Dr. Westmoreland’s letter of opposition to LPC: Hopper-Gibbons House

Meenakshi Srinivasan
Chair Person
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