St. Matthew's on 96th Street has been in the news lately as it is scheduled to close on May 22nd after 111 years in service to Woodhaven -- click here to see the tour we took of the beautiful and historic St. Matthew's.  What's lesser known is that there is a graveyard behind St. Matt's -- the old Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery -- and it is the final resting place of some of this area's earliest settlers of Colonial-Era Woodhaven.  Some traces of the family names buried here -- Wyckoff, Ditmars, Eldert, Van Wicklen, Lott -- will be familiar to some as roads were named after them.  Some of the headstones are in poor shape -- some of them are coming up on 200 years old -- but many are still in remarkable shape.

The cemetery is not open to the public; the gates are locked at all times.  If you were to look through that gate over by the right, you'd be able to look straight down an alleyway to Jamaica Avenue (with the Cordon Bleu at the right).  The undergrowth is a little tough to navigate at times, and you have to watch your step -- and with the recent rains, the place has gotten overgrown.  It's a decent sized cemetery, approximately 75 by 250 feet, and there are reputed to be at least nearly 140 people buried back there. 

You can see that a lot of the bushes have grown wild, and there was evidence of garbage being thrown over the gate, mostly plastic bottles.  What would possess someone to throw empty plastic bottles over a fence, into a graveyard?  Dunces.

Some of the markers are like the one above -- small markers with crude carvings in them.  Others have been broken over the years due to poor weather and treatment.  We were told that many years ago the markers had all been pulled out of the ground, and laid side by side, as if to make a patio.  Only through a lot of research and hard work were the parishioners of St. Matt's able to put the markers back to where they belong.  By then, some had been badly damaged. 

The fallen branches, dead leaves, and ivy made it not only difficult to walk, but difficult to see what was engraved on some of the markers.  We found ourselves pulling the ivy aside -- and we were warned that there was some poison ivy back there.  Didn't think about it much then, but as I'm sitting here I'm realizing that I've been itchy all day. 

There are a great many grave markers with just initials on them -- those names will never be known to us.  But at one time, they were somebody's father, wife, husband, brother, child -- and their death was marked with much sadness -- and the family gathered in the cemetery and wished them farewell.

You can find it by going up the blank alley on the east side of the closed Willard Theater under the Jamaica Avenue "El" at 96th Street.  It is grim but it is worth a visit.  It is doubtful than a handful of the 100,000 Woodhavenites know that it is there... There is no entrance except through the alley... There is nothing to indicate that the lost spot was a center of Woodhaven reverence a century ago.

That's from a profile of Woodhaven in the April 5th, 1964 edition of the New York Herald Tribune.  I don't know where they got that figure of 100,000 -- we should have the Herald Tribune do our census!  More from the Herald later on.

The Lott family is well represented in this cemetery -- and if you look at this 1901 Map of Woodhaven, you will see that the Lott Family owned a great deal of land in Woodhaven (2 great farms from 91st Street to 85th Street, Jamaica Avenue to Park Lane South!)  Many of the names in this cemetery owned land or a good deal of property.  The Wyckoff name is familiar to most residents who grew up in Woodhaven because of the Wyckoff buildings -- here is a feature on the Wyckoff Building of Old Woodhaven Village.

It would be a tragedy to see this place lost to history.  With St. Matt's closing and the property up for sale, there is a real risk that could happen.  From last week's Queens Chronicle:

John McGinty, the diocese’s director of communication, said it was "unclear" as to what will happen to the Wyckoff-Snediker Family Cemetery, which the church purchased from the city in the early 1960s and which was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

Definitely a situation we need to keep on top of.  Now, if you're thinking that it's been so long since there's been a burial there that the ground can be dug up without harm to remains, think again -- from the Herald Tribune:

Al Ball, who is in his eighties, the recently retired founder and editor of the Leader-Observer says that he recalls a Napier family burial in the 96th Street cemetery a half dozen years ago but there have been few others in a half century.

"A half dozen years" before 1964 puts the last burial in the Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery around 1958.  Development should not be allowed on this ground.

Turning again to the Herald Tribune --

The forlorn burial ground is dominated by a ten-foot granite marker for the Elderts, whose name is found on the Jamaica BMT map in every New York City subway car (Eldert's Lane, first stop in Woodhaven). 

Sure enough -- look at this vintage Subway map -- Eldert, New Lots, Van Siclen --

The families are buried, as one would expect, in sections.

Now, we mentioned earlier that the cemetery had fallen into disrepair -- and in the 1964 Herald Times article it mentions efforts to get local Boy Scouts involved in the clean up.  But the most recent effort (which was done quite a while ago) was done with the help of this wonderful survey, which was done in 1919.  (Notice that this area -- known then as Brooklyn Manor -- was considered part of Richmond Hill).  The locations of each grave are carefully marked and accompanied by pages of transcriptions of the gravestones.  What a tremendously useful historical document for our community.

Back to the Herald Tribune --

In a teeming Woodhaven and a busy Jamaica Avenue, where each inch has value, the lane to the cemetery should, it would seem, yield eventually to the demands of business and progress but Al Ball says that is not so.  The alley beside the Willard has "right of way in perpetuity" so those who revere their predecessors will always be able to get into the cemetery and, perhaps, to pitch to one side the burned out Christmas trees which are another typical bit of debris.

Very interesting to read about this cemetery as it was viewed in 1964.  The entire article is a long and very interesting read and we'll tackle the job of transcribing it soon.  By the way, it was written by Barrett McGurn, one time spokesman for the Surpreme Court who died last July at age 95

The cemetery is stuffed behind St. Matt's -- stuffed is the right word for it because of its' size and the way its positioned between the Church and the neighboring houses.  See below -- St. Matt's is at center of image.  The wedge of trees to the right is the Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery.

The Lotts -- some of their graves are still very legible -- others, the inscriptions are being worn away with time.


The gravestone of Cornelius Van Dine (marker # 1 in the 1919 survey above) was knocked over by a fallen fence and a bunch of branches. 

The place needs a lot of TLC -- we were thinking that 20 or 25 people could clear it out in less than a day.  That would be a wonderful project to undertake -- unfortunately, we may never get the chance. 

This would be a wonderful place to put benches and sit and relax -- let's keep our fingers crossed that we can do so one day.


If you liked this, you may also be interested in this story:

Southside Cemetery in Ozone Park 


If you have any comments, or would like to suggest other projects, drop us a line at or 

Bookmark and Share

Return to Project Woodhaven's Home Page

Photos by Joey Wendell