Quaker Meeting House Graveyard Update: What You Can Do to Help
The Quaker Meeting House graveyard is the burial place of many Bowne family members, including John Bowne, two of his wives, and a number of his children. The property was originally part of the Bowne estate, and its use as a burial ground predated the construction of the 1694 Meeting House. The entire property is a National Historic Landmark, the highest designation given to a historic property in America.
Earlier this year, a local developer began construction of a multi-story mixed use building to the south of the Meeting House property at Block 4977, Lots 94 and 95. The owner, 136-33 37th Avenue Realty, and the builder, Pinnacle Construction, acting without notice or permission, removed a fence protecting the Meeting property, damaged a number of large trees, and drove a utility pole into the graveyard itself. The property was then excavated to a depth of about 30 feet, and the soil was removed. The design of the new building places it squarely on the property line. It is, of course, impossible to construct such a building on a property line without compromising the adjacent property, which is both a landmark and a cemetery and as such enjoy protected status.
The New York Times reported the story in April; the following is a brief summary of developments since then.
After intervention by New York City Landmarks, which had conducted a prior review of the project, including an archaeology report on the lot where construction was to take place, a partial stop-work order was issued. A repeat survey of the property was conducted, and limited archaeology work was initiated on the Meeting property in the vicinity of the excavations to determine if any human remains had been disturbed.
The new surveys show that the construction did take place on Meeting property, in some cases as much as 2-3 feet into the cemetery. The disturbed area is about 80 feet in length, and 27 feet deep. Ten “I” beams were driven into the graveyard to support the foundation; the entire retaining wall for the new building rests on Meeting property.
While the archaeology work, which is to include ground-penetrating radar to locate possible gravesites, is incomplete, it does appear that no human remains have been located to date. This is good news. The oldest graves are likely located near this area, to the south of the Meeting House, and in accordance with early practice, are unmarked. Some more recent headstones are visible, including one very close to the utility pole.
The developer is now very eager to pour his concrete retaining wall; additionally, his existing wall was built in violation of plans filed with the NYC Department of Buildings.
The damage to the historic graveyard is irreversible. This desecration of a cemetery should not be tolerated. The New York State Bureau of Cemeteries which protects the state’s burial sites. Additionally, two members of the city council, Peter Koo of Flushing and Speaker Christine Quinn, are contemplating legislation to protect historic properties by establishing a buffer zone so that construction such as this cannot take place on the property line of a landmarked property. Had this legislation been in place, Pinnacle Engineering might have been prevented from desecrating the Meeting House graveyard.
What you can do: Contact the following to express your support for the legislation to protect our historic sites:
Councilman Peter Koo
135-27 38th Avenue
Flushing, NY 11354
The Honorable Christine Quinn
Speaker of the City Council
224 W. 30th St.
New York, NY 10001
You may also contact them by email through their respective websites
Contact the Superintendent of the NY Bureau of Cemeteries to protest the desecration and request an investigation of Pinnacle Engineering, Inc. and 136-33 37th Avenue Realty, LLC.
Richard D. Fishman, Director
Division of Cemeteries
NYS Department of State
1 Commerce Plaza
99 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12231