Plans to buy Fresh Meadows cemetery are under way

By Madina Toure

The Friends of Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery Inc. is putting pressure on the city to find a buyer for the long-neglected graveyard in Fresh Meadows which dates back to the early 18th century.

The non-profit is trying to raise the $150,000 needed to buy the property on 182nd Street between 69th and 73rd avenues in Fresh Meadows from its current owner, Linda’s Cai Trading, and clean the site up, said Yolanda Delacruz Gallagher, the non-profit’s president.

The property has no fencing, broken sidewalks, fallen trees and overgrown weeds and bushes, and the headstones were either stolen or swallowed by the ground.

“We are trying to ask city government, our public officials, our councilmen to buy back the property from Linda’s Cai,” Gallagher said. “This property — since it has a historical essence — it has to be a city property. It cannot be in private hands.”

Friends of Brinckerhoff was formed in September to preserve and renovate the cemetery as well as facilitate the cemetery’s purchase from Linda’s Cai Trading, the property’s current owner. Ledan Cai, the company’s owner, who purchased the property in 2010 for $105,000, is asking for $150,000 to cover the cost of work done on the property.

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said he is willing to use capital funds to buy the property at a reasonable price and that the city would choose a new owner and custodian based on input from residents who live in the area, Friends of Brinkcerhoff and the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association.

“It’s more a matter of finding a new owner that the city will approve using city funds to purchase the property and that the new owner is capable of maintaining it throughout the year because we don’t want it to become an eyesore for the neighbors,” Lancman said.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) has been giving information to stakeholders about federal grants.

“I support efforts to purchase this historical piece of property in our community, and my office has worked closely with the Queens Historical Society and Friends of Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery to provide information on federal grants that can possibly be used for buying the land,” Meng said in a statement.

In February, the Brinckerhoff Memorial Committee, a group formed in 2012 to preserve the cemetery, approached the City Council about buying back the property. The city Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the property landmark status in August 2012 and the City Council sanctioned it in December 2012.

Former City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) was willing to use discretionary funds to buy the cemetery but expressed concerns about getting approval and whether Linda’s Cai Trading would give up the property.

A Fresh Meadow civic board member told the TimesLedger in 2012 that Le Dan Cai of Linda’s Cai Trading knew the property was a cemetery when she reviewed the title report before closing on the property, despite her claims that she did not.

Ledan Cai, the owner of Linda’s Cai Trading, could not be reached for comment.

Located between two former farms, Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery was used from 1730 to 1872, according to a 1919 survey that identified 77 gravestones and markers. Individuals buried include prominent Dutch families such as the Brinckerhoffs, the Hooglands, the Adriances and the Ryersons.

Joseph DeDomenico, who lived adjacent to the property, bought it from the city, which foreclosed on the property in 1954, for more than $3,000 in 1957 and 1962. DeDomenico and his wife were not allowed to build on top of the cemetery.

About 10 years ago, the late Stanley Cogan, then president of the Queens Historical Society, and Jim Driscoll, vice president for history, tried to raise money to buy back the property from DeDomenico and fought for landmark status.

“The Fresh Meadows Homeowners Association and the Friends of Brinckerhoff have a hard job in front of them, but they have the ability to raise money and take care of the cemetery,” Driscoll said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour‌e@cng‌local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.