This is an ongoing green project that’s great for the whole family. Not only does it involve fresh air and exercise, but it’s an educational project set in Woodhaven’s most historic spot. Everyone is welcome to participate.
The Wyckoff-Snedeker Cemetery is on 96th Street and 86th Avenue behind All Saints Episcopal Church of Woodhaven. Despite the proximity of the church, and the fact that All Saints owns the cemetery, their origins are completely separate.
In fact, the church building, which is over 90 years old, was built well after the cemetery had witnessed its last burial.
Many of the immigrants who settled Woodhaven were members of the Dutch Reformed Church and traveled regularly to their house of worship, via carriage, in East New York. Many of the settlers were buried in that very same churchyard.
In the late 1700s, two families – the Wyckoffs and the Snedekers – each donated a plot of land along the borderline of their two farms. The purpose was to create a burial yard that was more convenient, and over the next hundred years or so, over 200 people were buried here in the historic private cemetery.
The last known burial in the Wyckoff-Snedeker Family Cemetery was around the turn of the century, nearly 120 years ago. It was a few years after the cemetery closed that the church, at the time St. Matthew's, was built right next to it.
On the other side of the cemetery was the Napier farm on 98th Street and Jamaica Avenue, with the property stretching all the way to Park Lane South. The house was a showplace, set back from Jamaica Avenue, fronted by a white picket fence.
There was also a large barn and other buildings associated with a well-run farm. Charles Napier was a breeder of thoroughbred horses and they had the run of the large pasture at the rear of the property.
During the winter, the Napiers very kindly sent a man with a horse and snowplow through the Brooklyn Manor section of Woodhaven to keep lanes open so the residents could get to St. Matthew’s.
Over time, the City of New York inherited the cemetery, and years of neglect and vandalism followed with many tombstones broken and others lost forever. St. Matthew’s, which had been periodically taking care of the graveyard, purchased the cemetery at an auction for $600 in 1963.
The church did not want to own and be responsible for the long driveway leading to the cemetery from Jamaica Avenue, but they retained the right-of-way for the cemetery path.
In the years since, some neighbors have encroached on this driveway and you can no longer access the cemetery from Jamaica Avenue.
In the 1990’s, a group of volunteers from the church, Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society, and Queens Historical Society met every Saturday for two years.
Using a 1919 survey put together by Charles Powell, an engineer for the city’s topographical bureau, architect Allan Smith and engineer Arthur O’Meally worked with the volunteers to re-erect stones in their original location.
Unfortunately, over time, the cemetery once again fell victim to neglect and vandalism and became, yet again, an overgrown eyesore.
St. Matthew’s closed its doors and was deconsecrated in 2011. The community was worried about what would happen to the church and the cemetery, but the church soon reopened under the strong leadership of the Rev. Dr. Norman Whitmire, Jr. and the church was renamed All Saints Episcopal Church.
Since then, the cemetery’s fortunes have changed, with young volunteers from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Academy and Boy Scout Troop 139 from Howard Beach, along with volunteers from all over Queens, working together to keep the cemetery respectable.
Walking through the cemetery will not only reveal a lot about Woodhaven’s history, it will also reveal several sad tales of young and tragic death. Many of the tombstones are for children, reinforcing the point that keeping it clean is simply the right thing to do.
Volunteers are needed and very welcome. If you are interested in more information, you can email the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (718) 805-2002.