Brooke Fernandez and Samantha Zavala will be giving a preview of their presentation at a meeting of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society on Tuesday, March 7. The free and open meeting takes place at the Avenue Diner at 91-06 Jamaica Avenue at 7 p.m.
The Colonial-era Wyckoff-Snedicker Cemetery is the final resting place of some of Woodhaven’s original settlers. Many of their names are familiar even to today’s residents: Wyckoff, Lott, Eldert, Ditmars, Van Wicklen.
Subject to long periods of neglect over the past century, this historic spot was almost lost forever when St. Matthew’s closed in 2011.
But when it reopened as All Saints Episcopal Church, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society formed a partnership with the new church, led by the Reverend Dr. Norman Whitmire, Jr., to restore this piece of land.
The Dutch settlers who settled in southern Queens used to drive their carriages all the way to the New Lots Reformed Church in Brooklyn, which is where they also used to bury their loved ones.
But that was quite a hike in those days and nearly impossible in bad weather. So in the late 1700s, the Wyckoffs and the Snedicker families each donated a plot of land between their farms and established a local burying ground.
Over 200 residents of early Woodhaven were buried there until 1900, when the cemetery ceased to be active. Over the next century, the cemetery was not only largely forgotten and neglected, it fell victim to vandalism, which was described in detail in an editorial in the Leader-Observer:
“In one corner is a rubbish heap and all about you can see evidence of long-standing neglect. Weeds are high and unkempt, and the place has an air of desolation.
“It isn’t much of a commentary on the kindness and respect of Woodhaven, nor does it suggest much reverence for the past.
“Other towns erect memorials to their founders, but Woodhaven hides their bones and heaps them with dirt and neglect and desecration.”
That description was written way back in 1934, and not much changed over the next eight decades.
But the cemetery’s fortunes changed back in July 2014 when a group of residents and students began the long, hard task of clearing out and maintaining this historic piece of land.
Many of the oldest tombstones are still erect and legible, and tell the story of how rough life could be during the early days of Woodhaven.
Many of the people buried in our cemetery died young and, sadly, many of them are children, making this project the right and decent thing to do.
The group meets on the second Saturday of every month and, weather permitting, will meet for the first time of 2017 at 9 a.m. on March 11.
Last year, the group concentrated on clearing out a section in the back of the cemetery that was filled with roots and rocks, and we will be planting grass seeds there during our first visit of this year.
Volunteers are welcome and always appreciated. Tools, gloves and light refreshments are provided.
But even if you just want to see the cemetery, feel free to drop by and one of the students will give you a tour.
This has not only been a terrific green project for residents of the community, but under the leadership of St. Thomas teacher Patty Eggers, it has been a great research and learning project for the students.
There have been dozens of students who put in long hours on some very hot days and in some very cold weather, and Samantha and Brooke will not only be representing Woodhaven at the Victorian Society, but all of their fellow classmates as well.
We hope you’ll come out next Tuesday to support these two students, both hard workers and really great kids. We thank them for their efforts and know that they’ll do a remarkable job representing Woodhaven not only later this month, but for many years to come.