January 11, 1977, Number 5/LP-0945
CEMETERY, 159th Street and Beaver Road, Jamaica, Queens.
Site: Borough of Queens Tax
Map Block 10099, Lot 36.
November 9, 1976, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public
hearing on the proposed designation as a Landmark of Prospect Cemetery
and the proposed designation of the related Landmark Site (Item No. 5).
The hearing had been duly advertised in accordance with the
provisions of law. Nine
witnesses, including the representative of the Prospect Cemetery
Association, spoke in favor of designation.
There were no opposition to the designation.
Cemetery, the early graveyard of the small town of Jamaica, is one of
the few remaining Colonial cemeteries in Queens.
In the early 1600's, this site was part of the land belonging to
the local tribe of Indians known as the “Yemecah”, meaning beaver,
an animal which thrived in the area.
In 1656, a group of English colonists petitioned the Dutch
Governor-General, Peter Stuyvesant, to grant them a settlement which was
near today’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
Apparently, this site was not satisfactory, and later in the same
year, the colonist moved northward, and described themselves:
“We owners by purchase from the Indians and grant from the
Governor and Council -- living at ye new plantation near unto beaver
pond, commonly called Jamaica -- .... have reserved unto ourselves 10
acres of planting land a man.....”
The Dutch called this area “Rustdorn”, but after the
surrender of the colony to the British, “Jamaica” was used
exclusively. In its first
year of existence, the settlement elected Daniel Denton, a member of a
family which was to remain in the area for generations, as clerk of both
the town and church, illustrating the interrelationship between church
and government in this early period.
It was not until thirty years later, in 1686, however, that
Jamaica was granted its charter as a village by British Governor, Thomas
earliest record of the cemetery dates from November, 1668, when townsman
John Wascot was hired to enclose the “burring pias”, then ten rods
square, with a fence, five rails high.
The cemetery was established, therefore, shortly before 1668,
since it is doubtful that the town would allow such hallowed ground to
stand unprotected for very long.
Several references were made to the “burring place” during
the 17th century, when citing other locations in the town.
The cemetery was generally known as the Presbyterian burial
ground, since it was associated with the Old Stone Church built in the
1690's, which stood near today’s Union Hall Street.
Due, however, to the close interaction of church and state -- the
church served also as the town hall -- the cemetery was as well the
property of the Town of Jamaica.
Presbyterian congregation in Jamaica came to blows with the
Episcopalians in1704, when the property belonging to the Church was
confiscated and turned over to a representative of the Church of
England, William Urquhart, and Episcopalian minister.
Urquhart occupied the parsonage for five years, until he died in
1709. Shortly afterwards
his wife surrendered the property to Reverend George McNish, a
Presbyterian minister. However,
simultaneously, another Episcopalian preacher arrived in Jamaica, who
thought he should occupy the parsonage.
Ultimately, the decision, aided by the authority of the
Presbyterian sheriff, was made by the town, and Reverend McNish moved
into the parsonage.
1753, the intimate relationship between church and town came to an end
when it was voted at a town meeting to grant the land set apart for the
use of “a minister of Presbyterian denomination” to the Presbyterian
Church and congregation, for them “to have and to hold.... forever in
trust”. The cemetery,
however, was not specified as part of this transfer.
As late as 1879, the Town of Jamaica still retained title to the
original burying ground, but it may be possible that the Presbyterian
Church used the cemetery, while not actually owning it.
When the Presbyterian Church applied to Governor William Tryon
for incorporation in 1775, “a cemetery for the interment of their
Dead” was mentioned, but whether this was the town burial ground, or
another separate graveyard, is not known.
the Revolutionary War, the men of Jamaica, many of whom were buried in
the cemetery, played a prominent role.
This area was essentially a Loyalist stronghold, but a militant
minority formed a local Committee of Correspondence and Observation to
popularize patriot sentiment. The
Committee chairman, Elias Baylis, died in 1777 and was buried in the
cemetery. The tombstone
erected over his grave after 1843 tells of his long suffering at the
hands of the British during the war.
Captain J.J. Skidmore, also buried here, formed a band of
Minutemen, made up of local soldiers, which later became part of Colonel
Lasher’s First New York Battalion.
