227 Duffield Street; Map data © 2020 Google
The Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday voted to calendar a property in Downtown Brooklyn that was home to abolitionists in a move that could potentially save the historic home from demolition. Harriet and Thomas Truesdell, known members of the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War, lived at the Greek-Revival row house at 227 Duffield Street from 1851 to 1863. Last year, preservationists and local officials called on the LPC to designate the building after a developer filed permits to raze the three-story structure and replace it with a much taller mixed-use building.
While some verbal accounts of the house list it as a stop on the Underground Railroad, the commission’s research staff could not confirm this. But the staff did recognize the danger and secrecy of housing fugitive enslaved people during this time, making Underground Railroad activity difficult to confirm.
The house remained in the Truesdell family until 1921, a time period of roughly 70 years. Although there were alterations to the property, including a two-story commercial extension, the facade, window surrounds, and cornice all remain original. As a rare surviving home of known abolitionists, and as a representation of the abolitionist movement in Brooklyn before the Civil War, 227 Duffield should be considered for designation as an individual landmark, according to LPC staff.
Last summer, Samiel Hanasab filed an application with the Department of Buildings to raze the current property to make way for a 13-story tower that would feature office space, 21 apartments, and parking for nearly 100 cars. No permits have yet been accepted by the DOB and approval remains pending, according to filings.
Hanasab told Gothamist last August that if his project was approved he would build an African American museum in the basement of the new building.”I have a high respect for African Americans,” Hanasab told the website last year. “This project will be in the basement.”
As 6sqft previously reported, the house was almost seized by eminent domain during the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn Redevelopment Plan, after a lawsuit filed by South Brooklyn Legal Services on behalf of former owner Joy Chatel, who passed away in 2014, forced the city to agree to a settlement. In September 2007, Duffield Street between Willoughby and Fulton Streets was renamed Abolitionist Place.
Although preservationists and historians have long called on the city to recognize the significance of the building, Hanasab’s plan to build an apartment tower accelerated their effort. A Change.org petition that launched last year has since garnered nearly 13,000 signatures.
On Tuesday, Carroll said the consideration of the property aligns with the commission’s goal of recognizing more buildings that are connected to Black history and culture in the city, especially in this current moment of national reckoning.
“We continue to strive to tell the full story of the African American experience in New York City,” LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said during Tuesday’s meeting. “In addition, we have been increasingly seeking to address difficult histories in our designations, documenting when there has been institutional racism and racist government policies. And one aspect of our research has been the people and the institutions engaged with the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War, whether through political and religious activism or by housing freedom seekers.”
A public hearing on the designation of 227 Duffield as an individual landmark will be scheduled for a later date.
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Neighborhoods : Downtown Brooklyn