- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) - After years of battling the city, a group of New Yorkers has saved an old Brooklyn house that they say was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The city has pledged not to seize the property, which had been scheduled to be demolished to make room for an underground parking garage.

The brick town house was one of seven old homes slated for demolition as part of the redevelopment of downtown Brooklyn, a commercial and civic center that today bears few traces of the residential neighborhood that stood before the Civil War.

The fate of the other homes is still not clear, but activists had a rare victory to celebrate in a larger conflict that has pitted the developers transforming Brooklyn against citizens trying to prevent the “Manhattanification” of the borough.

The seven houses along Duffield and Gold streets — the so-called Duffield Houses — are at the center of the massive redevelopment project. The plan calls for more than 4 million square feet of new retail, commercial and luxury housing in a historically low-income, black community.

“So many of us in the community did not want to see the Underground Railroad become an underground parking lot,” said Randy Leigh, an area resident.

On behalf of the community group Families United for Racial and Economic and Equality, South Brooklyn Legal Services sued in June to try to save the buildings, saying the city failed to examine their historical significance.

The agreement to save 227 Duffield St. was signed at the end of last month by the city and the plaintiffs as part of a settlement in the case, said Jennifer Levy, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

There is still uncertainty about whether the home was actually part of the Underground Railroad.

The city’s Economic Development Corp. commissioned a report that found evidence of strong abolitionist feelings in the neighborhood during that era; a number of homes and churches there have verified connections with the Underground Railroad.

The report concluded that there was no “positive evidence” that the seven houses were part of this network that sheltered fugitives from slavery.

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