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Queens Chronicle

Historic cemetery in need of some TLC

Head of congregation moving into adjacent church plans a cleanup

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:18 am, Thu Jul 25, 2013.

From George Gallop’s backyard on 98th Street in Woodhaven, there’s almost a picturesque view when looking to the northwest. Framed by large maple trees is the stone bell tower of St. Matthew’s Church — a scene reminiscent of the English countryside.

But between his well-tended backyard and the church, there is a plot of land that resembles an overgrown forest that Gallop said has made it dangerous to even sit outside.

“It’s not safe to even sit out there,” Gallop said, noting that his neighbors often come to him with issues because he has a reputation for solving problems. “I try to help everyone on the block, I’m the one who solves problems, but I’ve hit a wall here.”

The historic Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery sits on a small plot of land between 97th and 98th streets just a few dozen yards north of Jamaica Avenue. At least 150 members of the Wyckoff and Snediker families — the first Dutch settlers in the Woodhaven area — are buried in the cemetery, which dates back to 1738. The most recent burial there was in the late 19th century, before most of the homes and buildings around it existed.

In the past few years, Gallop — who has lived on 98th Street for over two decades — said the conditions in the cemetery have deteriorated and become a danger to himself and his neighbors.

A few months ago, part of a tree in the cemetery fell into Gallop’s yard, which he removed at his expense. Another fallen branch crushed a canopy next to his shed.

Looking over Gallop’s back fence, the cemetery is hardly recognizable. A rustic gravestone barely rises through the maze of vines and weeds. A misplaced basketball sits next to the stone.

But that may all finally change.

St. Matthew’s has been without a congregation since 2011, when the previous one folded. According to the Rev. Canon Shawn Duncan, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, a new congregation is moving into St. Matthew’s Church, which is currently under renovation.

The Rev. Norman Whitmire Jr., the pastor of the congregation — currently worshipping at All Saints Church at 97-25 Lefferts Blvd. in Richmond Hill — has told the diocese and Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and the Woodhaven Historical Society, that cleaning up the cemetery will be a priority and that he wants the community involved.

“My own vision for the place is to try to muster up some support for the cemetery to restore it and to make it a place where it can be a community garden or space for meditation,” Whitmire said.

That’s a hymn to Wendell’s ears. The cemetery has undergone cleanups before and Wendell considered putting together a “Friends of the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery” group. And this may be his chance.

“This is really the first great opportunity to do something,” he said. “What’s needed is to set up an ongoing group of volunteers to come out once in a while and clean up.”

Whitmire said no date has been set for the official move in, but that he hopes to put his plans into motion as soon as possible.

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