BY JORDAN GIBBONS
Prospect Cemetery, a colonial burial ground in Jamaica dating back to 1668, has been undergoing preservation efforts for the last 15 years and this week some much needed help arrived from Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Located on York College’s campus, Prospect is the oldest burial ground in the Borough and one of the oldest in the City. It has not been used for burials since 1981 and became so overgrown that it turned into a dumping ground, as well as a hideaway for the homeless.
Through a partnership with Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Prospect Cemetery Association, the burial ground has been revitalized, but now with the help of Green-Wood’s staff, volunteers and interns, the headstones are being repaired and restored.
Many Revolutionary War soldiers and some of Queens’ most well known families, such as Van Wyck, Sutphin and Brinkerhoff, are buried in the cemetery that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated City landmark.
“With a little manpower, we can make something happen here,” Richard Moylan, president of Green-Wood, said. “I didn’t realize what a gem this cemetery was. There is so much Queens history here.”
The Prospect Cemetery Association was formed by descendents of people buried in the cemetery. Kate Ludlum, whose ancestors are buried in the building at the entrance to the grounds, the Chapel of the Sisters, was at the forefront of the revitalization.
Andrew Farren, a board member of the PCA, said that at first, Ludlum was working all by herself. But since the three nonprofits partnered to form the Prospect Cemetery Revitalization Initiative in 1999, new fencing and street improvements have been completed, the chapel was restored, documentation for the more than 3000 markers started, overgrown vegetation was removed and new landscaping was installed to make the cemetery easier to maintain.
“It’s been an amazing transformation over the last two years,” Farren said. “Without Richard [Moylan] and Green-Wood, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Farren’s great-grandmother was buried in the cemetery in 1951 and his eighth great-grandfather is also buried there.
Green-Wood brought over some French preservationists as part of an exchange program sponsored by Preservation Volunteers to help repair the headstones and markers, which include the Vienot family, a French family buried at the cemetery in the 1880s. There are also interns from Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design.
Viviane Normant, 33, is an English as a Second Language teacher in France and is one of the volunteers who is helping to repair the headstones by securing them to their bases with a cement mixture.
“It is great to work on neo-classical stuff,” Normant said. “And it’s always good to be able to film and bring pictures back to show the kids.”
Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, said this is one of the organization’s longest term projects and places like Prospect Cemetery are important to keep New York unique.
“We have constant new immigrants and it reminds you of the people who came before and contributed,” Breen said. “This helps keep everything in perspective. This is an important project, not only for Queens, but for New York as well.”
Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jgibbons2.