Saturday, January 5, 2008

THREAT TO IMPORTANT UNDERGROUND RAILROAD/ABOLITIONIST HOUSE ON WEST 29th Street, in Manhattans' Chelsea District, New York City.

THREAT TO HISTORIC UNDERGROUND RAILROAD SAFE HOUSE ON WEST 29th STREET,MANHATTAN,New York City.

In Autumn of 2007, serious concern arose about the construction of two or more additional stories and alterations to 339 W. 29th Street. As Fern Luskin wrote to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in June 2007,
"This will result in the disfigurement of an important
landmark building of great historical significance. Because of its historical importance, this addition must be stopped. This house, built in 1847, (not in 1900 (as erroneously indicated on Zoning map # 08D, Block 753, Lot 16), was the site of an "Underground Railroad" Station in New York for runaway slaves fleeing to Canada. The Civil War Sites Study Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-628, 16 U.S.C. 1a-5 note; 104 Stat. 4495) and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-203) recognize the need for preserving buildings formerly used as Underground Railroad Stations. The house was once owned by the noted Quaker abolitionists and members of the Anti-Slavery Society, James Sloan Gibbons, and his wife, Abigail Hopper Gibbons.

Other important opponents of slavery who stayed in or visited their residence on 29th Street include Abby’s father, Isaac Tatem Hopper,a
renowned Underground Railroad activist (died in 1852, due to terminal illness); Horace Greeley, who often lodged there,and John Brown (who, while spending the evening there in 1859, confided in Abby his plans for the raid on Harper’s Ferry and the freeing of the slaves that he hoped would result from it). In his quest to end slavery, James Gibbons was one of the first to respond to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 more troops and his poem, “We Are Coming Father Abra’am,” was the impetus for the phenomenonally popular Civil War song of that name, composed by Stephen Foster."

As Fern Luskin later discovered and wrote to both the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Board 4: "There exists an extremely important document indicating, irrefutably, that Abigail Hopper Gibbons and her husband, James Sloan Gibbons, provided refuge for runaway slaves. It was written by their close friend, the renowned lawyer Joseph M. Choate. Choate, who used to visit
the Gibbons home after coming to New York in 1855, states "the house of Mrs. Gibbons was a great resort of abolitionists and extreme antislavery people from all parts of the land, as it was one of the stations of the underground railroad by which fugitive slaves found their way from the
South to Canada. I have dined with that family in company with William Lloyd Garrison, and sitting at the table with us was a jet-black negro who was on his way to freedom...Lucretia Mott the celebrated female preacher of that day was also a frequent guest."

[from Dorothy G. Becker, Abigail Hopper Gibbons (New York, 1989), pp. 6-7, citing Edward Sandford Martin, The Life of Joseph Hodges Choate: As Gathered Chiefly from his Letters (New York, 1920), 2 Vols. Vol.I, pp. 96,99."

As Underground Railroad Stations are supposed to be preserved by law, 339 West 29th St. (the Hopper-Gibbons' home) must be given landmark status. Similarly, as there are not a great many examples of 1840's architecture left in Manhattan, the Landmarks Preservation Commission should give this rare surviving example theroef, the landmark status it deserves, thus preserving the architectural integrity of this building.


Because of the Gibbons’ opposition to slavery and their close friendship with Horace Greeley, a mob specifically targeted their house for destruction during the Draft Riots of 1863. James Gibbons, his daughters, and the famous lawyer, Joseph Hodges Choate, escaped the mob only by walking over the roofs of the neighboring houses (which were of virtually uniform height) and were saved by a Mr. Herrman who let them into the Hebrew Orphan Asylum at the end of the block. The looting and partial torching of the Gibbons’ residence was described in the correspondence of Mr. Gibbons, himself, as well as that of his daughters, their friends (including Choate and the renowned botanist John Torrey), and in court records.

The Gibbonses’ residence, like the other row houses on West 29th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), was built by the Rev. Dr. Cyrus Mason, evidently in partnership with the entrepreneur, William Torrey, John Torrey’s brother. The block was called Lamartine-Place from the time it was built until 1898 and was, as Christopher Gray suggests in his “Streetscapes” column in the New York Times (1998), probably named after Alphonse de Lamartine, the French poet and politician. The Gibbons family resided at No. 19 Lamartine-Place.

This lovely tree-lined avenue of row houses fronted by gardens, was also the site of other noteworthy occupants besides James and Abigail Gibbons. The Hebrew Orphan Asylum, the first Jewish orphanage in New York City, was located at No. 1 Lamartine-Place (now 303 West 29th St.), from 1860-63. The Petitpas Boarding House and restaurant, once at no. 8 Lamartine-Place (now 317 West 29th St), was a bohemian magnet, due to the presence of the artist John Butler Yeats (William’s father). John Sloan (who, along with other Ashcan School artists, used to congregate there), painted Yeats at this locale in his 1910 picture, Yeats at Petitpas’.

