NYC Underground Railroad stop in construction dispute

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By Katy Tur
NBC New York

New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, a runaway slave, Abigail Hopper, William Lloyd Garrison all graced these floors. Windows were broken; valuables raided and fires set here during the Draft Riots in 1863. History was made at 339 w 29th street in Chelsea – but no one knew until just recently, when historian Fern Luskin found a letter proving this now shrouded row house to be the only known surviving Manhattan stop on the Underground Railroad.

The drama that you learned in history class — Harriet Tubman and other slaves risking their lives for a chance at freedom — literally happened in this home. This home which now could be getting a makeover with a brand new 5th story to tower above the rest on this block.

It is like taking a slice of our important history and lopping it off for with a serrated knife that’s how I see it,” cried Luskin. Her fellow historian, Julie Finch agrees saying, “this block is a testimony to what everybody in the city went through during the Draft Riots.”

Luskin and Finch have been heading up the fight to stop work on what is known as the Hopper-Gibbons home, named after its two prominent abolitionist former owners – Abigail Hopper and Isaac Gibbons.

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Luskin even calls the Gibbonses “the Schindlers of their day.”

After initially approving the plans in ‘05, the Department of Buildings issued a removal order for the 5th story in ‘09; now the DOB says current construction is to bring space up to fire safety codes. But for Luskin and Finch, nothing will be safe until this piece of cherished history is out of danger.

“It serves as a memorial to all of those blacks that were killed lynched and tortured.” argues Finch.

The DOB ordered the addition removed by last month. The owner, who did not respond to NBC New York, has yet to appeal the tear down.

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Katy Tur is on Twitter: @katytur4ny