And like all the other children of that era, he took many a ride on the original Forest Park Carousel.
As a young man, Smith studied architecture at Syracuse University and went on to work at a large firm in Manhattan, where he also lived for many years. But life brought him back home where his interest in local history flourished, particularly Woodhaven’s rich and interesting history.
It is for his work promoting and preserving our community’s history that Smith will be honored as Woodhaven's Man of the Year on October 10 at Roma View by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.
Smith is a director with both the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical and Queens Historical Societies, and he is also a published author, co-writing “Cypress Hills Cemetery” for Arcadia Publishing.
Smith is also playing, once again, a crucial role in the restoration of the colonial-era Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery that sits behind All Saints Church (formerly St. Matthew’s) on 96th Street, just north of Jamaica Avenue.
Smith’s personal history with the cemetery goes all the way back to his childhood. “When I went to Sunday school at St. Matthew’s the windows would be open overlooking the land. I knew it was a cemetery but I never went back there because it wasn’t the church’s property at the time.”
The cemetery has had a long, sad history of neglect, something Smith has been a witness to over the years. “Even back then it was badly overgrown,” he recalls. “If it weren’t for the larger monuments, you wouldn’t have known what it was because you couldn’t even see the smaller stones.”
Despite the fact that the Leader/Observer ran editorials in the 1930s critical of the city for the condition of the cemetery, many local residents were under the mistaken impression that the graveyard belonged to the church.
“That didn’t make too much sense, if you really think about it,” Smith says. “The names on all the stones are Dutch. St. Matthew’s was an Anglican church.”
The city auctioned off the land in the 1960s and St. Matthew’s purchased it for $600. Since then, the cemetery has had its ups and downs, enjoying a brief revival when it was restored back in the late 1990’s.
Smith was a crucial part of that restoration, but within the past decade it was badly neglected again and when St. Matthew’s closed in 2011, the future of the cemetery looked bleak.
But today, the story of Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery is a much more optimistic one. The pastor of All Saints Church, the Rev. Dr. Norman Whitmire Jr., sees the cemetery as an asset instead of a burden and he has sought out and welcomed a partnership with community groups.
And the students of St. Thomas the Apostle’s Woodhaven History Club, led by teacher Patti Eggers, have been using the restoration of this cemetery as both a community beautification and an educational project. This past week, a second school has expressed interest in joining up and we hope more will follow.
“This is wonderful,” Smith says. “It’s great because we want to teach these young people that this is our history and their history. And after we pass on we hope they will carry it forward to the future generations.”
“The kids really enjoy working with Allan,” Eggers says of her students. “He’s so very knowledgeable and we appreciate how generous he is with his time. He really has a way of bringing it alive for the kids. He is a real treasure to our community.”
And it is for that lifetime of promoting Woodhaven’s history that we are grateful to Smith and look forward to seeing him honored as Man of the Year. Tickets to the October 10th fundraiser can be purchased online at woodhaven-nyc.org or projectwoodhaven.com, or you can call the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association at (718) 296-3735.