Fresh Meadows group and lawmaker urge owners to sell historical cemetery

The oldest gravestone in the Brinckerhoff Cemetery dates from before the Revolutionary War.
Photo courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Here’s a down payment for what could be a historic deal.

A Fresh Meadows nonprofit looking to purchase the Colonial-era Brinckerhoff Cemetery received a $180,000 grant from a local lawmaker to help fund the goal of acquiring the site.

State Senator Tony Avella announced the grant on Tuesday in meeting with members of the Friends of the Brinckerhoff Colonial Cemetery, which seeks to preserve the pre-Revolutionary War burial ground on 182nd Street in Fresh Meadows. Of these funds, $150,000 would go toward the sale, and the rest for legal fees and other costs related to the upkeep of the land.

The organization seeks to acquire the site from a private owner, Linda Cai Trading Inc. While the company has previously set the price at $150,000 for the sale, according to Avella, they have since raised their asking price to around $250,000.

While the owner reportedly purchased the site for approximately $105,000 with the intention of reselling at a higher price, any substantial development was prohibited after the cemetery was designated a city landmark in 2012 as the final resting place of early Dutch Colonial settlers of Queens.

Avella urged the owners to accept this final offer on the property. If this attempt does not work, he said the city could seize the property for preservation through lengthy legal processes.

“Someone who has made a poor investment rarely gets the opportunity to walk away with a profit, and that is exactly what the State of New York is offering the owner of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery,” Avella said.

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel
THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Friends of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery President Yolanda De La Cruz-Gallagher said that the group wants to gain control over the land as a way to give back to the community and educate others on the rural beginnings of the area.

“Let us win this property as part of the legacy and history of Fresh Meadows and history of Queens,” De La Cruz-Gallagher said.

Linda Cai Trading Inc. might get a better offer, however, as Councilman Rory Lancman has also set aside $300,000 for the Parks Department to purchase, renovate and own the Brinckerhoff cemetery, with an additional $150,000 commitment from Borough President Melinda Katz.

Fresh Meadows Councilman Rory Lancman took issue with Avella’s announcement, saying the senator was “mislead[ing] the community into thinking he’s accomplishing something other than playing politics.”

“I mean, can we make the cemetery a ‘no politics’ zone, at least for the holidays?” Lancman asked in a statement.

The cemetery’s earliest grave dates from 1730 and it was used as an active burial ground until 1872.

Although a 1919 land survey recorded 77 grave markers on the site, a report by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) surmised that many more were likely buried there with headstones that had either been smashed to pieces by vandals, decayed over time or buried under layers of soil.

There are currently no visible, above-ground headstones on the site and reports as early as 1928 record a history of vandalism and neglect on the grounds, according to the LPC.

The Courier is attempting to reach out to Linda Cai Trading Inc. for comment on this story.

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