Guest Author - Donna Ledbetter
Kathy Bumpass is one of over thirty volunteer conductors of the Underground Railroad Tour at Woodlawn Manor. She can tell you the history of local abolitionists of the 1800’s and bring to life the urgency with which people traveled through the fields of Montgomery County, Maryland, just a century ago, seeking freedom from slavery.
Her passion and that of co-conductor Katie Frampton show through this morning as they lead a small group of nine along a tortuous path through the woods and bramble of the Woodlawn Manor site. “There is really no way to know the exact trail the freedom seekers took, but this route was planned using documents that suggest how they might have traveled,” says Bumpass.
A few people on the tour get a nostalgic feeling when the tour conductors tell of the all the history that's happened along the trail. In addition to the information she gives about those seeking freedom slavery, Frampton notes that the trail we are on is the same one traveled by Oprah Winfrey. Working with Anthony Cohen, a prominent scholar and historian at the University of Maryland, Oprah traveled through these woods to prepare for her legendary role in “Beloved.”
There’s lots of history in these trails and still more to be made. Woodlawn Manor has plans to rehabilitate the historic Woodlawn Barn on the site. The barn will be turned into a visitor’s center, where guests can learn more about the Underground Railroad through interactive activities that will enhance their touring experience.
In the meantime, you can still see the barn in its current condition and note it for its unique architecture. This is the spot where the tour begins. Every Saturday at 10 a.m. from April to October, you will find dedicated volunteer conductors like Kathy Bumpass and Katy Frampton eager to share their knowledge of the time and historic events surrounding the Underground Railroad and its network.
The tour ends at Sandy Springs—the real, natural spring after which Sandy Springs, Maryland is named. At the end, you will have the option of returning to the Manor using one of two routes of your choice. Opting for one these routes is strongly encouraged, but note that you will be without a guide. If traveling through the woods unaccompanied does not appeal to you, it is also possible to tag along with the tour guides back through the same route you traveled at first.
The tour lasts about one and a half hours. When you come, wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts. Poison ivy, insects, and other pests lurk in spots off the trail. Taking this small precautionary measure will help ensure you leave the trail the way you came. The tour is great for families, and inquisitive children over 8 will enjoy learning about history in an interactive setting. Most people on the tour are adults though who yearn to know more about the Underground Railroad’s history.