This group held Cobble Stone Hill Fort during the Battle of Long
early graveyard was entered from an extension of Beaver Road, on the
north side of today’s Prospect Cemetery.
Gradually, in the first half of the 19th century, its
size was increased as various individuals purchased the land surrounding
the cemetery and laid it out in family plots.
Although it had been a common practice to bury one’s relatives
in their family farm property, when the farm was sold, often the family
remains were removed. One
such instance occurred in 1840, when Garret Nostrand sold his family
farm at the Wallabout and purchased a lot in the Jamaica graveyard in
order to bury the boxes containing the remains of his ancestors.
Such private lots as these extended the boundaries of the
cemetery at its western and its northern ends.
Still another reason for the purchase of cemetery lots was the
incentive for profit. One
of the largest lot holders was Isaac Simonson, a local carpenter, whose
house stood on a large tract of land to the south of the original
burying ground. In 1841,
Simonson purchased some land to the west of the cemetery and subdivided
it into lots for sale. He
advertised these burial plots as “adjoining the old Presbyterian
Burial ground”, and today this section forms the western extension of
acres were added to the cemetery in 1856, when Nicholas Ludlum, a
wealthy New York City hardware merchant whose family had long resided in
Jamaica, purchased the land
the east side of the “old burying ground” and Prospect Street
(today’s 159th Street) from the Long Island Railroad
Company. The addition
encompassed “about 10 lots”, most of which Ludlum sold.
According to an article in the Long Island Farmer of 1856,
Ludlum planned to improve and beautify the cemetery grounds.
In the next year, 1857, Ludlum, at his own expense, had a small
chapel erected, as a memorial to his three daughters, each of whom had
died at an early age. Ludlum’s
first daughter, Cornelia Maria, died at the age of thirteen, while the
next, Mary Cecelia, lived only to the age of one, and his third, Mary,
who had married Lewis Cass, Jr., the U.S. Minister in Rome, died at the
age of twenty one. Called
the Chapel of the Sisters, the building was to be used for family
interment. Small in scale,
this Romanesque Revival style chapel is of random ashlar fieldstone with
decorative light brown-colored sandstone trim.
The gable-roofed structure, originally crowned with handsome iron
cresting, has gabled porticoes at both its 159th Street
entrance and its cemetery side. Since
the chapel was used for burials, the funeral party no doubt entered the
chapel at the 159th Street entrance, and after the services
made its way to the grave site through the cemetery doorway.
A large round arch, completely enframed with alternating
voussoirs of fieldstone and sandstone, leads to the deeply recessed
arched doorway at the 159th Street entrance.
Above the door, a stone tympanum, encircled by an inscription, is
ornamented with the religious symbols of the Bible and a cross, as well
as a scythe, representing death. This
portico, like that at the cemetery side, is embellished with sandstone
quotes and also a row of corbels which follows the rake of the gable.
On the cemetery side, the large round-arched door, now filled in,
is flanked on either side by small, narrow arched windows with sandstone
trim. At the north and
south ends of the chapel, large stained-glass rose windows elegantly
pierce the heavy fieldstone walls.
The chapel was a handsome addition to the cemetery, and it
remains today one of its principal points of interest.
The three-acre Ludlum extension greatly changed the configuration
of the older graveyard, since the cemetery was now entered from the east
at Prospect Street (159th Street), with the more recent grave
sites near the chapel.
The cemetery, consisting of a number
of different sections added over a 200-year period, was taken over by a
single group in 1879, when the Prospect Cemetery Association of Jamaica
Village, Inc., was formed. This
is the first record of the name “Prospect” for the cemetery.
Before the Prospect Cemetery Association acquired the property,
the cemetery was still owned by the Town of Jamaica.
Eventually, the Association, which still exists today, received
title to all of the cemetery grounds.
Very little has changed in Prospect
Cemetery since the end of the 19th century, save for the
addition of new graves, marked frequently by tall obelisks, which
contrast vividly with the earlier, smaller gravestones.
During the summer of 1976, selected family grave sites were
cleared of debris and brush as part of a Bicentennial Project, sponsored
by Community Planning Board 12 in Queens.