Other illustrious lodgers at this establishment included Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose nephew was married to one of the Gibbonses’ daughters and who, like that family was opposed to slavery. The popular soprano, Emma Gillingham Bostwick, who performed in the 1850s, may also have resided on this block, as the name, “Mrs. Bostwick” was written beneath the address, “2 Lamartine-place, West Twenty-ninth-Street,” on a piece of paper found in 1862 that had been salvaged from a shipwreck.

Finally, Lamartine Hall, on the northwest corner of West 29th St. and 8th Avenue, was the endpoint of the Orangemen’s parade and the Hibernians’ riot, in 1871. The planned addition of upper stories to 339 West 29th Street will mar the current roof line and cornice shared by all of the historic town houses on this portion of the block and will forever obscure the Gibbons’ escape route over these roofs during the Draft Riots.

Already, the steel girders for the additional stories are in place, a third floor has been laid down at the rear of the house (which was formerly only two stories high,), and the antique cornice (and bricks) on the fa├žade have been removed, to be replaced by a vulgar, modern imitation.

It is important that we preserve, and not destroy, the architectural and historic legacy of Chelsea, in general, and of West 29th Street, in particular. Toward this end, we must protect this important building by conferring on it the landmark status that it deserves, specifically that of Underground Railroad Station."Map shows routes of the "Underground Railroad".


ABOUT: ABIGAIL HOPPER GIBBONS


OVERVIEW:

Abigail Hopper Gibbons (7 December 180116 January 1893) was an abolitionist, activist, and a nurse during the American Civil War.

Gibbons grew up in a Quaker family, and her father spent much of his time and money aiding runaway slaves.




Abigail was to share her father's beliefs and spent much of her life working for social reform. Over the course of her life, Gibbons pushed for prison reform, welfare, civil rights, and care for soldiers returning from the Civil War. In an odd twist of events, Gibbon's father,Isaac Hopper,

and her husband, James Gibbons, were disowned by their New York City Quaker Meeting, because they were directly confrontational, including in print, with specific members of the congregation, whose business activities were profiting from slave labor in the southern states.

Abigail Gibbons then protested with her feet and left the society although she had been a leading member in it, and never returned. However the family still maintained the silent, mystical Quaker form of worship in their home.


Although a controversial figure, she was highly successful in her many efforts.


Isaac T. Hopper, father and mentor of Abigail Hopper Gibbons.


MORE IN DEPTH:
Abigail Hopper Gibbons was born in Philadelphia in 1801, the third of ten children. Abigail taught school for several years in Philadelphia and New York. In 1833, she married fellow Quaker, James Sloan Gibbons, who was also an ardent abolitionist. In 1836, Abigail and James moved to New York City, where they had six children. Two of their sons died in infancy, and a third died suddenly after an accident in which he was involved while attending Harvard University.



PRISON REFORM:

"Abby"and her father founded the Women's Prison Association of New York City in 1845. She lobbied for improvements in the city's prisons, advocated the hiring of police matrons, and urged the establishment of separate prisons for women. She frequently visited the various prisons in and about New York. For twelve years, she was also president of a German industrial school for street children.In 1853, the Women's Prison Association separated from its parent, the Prison Association, and Abby obtained a New York State charter for her group. Under her leadership, the WPA undertook an aggressive program of legislative lobbying. She protested jail overcrowding and demanded that women prisoners be searched only by female matrons.At that time, most of the WPA’s clients were Irish immigrants struggling with alcohol dependency, made worse by the extreme poverty in which they lived. Abby and her staff worked tirelessly to provide these women with a place to stay, a supportive community, and practical skills training. They created programs for these women, who had previously only known poverty and trouble in their lives.
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NURSING CIVIL WAR WOUNDED & ESTABLISHMENT OF SANITARY COMMISION:
With the coming of the war, Abby knew that nurses would be needed to care for the wounded. She was immediately ready to give her all for the Union.The United States Sanitary Commission was established in 1861.The purpose of the commission was to recruit nurses and to provide adequate medical care to the Union soldiers-wounded. When the Commission set up a training base at David’s Island Hospital in New York, Abby was among the trainees.She traveled to Washington D.C., to help at the Washington Office Hospital, helping the wounded and distributing supplies. She also helped to establish two field hospitals in Virginia.At Point Lookout, Maryland, the government took over a hotel and 100 guest cottages and converted them into a hospital complex with accommodations for 1500 soldiers. It was named Hammond General Hospital. Abigail vied with Dorothea Dix, the Union Superintendent of Nurses, for control of the hospital, and Abby was finally appointed its head matron. She left the hospital in 1863, when it was converted into Point Lookout Confederate Prison.
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DRAFT RIOTS TARGET GIBBONS HOME AT 339 W29th STREET:

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Abby and daughter Sarah were at the front lines nursing wounded Union soldiers and helping escaped slaves to survive and avoid recapture.
Upon comencement of the first-ever military draft, Draft Riots engulfed New York City. At the Gibbons home at 19 Lamartine Place (now 339 W. 29th St.) were Abby’s husband, James Sloan Gibbons, and their two younger daughters, Julia and Lucy. The Gibbons home became one of the many targets of the angry mob.
Below are a few glimpses of what happened to their home on July 14,1863 from a letter (dated July 17) from daughter Lucy to her Aunt Anna:



