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Auburn celebrates Tubman National Historical Park becoming official

Following more than 15 years of federal and local lobbying efforts, the Harriet Tubman properties in Auburn have been established as a national historic park. 

As it stands now, the Tubman house, and four other Auburn properties with ties to the underground railroad conductor, are a regional draw -- pulling in people from upstate New York and the Northeast who are interested in the history of the Underground Railroad. That all changed Tuesday when the sites tied to Tubman officially became part of the National Park Service.

"It raises it to a another level, so it’s no longer just a local site of significance, it will put us into a whole different playing field,” said Meg Vanek, executive director of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism

And that means more people ambling through Auburn, a city of almost 28,000.

"We do understand, once it’s a national park, that definitely we will see more visitors that will not only come to Tubman, but they will also come to see the Seward House Museum, the Cayuga Museum, the Willard Memorial Chapel, all the great historic sites we have,” said Vanek.

And that’s good news for Stephanie DeVito, of the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District, whose job it is to nurture small business.

"Anytime you have something of that nature, especially pertaining to history, it will attract people into the downtown area, and certainly generate revenue for our area business and restaurants and retail stores,” said DeVito.

Like Prison City Pub and Brewery. Prison City is a prime example of a business that’s part of a revitalized downtown Auburn. Part-owner Dawn Schulz says over half of the three year-old brewery’s business now comes from tourists -- specifically the kind of visitors who will flock to a national park.

“Professionals, people in age bracket of anywhere from the late 20s to mid 60s, people that have expendable income to be able to travel and look at historical sites, and their looking for a higher end dining experience,” said Schulz.

Auburn Mayor Michael Quill says the federal designation means improvements to the properties involved, including Tubman’s Home for the Aged, the A.M.E. Zion Church she attended, and her home. Quill say the Tubman designation won’t save Auburn from years of economic malaise. He says the city is turning around economically right now. What it does, is create more buzz about Auburn, which, according to legend, two centuries ago defined its future, by choosing to be home to a prison instead of the state capitol. 

And perhaps most importantly of all, Quill says it shines a bigger light on Tubman, and the traits she shared with the community where she spent the last 50 years of her life.

“One of her favorite sayings was just keep going. And I think that’s a good motto for all of us. Just keep going, things get tough, jus put your head down, and work a little harder.”