This morning there was a rally to save the historic Underground Railroad site in Chelsea, which like everything else in this city is being threatened by a building owner's "remodeling" project. Students, activists, local officials and preservationists held the rally and teach-in at the building's site, the Hopper-Gibbons House at 339 West 29th Street, which was a hiding place for runaway slaves. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is actively considering designating it a protected landmark, but meanwhile the current owner continues to receive building permits. One local told the NY Times last year, “Being one of the few African-Americans on the block, I have an emotional connection to this history. You have a lot of cultural history in New York that money seems to want to push out of the way.”
The house was "named for an abolitionist Quaker family that lived there and saved many runaway slaves. The pre-Civil War conduit was used by slaves fleeing southern masters to gain safe passage to sanctuary in northern states and Canada."
Earlier this year ChelseaNow detailed the history of the house's residents, saying that Abigail Hopper Gibbons and her husband, James Sloan Gibbons "made it a station on the Underground Railroad, taking in as many as 14 escaping slaves at a time. The Gibbons family and other abolitionist neighbors entertained noteworthy opponents of slavery, including Horace Greeley and John Brown." The house was actually torched and looted by a mob during the Civil War Anti-Draft Riot of 1863, but the family escaped by climbing to the roof and running over the rooftops to a friend who whisked them away in a carriage. You can read the NY Times obituary for Abby Gibbons here (PDF), they called her "one of the most remarkable women of this century."