While historic preservationists, Fresh Meadows community groups and neighbors all want the Colonial-era Brinckerhoff Cemetery landmarked, it’s descendants of the family buried there who feel the most special connection to the site.
In separate interviews with the Queens Chronicle, two of those relatives, William Manger Jr. and Matthew Brinckerhoff, last week voiced their support for landmarking and detailed what they want to see done at the location.
Manger, 47, is a banker who lives in Manhattan. He testified in favor of the proposal at a hearing of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. “I was impressed at so many people who turned out for the hearing,” Manger said. “It was heartwarming.”
Located on 182nd Street, near 73rd Avenue in Fresh Meadows, the 45-by-120-foot site is now overgrown with ivy and has no visible gravestones. The family cemetery dates back to 1730 with the last interment in 1872.
The burial ground had been sold illegally by the city in 1961 after being erroneously condemned for nonpayment of taxes. The owner at the time admitted that in the 1980s he buried the remaining gravestones to hide them.
The latest owner wants to build two houses on the site and asked the LPC to decide whether to “decalendar” the cemetery, which has been on its agenda for 12 years, until a decision is reached on landmarking. A similar hearing in 2000 resulted in the commission not voting and leaving the site in limbo.
Manger said he is proud that his family “has contributed to making Queens as great as it is today.” The Brinckerhoffs were prosperous Dutch farmers, who had large land holdings in the borough.
Manger has not visited the site yet but hopes to soon, along with his parents and three siblings, whom he is getting involved in saving it.
“Ultimately, I would like it landmarked and restored, the area cleaned up and fenced,” Manger said. “There should be a sign.”
After getting into the landmarking battle, he learned of his distant cousin, Matthew Brinckerhoff, a Manhattan lawyer who lives in Brooklyn. The two have since spoken and plan to meet soon.
Brinckerhoff, who visited the cemetery recently, said his 12-year-old daughter, Anik, is very interested in genealogy and got him involved. “She found a book about all the Brinckerhoffs and we figured out the relationships,” he said. “I assumed the odds were I was directly related.”
As it turns out, Brinckerhoff’s grandmother, six times removed, named Aeltie, was the first to be buried at the site. Hers was the only gravestone written in Dutch.
A 1919 city survey of the site discovered the 77 graves, recorded the inscriptions and pinpointed their locations. The last known photograph of Aeltie’s gravestone was taken in 1935.
Coincidentally, Brinckerhoff said his daughter attends the Summit School, which is just three blocks from the burial ground.
He wants the headstones recovered and put back up and if some are missing, then for each grave to be marked in some manner.
“Landmarking the site is valuable on lots of levels,” Brinckerhoff said. “I don’t want my ancestors plowed over.”
He will send in his testimony supporting the listing to the LPC. The agency has not announced when a decision will be made on the site.