Our History Matters.

The Abolitionist House at 857 Riverside Drive is in imminent danger of being demolished.

Please help preserve it as an educational center focused on the Abolitionist movement and the continuing fight for equality and social justice in the United States.

Now, more than ever, we must work together to ensure we understand, teach, and preserve basic rights and freedoms for all.

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How It Started:

Sometimes all it takes is a little digging.

Upper Riverside Residents Alliance & 
The Harris/Newhouse Home

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A small group of Washington Heights neighbors learned that lesson in August 2020, when we formed the Upper Riverside Residents Alliance, unified by our concern for a small wood-frame house at 857 Riverside Drive, and the news that it was about to be bulldozed.

​A developer who had purchased the house had applied for a demolition permit and won preliminary approval to replace this two-story, single-family home with a 13-story apartment tower—more than twice as high as any building nearby—jammed with 46 mini condominium units.

 

A little digging revealed that one of the project’s developers appears regularly on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlords Watchlist, having racked up an average of nearly 500 open HPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) violations in 2019, and 620 in 2020.

We knew from a 1937 photograph by Berenice Abbott that the house, built in the Greek Revival–Italianate style, once boasted a wraparound porch and a cupola, and we hoped it might be restored.

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Built in 1851, it was part of a little-known colony of abolitionists in northern Manhattan, then an area of woods and farmland.

 

Its first owner, Dennis Harris, was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and at the center of a well-documented fugitive slave escape when he lived in lower Manhattan.

 

After being suspended by his downtown Methodist church for anti-slavery preaching, the minister and entrepreneur moved his family, his business and his abolitionist fervor uptown.

In Washington Heights, he and his friend John Newhouse, who bought the home from Harris and lived there with his family for decades, established abolitionist churches in the area.

 

They also built and ran a sugar refinery, pier and steamboat line.

 

Harris had used his downtown refinery to smuggle escaped slaves to freedom.

Historians say the uptown refinery, steamboat and this house, too, so close to the river in a sparsely populated area, were likely used in further Underground Railroad activities.

 

In Upper Manhattan, where abolitionism is not thought to have flourished, little history — particularly little African-American history — has been recognized and preserved.

 

The house at
857 Riverside Drive
is the last surviving
remnant of this
explosive chapter
in the story
of New York.

Today, the Harris-Newhouse home is a symbol of our community — a tolerant and diverse place that remains one of the few affordable, livable, and relatively low-rise neighborhoods in Manhattan.

 

The destruction of the Harris-Newhouse home, and its replacement by a 13-story sliver tower, would be a 135-foot-high assault on our community, casting a literal and figurative shadow on the diversity that is our neighborhood’s pride.

 

It would give the green light to high-rise development all along our stretch of the Hudson River, and eradicate the memory of the brave residents who helped transform the area into the vibrant corner of the city it is today.

So we’re digging in.

 

THIS HOUSE,
THIS HISTORY,
AND THIS COMMUNITY
ARE WORTH SAVING.

What is JUNETEENTH?

BY JOSETTE BAILEY

Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day, and also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day) is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

President Joseph Biden recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday on June 17th, 2021.

In addition to it being a holiday recognizing an important moment in the journey to freedom for formerly enslaved African Americans,
Juneteenth is celebrated as a day to recognize African American culture, and traditions.

Originating in Galveston Texas on June 19th, 1865, it was the day that enslaved African Americans learned that slavery had been abolished by President Abraham Lincoln as of January 1, 1863, when he issued
The Emancipation Proclamation.

What does Juneteenth mean to the residents of New York State and New York City?

Surprising as it might seem to most of us, New York City was the second largest slave port in all the United States, second only to Charleston, South Carolina.

During the colonial period 41% of all households had slaves.

Slaves built Fort Amsterdam, and all the successor forts along the Battery.

As many as 20% of colonial New Yorkers were enslaved African people.

The New York economy was dependent on the labor of these people.

In 1799 New York passed a Gradual Emancipation Act that freed enslaved children born after July 4th, 1799, but indentured them until they were young adults.


In 1817 a new law passed that would free enslaved people born before 1799, but not until 1827.

According to the 1830 census there were “only” 75 slaves listed in New York City, and by 1840, no slaves were listed in New York City.

However, life in New York was not easy for the freed former slaves.

Freedmen/ freedwomen were not allowed to buy property, were not allowed to congregate in groups, and when traveling at night were obligated to carry a lantern.

They also were not allowed to go above Worth Street.
 

Sadly, they were frequently subject to random attacks of violence, vilification, and discrimination.

As the city grew, and developed, African Americans were forced from one neighborhood to the next, first Canal Street, then the West Village, and the area around the theater district.

Seneca Village was one of a few settlements where people of all ethnicities were able to live, but that community was dismantled, and the residents scattered when the city decided to build Central Park.

Finally in the late teens of the 20th century African American businessman Phillip A. Payton Jr. along with other like-minded businessmen convince Euro-American landlords to rent to African Americans, and we have the large-scale movement of much of the community to northern Manhattan.

General information about slavery in New York found in: Wikipedia, and exhibition notes New York Historical Society, Slavery in New York.

To learn more about the history of slavery in NYC and about the African Americans, who have lived here since the Dutch acquired Manhattan Island, I recommend Black Manhattan by James Weldon Johnson.

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jamesweldonjohnson.org

Eric K. Washington

in the opening segment of
"All Of It With Alison Stewart"
(WNYC radio, 93.9FM/8.20AM),
talks about the landmarking
effort for Manhattan's historic
Former Colored School No. 4,
at 128 West 17th Street.
LISTEN HERE.

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See petition for overview: 
https://chng.it/ZWn5bqh7

Cleanup at 857 Riverside Drive

We noticed that the house was getting a little rough around the edges, particularly as the ownership dispute drags on, so I was able to hire a couple of men from the neighborhood to help clear a lot of the debris from the porches and the front and back yards.

 

The NYC Sanitation Department also agreed to pick up the debris free of charge.

 

We’re working with Mr. Wright to keep the house as attractive as we can until we are able to restore it. 

– Peter Green, A founder of Save Riverside

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It was a pleasure to see the 857 Riverside Drive House (Abolitionist House) yard clear of litter and garbage and so beautifully clean.

 

Many thanks to you and your crew of diligent workers.

 

Maybe the powers that be will view the house in a different light and agree to restore the house and this important piece of history to its rightful place in our community. 

– A. Lenora Taitt-Magubane

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THE MARCH OF PROGRESS HAS NOT BEEN KIND TO CULTURAL LANDMARKS RELEVANT TO PERSONS OF COLOR IN UPPER MANHATTAN.

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Sites related to abolitionists and the Underground Railroad are rare in New York, and this historically Greek Revival–Italianate house is arguably the only one known to survive north of 96t​h​ Street in Manhattan.

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TO LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE ABOLITIONIST HOUSE AND NEIGHBORHOOD,
READ THE
 PROPOSAL TO EXPAND THE Audubon Park Historic District.

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UPPER RIVERSIDE RESIDENTS ALLIANCE
(Save Riverside) is a GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION DEDICATED TO PRESERVING OUR ARCHITECTURAL, HISTORICAL, & CULTURAL HERITAGE IN WASHINGTON HEIGHTS.

For our Introduction PDF, link to the HDC Audubon Park booklet, and team bios: ABOUT US.

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