Dr. Westmoreland’s letter of opposition to LPC: Hopper-Gibbons House
Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street,9th Floor North
New York , NY. 10007
Dear Ms. Srinivasan,
I am writing this letter in support of the efforts of Fern Luskin, and the Friends of Lamartine Place Historic District Councils effort to secure an order from the Landmarks Commission directing the owner of the Hopper Gibbons House 339 W. 29st to remove a rooftop addition , constructed apparently without a building permit . The Hopper, Gibbons is an important physical element of the American Civil War that survived the July 1863 New York City Draft Riots ,and is only remaining building that was attacked because the then owners were sheltering Blacks who were fleeing enslavement, and the site of meetings between Black, and White Abolition leaders .
The 1863 Draft Riot in New York City began as a violent protest by members of the Irish community against the implementation of the draft , during the Civil War Incited by the Democrats , felt they were being drafted into a war that would free enslaved Black People , who would compete with them for jobs. The Irish were also angry because middle, and upper class White New Yorkers were able to pay substitutes to take their places in the Union Army. The anger vetted against the Black community in New York City was a violent replay of that of 1712 when enslaved Black New Yorkers were executed to suppress a slave revolt, starting July 13 ,1863 the homes of Blacks were firebombed , the Negro orphanage, that housed more than 200 children was burned . Before the battle ended more than 200 people were killed , and there was more than 1million dollars ,( in 1863 money) in fire damage . The homes of people thought to be abolitionist were targeted ,and many of their homes were burned . The home of the Hopper Gibbons family who were Abolitionist was singled out by the arsonists, and on the 2nd night of the riot (July 14, 1863) the Hopper Gibbons home was torched, the occupants would not go through the front door to the outside, in fear of being assaulted or, worse killed.
James Sloan Gibbons , and his daughter Lucy Gibbons Morse were in the house when the inferno began, Abigail Hopper Gibbons was in the South with a Union army regiment serving as a volunteer nurse . Mr. Gibbons had developed an alternate plan of escape with the help of his neighbors whose homes were attached to 229 W. 29th Street , and while the arsonist , the bad guys , and the bullies stood on the street waiting to pounce on the Abolitionist, James Gibbons, his daughter Lucy, and others trapped in the melee climbed up ladders through scuttles which opened on the roof , scampered across roof top to another scuttle, climbed down another ladder into a hallway ,and by exiting by the rear of the building Mr. Gibbons, and his daughter escaped harm.
The New York Draft Riots were brought to an end when after four horrendous violence, rape and pillage , the US Secretary of War ordered the transfer of four regiments of the New York troops that participated in the Battle of Gettysburg to the streets of lower Manhattan . Efficient , brutal ,and systemic action broke the violent action of the mobs that had taken control of the streets of America.
Although the home of the Hopper Gibbons family was gutted by fire the family rebuilt the interior, Mr. and Mrs. Gibbons would not only become celebrated for their abolition, and human rights activity Mrs. Gibbons became a major force in women prisoners reform with policies that were instated nationwide .
The roof at 339 W.29TH Street ,provided a flat ,safe contiguous corridor to the Gibbons , and anyone else needed to escape the flames that gutted the Gibbons home. The use of that roof was possible because the neighbors were willing to provide James ,and his daughter with access to safety via the unlocked scuttles in their homes. The neighbors got involved , the took a risk ,similar to that taken by untold numbers of White people who lead all but one of the Black Orphans to safety.
The roof should be PRESERVED as was ,as a flat stable surface , a safe corridor , that enabled good people ,who were doing good work to live , and continue to help those seeking dignity, and freedom. The removal of the newly constructed vertical element,(theaddition) will allow people in generations to come to stand on the street below ,as I have , and marvel at the courage of people who risked their lives , running at full speed ,forty feet above their pursuers in the dark of the night running toward another righteous battle .
Carl B. Westmoreland
Senior Advisor at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center