Harris, a man of ambition and humanity, built a new refinery on the Hudson at 160th Street, down the hill from the little mansion, along with a wharf. He also bought a steamboat that took passengers from Lower Manhattan to Poughkeepsie and stopped at the wharf at 158th Street. Establishing a passenger line to compete with the Hudson River Railroad was a tricky proposition. But Harris' real motive was likely to be to build a new subway station, suggested Mr. Spady in his book "The Neighborhood Manhattan Forgot".
The Volatile Slaves Act of 1850 allowed slave hunters to catch suspected escaped slaves without due process, making the city far more dangerous to African Americans. Faced with this new threat to refugees, Spady wrote, "the refinery and steamship Harris could have prolonged efforts to get them further upriver on their way to freedom in Canada."
Beyond this possible infrastructure of freedom, Mr Amodio's report notes that Harris and Newhouse were at the heart of a largely forgotten abolitionist enclave in northern Manhattan. In 1854 the couple co-founded the Washington Heights Congregational Church, which took an unwavering stance against slavery. Harris personally introduced two formerly enslaved African American abolitionists to speak, and a celebration of the shrine drew a delegate from Plymouth Church, a hub for the Underground Railroad in the historic Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.
"People like Harris certainly fought the flood, they certainly weren't part of the mainstream political and racist thought in New York City at all," said Eric Foner, author of Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Subway . said in an interview. “The city was economically completely tied to the slave south. The New York merchants were the ones who transported southern cotton and controlled the cotton trade to England. "
New York corporations also insured southern slave owners against the death of their human property, while the city's banks lent money to buy slaves and southern plantation land. Brooks Brothers and other urban clothing companies made money from clothing that enslaved African Americans. In addition, New York had a pro-southern city government.
Kate Lemos McHale, Research Director for the Landmark Commission, was impressed with the report on the Harris Newhouse Home, but not with the condition of the mansion.
"Because of the extensive changes that have been made to the home and its architectural details, it does not seem to retain the integrity required to be viewed as a custom landmark," she wrote in response. "The changes include removing the octagonal dome and wraparound porch along with its decorative paneling, replacing and removing the windows and doors, and adding the permaston veneer."