In NYC, A Preservation Dispute Over Possible Underground Railroad Site

It’s an old story in New York. A designer intends to crush a once-enchanting estate in Manhattan and supplant it with a 13-story private structure, however chose authorities and neighborhood bunches are saying one moment. They say there’s proof that the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad and ought to be protected. Jim O’Grady from part station WNYC has this story.

JIM O’GRADY, BYLINE: The primary issue is, how would you demonstrate something happened when it should be a mystery, which was the pith of the Underground Railroad? For this situation, you start with a white nineteenth century sugar purifier named Dennis Harris. He was the red hot abolitionist who fabricated the four-story wood-outlined house in Upper Manhattan. New York state Assemblyman Al Taylor brought him up at a new meeting outside the House.


AL TAYLOR: In 1951, this house was worked by Dennis Harris, an abolitionist.

O’GRADY: And there’s another issue. The past is cloudy and at times difficult to keep straight. Taylor intended to say it was worked in 1851.


TAYLOR: 1851 – I recollect it like it was yesterday.


O’GRADY: In the 1850s, Dennis Harris lived in Lower Manhattan, where he lectured messages against bondage and was dynamic in the Underground Railroad. At the point when his sugar treatment facility burned to the ground, he moved to Upper Manhattan. There, he constructed the house and another treatment facility with a wharf on the waterway, a possibly ideal area for proceeding with his work, shipping outlaws further north. The case is solid however fortuitous. In any case, Assemblyman Taylor says, obviously Harris kept at it in his new spot.


TAYLOR: It’s guaranteed if that individual was associated with it down where he resided previously, he moved up here, he will proceed with that since that is in his heart, to help Black individuals run for opportunity.

O’GRADY: The report was submitted to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission with a solicitation to ensure the House. That solicitation was denied. The commission’s leader chief, Lisa Kersavage, says this regarding Dennis Harris.

LISA KERSAVAGE: He never lived in the house. What’s more, the report recognized the house’s utilization as a feature of the Underground Railroad was simply speculative.

O’GRADY: She additionally says this regarding how the house has advanced over the long haul into a design deprived of its ornamentation and shrouded in something many refer to as PermaBrick.

KERSAVAGE: When you have a structure that is modified to such an extent that it is basically a twentieth century building, it can’t impart that story.

O’GRADY: Kersavage focuses to a column house in midtown Brooklyn that has additionally been changed however more intently looks like its nineteenth century starting points has more grounded connections to the Underground Railroad and is very nearly being landmarked.

KERSAVAGE: We’re truly zeroing in on those spots that have that reported history.

O’GRADY: Defenders of the Harris house say, give us additional time, and we very well could find that documentation. What’s more, they say, sure, the house looks janky now, however it very well may be reestablished. They add that it’s in the sort of Black and Hispanic neighborhood that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has neglected before.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says the city ought to permit more opportunity to demonstrate the significance of the house and afterward upheld it with some details.


Hurricane BREWER: There are not very many milestones in our city that connect to the abolitionist servitude development. The Landmarks Preservation has just conceded 17 – just three in Manhattan, none in Upper Manhattan.

O’GRADY: Increasing that last number doesn’t look encouraging. The improvement organization that purchased the Harris house a year ago has applied to the city for a destruction license. Their application is forthcoming. For NPR News, I’m Jim O’Grady.

Leave a Comment