New York City is full of abolitionist and underground railroad sites, and now there is one more to add to the list. Supporters of the 19th-century movement to end slavery are honored at Abolitionist Place Park in Downtown Brooklyn. This 1.15-acre public space, formerly called Willoughby Square Open Space, stands near the home of noted abolitionists Harriet and Thomas Truesdell.

227 Duffield Street

The Truesdells lived at 227 Duffield Street from 1851 to 1863. The home was part of a row of houses built in 1848. It is believed that the homes were a stop on the underground railroad and were at one time connected by secret tunnels.

All of the homes except 227 have since been demolished. In 2007, this stretch of Duffield Street was re-named Abolitionist Place. The Truesdell home, once under threat of demolition, was designated as a New York City Landmark in February 2021. NYCEDC is currently searching for a consultant who will fully document the historical significance of the site and oversee community engagement.

The Duffield Street tunnels allegedly led to Brooklyn’s first African-American church, the Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church (today Wunsch Hall at Polytechnic University), another Underground Railroad stop. Other important Underground Railroad sites in Brooklyn included the Lott House and Plymouth Church, known as the “Grand Central Depot” of the Underground Railroad system.

Abolitionist Place
Photo by Argenis Taveras for DBP

Abolitionist Place honors this rich history in the heart of where it all happened. Renowned landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Jones designed the new public space, which is part of the Downtown Brooklyn Redevelopment Plan made in 2004. Features of the park include a children’s play area, lawn, dog run, ornamental plantings, a waterplay feature, and multiple seating areas.

Children's playground at Abolitionist Place
Photo by Argenis Taveras for DBP

A site-specific public art installation by artist Kenseth Armstead is expected to be installed at the park in 2026. The new works, “True North – Every Negro is a Star” and “Conductors,” will be presented to the New York City Public Design Commission for conceptual review this month.

Presented in partnership with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs’ (DCLA) Percent for Art program, “True North – Every Negro is a Star” is an immersive sculpture that faces the sky. “Conductors” willl be comprised of images of some figures in the African diaspora that assisted the formerly enslaved to achieve self-liberation.

Abolitionist Place Park
Photo by Argenis Taveras for DBP

Untapped New York Insiders got a sneak peek of Abolitionist Place Park on a tour of the FXCollaborative offices inside the newly constructed 1 Willoughby Square, which overlooks the park 1 Willoughby is one of the many new buildings that have been constructed in Downtown Brooklyn since the redevelopment plan was introduced.

“The opening of Abolitionist Place marks a significant moment for Downtown Brooklyn that has been in the works for nearly two decades,” said Regina Myer, President, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Abolitionist Place will bring essential greenspace to our burgeoning population of residents, workers, and students, while also celebrating the neighborhood’s notable history. As we begin maintaining and programming in the park, we look forward to welcoming the community to this long-awaited public square.”

Next, check out Underground Railroad Sites in NYC