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New York City buys a historic home believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad

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City officials announced the purchase of 227 Duffield Street in Brooklyn on Monday, in a move that Mayor Bill de Blasio called “protecting an important part of New York City’s abolitionist history.”

“To build a better future for our city, we must remember our past and preserve our goals,” the mayor said. wrote on Twitter.

Duffield Street, 227, has a deep history. The building was home to Thomas and Harriet Truesdell, abolitionist activists of the time.

Brooklyn’s location on the boardwalk made it convenient for those escaping south by stowage on boats. They would then seek refuge with local abolitionists before staying in Brooklyn or marching further north, according to the New York Monuments Preservation Commission.

“The verbal accounts of Truesdell House as a stop on the underground railway have not been confirmed after extensive investigation and physical analysis. However, the building is as important as the surviving house of the Truesdell, abolitionists who resided for more than a decade. ” stated the commission.

The move comes just over a month after the city officially designated the house as a landmark. At the February 2 designation ceremony, de Blasio praised the street, where the abolitionist movement flourished in the 19th century.

“When we talk about Duffield Street, 227, we’re not just talking about a building, but a deeper story and something we can’t afford to lose because it’s part of our heart and soul,” by Blasio he said last month. “And it’s a story that needs to be told in much more depth.”

However, this has not always been the city’s approach to the building. For decades, advocates and community leaders had to fight to make the history of the street known.

Under then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a comprehensive redevelopment plan was approved for downtown Brooklyn, which would have seen the area rebuilt with three new office towers, new housing and further retail expansion. In the new plan, 227 Duffield Street would have been demolished.

A statement on May 10, 2004, announcing the approval of the redevelopment plan, refers to proponents’ claims that the area was part of the underground railroad. City officials fired them.

“After extensive investigation, no evidence has been found to show the existence of underground railway activity at 223 and 229 in Duffield and 434 Albee Square West,” the release states.

It is detailed below that, “when redevelopment occurs at these sites,” test surveys would be conducted to look for evidence of tunnels containing underground railroad artifacts.

“If a connection is established with the underground railway, excavations would take place and the findings would be recorded and displayed in a suitable location,” the statement said.

But community advocates fought the plan to demolish historic buildings, particularly Joy Chatel, who lived at 227 Duffield Street.

In 2007, a portion of the street was officially marked “Abolitionist Site” and 227 Duffield Street is still maintained.

And now, with its historic designation and city property announcement, the building will be preserved at least for the foreseeable future.

“(Joy Chatel’s) actions live on in what we’re doing right now,” de Blasio said last month. “So this was a battle for justice led by members of the Brooklyn community. And I’m happy to say the community prevailed.”

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