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Harriet Tubman Byway is just part of Maryland's Scenic tour

Bil Bowden
YorkDispatch

"To be bored is an insult to oneself."

Jules Renard, the author that quote, must have been famous-- we wouldn't have remembered that little line otherwise. But if you find yourself digging through your vast (re: forgotten) list of Things To Do, our friends to the south have made it easy. They put together a list. Everyone likes lists.

With its shore points, mountains, fabulous big-city life and quaint small towns, Maryland has plenty to offer tourists. The list might not include Disney World or a cruise (although Maryland can get you to both places), but for a weekend of fun (or longer), learning or entertainment, VisitMaryland has the info you need to stay busy.

Maryland Scenic Byways is an 18-tour list of ways to wander across Maryland and includes covered bridges, historic escapes (like John Wilkes Booth), fishing, biking, sailing, beautiful rural countrysides and the wild mountains in western Maryland. Surely, you can find something that itches your brain, makes you want to crash out of the house and into the car.

Of the 18 drives, six are listed in America's Byways by the Federal Highway Administration. Yep, good things going on here. If those aren't enough choices, check out another list of 13 heritage areas from Maryland's Historical Trust.Sometimes the trails overlap.

" I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now that I was free, there was such glory over everything, the sun came up like gold through the threes, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven."  Harriet Tubman

One of the more intriguing tours is the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad byway, a 125-mile wandering through Maryland's eastern shore. Tubman, the most famous engineer on the slave-freeing Underground Railroad was born near Cambridge and helped lead more than 300 slaves to safety. That number varies from source to source. Some say she made 13 trips north, others say 19. Either way, the woman was a hero of mystical proportions. Indeed, the "Moses" of her people, as some have called her.

Tubman's historic importance can't be denied. Tubman is one woman whose likeness might replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill or Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. And, she'll soon have a Maryland state park named in her honor. Or call it a national monument-- it's the same park. It's a confusing bit of national vs. state properties/money/administration.

Next year, Maryland State Parks opens the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, a 17-acre site carved out of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Exhibits will cover about 5,000 square feet, and a 2,600 square foot outdoor pavilion with a native stone fireplace is available. Landscaping will be done with native Maryland plants and will include a memorial garden. 

Tubman escaped slavery and helped family and friends escape north and some traveled into Canada. During the Civil War, she acted as scout and spy for the Union.

Hundreds of stories about the Railroad, Tubman and her life are available for visitors who have the time. The Harriet Tubman Museum at 424 Race Street in Cambridge is a good place to start. Admission is free, with hopes for donations. Or check in at the Dorchester County Visitor Center.

From harriettubmanbyway.org-- With more than 30 sites that include the newly designated Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, the self-guided driving tour shows you the places where Tubman grew up, worshiped, labored, and led others to freedom.

tubman sign

From the museum, you might learn that Tubman died when she was 91 (or 93, depending on which birthday you believe) of pneumonia at her Auburn, NY, home.

She escaped from her Maryland master in 1849. Some sources say 1851.

She was short, maybe five feet tall.

She was 'spirited', and enjoyed farm work more than housework, often outworking the men.

She was married twice, both times to former slaves.

She battled narcolepsy or sleeping spells because of a childhood head injury.

She was supposed to have been with John Brown during his raid at Harpers Ferry, but was ill and didn't make the trip.

Her nickname was Minty. Her birth name was Araminta, but it was changed after her marriage.

“I never run my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.” Harriet Tubman

Nearly all the stops along the Tubman Byway are logical, genuine historic stops, but some require a stretch of the imagination. The Dorchester County Courthouse was the site of Tubman's escape from the auction block. The Long Wharf is where slaves were once sold--a long, long time ago. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a terrific place to visit for wildlife, but its connection with Tubman is loose, saying the refuge is similar to the lands Tubman crossed during her trips north.

Included in the tour are churches and houses that once housed slaves on their way north, like the Faith Community UMC Church and the Leverton House.

While Tubman's personal history might not be securely connected to some stops, taking a break at Blackwater or the Adkins Arboretum can't be a bad thing.

Enjoy and learn.