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.
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:
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.
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
Architects is preparing plans and specifications for the Chapel
Restoration, which is anticipated to begin in the latter part of 2004.