Secretary shall use the criteria for the study of areas for potential inclusion in the National Park System contained in Section 8 of P.L. 91-383, as amended by Section 303 of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act (P.L. 105-391), 112 Stat.3501)."

The resources that are associated with this proposed study not only convey the stories of important people in our history, but also serve to illustrate a number of important national movements. These movements include the abolitionist movement, the Underground Railroad, the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights movement, among others. This assemblage of people and events at this location make the aforementioned sites of Auburn, New York, worthy of the proposed study.

Recently, the White House announced a $450,000 grant through the Save America’s Treasures program for architectural plans and repairs to preserve the Harriet Tubman residence for future generations.

This concludes my prepared testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions from the Committee that you might have.