Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center Celebrates Grand Opening

An older African American woman dressed as Harriet Tubman, stands in front of the visitor center.
Millicent Sparks portrays Harriet Tubman.

NPS photo

The National Park Service (NPS) and the Maryland Park Service jointly dedicated and opened the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland on March 10-12. The facility serves as the joint visitor center for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park.

The Visitor Center also serves as the headquarters of the NPS National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and anchors the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

On March 10, also known as "Harriet Tubman Day" in the state, the park hosted dozens of Tubman descendants, community stakeholders, and more than 500 invited guests. Speakers for the dedication ceremony included U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd K. Rutherford, and NPS Northeast Deputy Regional Director Rose Fennell. Re-enactor Millicent Sparks' powerful and emotional portrayal of Tubman was one of the many highlights of the weekend.

The Maryland Office of Tourism and Development took a leading role in organizing community groups and passionate individuals to work together for many years to create a lasting tribute to the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and more than 5,000 visitors were delighted by their efforts and greeted with state-of-the-art exhibits, family friendly activities and thought-provoking programs throughout the three-day weekend.

Activities including “Games Enslaved Children Played,” about the significance and history of games that enslaved children played and Junior Ranger activities. Tubman biographer, Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, presented a talk and book signing, architect Chris Elcock, of GWWO, Inc., Architects, provided a presentation about the hidden symbolism in the Visitor Center building and surrounding landscape. Historian Tony Cohen of the Menare Foundation lead simulated Underground Railroad journeys around the legacy garden that revealed escape secrets used by Tubman and other freedom seekers.

The outpouring of passion and excitement for Tubman led to an overwhelming public response and exuberant media coverage.

“This beautiful, state-of-the art Visitor Center takes its place as one of the premier visitor experiences in the NPS National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom,” said Fennell during the ribbon cutting event.

“The story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad captivates people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Josie Fernandez, acting superintendent of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park. “Together the national and state parks and our many partners provided a memorable tribute to one of this nation’s most inspiring heroes.”

An NPS Incident Management Team helped with the grand opening under the leadership of Mark Musitano (Incident Commander) and Zach Bolitho (Incident Commander trainee). Employees from 13 parks and three regional offices were part of the team. National and local media interest was strong, with advance stories and coverage in the New York Times, Associated Press, C-SPAN, National Public Radio, every Baltimore TV station, and dozens of other news outlets. There were no law enforcement incidents related to the event.

View more photos and videos of the event on the park's Facebook page.