News from the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association

Landmark St. Matthew’s Church

Woodhaven is rich with history.

Anyone who has been to a meeting of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society can tell you that.

From Dexter Park-the former site of a ballpark where the likes of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson played-to our Forest Park Carousel, our neighborhood has seen its fair share of important events and legendary personalities.

By historical measures, one of Woodhaven’s most important places is St. Matthews Episcopal Church on 96th Street.

The church, constructed in its current form in 1927, is a beautiful stone building that traces its roots back to a congregation first organized in 1900. Behind the church is the Wyckoff-Snediker Family Cemetery, the final resting place of some of Woodhaven’s earliest settlers.

Eldert, Ditmars, Wyckoff, Van Wicklen, and Lott are the names of some of those buried in the cemetery. If you recognize them, it’s because New York City locations have been named after them to honor their importance to our city’s history.

I myself was baptized at St. Matthew’s and have resided on the same block as the church for my entire life, so it also holds special significance to me.

Unfortunately, the church’s di- minished congregation in recent years left it in difficult financial straits and led the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island to close St. Matthew’s last year. The closure came as a surprise to many.

Acolumbarium within the church contained the cremated remains of former worshipers. After the closure was announced, family and friends of the deceased performed the heartaching duty of removing the ashes to transfer them to another resting place.

In recent years, and especially since the shut-down, the physical grounds of St. Matthew’s have been in poor shape. Maintenance is infrequent, and the litter that collects on the property has transformed what was once a beautiful front yard into an eyesore.

The cemetery in the back is in even worse shape. Many of the tombstones are badly damaged. Thick overgrowth covers much of the cemetery, and much garbage has been dumped there. Its poor condition attracts unwanted elements, a nuisance for neighbors whose properties abut the cemetery. Its state is disrespectful to those buried there.

We’re heartened to know there are plans for a new congregation to move into the church. We hope that this will result in better upkeep of the property.

That’s not enough, though. St. Matthew’s Church should be landmarked.

Landmarking would be official recognition of St. Matthew’s historical significance. It would legally protect the property from changes that could damage its historic value. It would also require the property to be maintained in good repair. Each of those results would be a good thing for this historical gem.

Some argue that landmarking could impose a hardship on property owners, especially if they’re cashstrapped. If that’s the case for St. Matthew’s, then at the very least Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery should be landmarked.

Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has led the push to landmark St. Matthew’s. We appreciate her efforts.

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is in charge of naming City landmarks. Believe it or not, the Commission pays attention to letters from the community. Please join the effort to get landmark status for this important site in Woodhaven. Write a letter asking that St. Matthew’s Church and Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery on 96th Street in Woodhaven be landmarked.

Please send your letter to Robert Tierney, Chair, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, One Centre Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10007. Alternatively, you can e-mail him. Enter this website address into your browser: bit.ly/StMatts. Then submit your message.

We hope you’ll help make St. Matthew’s the landmark it deserves to be.

Editor’s note: Blenkinsopp is member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association. For additional information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhaven-nyc.org.

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