Members of the Quaker Meeting House in Flushing are breathing a sigh of relief after a developer behind their property removed a utility pole and fence he had put on sacred burial ground dating back more than 300 years.
The Queens Chronicle broke the story in its March 29 edition that Pinnacle Engineering, without members’ knowledge or permission and without conducting necessary archeological tests, had erected a construction fence four feet onto the cemetery property. Even more invasive was the utility pole, as Quakers feared it had been drilled into graves.
The Chronicle sent photographs to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, which contacted the developer and told him to immediately remove the pole or face a fine. The pole was taken out expeditiously and the construction fence relocated shortly after.
On Monday, members of the meeting house met with the project’s owner, Jeff Huang, representatives from the LPC and area officials for an update. Cheshire Frager, a member of the Flushing Quakers, said two archeological studies will be made to determine if any remains have been disturbed.
First, an archeologist will sift through the ground to see if anything has been disturbed and then sonar soundings will be taken to determine if there are any bones in the disturbed area. “It is a noninvasive procedure and Huang has agreed to pay for the archeology work,” Frager said.
In addition, the archeologist will report to the LPC, not the developer. Any construction work at or near a historic graveyard must be approved by the LPC. It usually involves archeological testings.
The meeting house is a city and National Historic Landmark, built in 1694, but the burial ground dates back to 1676. Linda Shirley, another member, said in the old days Quakers did not use headstones so it’s impossible to know the exact locations of early graves, including that of John Bowne, an early settler who was a pioneer in the fight for religious freedom.
There was a stop work order on the building project at 136-33 37 Ave., but that has now been lifted, according to the Department of Buildings website. The project is expected to build apartments with medical facilities on the first floor.