Clearing weeds uncovers a path to the past
by Ed Wendell
Jul 16, 2014 | 802 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society, St. Thomas the Apostle’s Woodhaven History Club and All Saints Church on 96th Street are teaming up to clean up and restore a centuries-old cemetery hidden away in our community.

On every second Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to noon, volunteers will pull weeds, gather leaves and remove debris from the Colonial-era cemetery that most residents of Woodhaven don’t even know exists.

This is a family-friendly project that is both fun and educational and volunteers are welcome and needed. The next cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, August 9. Contact projectwoodhaven@gmail.com for more details.

In the 1700s, families in this area needed to travel some distances to bury their loved ones. Two Woodhaven families donated a piece of their land to be used as a local burial ground, and over the next century or so over 200 members of Woodhaven’s founding families were buried at the Wyckoff-Snedeker Cemetery on 96th Street behind All Saints Episcopal Church (formerly St. Matt’s).

Sadly, over time as the families moved away or died off, the cemetery wasn’t well cared for. Tales of neglect and complaints from the residents in this newspaper stretch back to the 1920s. There was a well-publicized and thorough restoration in the 1990s, but unfortunately the cemetery fell victim to neglect once again.

When St. Matthew’s was deconsecrated in 2011, it looked for a time that we might lose the church and the cemetery behind it as well. But fate stepped in and All Saints Church from Richmond Hill, led by the Rev. Dr. Norman Whitmire Jr., moved in last year.

Rev. Whitmire sees the cemetery as an asset to the community rather than a burden, and he found willing and eager partners in The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society and St. Thomas the Apostle’s Woodhaven History Club, led by teacher Patti Eggers.

In addition to clearing away weeds and brush, the young students are working on family trees and biographies of the families buried there. Many of these families were prominent in their day and many of their names – Ditmars, Lott, Van Dine, Wyckoff, Snedicker, Eldert – are familiar to residents of Queens today.

According to material prepared by the St. Thomas Woodhaven History Club, “There are Loyalists and Rebels from the American Revolution buried at this site. There is at least one Union soldier from the Civil War. There are farmers, school teachers, ministers, industrialists, bankers, children, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers.”

The history club has also recently been in touch with a 12th generation descendant of some of the earliest occupants of our cemetery, so this project has developed into an interesting mix of community clean up and historical research.

This past Saturday, nearly 40 volunteers came out and cleared away about 25 percent of the land, uncovering some long-lost headstones along the way. Woodhaven Historian Allan Smith, who was instrumental to the last restoration effort, was on hand and became the student’s go-to resource.

“This is a great start,” Smith told the students. “The real old stones are back there,” he said, indicating the land beyond the weeds, some 175 feet away.

Pointing to one section, he indicated where the Wyckoffs were buried, pointing to another he indicated where the Lotts were buried. You don’t need Google as long as you’ve got Allan Smith around!

The volunteers who gathered Saturday morning looked at the massive job ahead and groaned, wondering how they were ever going to get this piece of land cleared. But three hours later, through hard work and teamwork, we all agreed that we’d gotten this project off to a good start.

We had many students involved, but we also had seniors there; everyone works at their own pace and all contributions are valued. Again, volunteers are welcome and needed. If you would like more information you can contact me at or Patti Eggers at PAC75@aol.com.

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