Twelve years after it was added to the Landmark Preservation Commission's agenda, the historic Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows has finally been granted landmark status.
The achievement was announced to the Queens Chronicle by Jeremy Walsh, the spokesman for City Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) a little before 11 a.m. today and confirmed by Lisi de Bourbon, the LPC spokeswoman, immediately after.
Both offices were drafting statements on the property's preservation.
"It's good news and something the councilman is very interested in," Walsh said.
The cemetery, located on 182nd Street between 69th and 73rd avenues, was a private plot used by the Brinckerhoff family — among the earliest settlers of Queens — between the 1730s and the 1870s. The remains of dozens of people lie within it, unless as former owners have alleged, they have decomposed completely. There are no grave markers of any kind visible on the property, which is now overgrown — though some neighbors allege the former owners hid them under the soil to make it seem like the land wasn't worth preserving.
The site could have been built upon, however, because it was improperly sold to private owners decades ago. About a dozen years ago, the owners sought to build two houses on the land, raising the concerns of preservationists. The Queens Historical Society tried to raise enough money to buy the site, but came up short of the estimated $100,000 needed.
A new owner recently purchased the cemetery and asked the LPC to put its status back on the calendar so he could finally know whether he could build on it. A hearing was held in May, with a number of speakers advocating for its preservation.
The landmark designation does not, however, necessarily preclude building on the site. While some LPC members spoke in terms of "preservation" before voting to landmark the cemetery, they also discussed the kind of building that could be done there in the future.
“It’s truly unfortunate that we don’t anymore have any of the gravestones, but at least there is some historic record," said member Diana Chapin, who represents Queens. "It is an important historical and archaeological record … We don’t know what possibly may exist for this in the future so I think it’s important for it not to be built over at this time.”
"It seems to me that it’s important to be protecting an important burial site like this, but at the same time unless there are some visible remains of tombstones and so on, it’s kind of hard for the public to understand what this [is] about," said Margery Perlmutter, the Manhattan representative. "So my support of this is really of the idea of it being an archaeologically important site and that in the future if the owner chooses to develop something there, that the development speaks to the archaeological importance and the protection of the subsurface and however the structure is designed to not disturb or protect the subsurface conditions."