In the mid-1800s, the Town of Jamaica, Queens, needed a new public cemetery to replace their old village burying place, established in the 17th century at the center of the settlement. The original burial ground had expanded over time and transformed into a private burial ground known as Prospect Cemetery, providing family burial plots to the growing number of prominent families in Jamaica village and surrounding towns. The Jamaica Board of Trustees, therefore, at its meeting on April 7, 1844, voted to establish a new cemetery “to be used and appropriated as a free burying ground for the inhabitants of this Town forever.” The Trustees authorized the Town Superintendent to select a piece of land from the common grasslands known as “the Little Plains,” located east of the settled village, to use for the burial ground. The new Jamaica town cemetery totaled 2.14 acres situated on the south side of Hollis Avenue near Springfield Boulevard, in today’s Queens Village.
Although intended as a free burial ground for Jamaica’s poor and unknown dead when first established, in 1878 the Jamaica Town Trustees authorized the Queens County Superintendents of the Poor to inter in the Town burying ground at Queens Village. For a fee of two dollars, charged to the Superintendents, paupers that died in any of the towns in Queens County (at that time, Jamaica, Flushing, Newtown, Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay) could henceforth be buried in the Queens Village public burial ground.
How many people were buried in the cemetery at Queens Village during the time it was the Jamaica town burying ground or later, when it served as a potter’s field for Queens County, is unknown. Scant information exists about the site; the sole known description is a short newspaper article from 1872, which notes that the Queens Village Potter’s Field “looks desolate” and “has no tombstones.” Graves were laid out with no system other than to bury white persons in one area of the cemetery and “colored” persons in another. Only a wooden stake, that would eventually rot away, marked the graves.
When Queens County and its towns were incorporated into the City of New York in 1898, use of the Queens Village public cemetery ceased and the site became city property. That same year, the city began construction of a new school—P.S. 34—adjacent to the cemetery, on Springfield Boulevard and Hollis Avenue. The abandoned potter’s field next to P.S. 34 lay unused and unkempt until August of 1907 when a petition was circulated among Queens Village residents to turn the cemetery into a public park. A year later, in March 1908, a bill was introduced into the State Legislature authorizing the Board of Estimate to appropriate $5000 to convert the burial ground into a public playground. In 1912, when the Department of Parks began converting the site—renamed Wayanda Park—they reported that all traces of the graves had by then been obliterated. No attempts at disinterment were made of burials that may have remained underground.
The city made improvements to Wayanda Park several times over the 20th century, but there is no evidence any remains of the Queens Village public burial ground were disturbed until 2002 when a skull and other human bones were encountered during renovations. Archaeologists, working with the Parks Department and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, then developed a plan to ensure the project would not further impact any burials beneath the park.
Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of Kings and Part of Queens Counties, Long Island N.Y.; Wolverton’s 1891 Atlas of Queens County, Long Island, Pl 28; Map of Property Situated at Brushville in the Town of Jamaica (Nostrand 1856); “The Potter’s Field,” Whitestone Herald, Feb 7, 1872; History of Queens County (Munsell 1882), 213; Laws of the State of New York, 131st Session (1908), Chap. 401; Journal of Proceedings (Board of Estimate 1911), 6628-6630; “Indian Name for a New Park,” Long Island Farmer, Apr 30, 1912; “Jamaica Notes,” Long Island Democrat, Aug 21, 1912; “Parks of Queens Have Been Improved,” Brooklyn Times Union, Feb 10, 1913; The Story of Queens Village (Seyfried 1974), 105-107; “Century-Old Bones Found Under Qns. Village Park,” Qns.com, Sep 26, 2002; Phase 1 Cultural Resource Survey of Wayanda Park (Loorya & Ricciardi 2003)