Did the Underground Railroad stop in Chelsea?

The underground Railroad didn’t skip New York City.

Safe havens for runaway slaves existed in Brooklyn—such as Brooklyn Heights’ Plymouth Church. And the John Bowne House, in Flushing, was also rumored to have been a hideout.

But in Manhattan, the only known Underground Railroad site that still exists is the row house at 339 West 29th Street (Ivy-covered in 1932).

Built in the 1840s on what was then called Lamartine Place, number 339 was owned by James S. Gibbons and his staunch abolitionist wife, Abigail Hopper Gibbons.

According to the Landmarks Preservation Committee Report that declared the house and its neighbors the Lamartine Historic District:

“In his memoirs, the American lawyer and diplomat Joseph Hodges Choate who was a friend of the Gibbons family recollects dining with the Gibbons and a fugitive slave at No. 339 in 1855, citing the residence as a stop on the Underground Railroad.”

No. 339 (in the center, under scaffolding and a new facade) was also attacked and burned in the 1863 Draft Riots, when roving mobs of New Yorkers upset about new draft laws killed African-Americans.

A house with history like that can’t escape scrutiny—which is probably why the city ordered the current owner to tear down the illegal fifth floor that was recently added.

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12 Responses to “Did the Underground Railroad stop in Chelsea?”

  1. Joly MacFie Says:

    Not standing, but also notable is 36 Lispenard St

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Thanks, I’ve never seen that marker. 67 Lispenard and 153 Baxter Street were also thought to be safe house locations.

  2. Devorah Tarrow Says:

    It’s said that the Brotherhood Synagogue, 28 Gramercy Park South
    New York, NY 10003
    (212) 674-5750 had a tunnel to help freedom seekers escape. Thanks for the info.
    Devorah Tarrow

  3. Nabe News: January 24 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    [...] Underground Railroad stop at 339 West 29th Street, currently undergoing exterior renovation [Ephemeral NY] Tweet Filed under: Nabe [...]

  4. Ricky Says:

    When I first moved to New York in 1980 I lived in Flushing directly across from the Bowne House. My new landlord mentioned it to me and was surprised to hear that I had never heard of it. I guess we can chalk that up to my public school education in the midwest.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    The Bowne House has a fascinating history. And it must have been nice living so close to a 17th century Dutch farmhouse.

  6. petey Says:

    it was the flushing meeting which presented the Flushing Remonstrance, the earliest claim to religious liberty in the colonies. it’s housed in albany and is taken out about every 25 years for viewing, iirc. so there’s a history there.

    http://www.queensbp.org/remonstrance/index.html

  7. The mystery of Chelsea’s Van Dolsom Row « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] Clement Clark Moore house, an Underground Railroad stop . . . Chelsea’s leafy streets are packed with New York [...]

  8. The Underground Railroad stop in Tribeca « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] the 1830s and 1840s, an estimated 600 slaves hid out in his townhouse on Lispenard Street, one of a handful of known New York City stops on the Underground [...]

  9. RED DAVE Says:

    There is a crawl space under one of the rooms of the Thirteenth Street Repertory Company theater on, natuch, West 13th between 5th and 6th in Manhattan that was, allegedly, used to hide escaping slaves on the Underground Railway.

  10. A deadly riot rocks Eighth Avenue in 1871 « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] when Irish protestants called the Orangemen paraded up Eighth Avenue from their headquarters on 29th Street to 92nd [...]

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