How much do you know about Auburn? The city, which calls itself “History’s Hometown,” sits around 40 minutes’ drive from Syracuse on Owasco Lake in Cayuga County, and it turns out one day is not enough to try all the possibilities Auburn holds from museums to playing to restaurants. I’m looking forward to going back, rain or shine, summer and winter.
Start your trip with a dip into the past. Auburn is lucky to be the last home of Harriet Tubman, famous escaped slave and slave rescuer. She eventually settled in Auburn and founded the Tubman Home for the Aged. Named a National Historical Park in 2017, the Tubman property can be visited year-round. The Visitor Center provides a detailed timeline of her life, which is enhanced by dramatic retelling of her struggles and achievements by Paul Gordon Carter, who was a tour guide when this story was written. He asks children to share their knowledge of Tubman and help re-enact some of her accomplishments.
Tubman’s personal home, rebuilt in brick by her second husband, can be viewed from outside, and tours are available of the Home for the Aged. There’s plenty of grass for children to spread their wings between buildings and tables available for picnic lunches. I’d recommend an hour for the visit with children.
Tell the kids there’s time for one more stop of historical interest, and that’s the Seward House Museum, which also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Park in the public parking lot next to the house at 33 South St. A gate leads to the visitor entrance of the home of William H. Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state. Every item inside came from the four generations of Sewards who lived there, including many gifts Seward received while visiting countries around the world. The home, built in 1816, was donated by the family in the 1950s to become a museum so no items were lost. These artifacts support the stories about the family members and U.S. history.
The home must be viewed on a tour, which is adapted to the audience. “The nice thing about the tour is that the docents are able to cater to everyone,” said Jill Hand, who was the youth services coordinator when this story was written. “They can switch gears and talk about pets and the toys that are up in the nursery. It’s a kid-friendly experience.”
Tours also can focus on specific topics of interest, such as women’s history, abolition and the anti-slavery movement, or New York history, noted Jeffrey Ludwig, who was the director of education when this story was written. Children enjoy hearing about Fanny Seward, who grew up in the home and whose toys and books are on display, he added. Only children typically are taken down the narrow stairs to the home’s original underground kitchen, which was turned into a hiding spot for escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad, Ludwig said.
After about an hour in the Seward home, tell the kids it’s time to head outside. Drive a few blocks to Fort Hill Cemetery, where you can drive or walk to the graves of Tubman, the Seward family and suffragette Martha Coffin Wright, among others. The cemetery area originally was a fort and burial grounds for the Iroquois Indians and offers hills to climb while inspecting the historic gravesites.
If you brought along the family dog, he’s probably ready to romp at the Lakeside Dog Park, located next to Owasco Lake on the Fleming side of Emerson Park. There’s even a bit of lake available for dogs to dive and swim. Drive around the lake to a more “human” area, Emerson Park (with parking on East Lake Road) that features a playground and picnic tables to enjoy a packed lunch and an afternoon of swimming.
The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse stands nearby and offers a few matinees and regular evening performances. Keep driving up East Lake Road to my favorite lunch spot of Tom Thumb Drive In, which offers food, ice cream and 18 holes of miniature golf, all overlooking Owasco Lake.
It’s not time to go home yet. Head back to downtown Auburn and stop in the Seymour Library on Genesee Street. The public library features a lower level devoted to children’s books and activities, and sponsors a special activity for children each week through summer (visit seymourlibrary.org for details.) Located in another historic Auburn building, adults will enjoy the comfortable chairs arranged for reading in the library’s other rooms.
After leaving the library, stop by the Schweinfurth Art Center, located at 205 Genesee St. The center for modern arts will offer several exhibits this summer, including one of work by New York artists. Children under 12 get in free. I like to take my kids on short forays into art museums or galleries so they can see what’s available and ideally grow an appreciation for visiting such spots.
OK, now it’s time to go home … unless you want to stop for dinner at one of the city’s two brew pubs.
Another Day, Perhaps in Foul Weather
If it’s late summer or autumn, it’s time for apple picking on your way to or from Auburn. Once there, take in the ag museum or whatever you missed from the day one visit.
Open daily during summer, the Ward W. O’Hara Agricultural Museum is free to visit and tour along East Lake Road. For those more inclined to local history, check out the Cayuga Museum of History and Art as well as the Case Research Lab Museum, both located in downtown Auburn. The Cayuga Museum’s summer exhibit by Anna Warfield is devoted to didactic poems. The Lab contains all the equipment used by Theodore Case, who was a leader in discovering the magic of attaching sound to film in 1924.
If you have children age 6 and under, then turn to jumping and playing in Play Space of ABC Cayuga. Located on Genesee Street at the intersection with Route 34 (North Street), Play Space was designed to boost the development of young children while providing a place for parents to meet. For $8, a family can play all day.
If your group includes older children or teens, they may prefer the Arnold Palmer Golf Facility on Gates Road, off Route 5. They can try miniature golf, the batting cages or driving range – and then fill up on hot dogs and ice cream, of course. Participants must be at least 10 years old to try Combat Zone Paintball, which shares the golf grounds, too.
Don’t forget to try one of the numerous local pizzerias located throughout Auburn, take your picnic lunch back to Emerson Park next to Owasco Lake or check out one of the new brew pubs before taking your memories of Auburn back home.
IF YOU GO
HARRIET TUBMAN HOME
180 South St., Auburn. (315) 252-2081. harriettubmanhome.com. $5 fee for adults; free for children.
SEWARD HOUSE MUSEUM
33 South St., Auburn. (315) 252-1283. sewardhouse.org. Tours on the hour. Admission $14 for adults; $8 for students with ID; and free for children 6 and under.
FORT HILL CEMETERY
19 Fort St., Auburn. (315) 253-8132. forthillcemetery.net. Free. Map available.
EMERSON PARK at OWASCO LAKE
6914 East Lake Road, Auburn. (315) 253-5611. cayugacounty.us/Community/Parks-and-Trails/Emerson-Park. Open dawn to dusk. $2 fee for parking daily.
176 Genesee St., Auburn. (315) 252-2571. seymourlibrary.org. Free.
SCHWEINFURTH ART CENTER
205 Genesee St., Auburn. (315) 255-1553. schweinfurthartcenter.org. Admission $10; free for children 12 and under. (Free admission on first Fridays.)
CAYUGA MUSEUM and CASE RESEARCH LAB
203 Genesee St., Auburn. (315) 253-8051. cayugamuseum.org. Admission $7; free for students.
6877 East Lake Road, Auburn. (315) 255-1785. fingerlakesmtf.com. Tickets needed.
PLAY SPACE of ABC CAYUGA
53 Genesee St., Auburn. (315) 252-5541. playspaceabc.com. $8 per family per day. Only children age 6 and under.
ARNOLD PARLMER GOLF FACILITY
3060 Gates Road, Auburn. (315) 253-8072. apgolf.info. Fee required.
COMBAT ZONE PAINTBALL
3060 Gates Road, Auburn. (315) 214-9591. thecombatzonepaintball.com. Fee required.
WARD W. O’HARA AGRICULTURAL MUSEUM
6880 East Lake Road, Auburn. (315) 252-7644. wardwoharaagriculturalmuseum.org. Free.
TOM THUMB DRIVE IN
6143 East Lake Road, Auburn. (315) 253-3458, tomthumbdrivein.com.
PRISON CITY PUB and BREWERY
28 State St., Auburn. (315) 604-1277. prisoncitybrewing.com.