A Small Town with Big History!
From Freedom from Slavery to The Birthplace of Talking Movies
Auburn has been called “History’s Hometown.” Maybe that’s because it has been the hometown to some of history’s major players.
After escaping slavery, Harriet Tubman risked her life repeatedly by returning to lead others along the path to freedom. Often referred to as “The Moses of Her People,” this famous conductor on the Underground Railroad reportedly made as many as 19 trips back into the South over the next ten years, freeing a total of around 300 slaves. She also served as a Union spy during the Civil War years. Learn More
Her residence in Auburn, alongside The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged that she founded after the Civil War, was designated a National Historic Park by Congress in December 2014.
It was also home to William Henry Seward, Lincoln’s famous Secretary of State, whose outspoken opposition to slavery may have cost him the Republican nomination for the presidency to Lincoln. Seward ranks high among historians for his skillful diplomacy during the Civil War, as well as his visionary expansion of U.S. territory achieved with the purchase of Alaska, derogatorily referred to as “Seward’s Folly” at the time. His residence in Auburn, now known as The Seward House Historic Museum, was the permanent home to Seward and his family. This beautiful, stately home welcomes visitors to discover the rare and historic Civil War era artifacts displayed among the original furnishings.
It was also William Henry Seward who was instrumental in Auburn becoming home to another key figure from the Civil War area in 1858 – his friend Harriet Tubman.
History’s Hometown is also the Birthplace to Talking Movies. In the 1920’s, Theodore Case invented the first commercially successful system of recording sound on film at Case Research Lab in Auburn. The history of his work, and exhibits from his lab and studio, are on display at The Cayuga Museum and Case Research Lab close to downtown Auburn.
Widely held to be the wealthiest American in history, John D. Rockefeller spent his early boyhood years in a home along the gently sloping hill that looks down on Owasco Lake. A plaque marking the site of the home can be spotted along the scenic drive overlooking the eastern side of the lake. According to his biographer, Ron Chernow, “For John D., this two-story clapboard house was a scene of enchantment and became his enduring emblem of pastoral beauty.”
Another historical figure, Millard Fillmore, the thirteenth President of the United States, shared similar humble beginnings in the area of Owasco Lake. A replica of the simple log cabin where he was born can be found near the southern end of the lake in the New York State Park named in his honor, Fillmore Glen. The park’s hiking trails offer spectacular views of five waterfalls found within the long, narrow gorge.
The rich history of Auburn and the surrounding area heightens the experience of exploring the Finger Lakes Region.