Activists are still putting in their all to save what many say is one of the last pieces of the City’s history of fighting slavery. On the outside, and perhaps the inside too, a dilapidated house located at 227 Duffield St., in Downtown Brooklyn, is believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad.
“This building is hanging on by a string, barely standing right now,” amateur historian Raul Rothblatt told local news. “It makes you want to stand on the mountaintop and scream something important happened here and it’s going to get lost.”
Before the Civil War, this downtown Brooklyn address was the home of abolitionists Harriet and Thomas Truesdell. The couple is not in history books, not that it should be surprising, but many activists believe that the couple was an influential part and played an important role in the Underground Railroad. Historians believe that the couple hid and fed escaped enslaved people making their way to freedom.
Historians take some of their information from stories of African Americans (who were seeking refuge) that have been passed down to the house’s longtime residents. In 2007 there was also a report commissioned by the city which reported signs of underground connections to neighboring buildings which have since been destroyed. Over the years, artifacts that would have been used to cook and make food have been found at the property.
“Mamma” Joy Chatel, who owned the three-story brick home, wanted the house to be preserved. Under the Bloomberg administration, the city tried to take the house through eminent domain so that it could be developed as part of Downtown Brooklyn. At the time, the city claimed that there wasn’t enough proof to verify the building’s history. Ms. Chatel recently passed-away and the house has become the property of a developer who filed for demolition permits last summer. Samiel Hanasab, who is reportedly the building owner, would not reveal his plans and would not speak to reporters.
Now, activists are fearful that destruction is imminent. Aleah Bacquie Vaughn, who heads the nonprofit Circle for Justice Innovations said, “It is just unthinkable that you would bulldoze the last remaining symbol, especially in this political climate, of the fight against white supremacy in the United States in Downtown Brooklyn to build a 13-unit luxury building.”
A request to evaluate the property again was put to Landmarks Preservation Commission, although there has been no response. Activists fear the worst and are planning rallies to save the building.
We will certainly be keeping an eye on this story!