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Queens Residents Celebrate As Brinckerhoff Cemetery Achieves Landmark Status

Brinckerhoff Cemetery has graves dating back to 1730. (Credit: CBS 2)

Brinckerhoff Cemetery has graves dating back to 1730. (Credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Imagine living in a home built right on top of a cemetery.

People in Queens said that allowing a developer to build there would have been a grave injustice, but on Tuesday night they’re celebrating a landmark victory.

On a street of tidy homes, a messy lot is choked by weeds, but it’s also chockfull of history. There are graves dating back to 1730.

“We thought it was an Indian cemetery,” one local told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello. “As a child, we’d come here at Halloween and kids were frightened by it!”

Fresh Meadows residents have been fighting for years to preserve the Brinckerhoff Cemetery, where ancestors of some of the first Dutch settlers of Queens were buried.

The city did a survey back in 1919 and found more than 70 gravestones in the Brinckerhoff Cemetery, because people often were buried two or three to a grave.

It could be the final resting place of more than 200 people.

Decades ago the city mistakenly opened the cemetery land for possible development. But on Tuesday, a city commission landmarked the property, putting a stake through a developer’s plan to build houses there.

“This is a victory for our community, and we just want to say that our history is not for sale,” James Gallagher of the  FMHA said.

In Queens, history is sometimes allowed to decay.

The RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing and the Civic Virtue Statue at Borough Hall both are crumbling.

Queens is a borough of immigrants, the majority of whom are focused on building a future. But the Brinckerhoff battle inspired a number of immigrants to act to protect the past.

“I go through the same thing about preservation of my ancestry, so I know the significance of this,” Ashook Ramsaran, a Guyanese immigrant, said.

“You have to recognize that this is an heirloom that is handed to us, and we deserve to respect it whether you are an immigrant or not,”  Yoland De La Cruz, and immigrant of the Philippines, agreed.

With landmark status achieved, residents will now work to acquire the cemetery and restore it.

Council Member James Gennaro said that the historic site is important enough that the city should provide non-profit funds to buy it.

Queens residents, how pleased are you that this piece of history is now preserved? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…