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Chronicles: Lamartine Place

Lamartine PlaceThe row houses on West 29th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, in New York might look like many of the older townhouses scattered around Manhattan, except the ones on 29th St hold a significant and often overlooked place in the city’s history.
Built in 1846, this row of houses, situated on what was then Lamartine Place, during the Civil War were associated with several well-known abolitionist families, including Abigail Hopper Gibbons and her father Isaac T. Hopper who died at No. 337 and was considered the father of the Underground Railroad. 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.

From the City of New York Landmark Committee:
During the Anti Slavery Convention of 1856, it was noted that the Gibbons family invited both black and white guests to stay at their home on Lamartine Place, and in 1859, Abigail Gibbons met with abolitionist John Brown there. In September 1862, the Gibbons’ home was damaged because the residents were celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation. During the New York City Civil War Draft Riots of 1863, the house was once again attacked. The Gibbons’ daughters initially escaped the mob outside the burning house by climbing over the rooftops of the neighboring homes to that of their uncle Samuel Brown who lived only a few doors away, at No. 335 West 29th Street. Later, recounting the incident in letters to family members, the girls noted how Mr. Choate, requested the assistance of a neighbor, Mr. Herrman, at the end of the block (No. 359). “Mr. Choate had a carriage waiting for us around and that to reach it we would have to go over the roofs to the last house and down through that to the street.” Some of the residents of West 29th Street were not lucky enough to escape the riotous mob. A neighbor of the Gibbons’, Daniel Wilson at No. 343, was beaten when he tried to address the mob to implore them not to cause further damage to his home or the others on the street. No. 353, the home of Samuel Sinclair, publisher of the New York Tribune, was also attacked because it was rumored that Horace Greeley, founder of the paper and a well-known abolitionist, lived there.
Although the houses in the row are apparently the same structures erected between 1846 and 1847, the buildings have undergone significant alterations. The houses were originally constructed in the Greek Revival style and stood three and a half-stories tall with a basement. Many of the houses retain their Greek Revival door surrounds, sills and stoops. Around the turn of the twentieth century, bold, projecting Renaissance Revival cornices were added to the houses and remain intact on several. Many of the buildings also received new facades at this time. With the exception of no. 341, all of the houses are presently taller than they were at the time of construction, as their rooflines were raised during the twentieth century to accommodate a full fourth story.

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