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 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.
Beneath an industrial complex just northwest of Flushing Avenue in Bushwick lies a former burial ground of the Schencks, one of Brooklyn’s prominent Dutch colonial families. The Bushwick Schencks descended from Johannes Schenck (1656-1748), who emigrated to America in 1683 and, in 1712, settled in Bushwick where he acquired a large plantation. The family burial ground is believed to have been established around 1724 on a parcel of land purchased by Johannes’ son Peter “at ye head of ye kill adjoining land of said Peter Schenk” near the Queens-Brooklyn dividing line. A 1770 conveyance of the property included the clause: “excepting and always reserving unto . . . Abraham Schenk, his heirs and assigns, the burying-ground . . . and also full and free liberty, privilege and license for the friends and relations of Johannes Schenk, deceased, to pass and repass to and from the said burying-ground at all times forever after.”
When local historians visited the site in the 1860s and 1870s, the burial ground was still in existence, a 40 x 100 foot plot located behind two barns on the farm of Nicholas Wyckoff. Tombstone inscriptions for 18 members of the Schenck family who died between 1740 and 1858 were recorded, including that of family progenitor Johannes Schenck, “ye First of the Family Depd this Life, Febry ye 5th, 1748, Agd 92.” The remains from the Schenck graveyard were removed during the late 19th century, some to Greenwood and some to Evergreens Cemetery. The Museum of the City of New York has among its collections three tombstones from the Schenck family burial ground—that of Johannes Schenck, mentioned above, as well as the gravestone of his daughter-in-law Maria Schenck (d. 1740), and a marker from the double grave of Maria Schenck (d. 1776) and Maria Magdelena McPhern (d. 1782), a daughter and granddaughter of Abraham Schenck, respectively.
Sources: A History of the City of Brooklyn, Vol. 2 (H.R. Stiles 1869), 377-378; Memoir of Johannes Schenk, the Progenitor of the Bushwick, L.I., Family of Schenck (P.L. Schenck 1876), 23-27; “Old Homes and Cemeteries,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 29, 1879; “Human Remains—Removing Bodies from the Old Schenck Cemetery at Bushwick,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Nov. 29, 1880; Hopkins’ 1880 Detailed Estate and Old Farm Line Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, Vol. 2, Pl. H; MCNY Cat. Nos. 39.327.1-39.327.3
In 1694, Jacobus Van Cortlandt acquired a tract of land in “Lower Yonkers” that became the nucleus of what is now Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Jacobus was the youngest son of Oloff Van Cortlandt, a wealthy Dutch merchant who founded the Van Cortlandt dynasty that was influential in New York from the colonial period into the 19th century. Jacobus added to his estate throughout his lifetime and in 1732 acquired the tract upon which his son Frederick built a family home in 1748-49. Frederick fell ill and died during completion of the house in 1749, and his will directed that he be buried in “a Family Vault which I intend to Build on my plantation on a little Hill which lies to the Northeastward of Tuttle Brook.” This burial vault was completed shortly after Frederick’s death and was used as a family burial ground until the Van Cortlandt estate was acquired for a city park in 1888.
The Van Cortlandt burial vault is situated atop a steep ridge that became known as Vault Hill. The site gained renown in 1776 when Augustus Van Cortlandt, Frederick’s son who was then New York City Clerk, hid the city records in the family burial vault to protect them from destruction during the British occupation of New York in the American Revolution. A fieldstone wall surrounds the burial ground but most of the headstones and markers were removed when the site was vandalized in the 1960s.
In 1732, when Jacobus Van Cortlandt acquired the tract of present-day Van Cortlandt Park on which the Van Cortlandt House Museum now stands, George Tippett, who sold the property to Van Cortlandt, stipulated that a cemetery included in the tract should be reserved as a burying ground for Tippett and his heirs. This same cemetery is referred to in a 1717 document wherein George Tippett granted the Betts family the continued use of the site that had been “used as a burying ground for a great many years by the families of Betts and Tippitt.” The tract had been connected to these families since 1668, when William Betts and George Tippett (grandfather of the George Tippett mentioned above) purchased the property.
The cemetery has been known by a number of names over the years, including the Kingsbridge Burial Ground, the Tippett Family Cemetery, and the Berrian-Bashford Burying Ground. When local historian Thomas H. Edsall visited the burial ground in the 1880s, he found that most of the graves were marked by fieldstones containing no inscriptions or only the initials of the deceased. Five inscribed headstones were present. These dated from 1794 to 1808 and marked the graves of members of the Berrian, Bashford, and Ackerman families that were descendants of the Betts and Tippetts. Today, this burial ground is situated east of the Van Cortlandt House and just west of the southern part of Van Cortlandt Lake. All of the grave markers are now gone and a stand of trees has grown up in their place. The site is enclosed by an iron pipe rail fence.
In 1762, John and Thomas Willett and their wives sold a 120-acre farm in South Flushing, Queens, to the then Lieutenant Governor of the Province of New York, Cadwallader Colden. The Willetts were a family of English ancestry who became prominent in the Flushing area during the late 17th century. Upon conveyance of the Willett farm to Colden, a reservation was made in the deed of “a certain antient burying place, fenced in with a stone fence or stone ditch (wherein the Family of the Willets have hitherto been interred) to and for the use of the Family of the said Willets to bury and deposit their dead from henceforth forever.” Lt. Governor Colden named his new estate Spring Hill and built a large home near the public highway at the northern line of the farm, just a hundred yards or so west of the Willett burying ground. When Colden died in 1776, he was buried at Spring Hill, presumably in the old Willet graveyard.
After Colden’s son David forfeited the Spring Hill estate in 1783 because of his loyalty to the British during the Revolution, the property passed through several owners, finally becoming part of the 250-acre Durkee family estate that was acquired by Cedar Grove Cemetery Association in 1893. A large portion of the nonsectarian Cedar Grove Cemetery, including much of the area that had formerly been the Spring Hill estate, later was used to create a separate cemetery for the Jewish community, Mount Hebron. Today the Willett graveyard is located at the northwest corner of Mount Hebron Cemetery.
When local historians visited the Willett graveyard in the late 19th century, boulders and a thick cluster of trees marked the site. Present were a half a dozen headstones, most broken and covered with moss and weeds. All of the gravestones, which dated from 1722 to 1797, were for members of the Willett family. No trace of Cadwallader Colden’s gravesite was found. Some later sources stated that the Willett graveyard had been graded over and had completely vanished, but a 1935 article in the Long Island Daily Press reported that it was still present within a hedge just inside the gates of Mount Hebron. This small hedged plot, containing the tombstones of Elizabeth Willett (d. 1773) and S. Willett (d. 1722), can be found today about 200 feet east of Mount Hebron’s main entrance.
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 December 1935, Long Island Daily Press reporter Sarah Wilford called the Southside cemetery the “most desolate in Queens,” after workmen chopped down most of 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.