"As for Bridget, the [Irish servant] girl, it was impossible to alarm her. Her sole consideration was getting through with the washing.... .... In fact, at about 5 o’clock,...I proposed taking a bath [after she and Julia had moved some clothing, personal papers, and portraits to their aunt and uncle’s home next door]. Fifteen minutes later, the mob appeared. .... Our neighbors behaved nobly. Judge Robinson entered with the mob and saved what he could--a portrait of Willie [their brother, who had died in a freak accident while a student at Harvard, a few years earlier], a drawer full of letters,...Mr. Horn stood in the parlor and threatened the mob with a pistol. He drove off the women (!!!) who were trying to set fire to the house with torches, but was finally obliged to retreat through the back window. Mr. Grey rescued a sheet full of wet clothes which were being carried off; and his wife had them re-washed and ironed. A lilttle boy from somewhere, only about twelve years old, helped like a little soldier, bringing buckets of water to put out the fire. .... Our butcher [probably an Irishman] went into the midst of the mob, and declared he would not have that house touched, for which he was badly beaten, but will recover. Father was at the Fifth Avenue Hotel making a last appeal for military to protect the premises..... Mr. [Joseph] Choate...[accompanied us] over the roofs to the end of the block, (by this time the mob was violent) out of a house there [owned by a Jewish man], procured a carriage which waited in 8th Ave., put us all into it, and brought us [to his family’s home on W. 21st St.].

The above item is Excerpted from “The Life of Abby Hopper Gibbons as Told Chiefly Through Her Correspondence,” By Sarah Gibbons Emerson (1896)

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CHARITABLE WORK AFTER THE CIVIL WAR:
Following the war, Abby was involved in several New York charities, including the "Labor and Aid Society," which helped returning veterans find work.She aided in founding the Isaac Hopper Home, named for her father, which helped former women prisoners to return to society. Today, the Women's Prison Association still provides programs through which women can acquire the life skills necessary to lead a productive life and to make good choices for themselves and their families. It is the nation’s oldest advocacy organization working exclusively with women prisoners. Over the past 160 years, the WPA has adapted to the changing needs of its clients and offered them alternatives to their previous lives of crime.


ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE WOMEN OF THE 19th CENTURY

In January 1893, Abigail Hopper Gibbons died at the age of 92. She was eulogized in her obituary as "one of the most remarkable women of the century." She was not only one of the founders of the WPA, she was also the founder of the New York Diet Kitchen for infants and the sick and the poor, and president of the New York Committee for the Prevention and Regulation of Vice. A friend once said of the Hoppers and Gibbonses "they had a natural love for sinners.
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MORE ABOUT THE HISTORIC HOPPER-GIBBONS HOUSE

The Gibbons home in Manhattan, still stands at what is now 339 West 29Th Street, and was part of an elegant row of houses built as a piece in 1847,much of which survives,despite an apparant lack of any landmark protection. The row was once known as Lamaratine Place and was likely named for Alphonse De Lamartine, a French romantic poet and patron of Anti Slavery and liberal causes.)The house is alleged to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, and this would not be suprising given the family devotion to the Anti Slavery cause.

AN IMPORTANT HOUSE IN A NOTEWORTHY DISTRICT:
The House is most worthy of individual landmark designation, and the larger context in which the house is situated, a two block oasis of 1847 rowhouses is worthy of preservation as a historic district. Specificaly, this refers to the north side of West 29th street from Eighth to Ninth Avenue (at one time known as "Lamartine Place") and both north and south sides of a similar block of West 30Th Street from Eighth to Ninth Avenue.These two blocks were developed in 1847 by Cyrus Mason,in partnership with William Torrey. Mason and Torrey were involved in the construction of Clement Clarke Moore's 1845 row house development, London Terrace, on the site of the present apartment complex of that name, 23d to 24Th Street between Ninth and 10Th Avenue. Both the29th Street block and the 30th street block show Moore's influence, with several row houses still preserving in varied degrees the the front "yard: setback characteristic of Moores' blocks to the south near the Episcopal seminary.

These two miraculously surviving blocks are both a lovely 19Th Century Oasis and a sorely needed respite, wedged as they are, between Penn Souths huge "tower in park" complex and the "super-blocks" of the Farley Post Office and Madison Square Garden/PennStation.(not mention many mega projects to come!) This alone is worth preserving as large scale development pressures are encroaching from all sides these days. Perhaps it is not too late for the Chelsea community to create of these two blocks, a mini Historic District..this would be ideal (no doubt replete with "non contributing buildings" and the rowhouses in various states of alteration or not). ...Barring this, at least these historic "Lamartine Blocks" need a firm lowering of the attendant FAR from R8b to R6b which is more akin to certain West Village townhouse sidestreets.