Tag Archives: Queens cemeteries

Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery

A view of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery in Fort Totten Park, 2019 (Tom Loggia)

Since childhood, brothers Thomas and Vincent Loggia heard family stories about ancestors buried within Fort Totten, the former U.S. Army installation on the Willets Point peninsula in northern Queens. The Willets Point name derives from Charles Willets (1781-1833), who purchased the property in 1829. Before that, the peninsula belonged to the Thorne and Wilkins families. Englishman William Thorne (1617-1664) received the land from the Dutch in 1639, and the farmland remained in his family until 1788 when Ann Thorne married William Wilkins. Thomas and Vincent Loggia are descendants of Ann Thorne and William Wilkins. For many years, evidence of their family’s ancestral burial ground was lost and officials were unaware of its existence within the fort. After 20 years of painstaking research, the Loggia brothers recently proved the existence and location of the burial ground and had it recognized as the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

An 1860 map shows Wilkins Point (present-day Willets Point), the peninsula where Fort Totten is located today. Arrow denotes approximately location of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

The Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery is a small plot on a knoll about 500 feet inside the entrance of Fort Totten. A clause in the 1829 deed transferring the land from Jacob Thorne Wilkins to Charles Willets reserves the burial ground for the use of the family; this exception was reiterated in later transfers of the property. Some 30 members of the Thorne-Wilkins family are thought to be buried in the plot. Family progenitor William Thorne—one of the original patentees of Flushing, Queens, and a signer of the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance—may be among those laid to rest here. Exactly who is buried here is unknown—the only documentation of the graves was made by James Thorne, Jr., who visited the burial ground in 1857 and sketched five badly weathered tombstones.  Initials (“I.T.” and “A.T.”) and dates ranging from 1709 to 1775 were all that were visible on the stones.

This detail from an 1865 survey of property transferred to the U.S. government for Fort Totten shows the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery

Between April 1857 and April 1863, the U.S. government acquired the properties to create Fort Totten, which hosted a series of military services until a large portion of the land, including the cemetery plot, was secured by New York City Parks in 2001. At that time, only one memorial stone stood on the site of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery—a monument to Charles A. Willets, the man who acquired the property from the Thorne-Wilkins family. This marker is somewhat of a historical mystery. Records show that in 1855, the Willets family removed Charles A. Willets’ remains and his weathered tombstone from his “Flushing farm” to a plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His original burial place is not actually known; he may or may not have been interred in the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

Descriptions of the Thorne-Wilkins burial ground before the 1930s do not mention Charles Willets’ tombstone at the site, suggesting this marker was placed there sometime in the early 1900s, possibly to commemorate the namesake of Willets Point rather than as an actual gravemarker. Whatever the case may be, the existence of Willets’ marker at the site in the 20th century, along with the lack of any other headstones, contributed to the loss of association of the burial ground with the Thorne-Wilkins family. By the time the property was taken over by the Parks Department, officials did not know of the Thorne-Wilkins burial ground and mistakenly believed that Charles Willets was the only civilian who had ever been interred within the fort’s grounds.

Sketches of tombstones in the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery, 1857

In 2016, archaeologist Joan Geismar reviewed and analyzed the extensive material that Thomas and Vincent Loggia had amassed and presented it to the Parks Department to support the Loggias’ appeal to have the burial ground formally recognized as the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery. The request was successful and in 2019, with the full support of NYC Parks and other family members, Thomas and Vincent Loggia installed a one-ton boulder at the site. One side of the massive stone holds a plaque identifying the burial ground and its history; the opposite side has an inscription honoring their seventh great-grandfather, William Thorne.

Asked in a 2012 interview why he persevered in this family quest to seek out and memorialize the lost Thorne-Wilkins burial ground, Thomas Loggia responded: “People should acknowledge things of importance. Maybe nobody will ever go visit them again. But really, that’s not the point. The point is they existed.”

