Landmarks Will Consider Preserving Historic Abolitionist House in Downtown Brooklyn

The house earlier this month. Photo by Susan De Vries


In the latest twist in the long saga of the former home of abolitionists on Duffield Street, the LPC moved to calendar the structure at a meeting this morning.

The Harriet and Thomas Truesdell House at 227 Duffield Street was unanimously approved for designation consideration as an individual landmark, a move that could save it from demolition.

According to LPC Chair Sarah Carroll, Mayor de Blasio asked the commission to reconsider designation of the historic structure. LPC had chosen not to move forward with considering the building back in 2007. The chair did not specify when the mayor made his request.

227 duffield

A missing window

After being saved from eminent domain in 2007, no protections were put into place and a demolition permit was filed for the brick house in June of 2019. Advocates had been hoping to preserve the house for years and the new threat spurred demonstrations and a petition calling for the building to be landmarked. The petition on, launched by Brooklyn-based criminal justice nonprofit Circle for Justice Innovations last year, had support from local pols.

At the mayor’s request, the agency’s research staff reviewed past material and conducted further investigations. The Greek Revival style house was constructed circa 1847 to 1850 and was home to Thomas and Harriet Truesdell, prominent abolitionists, from 1851 to 1863. While verbal accounts tie the house to Underground Railroad activity, LPC Director of Research Kate Lemos McHale noted, the connection has not been verified although historians agree the very nature of the activity makes it difficult to document.

The building remained in the hands of the Truesdell family until 1921. A storefront extension was added to the house between 1932 and 1933, but the upper floors retain their 19th century appearance.

downtown brooklyn

The neighborhood in 1850. Map by M. Dripps via Library of Congress

Citing the rarity of properties designated specifically for their connection to New York abolition history, the current goals of the commission and the mayor’s request, Carroll recommended that the commissioners calendar the property.

The calendaring of the building temporarily halts the potential demolition of the building as it makes its way through the public hearing process before a final LPC vote on whether to designate the building. It comes at time of continuing protests in support of Black Lives Matter and advocacy to ensure monuments in the city reflect the Black history of the city.

227 duffield street

The rear of the house in 2019

“Since its earliest days, the commission has designated sites reflecting African American heritage in New York City,” said Carroll. “We have been increasingly seeking to address difficult histories in our designations, documenting when there was 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.”

The house represents “Brooklyn’s important role in the abolition movement before the Civil War,” said McHale. “While its context has changed dramatically and its lower floors have been altered, the building’s form and remaining historic fabric still convey its 19th century residential character and its association with the Truesdells and Brooklyn’s important abolition history.”

While demolition did not move forward, repairs were not made either. Walks past the building over the last year showed missing windows and an interior left open to the elements. After the commission unanimously voted to approve calendaring, Carroll noted a public hearing will take place “in the near future.”

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