New York City has purchased a historic Brooklyn home, believed to have once harbored those fleeing slavery.
City officials announced the purchase of 227 Duffield Street in Brooklyn on Monday, in a move that Mayor Bill de Blasio called “protecting an important part of New York City’s abolitionist history.”
“In order to build a better future for our city, we need to remember our past and preserve our landmarks,” the Mayor wrote on Twitter.
227 Duffield Street has a deep history. The building was the home of Thomas and Harriet Truesdell, active abolitionists at the time.
Brooklyn’s location on the waterfront made it convenient for those escaping the south by stowing away on ships. They would then seek shelter with local abolitionists before staying in Brooklyn or moving further north, according to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“Verbal accounts of the Truesdell House being a stop on the Underground Railroad have not been confirmed after extensive research and physical analysis. However, the building has significance as the surviving home of the Truesdells, abolitionists who resided there for more than a decade,” the commission stated.
The move comes just over a month after the city officially designated the house as a landmark. At the designation ceremony on February 2, de Blasio praised the street, where the abolitionist movement thrived in the 19th century.
“When we talk about 227 Duffield Street we’re not just talking about a building, we’re talking about a deeper history, and something we cannot afford to lose because it’s part of our heart and soul,” de Blasio said last month. “And it’s a story that needs to be told much more deeply.”
That hasn’t always been the city’s approach to the building, though. For decades, advocates and community leaders had to fight to raise awareness of the street’s history.
Under then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a vast redevelopment plan was approved for downtown Brooklyn, which would have seen the area redone with three new office towers, new housing and further retail expansion. In the new plan, 227 Duffield Street would have been demolished.
A news release from May 10, 2004 – announcing the approval of the redevelopment plan – references claims from advocates that the area was part of the Underground Railroad. City officials dismissed them.
“Following extensive research, no evidence has been found to substantiate the existence of Underground Railroad activity at 223 and 229 Duffield and 434 Albee Square West,” the release states.
It goes on to detail that, “when redevelopment occurs at these sites,” test borings would be brought in to search for evidence of tunnels containing artifacts from the Underground Railroad.
“If a connection is established to the Underground Railroad, excavations would take place and the findings would be recorded and exhibited in an appropriate location,” the statement reads.
But community advocates fought the plan to demolish the historic buildings, particularly Joy Chatel, who lived at 227 Duffield Street.
In 2007, a portion of the street was officially marked as “Abolitionist Place,” and 227 Duffield Street still stands.
And now, with its historical landmark designation and the announcement of city ownership, the building will be preserved at least for the foreseeable future.
“(Joy Chatel’s) actions live today in what we are doing right now,” de Blasio said last month. “So, this was a battle for justice led by members of the community in Brooklyn. And I’m happy to say the community prevailed.”