Next Cleanup: Saturday, July 11th, 9AM to 12 PM, 96th Street and 86th Avenue. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for more information.
The Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery goes back to the 1700s when Dutch settlers who had settled in the area that would become Woodhaven began to bury and mourn their dead locally, instead of making the trek into Brooklyn. Two attaching plots measuring 80x266 feet were donated for this use - and the names of the families buried in this cemetery would be well-known to residents centuries later, mostly for the names that ended up attached to streets and buildings. The Elderts. The Wyckoffs. The Van Wicklens. The Lotts.
The cemetery has gone through periods of neglect - and it was hoped that would all end when the church right next to the cemetery - St. Matthew's - bought it from the City of New York for $600. But, sadly, there were still periods of neglect, followed by cleanups and restorations.
This latest effort is taking a different approach by trying to get young people involved and invested in the future of this land. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society, joined by groups such at the St. Thomas Woodhaven History Club and Boy Scout Troop 139 from Howard Beach, have been meeting on the 2nd Saturday of every month to clean up the cemetery. At the same time, the students from St. Thomas have been working to build a database of information about the people who are buried there.
We were forced to postpone the cleanup earlier in June - and May's had been cut short by rain. So we didn't quite know what shape the cemetery would be in when we walked in there. Sure enough, the grass had grown high - but our group (which was on the small side due to the weather forecast) was not discouraged.
The tombstones are barely visible - you need to look closely in this picture to even see them. But they are there!
The group was armed with a $1000 neighborhood grant from Citizens Committee for New York City, an organization that offers many small grants to people who are looking to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
“What would it take to improve your neighborhood? Whether it's organizing a farmer's market, painting a mural, composting cafeteria scraps, or launching a dance camp, we can help make your idea a reality,” they explain on their website.
Not only does the Citizens Committee for New York City offer financial assistance for projects to improve your community, they also offer up years of experience and connections to help you get your project underway and completed.
We know there are groups out there with many good ideas on how we could improve the quality of life in our community. Here’s an opportunity to turn those good ideas in your head into a reality on the streets. Though the window for 2015 grants is closed, it will not be long before residents are asked to apply for 2016 – so be sure to visit citizensnyc.org and learn how you can get started.
We are so proud of our group who worked hard and got this project off to a great start - and we are grateful to the Citizens Committee for rewarding that hard work and investing in this project.
And now, on to the hard work of getting this place in shape for 2015. Our goal is to hold an open house sometime near the end of the summer - to invite the community to come in and stroll through this historic site.
Here is the video of our cleanup from June:
Last month, we couldn't get this lawn mower started. We took it to get repaired but we were warned that it might not last much longer. Volunteer Chris Flood got it started and began making a dent in the growth.
The strategy was to cut around the tombstones so that mowing would be a little easier.
At the same time, our crew of hard working volunteers got to work clipping away at the weeds.
More weed whacking! If you are the type of person who likes whacking weeds, well, this is the place for you!
The crew started making progress and working their way towards the middle of the cemetery.
The cleanups are fun affairs, but also well-suited for those who enjoy the peaceful nature of working with tools.
The crew started really making a dent in the growth - it was amazing what we were accomplishing in just one day.
The lawn mower decided that it was done, for good. It was an old one that had spent too many years unused in a garden shed.
The weeds were bagged up and volunteers will go over on garbage days to take a few out at a time.
Two of our parent volunteers, Nubia Martinez and Lydia Martin.
Chris Flood and his son, Christopher, had a great time working together.
By 12 noon, the place looked completely different. This was a good, productive morning.
A little before/after comparison:
The group was treated to a Barbecue by Rev. Dr. Norman Whitmire, Jr. Pastor of All Saints Church. For many years, this cemetery was closed to the residents of Woodhaven. When St. Matthew's was deconsecrated, we feared that we would lose it forever. But when it reopened as All Saints and Rev. Whitmire took over, he opened the gates to us and we've had a good partnership ever since.
The tombstones, hardly visible just a few hours earlier, are now clear of weeds.
If you have any comments, or would like to suggest other projects, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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Photos by Joey Wendell