NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held a public hearing on the proposed designation of The Harriet and Thomas Truesdall House located at 227 Duffield Street in Brooklyn on July 14, 2020. The home is a rare surviving 19th Century abolitionists’ home, and a stop on the historic underground railroad. Don’t miss the fabulous Youtube video below with ‘Mama Joy’ Chatel.
Thomas and Harriet Lee-Truesdell, who were active abolitionists in New England, purchased the home at 227 Duffield Street in Brooklyn in 1850, the same year the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. Harriet passed away in 1862. Thomas remained on Duffield Street until 1865. He kept the home after he moved until 1921.
It passed through several generations, finally purchased by Joy Chatel (Mama Joy) in 1998. Several years after Joy’s husband passed away, she discovered a door in her home’s basement. This door confirmed that 227 Duffield Street was part of the historic underground railroad. In its sub-basement, which ran from home to home, it included hiding-holes and exit shafts in the tunnel along Duffield Street. The Brooklyn waterfront was a major entry point for freedom seekers who stowed away on ships to escape slavery, and often sheltered in these underground spaces before continuing their travels north.
Above is a map of the Underground Railroad routes from the southern United States to northern U.S. and Canada.
Housing freedom seekers was dangerous and breaking this law held harsh penalties including imprisonment and fines. Therefore, there was much secrecy surrounding the underground railroad. The stations were distributed by word-of-mouth, with very few records ever kept.
227 Duffield Street in Brooklyn is Block 146 and Lot 15 on the Tax Map. It was built between 1847-1850 in a Greek Revival style. In the early part of the 20th-century, the house was altered, reflecting the many changes in this neighborhood, and included the removal of original front and rear porches, and the addition of a two-story commercial extension.
The property is currently co-owned by Joy Chatel’s daughter, along with a corporation. They opposed an individual landmark at the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting, through their attorney, because they said it would mean that the property could not be used for commercial use (a museum), nor could it be developed.
New York Landmarks Conservancy strongly supported an individual landmark, citing that the property was almost lost to demolition several times. Historic District Council (HDC) also strongly urged landmarking.
NYC Councilman Stephen Levin indicated strong support for an individual landmark and museum. Both he said, can be in place without an issue.
These were just a few of the plethora of speakers ~ neighbors, local and professional preservation organizations ~ that spoke in support of a Landmark for 227 Duffield Street. LPC indicated 70 letters in support and 1 in opposition. A vote on this designation will be scheduled in the near future.
While you wait, scroll through ‘New York City and the Path to Freedom: Landmarks Associated with Abolitionist & Underground Railroad History” by NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, June 19, 2020.
LPC mapped a three-mile walking tour, stopping at nine of the designated landmarks which are highlighted on this story map.