NYC Landmarks Commission Designates Underground Railroad Site

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to designate the Lamartine Historic District in West Chelsea [pdf]. This short stretch of 12 row houses on West 29th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues possess a rare connection to the history of New York and American civil liberties. More recently, the Gibbons-Hopper House at 339 West 29th Street has been the site of an attempt by the landlord to build (illegally according to the the Historic Districts Council) a penthouse addition. A grassroots advocacy organization, Friends of the Gibbons UGGR Site and Lamartine Place, convinced the City to act to preserve the block and revoke the building permits.

Here is a description of the property provided by the Historic Districts Council:

Originally constructed between 1846 and 1847, no. 337 West 29th street was acquired in 1851 by James S. Gibbons, a banker and writer, and husband of renowned abolitionist Abigail Hopper Gibbons. It was at No. 337 that Isaac T. Hopper, father of Abigail and a staunch abolitionist widely acknowledged as a father of the Underground Railroad, died in May 1852. The Gibbons family occupied the house for two years before acquiring the house next door at 339 West 29th Street in 1853. In his memoirs, the American lawyer and diplomat Joseph Hodges Choate, who was also a friend of the Gibbons family recollects dining with the Gibbons and a fugitive slave at No. 339 in 1855, citing the residence as a stop on the Underground Railroad. This is the best-documented evidence of a still-extant site serving as a “station” in the Underground Railroad in New York City.

Abigail Gibbons later invited black and white guests to stay at the house during the 1856 Anti Slavery Convention, and she also later met with abolitionist John Brown there. The building was attacked by mobs in 1862 during unrest around the Emancipation Proclamation and again in 1863 during the New York City Civil War Draft Riots, when the Gibbons’ daughters were forced to escape the angry mob by climbing over rooftops to their uncle’s home at 335 West 29th Street.

Photo: Historic Lamartine Place, now West 29th Street. Courtesy HDC.

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