Railroad homes derailed again

A new city report has again cast doubt on claims by residents of Duffield Street that their Downtown Brooklyn houses were part of the Underground Railroad.

A city-hired consulting firm revealed this week that there is no conclusive evidence that seven houses on Duffield and Gold streets were part of the fabled fugitive slave network.

“It [the Duffield houses] … does not have a significant association with a national figure of the Underground Railroad and his/her Underground Railroad activity,” the report concluded.

The report by AKRF, a consulting firm that researches historic claims, also refuted residents’ contention that the buildings were connected to known abolitionists.

“Of course they’re going to say that,” said Joy Chatel, the owner of 227 Duffield St. “They’re trying to whitewash the truth — that my house was part of the Underground Railroad, and that it was owned by known abolitionists.”

Chatel’s house was indeed owned by the Truesdell family, which is known to have helped fugitive slaves. But the AKRF report claims that there is no evidence that the Truesdells did any of their abolitionist work in the house.

The report could be the final blow against efforts to save the Duffield Street buildings from a city plan to bulldoze them to build a parking lot for a proposed hotel.

The new report, while still controversial, corrects several key mistakes in a 2005 version.

When the first report came out, Chatel and her neighbor, Lewis Greenstein, said their testimony was altered.

The first report also claimed that the Truesdell family was not even involved in the anti-slavery movement. That has since been proven to be wrong.

Around the same time, a city official was also caught lying to the City Council when he claimed that dozens of historical research agencies had told him that Duffield Street had never been part of the railroad. The agencies he cited quickly refuted that claim, saying the official had never even spoken to them.

Chatel used the past as reason enough to distrust AKRF and the city.

“They were caught lying before, so they’re not above lying again,” she said. “It incenses me that they have the audacity to say there’s no proof.”

There will be a City Council hearing on March 20 at 11 am at City Hall. Call (212) 788-7116 for information.

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