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Brinckerhoff backers want to save graveyard

Elected officials and civic leaders rally in front of Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows to call on the city to landmark the site. Photo by Steve Mosco
TimesLedger Newspapers

The remains of some of the earliest settlers in Queens rest in an empty lot in Fresh Meadows — and residents are trying to keep it that way.

Residents, elected officials and civic leaders rallied in front of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery, on 182nd Street and 73rd Avenue, to call on the city to declare landmark status for the historic burial ground.

“We are making this appeal on behalf of the residents of our neighborhood to retain the portion of our city’s past while maintaining the character of our community and our quality of life — instead of giving in to developers with profit motives,” said James Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association.

The cemetery, long since overgrown, was a private plot used by the Brinckerhoff family — considered some of the earliest settlers of Queens — between the 1730s and 1890s. Close to 80 bodies are believed to be buried at the site.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission was scheduled to hold a hearing about the property Tuesday, when the commission will consider whether or not to landmark the site.

History and preservation advocates have been trying to secure landmark protection for the property for more than a dozen years, ever since former owner Ralph DeDomenico, of Florida, first began looking to develop the property for two houses, according to the civic organization.

His father, Joseph, purchased the property from the city in the 1950s after it had been seized for tax debts. The DeDomenico family sold the property to Ledan Cai for $105,000 in 2000.

Cai could not be reached for comment.

Advocates for the cemetery said the site should be valued for its historical significance and restored so it can be used for educational purposes. State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), a former schoolteacher, said the site is an invaluable resource for area schoolchildren.

“We can instill a sense of history in our young people so they can understand a little bit about their past,” she said. “This is not an abandoned property, this is a cemetery and it should be treated like one.”

Also on hand at the rally were City Council members Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), as well as state Assembly members Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest).

Gennaro said the city has an obligation to preserve the past and respect those who inhabited Queens in the early days before development.

“There is a sacred obligation. There are people buried here and it’s really not much more complicated than that,” he said. “This site should never be developed.”

Lancman said he hopes city officials will show some basic human decency and prevent the site from being developed.

“It seems that not even the dead are safe from a developer’s desire to make a quick buck while imposing a burden on the surrounding community,” Lancman said. “This is historic, hallowed ground that deserves a landmark — it’s not a scrap of land for some developer to turn into a McMansion.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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