Here lies a youth in prime of life By death was snatched away. His soul is blest and gone to rest, Though flesh is gone to clay. He is gone forever his life’s sun is set. But its golden beams linger to comfort us yet. He has gone in the fulness of beauty and youth, An emblem of virtue, a witness for truth. Strangers, remember, you must die.
This poignant epitaph, concluding with a bleak reminder to the living, is from the gravestone of Samuel Cornell, who died in 1841 at the age of 20. His was one of four markers that were found by the Queens Topographical Bureau in 1923 in a plot located at today’s Little Neck Parkway and Nassau Blvd. Along with Samuel Cornell’s monument, the 67’ x 74’ graveyard had tombstones for John Cornell (d. 1847), Atletter Ann Herrick (d. 1849) and Emeline Penny (d. 1850). The site was a known burying ground of the Cornell family, who were among the earliest English settlers in Little Neck. The small cemetery, with the four markers still present, was discovered again in 1952 when a shopping center was built at the site. The remains from the graveyard were likely moved to the cemetery at Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, where other members of the Cornell family are buried.
The New York Marble Cemetery and New York City Marble Cemetery are the city’s two oldest non-sectarian cemeteries. Perpetually confused with one another since they were created in the early 1830s, these private cemeteries were formed by businessmen seeking to provide alternatives to churchyard and public graveyard interments after burials were prohibited in lower Manhattan by city ordinances in the 1820s. Featuring underground vaults that are the size of small rooms and made of Tuckahoe marble, the two Marble cemeteries were built in the area of Second Avenue between Second and Third streets in the East Village, a neighborhood that developers hoped would soon become a fashionable residential locale. The cemeteries were initially popular and members of a number of distinguished families were entombed there; however, by the 1870s rural cemeteries in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx were preferred and the Marble cemeteries primarily were used as storage vaults for bodies awaiting burial at these places. Sporadic entombments continued in the Marble cemeteries until the 1930s; both were designated NYC Landmarks in 1969 and now are open to the public on special occasions.
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows, Queens, is a colonial-era burial ground used by Dutch families who settled in the area. The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919, identifying 77 graves with headstones dating from 1730 to 1872 for members of the Brinckerhoff, Adriance, Hoogland, Snedecker and other families. When the descendants of these families moved out of the area, the old graveyard was abandoned, neglected, and eventually taken over by the city. In the mid-20th century, the city sold the land at public auction to a developer, but plans to build on the site have been blocked for decades by Brinckerhoff descendants and the Queens Historical Society. Today, no headstones are visible at the 45-by-120-foot cemetery, which is nestled between one-family homes on 182nd Street, north of 73rd Avenue. The site is covered with brush but is kept free of garbage by neighborhood caretakers. In May 2012, the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association issued an urgent appeal for landmarking the cemetery to protect it from development. Update: The city declared the Brinckerhoff Cemetery a landmark on August 14, 2012.
In a 1934 article in the Leader-Observer, a longtime resident of Ozone Park described the area’s old community burying ground, remnants of which still exist at present-day Redding Street, Albert Road, and 149th Avenue in Queens:
In a little-known and seldom-visited corner of Ozone Park is one of the oldest burying grounds in New York . . . 15 years ago I often walked out there with my son, who was then a youngster, and we would wander about, reading the inscriptions on the stones and listening to the music of the birds that made the place their home. In those days there were only a very few houses near it . . . The plot even then had long been neglected, but without the usual sad results of neglect. Without man to spoil, nature ran riot . . . in the summer time the whole place was a glorious profusion of violets, lilies of the valley, tiger lilies, and even roses. To this little paradise had repaired the birds that had gradually been chased out of the more settled sections, so that in a few minutes the casual visitor would see ten or a dozen different varieties of brilliant multi-colored songsters . . . Taken all in all, it seemed to me then the most fitting resting place for those pioneers of old I had yet seen . . . The names on these ancient . . . stones were almost all Dutch, names that today are well known. Vanderveers lay there, and Van Wycks along with many others who gave meaning to the wilderness that once was this part of the country.Today all is changed. I walked out there a few days ago, for the first time in about 10 years, and I was shocked. Since that time the Crossbay boulevard has been laid; a big cash-and-carry supermarket stands nearby; a development company has hedged in the little burying ground with raucously new brick houses. Where the birds used to sing by the old pipe line, autos now roar by in an unending stream on the Sunrise highway. But what shocked me most was the condition of the cemetery itself. The birds are gone, and the flowers. The shrubbery that once gave the moss-covered stones a decent privacy are now but a bedraggled collection of broken weeds. Even the stones are gone. Where they went I do not know . . . Of the several hundred monuments that were standing ten years ago, not more than a dozen remain . . .
This community cemetery was set aside as a burying ground about 1680 and was situated at the junction of two colonial highways—the Old South Road that crossed southern Queens from east to west, and the Road to Jamaica Bay, which later became Woodhaven Boulevard. Each neighboring family, among them the Ryders, Van Wicklens, Durlands, and Stoothoffs, was allotted a share in the burial ground at the time it was established. Known today as the Southside Burial Ground, the old graveyard has been referred to by a number of names over the years, including the Van Wicklen Cemetery, Aqueduct Cemetery, and Homestead Cemetery. The half-acre burial ground was used and remained intact until the housing boom and street construction that began in the 1920s destroyed much of it. About half of the cemetery was lost when 149th Avenue was extended through the southern portion of the site, and most of the monuments had disappeared by the 1930s. In 1935, Long Island Daily Press reporter Sarah Wilford called the Southside cemetery the “most desolate in Queens,” after workmen chopped down all the trees at the site and burned it over to clear it of vegetation. What remained of the cemetery gradually became a dumping ground. Concerned citizens of the area fought for decades to protect and preserve the burial ground, and today the NYC Parks department manages the site. Four gravestones still exist in the northern section of the old graveyard, which remains on the east side of Redding Street, between Albert Road and 149th Avenue. A remnant of the southern portion of the cemetery also exists in the park on the other side of 149th Avenue; although no stones are present in this section, it is distinguished by a chain-link fence that separates it from the adjacent ball field.
Situated in the middle of a blockful of buildings at 96th Street and Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, Queens, the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery is a relic of the area’s early history. The 85 x 266 foot tract is named for two families of Dutch descent who, around 1785, set aside equal portions of their adjoining farms for a local burying ground. About 200 area residents, including members of the Lott, Eldert, Suydam, Snedeker, and Wyckoff families, were buried there until it ceased to be used in the late 1800s.
Abandoned as descendants of the old families died out or moved away, the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery became neglected and dilapidated during the early 20th century. In 1901, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church was built on 96th Street, abutting the west side of the cemetery, and single-family homes and other buildings gradually surrounded the remainder of the graveyard. A 421-foot path from Jamaica Avenue, a perpetual right-of-way to the burying ground, transformed into an alley lined with garages. In 1962, St. Matthew’s Church purchased the cemetery for $500 at city auction after it had been seized for non-payment of taxes. Members of the parish, along with volunteers from the Queens Historical Society and Woodhaven Historical Society, have worked to restore the site, periodically clearing it of growth and debris and righting toppled tombstones. Around 100 gravestones are still present in the cemetery today, ranging from early fieldstone and brownstone markers to later marble and granite monuments. About 30 trees, all over 100 years old, also remain, adding to the bucolic atmosphere of the old graveyard.