Protestors rally to fight demolition of possible Underground Railroad stop

July 23, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Advocates are hoping the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission will give the building at 227 Duffield St. (left) a landmark designation. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
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Activists and local politicians gathered outside a small, seemingly unremarkable three-story brick building in Downtown Brooklyn Monday afternoon, calling on the city to investigate landmarking the building because of its historical significance as a possible stop on the Underground Railroad.

Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Laurie Cumbo, along with activists from the organizations Families United for Racial and Economic Equality and the Circle for Justice Innovations spoke of the importance of safeguarding the historic building — even as parks and skyscrapers crop up around it.

“[We’re here] to make sure that the development of Brooklyn does not come at the expense of people of color, of abolitionists — both black and white — who worked side-by-side in many ways to end slavery in the United States,” Cumbo, the majority leader of the City Council, said outside the building.

The developers who now own the building filed an application to demolish it in June, but no date has been set for demolition. The red-brick house was once owned by Harriet and Thomas Truesdell, prominent abolitionists. In more recent years, it was owned by a woman named Joy Chatel, who brought children into the house for tours and fought the Bloomberg administration’s Downtown Brooklyn rezoning in the 2000s, which could have been the end of 227 Duffield St.

The street has been known as Abolitionist Place since 2007.

Aleah Bacquie Vaughn, director of the Circle for Justice Innovations, said that Chatel used to bring the kids down into underground tunnels that connected houses on the block. The goal of these tunnels, Bacquie Vaughn said, was to move slaves between houses if the police came to one with a warrant. The existence of the tunnels have been disputed by the city, even while residents have said they are common knowledge.

Aleah Bacquie Vaughn speaks to reporters outside 227 Duffield St. Monday. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
Aleah Bacquie Vaughn speaks to reporters outside 227 Duffield St. Monday. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

“It’s really important for us to remember these things,” Bacquie Vaughn said. “We’re asking for something that is so simple and will cost nothing. A simple thing, which is that the Landmark Preservation Commission will put a date on the calendar to investigate this house and then to come to a conclusion that we know that it has a historical significance.”

Bacquie Vaughn says her organization checks every day to make sure there is no date set up for the buildings demolition. Bacquie Vaughn’s organization launched a petition earlier this month — directed at Landmarks Preservation Commission director Lisa Kersavage — to get the building landmarked. So far the petition has over 1,900 signatures.

Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission told the Brooklyn Eagle that they “received a request to evaluate 227 Duffield St. as a potential landmark and it is currently under review.”

“I think that it is appropriate to landmark,” said Councilmember Levin. He said the Landmarks Preservation Commission usually does not like to landmark structures for their cultural significance, but only for their architectural significance.

“They might look at that building and say well, that deserves landmarking because it has archways,” he said, pointing to another building on the block. “But in a lot of ways I think that kind of misses some of the important elements of what makes New York City so special.”

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