NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Residents in a Queens neighborhood are trying to preserve a burial site before a bulldozer starts a new development.
The grounds of an African cemetery that dates back to the 1800s is nestled in what’s now a muddy lot in Elmhurst.
The address is 47-11 90th Street. It’s a back lot that people don’t pay much attention to, reported CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas.
Underneath the puddles and mud is believed to be an African cemetery dating back to the 1800s. Right now, it’s a space rented out for dumpsters and trash trucks.
“I would love to see this site be a memorial, a shrine,” said James McMenamin of the Elmhurst History and Cemeteries Preservation Society.
He’s part of a group petitioning to make the site a historical landmark. It was the original location of St. Mark’s AME Church in the early 1800s, and right next to it was a burial ground. In 2011, construction crews preparing to erect a building unearthed the remains of a woman buried in an iron casket. At the time, authorities thought it was a homicide. Archeologists learned later the woman died in the 1800s.
“Who knows how many other people might be buried there with her?” asked resident Paschal Quinones.
For nearly 40 years, Quinones has lived a stone’s throw from the site that was once a factory, before apartments were built.
Cline-Thomas went to the address of the business that property tax records indicated owned the lot to find out more about what the future plans are. No one was in the office, and her message was not returned.
Quinones thinks there could be a compromise.
“Maybe a small section should be some kind of memorial or something signifying where she laid,” Quinones said. “But not the whole area. You’ve got to go with progress.”
Most people Cline-Thomas spoke to were not aware of the historical significance at the location, but now it may factor into the future.
A group of Elmhurst residents have submitted a formal request to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.