PROSPECT CEMETERY 
 
THE CHAPEL OF THE  SISTERS

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History


Prospect Cemetery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated New York City landmark.  It is the oldest family burial ground in Queens and one of the oldest in the five boroughs.  Founded in 1668, its markers date from 1728 and comprise a collection of eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century gravestones.  They provide a wealth of information about the social and religious customs of local settlers and their descendants.   Revolutionary war soldiers are buried there, along with the most famous colonial families of Queens, including Sutphin, Van Wyck, and Brinkerhoff.

Nicholas Ludlum commissioned the building of the Chapel of Three Sisters, a memorial to his three deceased daughters, at the eastern end of the graveyard in 1857.  The Chapel is a symmetrical, one-story Romanesque Revival building, approximately 40 by 40 feet, and 25 feet high.  At each of the northern and southern facades there is one large stained-glass rose window.  (The window glass, which had been extremely deteriorated, were removed and stored until funds are available for restoration; the window openings have been sealed with wood and plexi-glass in the interim.)

 In its square proportions and somber materials, the Chapel created an eloquent memorial to its namesakes.  Once it was finished, it became the main entrance and the focal point of Prospect Cemetery, as it was the most visible structure on the property.

 The Chapel has been vacant for many decades.  With exception of its wood floors, it is in good structural condition.  Its slate roof has received repairs in recent years with funding from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and its solid ashlar fieldstone construction has weathered time admirably.

Restoration Funding

 In 1999, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), a community-based non-profit organization, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy (NYLC), largely a city-wide non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and reusing historic resources, joined hands to foster an initiative to revitalize Prospect Cemetery and Prospect Cemetery Association of Jamaica Village, Inc. (PCA).   PCA was originally established in 1879 by an act of the Village of Jamaica to hold and maintain the lands that composed Prospect Cemetery.  Through the years, a dwindling group of Prospect Cemetery lot owners and their descendants endeavored to oversee the Cemetery to no avail, as the maintenance of over 4 acres of a cemetery was too daunting for a volunteer group.  (It was thought until this year that PCA had title to the property, but a title search discovered that the City of New York had taken title to Prospect Cemetery in an in rem proceeding in 1954.)

As part of a multifaceted street improvement project in downtown Jamaica, GJDC was planning to transform 159th Street (in front of the Chapel) into a well-lit pedestrian way which would link the Long Island Railroad Station and downtown Jamaica with the area south of the LIRR tracks – South Jamaica, York College, a new Federal Drug Administration Building, and Prospect Cemetery.  In this vision, Prospect Cemetery itself presented a grand potential for passive open space usage.  A market study commissioned by GJDC in 2000 found that the Chapel, if it were made habitable and were debt-free, could be rented to various religious, educational, and community groups and yield revenue to help maintain the Cemetery.  Its restoration was the key for the future well-being of the Cemetery.

Pursuant to the submission of an application prepared by GJDC and NYLC to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (SHPO), in 2002 SHPO awarded a matching grant of $300,000 from the State’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for the restoration of the Chapel of the Sisters at Prospect Cemetery.  The matching funds to the EPF grant are:

a.   $150,000 from GJDC’s 159th Street Project As part of a multi-million dollar program, GJDC is providing a minimum of $150,000 in site improvements to Prospect Cemetery along its 159th Street frontage, including decorative iron fencing, lighting, sidewalks, and utility hook-ups into the Chapel.

b.    $150,000 from New York City’s FY01 Capital Budget This money was authorized for fencing around the Cemetery, with the exception of the 159th Street frontage.  Under a contract with the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), GJDC will manage the fence project on behalf of EDC.

 The firm of Cutsogeorge Tooman & Allen Architects is preparing plans and specifications for the Chapel Restoration, which is anticipated to begin in the latter part of 2004.

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