Prospect Cemetery is a valuable
reminder of much of the early history of Queens, and especially of
Jamaica. The earliest
section of the cemetery begins approximately at the site of the Raynor
family plot and extends to the west, to join Isaac Simonson’s 1841
addition. This original
portion is also much narrower than the present graveyard and totals an
area of 165 square feet. Many
of the old tombstones are of brownstone with various types of
ornamentation. It is
believed that the earliest gravestone in the old part of the cemetery
dates from 1709. Another
old tombstone is that of Thomas Wiggens, who died in 1728.
His brownstone grave marker is carved in a very simple manner
with his name and the date of death.
The 1737 tombstone of Thomas Walton is more richly carved.
Its three-arched top is ornamented with an angel’s head of a
primitive design, and a decorative curvilinear motif extending along
either side. The angel head
was a common theme on gravestones and occurs quite often in the
cemetery. The brownstone
grave marker of Obadiah Mills, who died at the age of twenty six on
September 17, 1773, also displays an angel with wings.
In some instances, skulls replaced the angel’s head.
Many of these early grave markers, also ornamented with
curvilinear designs, are of limestone.
A number of Revolutionary War
veterans, many of whom served with Skidmore’s Minutemen, are buried in
the cemetery. These include
several members of the earlier generation of the Ludlum family who were
part of the Minutemen band. Increase
Carpenter (1773/6-1807), who fought in the Battle of Long Island, is
also buried here. One of
the most renowned figures in the cemetery is Egbert Benson (1746-1833),
who in 1794 served as Justice of the Supreme Court and in 1801 was Chief
Justice of the U.S. Circuit Court, which was abolished soon after.
Benson then retired to Jamaica, where he died.
this old section of the cemetery, extend the lots sold by Isaac
Simonson. Since these date from a later period, a few obelisks characteristic of the later 19th
century, may be seen there.
was common for Negroes to be excluded from white cemeteries, and such
was the case with Prospect. One
exception, however, was made and is recorded as: “Jane Lyons, a
colored woman, who upwards of 65 years was a faithful and devoted
domestic in the family of James Hariman, Sr., of this village, died
December 19, 1858. Age 75
names of the important early families of the area appear throughout the
cemetery, and these include Sutphin, after whom Sutphin Boulevard was
named, and Van Wickes, for whom the Van Wyck Expressway was named.
Relatives of many of the original settlers of the Village of
Jamaica continued to be buried in the cemetery at the end of the 19th
and beginning of the 20th centuries.
These graves are marked by ornate tombstones and tall granite
obelisks. A descendent of
one of the early local families, John H. Brinkerhoff (d. 1903), the
village supervisor, and his wife Laura (d. 1891), have a richly
decorated tombstone, topped with a small ornamental sarcophagus, incised
with the letter “B”.
very early origins of the cemetery, together with its 19th
century additions, make it an important part of the history of Jamaica.
Its early Colonial period is marked by the picturesque tombstones
of many members of the town’s prominent families, as well as several
veterans of the Revolutionary War.
The Simonson and Ludlum additions border, in part, the old
graveyard and are occupied by many 19th century obelisks.
The fine Romanesque Revival Chapel of the Sisters is a
particularly handsome feature of the cemetery and is a monument to an
important local family, the Ludlums.
The cemetery remains today in a well-preserved state, due
primarily to the care and interest of the Prospect Cemetery Association.
On the basis of a careful consideration of the history, the architecture
and other features of this site, the Landmarks Preservation Commission
finds that Prospect Cemetery has a special character, special historical
and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage
and cultural characteristics of New York City.
Commission further finds that, among its important qualities, Prospect
Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, that it includes the
graves of families significant to the early history of Queens, that it
acts as a reminder of the historical importance of the Village of
Jamaica, and that it contains a fine, mid 19th century
chapel, today a focal point of the cemetery.
pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 63 of the Charter of the City of
New York and Chapter 8-A of the Administrative Code of the City of New
York, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designates as a Landmark
Prospect Cemetery, 157th Street, and Beaver Road, Jamaica, Borough of
Queens and designates Tax Map Block 10099, Lot 36, Borough of Queens as
its Landmark Site.