Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dissolving businesses in the name of economic development

In order to promote business, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is displacing businesses. Today's example comes from 223 Duffield Street, where A&B Distributors have been thrown into uncertainty. The EDC has bought their building, and now this long-standing enterprise must pay its "occupancy fee ("rent")" to the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD). Of course, since the EDC is so good at economic development, it has not told this business how long it will hold this business in limbo before demolishing the building.

This is all part of the Downtown Brooklyn Rezoning— neighborhood activists have accused the EDC of displacing entrepreneurs and long-time residents without any sort of compensation or plan. A&B Distributors are guilty of several sins, according to critics, since it is both an independent bookstore, and its focus is on African-American literature.

Download a PDF of the letter from HPD here.

This is a video of the proprietor of A&E Distributors:

You can see the same video by clicking here.

Oh, and what does the EDC report from spring of 2007 have to say about this property built around 1847? Below is an excerpt from Appendix B of the EDC report on Duffield, a section submitted by A.J. Williams-Myers, a professor from SUNY-New Paltz and member of the New York State Freedom Trail Commission:

With what Ms. Chatel and Mr. Greenstein have shared, both orally and in a tour of their buildings, as well as the building at 223 Duffield Street, I now need to modify my “no Underground Railroad connection,” and instead indicate a high probability of an Underground Railroad/Abolitionism/Antislavery connection. The Duffield Street buildings, along with the one on Gold Street, are not only situated in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, adjacent to what were known establishments in the Underground Railroad movement, like the African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church on Bridge Street, but 227 Duffield Street housed the Truesdell family which, because of their associations, put them “solidly within the Antislavery inner sanctum.” I left the Duffield Street buildings having been touched by what I saw and upon that which I stood. I saw what indeed may have been the very secreted, below-ground facilities used by those in search of freedom far from the brutal hand of American slavery. And it was the brave souls of the building owners who put their own lives in jeopardy in order to ensure the life and freedom of fellow human beings. I truly stood on ground where humanity joined together against inhumanity.
We hope to provide more information about the historical significance of this building in the coming weeks.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Griots praise the memory of 231 Duffield

Famoro Dioubate and Missia Saran Diouate of Guinea praise the memory of the Abolitionists who lived at 231 Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn. The building was owned by Peter and Mary Hawes of Plymouth Church, and the basement included hidden passages that archeologists think could have provided shelter for escaped slaves during the 1850s. This memorial was held at 227 Duffield Street, which was also owned by Abolitionists and is considered a likely part of the Underground Railroad. 231 Duffield was demolished in March 2009 by a private developer who hopes to build a hotel at the site.

Famoro and Missia are Djelis (also known as Griots), who are the living history books of the Mande Empire of West Africa.

You can also see the video by clicking here.

Photos of hidden space at 231 Duffield

Here are some pictures sent by a reader who identified himself as racer x. The first is an image taken from the ground level from the back of 231 Duffield Street looking down- click the image to enlarge. The wall between 231 and 233 Duffield is on the left:

Here are the pipes in the foreground of the photo above. Notice how they go behind the stone wall towards a brick wall (actual outer wall of property):

The photo below shows the view from above the false wall towards the property line. It shows a gap of about five feet:

Several advocates believe that slaves hid in this crawl space. I have spoken to archeologists familiar with buildings of the mid-19th century, and they had never seen any sort of construction like this.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

News 12 Brooklyn video of 231 Duffield Demolition

News 12 Brooklyn broadcast the story of the demolition of the Abolitionist home at 231 Duffield Street. To see the story, click here

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Demolition of Abolitionist home nearly complete

The demolition of 231 Duffield Street continues. The loss of this Abolitionist home was covered in Brownstoner and Curbed. News 12 Brooklyn sent a reporter, but I haven't seen the clip.

To see an annotated Flicker set of photos from 3/4/09, click here. I have included images of other buildings slated for demolition by New York City.

