Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Queens Landmarked Despite Owner’s Objections

Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows. Credit: LPC

Despite the lack of visible grave markers, Queens cemetery found to contain sufficient historical and archaeological significance to merit designation. On August 14, 2012, Landmarks designated the Brinckerhoff Cemetery at 69-65 182nd Street in the Fresh Meadows section of Queens as an individual City landmark. From 1730 to 1872, the site served as a cemetery for the then-rural community, including the prominent Dutch families who settled the area. A 1919 survey identified 77 gravestones and markers. However, no visible grave markers remain, and the property is overgrown with trees and shrubs.

The City foreclosed on the abandoned site in 1954, and sold the property to Joseph and Elizabeth DeDomenico. The Queens Historical Society and descendants of the Brinckerhoff family sued to reclaim the site in 1999. The DeDomenico family offered to sell the land to the Historical Society, but the group was unable to raise enough money in the time allotted. Linda’s Cai Trading Inc. acquired the property in 2010.

At Landmarks May 15, 2012 public hearing, wide support for landmarking was voiced by community residents, the community board, local elected officials, a descendant of the Brinckerhoff family, and preservation groups. A representative of Linda’s Cai Trading opposed designation, arguing that the owner had paid taxes, possessed title to the property, and should be able to develop the land.

On August 14, 2012, Landmarks’ General Counsel Mark Silberman stated that based on research and public testimony, there was “no reason to believe” that human remains were not still interred in the Cemetery. Silberman said that there was “a hope” that headstones may still be buried in the property, and added that the Cemetery had the potential to be restored or re-created. He explained that if the site were designated and the owner came forward with a development proposal, Landmarks would need to consider “what kind of development, if any, [would be] appropriate.”

View from the street. Credit: LPC

Commissioner Diana Chapin said it was unfortunate that no visual evidence remained of the cemetery use, but found there was enough historical and archaeological significance to merit designation. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter concurred, but acknowledged that it might be difficult for the public to understand the property as an individual landmark without visible grave markers. Perlmutter added that any future development on the property would have to account for sub-surface conditions. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea supported designation, calling the Cemetery “a place of remembrance” and “sacred in many ways.” Commissioner Michael Devonshire found the site an important reminder of Fresh Meadows’ rural history, and said that designation would create the possibility of reestablishing the site as a “spot of memory in New York City.”

Prior to calling for a vote, Chair Robert B. Tierney acknowledged that the “non-traditional” designation raised some broad questions about regulation and preservation. Tierney noted that the potential to preserve the Cemetery had attracted enormous interest and community support. The commissioners unanimously voted to approve designation.

LPC: Brinckerhoff Cemetery, 69-65 182nd Street, Queens (LP-2087) (August 14, 2012).

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