A 2018 aerial view of part of Fort Totten Park; arrow indicates location of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the City of New York and Its Environs (Walling 1860); Map of Survey of Land of Willets Point, Recently Purchased from Henry Day, Esq., by the United States (Trowbridge 1865); “Military and Civil Law Conflict,” New York Times Apr 21, 1895; “Willets Point Graveyard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle,  Dec 6, 1896; “Whitestone,” Brooklyn Times Union, Apr 26 1902; “Owned Property at Fort Totten,” Daily Star (Queens), Jan 10, 1907; “To Be Sold in Partition,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle,  Apr 4, 1911; “Legendary Tunnel of 1862 Traced at Fort Totten,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 17, 1937; “Until an Ancestral Graveyard is Found, No Time to Rest,” New York Times, Jun 1, 2012; Memo Report: Thorne/Wilkins/Willets Cemetery, Fort Totten, Queens (Geismar 2016); “Hidden in Plain Site: The Thorne-Wilkins Burying Ground,” New York Researcher, 28(4), Winter 2017; Thomas Loggia, personal communication, Jan 19, 2023

Flushing Cemetery

Flushing Cemetery, 2007. The cemetery’s floral and arboreal beauty memorialize Flushing’s history as a horticultural center (Terry Ballard-Creative Commons)

In the mid-19th century, the rapid growth of the population at Flushing, Queens, made it necessary to create a local cemetery large enough to accommodate citizens of all denominations for generations to come. The Flushing Cemetery Association formed in 1853, with trustees selected to manage the project. They purchased 21 acres about two miles southeast of the village, in the vicinity of Kissena Lake. With additional land purchases, Flushing Cemetery grew to encompass 75 acres on the south side of today’s 46th Avenue, east of Pigeon Meadow Road.

Flushing Cemetery’s original 21 acres are shown in this detail from an 1859 map; additional lands were acquired to expand the cemetery to its current 75 acres

Since its inception, Flushing Cemetery has been known for its beautiful grounds. Flushing was America’s premiere horticultural center throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries and the cemetery’s founding and succeeding trustees were mindful of this connection. They hired landscape architects and gardeners who created spacious lawns and gentle grades with a multitude of trees, ornaments, shrubbery, rare plants, and flowers. Dubbed a “wonderland of a million blooms” for the multi-colored spectacle of flowers present throughout the summer months, Flushing Cemetery has long been one of the most attractive and well-kept resting places in the metropolitan area.

Adding to the cemetery’s picturesque beauty is the Spanish-style administration building inside the entrance gate on 46th Avenue. Built in 1912, it is of light brown ashlar stone with tile roofs and consists of an office building and a chapel. Just beyond the administration building is a collection of historical landmarks including several soldiers’ memorials and a massive World Trade Center monument that was erected by the cemetery’s board of directors in 2002. Also here is the Elliman Memorial Fountain. Originally erected in downtown Flushing in 1896 in honor of the philanthropist and temperance activist Mary Lawrence Elliman, the fountain was moved to the cemetery in 1907.

Older areas of the cemetery feature large plots of early families of Flushing, College Point, Whitestone, and Bayside, while newer sections are distinguished by tombstones featuring Greek and Chinese inscriptions of more recent immigrant communities. Since the early 1900s Flushing Cemetery also has been a major burial place for African Americans of Queens, Brooklyn, and Harlem. This is in stark contrast to the cemetery’s origins as an exclusively “white” cemetery—in 1864 its trustees passed a resolution “that all applications for interment of colored persons in the Flushing Cemetery be refused” and their prohibition against the burial of local people of African American and Native American ancestry was widely reported in local and national newspapers. These policies were lifted towards the end of the 1800s, allowing people of all races and ethnicities to acquire graves and family plots at Flushing Cemetery.

Louis Armstrong’s gravestone at Flushing Cemetery with the original bronze trumpet that was attached before it was stolen in the early 1980s. A new trumpet sculpted of white marble was installed atop his marker in 1984 (Louisiana Digital Library)

In what may be a case of divine retribution against the racist practices of the cemetery’s founding fathers, the most famous individual buried at Flushing Cemetery is black. Superstar trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong was laid to rest here in 1971 after he died at his home in Corona, Queens, at age 71. Since then thousands of fans have visited his gravesite, leaving mementos at his tombstone.

Among other notables interred at Flushing Cemetery are State Supreme Court justice and founder of Queens College Charles S. Colden; financier and statesman Bernard Baruch; restauranteur Vincent Sardi, Sr.; Eugene Bullard, one of the world’s first black military pilots; Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., the prominent pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and father of U.S. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; and jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, and Hazel Scott.

Today Flushing Cemetery is the final resting place for approximately 45,000 people of diverse backgrounds. With over 300 interments each year, it still actively serves the present-day community while preserving the area’s historical and horticultural past.

