Following a nearly fifteen-year long fight, a historic home in Brooklyn connected to the Underground Railroad has been designated a historic landmark by the New York City Preservation Commission.
According to Untapped New York, efforts to preserve the house began in 2007, when Families United for Racial and Economic Equality sued the city. The city had condemned the property as part of a redevelopment effort. The lawsuit successfully halted demolition, however adjacent properties were destroyed. Without historic landmark designation status, 227 remained at risk for future demolition. The building’s previous owner, who had turned the property into an Underground Railroad museum, passed away in 2014, and the property remained vacant until 2018 when the Office of the City Marshall took legal possession of the property. This prompted a second wave of advocacy to preserve the building.
The house at 227 Duffield Street belonged to Harriet and Thomas Truesdell, abolitionists who moved into the property in 1850. A trap door, exit shafts, and a covered well beneath the house indicate that the property may have been used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Researchers believe the tunnels in the house may have connected to the Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church, Brooklyn’s first African American church.
In a celebration honoring the landmarking, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray explained the importance of preserving this property. “We may not know the names of the African souls that traveled in secrecy and desperation through downtown Brooklyn in search of a better life, but we do know this is one of the many sites that served as a temporary haven as they sought freedom. We also know that the residents of 227 Duffield Street risked losing power, respect and even their lives by helping those who were fleeing enslavement. These stories of our history need to be celebrated, not erased. It is an honor to highlight these sacred passages of our ancestors,” McCray said.
The preservation of 227 Duffield is a part of the preservation commission’s new equity framework, which aims to ensure that designations tell the story of all New Yorkers.