A few people asked for a photo of 231 Duffield Street before demolition began. Here is something I found from about 2005:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Demolition of 231 Duffield moves quickly

V3 has moved efficiently to demolish 231 Duffield Street. This is demolition is the work of a private developer, and it is NOT the same as 227 Duffield, the Abolitionist home owned by Joy Chatel, who succeeded in lifting the threat of eminent domain on her home.

For more photos of 231 Duffield (plus some nearby properties) on March 3, 2009, please click here. A 6-second video of the back of the building can be found here.

For a brief description of the history of 231 Duffield, click here to read yesterday's post. The demolition of this 1850 home was also covered today in Brownstoner here.

In Memoriam: 231 Duffield Street

231 Duffield is still standing, but it has been gutted and looks like its shell will only last a few more days at most. Much of the press attention has focused on 227 Duffield (owned by Joy Chatel) and 233 Duffield, but I wanted to take a moment to remember the historical importance of 231 Duffield.

In this memorial posting about the building, I would like to go back to the NYC Economic Development Corporation report titled “Research Report on the Potential Underground Railroad Associations of the Duffield Street and Gold Street Properties in Downtown Brooklyn.” Before getting to the connection to the Abolitionist movement, here's a bit of background:


Lot 13 originally was part of the John Duffield estate. By 1829, Lot 13 (along with other adjacent lots) had been acquired by John Duffield’s daughter, Susan Lawrence. It appears that Susan Lawrence never developed the lot during the time she held it…. Lot 13 was purchased at public auction for $550 by Robert Dingee of Brooklyn. It appears that lot remained undeveloped during the time that Robert Dingee owned it, from 1847 to 1850. In 1850, Robert and Frances Dingee sold Lot 13 to John A. Ackeley (also spelled Ackley) for $800. Again, the relatively low price paid for the lot suggests there were no improvements to it at the time. After purchasing Lot 13, Ackeley appears to have built the first house on the property after 1850.

One of the Peer Reviewers hired by the EDC in this study was Dr. Judith Wellman. Her widely used Wellman Scale evaluates the significance of potential Underground Railroad sites. A level three is defined as
Good chance the story is true Abolitionist sympathies, abolitionism or African-American background but no direct evidence of Underground Railroad activity. Potential Underground Railroad affiliation backed by oral tradition and/or some evidence of abolitionist activity, e.g., antislavery society membership, signatures on antislavery petitions or antislavery church membership.

In Appendix B page 3 of the EDC study, Dr. Wellman writes:

I would definitely put the Hawes/Hilles household (231 Duffield) at a level three because of the Hawes connection with Plymouth Church and the Hilles family as African American. Similarly, I would put the Truesdale/Harris household (227 Duffield) at level three because of Elizabeth Harris’s birthplace in North Carolina and Thomas Truesdale’s subscription to the National Anti-Slavery Standard. I was not sure about which households several other members of abolitionist churches belonged to. The Truesdales and Hawes families (especially the Truesdales) deserve further work. Level 3 fits people who have some connection with abolitionism, even if there is no documented connection as yet with the Underground Railroad. Membership in abolitionist societies and churches and subscription to abolitionist newspapers would count as abolitionist connections.

Dr. Wellman commented several times in the EDC report about the significance of the 231 Duffield, and Dr. Cheryl LaRoche supported Wellman in her comments.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Demolition continues of 231 Duffield

The demolition of 231 Duffield continues. The whole block was an important part of Brooklyn's Abolitionist history since many of this reviled community lived on the block. The buildings on this side of the block were connected underground. Here are photos from this evening:

Here is the view from the back of the building:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Demolition begins of historic Duffield Street building

Here are photos of the scaffolding that has been erected around 231 Duffield Street. While most attention has been on 227 and 233 Duffield, one important part of the history of the block is that all these buildings were connected underground. 231 Duffield is controlled by the V3, the same company building the hotel at 237 Duffield, and it looks like they intend to use their demolition permit. Some speculate that escaped slaves may have used other buildings on the block for various purposes, but that they stayed in 231.

These photos were sent by a reader.