The Consul General of France in New York lays a wreath at Eugene Bullard’s grave in Flushing Cemetery in 2021. Bullard, a native of Columbus, Georgia, was one of the world’s first black military pilots. He flew for the French Army Air Corps during WWI and was a spy for the French Resistance during WWII (Consulate General of France in New York)
A view of Flushing Cemetery, Jan 2016 (Mary French)
2018 aerial view of Flushing Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Topographical Map of the Counties of Kings and Queens, New York (Walling 1859); History of Queens County (Munsell 1882); The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); The Story of Flushing Cemetery (Stuart 1945); Flushing in the Civil War Era (Seyfried 2001); “Dedication of a New Cemetery at Flushing,” New York Times, Sep 2 1853; “Trouble at Flushing with the Colored Dead,” New York Tribune, June 26, 1866; “The Death of Mr. John Mingo,” Brooklyn Times Union, Nov 6, 1873; “Picturesque Past of Flushing Town,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 1, 1899; “Beautiful Flushing Cemetery,” Brooklyn Times Union, Jul 13, 1901; “Plea for Preservation of Monument,” Brooklyn Times Union, Sep 14, 1907; “Memorial Moved,” Brooklyn Times Union, Dec 13, 1907; “Church and Chapel Among Week’s Building Permits,” Brooklyn Times Union, Sep 5 1912; “Flushing,” The Standard Union, Aug 28, 1921; “Trumpet Restored,” Daily News, Oct 17, 1984; “A Memorial Etched in Mourning,” Newsday, Feb 14, 2002; Commemorative Ceremony for the 60th Death Anniversary of Veteran Eugene Bullard (Consulate General of France in New York)

First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery

This detail from an 1873 map of Newtown shows the First Presbyterian Church and Cemetery on the north side of what is now Queens Boulevard. The church property shown on the south side of the street is the site of the congregation’s present church building.

The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown descends from the earliest church established by the English colonists who settled the village of Newtown in 1652. Officially chartered by the Presbytery in 1715, that same year the congregation built a house of worship on the north side of what is now Queens Boulevard and 54th Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens. After the British destroyed that building during Revolutionary War, in 1787 the congregation erected a new edifice that stood on that same site until it was demolished in 1929. The present First Presbyterian Church of Newtown was constructed in 1895 on the south side of Queens Boulevard, directly across the street from the 18th-century church.

A 1927 view of the old First Presbyterian Church of Newtown building (erected in 1787 and demolished in 1929) and the adjacent cemetery (NYPL)

During its early history, members of the Presbyterian Church of Newtown were buried in the village cemetery at the edge of the settlement. But in the 1800s the congregation began to bury their dead in land adjacent to the new church they built after the Revolution. This cemetery was located on the north side of Queens Boulevard, immediately east of the 1787 church. Over 300 people were buried in Newtown’s Presbyterian Church cemetery between 1822 and 1929, including several early members relocated here in 1901 from the old village burial ground. Many well-known Newtown families had plots in the Presbyterian cemetery, including some of the Bragaw, Fish, Furman, Gorsline, Leverich, Luyster, Payntar, Penfold, Remsen, Strang, and Woodhull clans.

A view of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery in April 1958, just before its removal (Seyfried)

By the mid-20th century, the Presbyterian cemetery—in poor condition and frequently vandalized—was deemed a “white elephant” by church officials, who in 1958 sold the property to Tymon Gardens Realty Corporation for $187,500. After some families privately removed the remains of their relatives to other burial places, in June of 1958 the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown disinterred the rest of the graves in their old cemetery and reburied them in a lot in the Prospect Hill section of Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn. The former site of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery is now occupied by 86-35 Queens Boulevard, a large apartment building near Elmhurst’s Queens Place Mall (known for its circular design).

A view of the reburial plot of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown at Evergreens Cemetery, Oct 2022 (Chris Bendall)
2018 aerial view showing apartment building now on the former site of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery; the present church can be seen directly across the street (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Beers 1873 Atlas of Long Island, Pl 51; Cemetery Inscriptions from Presbyterian Churchyard at Newtown, Long Island, N.Y (Frost 1912); Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens: A Supplement (Queens Topographical Bureau 1975); Elmhurst: From Town Seat to Mega-Suburb (Seyfried 1995); “Old Newtown and Its Confines—The Presbyterian Church Yard, Newtown Village,” Newtown Register, Jun 9, 1887; [Part 2], Newtown Register Jun 16, 1887; “Obituary,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 6, 1913; “Newtown Elder Indignant at Vandals’Work,” Daily Star (Long Island City, NY), Mar 11, 1933; “Permission Being Sought to Sell 250 Year Old Newtown Cemetery,” Queens Ledger (Maspeth, NY), Apr 3, 1958; “Sale of Ancient Cemetery is OKd,” New York Daily News, Mar 28, 1958; “The Death of a Cemetery,” Long Island Star-Journal, Apr 7, 1958; First Presbyterian Church of Newtown—Cemetery

