Work begins at now-landmarked abolitionist home in Downtown Brooklyn

Work has finally started at 227 Duffield St. in Downtown Brooklyn.
Photo by Susan De Vries

After years of neglect, stabilization work is under way at the recently landmarked abolitionist home on Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

A sign on the green construction fence outside 227 Duffield St. proclaims “stabilization work” is in progress to “stabilize and protect the structure to provide the basis for future rehabilitation and restoration.” The sign is from the Department of Design and Construction, which is handling the project.

Plans were filed in September to seal and stabilize the mid 19th century building and remediate deteriorating “facade alterations,” DOB NOW records show. The applicant of record is John Fontillas of H3 Hardy Collaboration, a global architecture firm that has worked on a number of museum and civic projects.

The city has not yet announced what it plans to ultimately do with the property; locals have in the past advocated turning it into a museum. A developer intended to raze the house and replace it with a 13-story mixed-use building, until the city landmarked it and purchased the property earlier this year.

Photo by Susan De Vries

How new the sign is isn’t clear, but if cleanliness is any indication it must have gone up fairly recently as it was in pristine condition with no graffiti in sight.

The sign also includes a brief history of the home, which was designated as an individual landmark by LPC in February for its association with active abolitionists Harriet and Thomas Truesdell, who lived there from 1851 to 1863. That vote followed decades of struggle to preserve the property, which has had a tangled ownership history, including records of low payments to longtime owners by developers.

Just a month later, in March of this year, the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services finalized the purchase of the building for $3.2 million. In July, LPC issued a binding report, used for construction projects that impact landmarks owned by the City, approving exterior work at the property, including installing the new fencing, removing debris and replacing an existing sidewalk hatch in kind.

The three-story brick building is the only remaining house on the block, but it was once part of a row of brick and wood frame buildings. Windows have been broken or missing in the upper stories of the front facade for years and while there were some boards in evidence in some of the windows during a recent visit, the building has not yet been sealed from the weather. A glimpse of the rear facade showed gaping holes in the masonry and exposed metal framing.

Photo by Susan De Vries

Meanwhile, at the adjacent Abolitionist Place, formerly Willoughby Square Park, a walk by showed the portion of the future 1.15-acre public space that had been open as a pop-up is now enclosed with fencing. Workers were on site and some of the temporary seating had been removed, along with the construction fence dividing the pop-up park from the larger lot.

Earlier this year artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed was selected for a planned public art installation inspired by the history of the area and its role in the fight for freedom.

This story first appeared on Brownstoner.