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Developer Planning To Demolish Historic Abolitionist House In Brooklyn Says He'll Put A Museum In The Basement

The house at 227 Duffield Street has been buffeted by surrounding development.
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The house at 227 Duffield Street has been buffeted by surrounding development. Jake Dobkin / Gothamist

The owner of a downtown Brooklyn house associated with the city’s abolitionist movement said he plans to build an African American museum as part of his plan to redevelop the property into an apartment building.

Samiel Hanasab, who in June applied for a demolition permit, told Gothamist he had consented to creating a museum under an agreement with the previous owner. His plans call for a 13-story mixed-use building with 21 residential units.

News of a possible razing of the property prompted community activists and elected officials to call on the city to landmark the 19th century home.

“I have a high respect for African Americans,” Hanasab said. “This project will be in the basement.”

The city has not issued a demolition permit. There is currently an outstanding violation on the building, according to a DOB spokesperson.

The developer declined to offer details about the proposed museum, and referred questions about the plan and the agreement to Garfield Heslop, an attorney who he said represented the seller. Helsop did not respond to multiple messages.

Over the years, there has been talk of creating a museum in the basement. The house was originally owned by Thomas and Harriet Truesdell, a couple who were prominent abolitionists. Their connection to 227 Duffield as well as the existence of an underground tunnel beneath the home have led many in the community to believe that it was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Joy Chatel, who purchased 227 Duffield in 1998, opened up her home to visitors and promoted its role in the history of downtown Brooklyn and abolitionism. In 2007, she successfully fought off efforts by city to take the property through eminent domain.

Last year, Shawn Lee, Chatel’s daughter, told the Brooklyn Eagle that she and other members of the family were trying to create a museum in the basement dedicated to the abolitionist movement and her mother, who was affectionately known as “Mama Joy.”

Michael Higgins, an organizer at Families United for Racial and Economic Equality who knew Chatel, expressed skepticism about the museum proposal. He said he was unaware of any agreement made by the developer.

"I don’t think we can have a museum that has meaningful connection to this history without having the building be there," he said. "I don’t think that's sufficient."

On Tuesday, Higgins and other community activists held a protest rally in front of 1 Centre Street, where the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission is based. The commission has said it is considering a request to landmark the building, but it is under no deadline to respond.

To date, more than 3,500 people have signed an online petition to save the home.

"I think it's going to have to be the public that pushes this forward," Higgens said, "There is a rising understanding that there is a great injustice being done right now."

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