Methodist Cemetery, Jamaica

Detail from an 1859 map of Jamaica, showing the Methodist Cemetery on New York Ave (present-day Guy R. Brewer Blvd)

An overgrown lot behind a chain-link fence at the corner of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and Liberty Avenue in Jamaica, Queens, is a burial ground for some of the area’s earliest settlers. Although it is surrounded by York College, the cemetery is owned by the First United Methodist Church of Jamaica. This congregation is located today on Highland Avenue but traces its beginnings to the town’s original Methodist church, erected in 1811 on what is now 151st Street near Archer Avenue. By 1844, Jamaica’s First Methodist Church membership had increased to 100 and the congregation erected a new building on Jamaica Avenue and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. 

In 1850, four church members donated the lot at Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and Liberty Avenue to the First Methodist Church to use as a cemetery. The 125ft x 125ft site was already in use as a burial ground for the family and friends of Obadiah P. and Susan Leech (two of the four donors of the property) and the donation agreement reserved several sections for their future use. First Methodist Church moved bodies from its old burial ground, in the churchyard next to their original building on 151st Street, to the new Methodist Cemetery and continued burials here into the early 1900s. The last known burial in the Methodist Cemetery was in 1933.

A 1907 map shows the Methodist Cemetery; south of the cemetery is Jamaica Hospital, which was constructed in 1898 and demolished in the mid-1900s.

Many of the people buried in the Methodist Cemetery were prominent figures in historic Jamaica, including town officials, merchants, and Civil War veterans. One of the family plots contains the remains of John Dunn (d. 1827), a founding trustee of the First Methodist Church of Jamaica, his wife Deborah (who died in 1816 and is the oldest known burial in the cemetery), and their children and grandchildren. 

Obituary of Jane P. Holland, interred at the Methodist Cemetery in 1920

Over a dozen members of the Holland family are interred at the Methodist Cemetery, including Michael P. Holland (d.1859) and Fannie Holland (d. 1893), who are important in Queens history as pioneer settlers of Rockaway Beach. After owning a tobacco business and hotel in Jamaica, in 1857 Michael and Fannie Holland invested $350 to purchase 65 acres of land from today’s Beach 90 to Beach 95 Street in Rockaway, including a small hotel that would begin operating as the Holland Hotel. Michael Holland died shortly after they got their Rockaway venture going, leaving Fannie Holland to run the hotel and raise nine children alone. Over the next 50 years, the Hollands’ original investment grew to over $1 million and the family’s influence in the new community at Rockaway Beach continued for generations. Fannie Holland’s legacy includes founding the First Congregational Church of Rockaway Beach.

Part of the Methodist Cemetery can be seen in this 1948 photo of a house that once stood adjacent to the cemetery on its north side (QPL)

In the 1870s, the First Methodist Church congregation moved to a new building on Jamaica Avenue and 165th St; they would relocate again in the 1920s before settling at their current location in 1949. It was around this time that their cemetery went into decline and by the 1990s it had become a dumping ground and haven for drug addicts. Although it was cleaned up and fenced off for protection in the early 2000s, the historic Methodist Cemetery of Jamaica remains overgrown, unmaintained, and inaccessible.

Tombstones are barely visible through the overgrowth at the Methodist Cemetery, May 2016 (Mary French)
A view of the Methodist Cemetery enclosure along Guy R. Brewer Blvd, May 2016 (Mary French)
A 2018 aerial view of the Methodist Cemetery at Gury R. Brewer Blvd and Liberty Ave, Jamaica, Queens (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Jamaica (Walling 1859); Hyde’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Queens Vol 1 Pl 10; Inscriptions from the Methodist Cemetery at Jamaica, New York (Frost 1911); Cemeteries in Kings and Queens Counties (Eardeley 1916); The Methodist Cemetery of Jamaica, New York: A Brief History (Walski n.d. – Manuscript on file, Queens Library Archives); “Miss Jane B. Holland,” Brooklyn Times Union, Aug 18, 1920; “Firemen Fight Blaze in Cemetery Grass,” Long Island Daily Press, Jun 19, 1936; “A Grave Situation: Cemetery Turns into Drug Haven,” Newsday July 16, 1992; “Cemetery Maintenance Re-examined in Queens,” Queens Chronicle, Feb 9, 1995; “Where the Living Haunt the Dead,” Daily News, May 5, 1995; “Settler Burial Ground Falls Victim to Neglect,” New York Times, Sep 24 1995; “Cleanup at Historic Cemetery,” Daily News, March 14, 1997; “Mystery Cemetery Cleanup Has People Puzzled in Jamaica,” Queens Chronicle, Aug 16, 2001; Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Queens Family Court and Family Court Agencies Facility, Jamaica, Queens Co. Appendix A: Phase IA Archaeological Assessment (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 1997); Rockaway Beach (Carter 2012); “Finding Fannie Holland,” Oy Vey Rockaway, Jan 25, 2012; Susan Walski, personal communication, 16 Mar 2022

