Monday, March 18, 2013

275 Thames Street

An extremely important part of London history is threatened. Aboutown Transportation wants to level 275 Thames Street to make - you guessed it - a parking lot. Aboutown's Jim Donnelly says the building, which they own, is beyond saving.

This isn't your average old wreck though. It was the first chapel built by London's black community, mainly fugitive slaves who arrived via the Underground Railroad. It was originally named the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was later renamed the British Methodist Episcopal Church.

Abolitionist John Brown spoke here in 1858, appealing for funds to fight slavery in the United States. In all probability, Brown's plan was to form a black military company which would join other black fighting units from Ontario to bring about his proposed abolitionist revolution. The following year, his raid on Harpers Ferry acted as a catalyst bringing about the American Civil War.

Eventually the black community founded another church on Grey Street and 275 Thames Street became a residence. In August 1986, an historic plaque was placed on the building by the London Public Library Board. The plaque has since gone missing.

Londoners, and Canadians in general, should be proud of Canada's role as sanctuary during the years before the Civil War.  This is not a building to be lost. Somehow, a solution must be found.

Update, March 21 - A meeting will be held tomorrow night, Friday, March 22, at 6:00 pm, at Beth Emmanuel Church, 430 Grey Street, for all those interested in finding a way to save this building.

Update, March 29 - Fundraising efforts to move this building to a new site on Grey Street are well under way. Donations are glady accepted. See this site for more details.

Update, April 24 - Word is the building will be moved to its new site first, then designated. And gosh, even the mayor is behind this project, suggesting city hall can supply the cash for an archaeological assessment of the current site. Wonder what they'll turn up?

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