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Tombstones in the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 1925 (NYPL)

Throughout the five boroughs, New Yorkers are actively protecting the forgotten and neglected burial places of their neighborhoods. Some are silent guardians tending to these old plots with little fanfare, while others are vocal advocates striving for preservation. Most have no familial or cultural ties to those interred in the graveyards they caretake and defend but feel called to save these historic sites and honor their departed local forerunners.

For more than 25 years, Ceil Pontecorvo almost single-handedly maintained the Moore-Jackson Cemetery next door to her apartment building on 54th Street in Woodside, Queens. Noticing that the old graveyard had become a neglected dumping ground, she determined that the people buried there “deserve better than this” and began planting flowers and shrubbery, picking up weeds and garbage, and was among those who lobbied the city to landmark the Colonial-era site, which they won in 1997.

At left is a map detail showing location of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside, Queens (mid-block between 31st St and 32nd St, the site extends from 51st to 54th St). At right is a 1919 survey showing location of graves at the site.

The Moore-Jackson Cemetery was established by 1733 on the farm of Samuel Moore and Charity Hallett Moore, just north of their homestead on Bowery Bay Road (present-day 51st Street) at the outskirts of the colonial village of Newtown. The Moores were early English settlers of Newtown, played a prominent role in the development of Queens, and intermarried with such leading families as the Rikers, Berriens, Blackwells, and Rapelyes. Among those interred in the cemetery is Nathaniel Moore (d. 1802), the owner of the land during the American Revolution. A staunch loyalist, Nathaniel Moore housed a division of the British Army following its victory at the Battle of Long Island and some say the British capture of Manhattan was planned in the Moore home. A great-granddaughter of Nathaniel’s married into the Jackson family, from which the cemetery and nearby Jackson Heights get their names.

A view of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 1927 (NYCMA)

The cemetery remained in active use until at least 1868 and contained at least 51 graves which were marked with fieldstone, brownstone, and marble gravestones. By the early 20th century, most of the Moore descendants had moved away, and the burial ground fell into periods of neglect and rediscovery. In 1998, the last surviving heir of Nathaniel Moore transferred ownership of the site to the Queens Historical Society.

Today, about a dozen headstones still stand at the Moore-Jackson Cemetery and only a few have legible inscriptions. Most of the gravestones are clustered near the side of the property bordering 54th Street and although that section was well kept by Ms. Pontecorvo and others, the rest of the half-acre property, which extends to 51st Street, remained “a jungle” for decades. In 2017, several Woodside residents came together to clean up the overgrown lot and received permission from the Queens Historical Society to create a community garden on part of the property. The cemetery has now entered a new phase of neighborhood guardianship. While the burial area near 54th Street is preserved, the remainder of the site is a vibrant community garden that provides fresh food, green space, and programs for local residents.

A view of tombstones at the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in October 2010. The gravestone in the foreground, commemorating Augustine Moore, is the oldest legible marker at the site today (Mary French)
The aerial view at left shows the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 2018; at right is a more recent view depicting the raised planting beds and other features of the new community garden at the property (NYCThen&Now/Google)

Sources: Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932); Woodside: A Historical Perspective, 1652-1994 (Gregory, 1994); Moore-Jackson Cemetery Designation Report (Landmarks Preservation Commission 1997); Moore-Jackson Cemetery Phase IA Archaeological Assessment Report (Bergoffen 1999); “A Long-Orphaned Family Plot,” New York Times, Jan 19, 1997; “A Hidden Cemetery of an Earlier Era Becomes More Visible,” New York Times, Jul 2, 2000; “Volunteers Want Help Revitalizing Colonial-Era Cemetery in Woodside,” DNAinfo, Oct 11 2017; “Historic Woodside Site Revamped Into Community Garden,” Astoria Post , Jan 14, 2022; Moore-Jackson Cemetery and Community Garden