1919 Survey of the Moore Jackson Cemetery
Correspond the "No." in the first column to the numbered box in the survey sketch below.
W. J. Reynolds of Long Island City Uncovers It
Dates Before Revolution: Earliest Headstones Placed Previous to Signing of DeclarationPUBLISHED BY NEW YORK SUN, JULY 28, 1931
Down in an almost forgotten corner of Long Island City, overgrown with brush and tangled with ivy, William J. Reynolds of 31-18 Forty-second Street, recently uncovered a long-neglected family cemetery. The plot, which is hidden behind a greenhouse on the northwest corner of Fifty-fourth Street and Thirty-second Avenue, has lately become the receiving place for miscellaneous bits of rubbish, ranging all the way from broken flower pots to old automobile tires.
In all there may have been twenty stones in the little graveyard when the last member of the family was laid to rest but the years have left only have a dozen standing while a few others are half buried in the debris with their inscriptions hopelessly undecipherable.
The two earliest headstones, which were set in place a number of years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence see to tell a tragic story. They are two small, rough-hewn granite stones, not more than a foot high, one bearing the inscription, "A. M. Dy'd th, 23rd Nov'r, 1769" and the other, "M.W. Dy'd—1770." Obviously the pair were children. The fact that the final initials of the names were different, and that the stones were placed side by side bespeaks romance. Unfortunately, one of the graves has recently been attacked by a ghoul.
A large brown stone nearby in the shape of the table on which the Ten Commandments were given to Moses bears the following messages and probably marks the grave of the mother of "A. M." : "In Memory of Rebecca. Wife of Nathaniel Moore, who departed this life the 6th of June, 1790, aged 67 years." A similar stone next to it says that Nathaniel Moore lived to the age of 78, but does not say what he died of. The records show that he was alive in 1800.
A brown marker of more artistic workmanship than that of the Moores announces the resting place of Mary, the Wife of Abraham Berrian who departed this life the 13th of February, 1788. Below Mary begins to relate her woes. "Whereas I was blind and deaf..." Someone has broken off the bottom of the stone.
Apparently the name of the family changed with the passing of generations, for on observing the more recent markings the name Rapelye is outstanding as the great patron of the family. In civil war days, it was obviously George B. Rapelye who died in 1866. On his magnificent stone, the words, "Died in New York City," appear in very large letters.
One peculiar thing about the cemetery is that while it was a fixed custom in Colonial days to make all graves face toward the east, every grave in this plot faces the west. It is generally believed that the custom came from the Bible verse in Matthew xxiv 27 "For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even to the west...so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be."
All efforts to identify the Moore, Berrian, and Rapelye families have only gone to show that they came of gentleman farmer stock and were pioneers in the settlement of Long Island. It probably may be safely assumed that they were related in some way to Dr. John Berrian Riker, personal friend of George Washington and surgeon on his staff, who is buried less than two miles away in the Riker family plot on the corner of Steinway Avenue and North Beach.
The records show that the land on which the cemetery lies was in 1800 the property of Nathanial Moore and one John A. Moore who must have been buried somewhere away from the rest of the family. The only other available papers who that the plot was willed to Antoine Mecke, the widow of John Mecke in 1867.
British Camped Near Woodside Cemetery
Moore Farm Was Birthplace of Famous ApplePUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND DAILY PRESS, FRIDAY, APRIL 10, 1936
By Sara Wilford
"Oh yes," say the people who live in Boulevard Gardens, the swell new Federal Housing apartments at 30th Avenue and 54th Street, Woodside. "There's the funniest little old cemetery down the street from us. Why some of the stones are hundreds, actually HUNDREDS of years old! There's one from 1769. Can you imagine that?"
That and then some!
The funny little cemetery is the Moore family cemetery and the first burial was probably made there before 1700!
It doesn't look the way it used to look, and the 20 neat gravestones in their neat little rows certain do NOT mark the graves of the early settlers whose names they bear, but the Moore Cemetery has been luckier than most of the small family burying grounds in Queens.
The plot was neglected for many years. The stones were snapped off. Many of them lay on their faces in the mud among the few straggly pine trees that remained to guard them. But recently, at the suggestion of the Queens Topographical Bureau, the cemetery ground has been regraded so that it is now at street level instead of several feet below it, and the stones have been repaired and set up again.
The fact that they aren't where they used to be shouldn't make any difference. There's nothing left of a body after a couple of hundred years.
The cemetery looks bare and ugly now because the work has just been finished but grass will be planted this summer and sooner or later there will be a fence. (We hope).
It should be saved, not only for itself but because it is the only tangible thing left in its locality to remind the world that this was one of the most important places on Long Island during the Revolution.
The dry land around the Moore Cemetery narrowed down a few yards away (near the car barns on Northern Boulevard) to a tongue of land called the Narrow Passage.
On either side of the Narrow Passage were almost impassable swamps and the road across it was the only north shore route between the East River and the settlements at Newtown and Jamaica. Jamaica Avenue, of course, was the other important road connecting the Queens villages with the East River.
The Narrow Passage was well guarded by the British and the Moore homestead, which stood a stone's throw from the cemetery, became the headquarters of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton after the Battle of Long Island.
The old stone house was torn down some time between 1887 and the present time.
The last time it was mentioned in local newspapers was when William O'Gorman, columnist for the Newtown Register, paid it a visit in the summer of 1887. He said: "The old house bears the pressure of the years with difficulty."
The farmhouse was built in 1681 by Samuel Moore, son of the Rev. John Moore, first minister of Newtown and found of the famous Long Island Moore family. It had "solid sashed" windows, double doors, fine chimney piecs, and fireplaces," but it was already falling to pieces 49 years ago.
The farm was probably the birthplace of the Newtown pippin, the most famous apple of its time and the Moore orchards at one time stretched "in great patches from the East River to the Bowery Bay Road." (now 54th Street).
The apples were shipped all over the world and were especially appreciated in England for their "immense size and delicious flavor." The Newtown pippin trees in Queens are all dead now. Last year we found three or four in Huntington. The rest are gone.
The cemetery was probably laid out by Samuel himself. The burying ground was an important part of every early farm and the owner attended to it as soon as he finished his house.
His gravestone doesn't see to be there now although there is one for another Samuel—probably his son—who died in 1763.
Nathaniel Moore, the man who owned the farm at the time of the Revolution, is buried there, as is Robert Blackwell, the man who sold Blackwell's Island to the City of New York. He was a friend of the family.
Perhaps the most interesting stone still standing is the one marked with the initials "A.M." and the words "Dyd th 23rd March, 1769." It is a rough, grey fieldstone slab, evidently carved at home by an amateur stonecutter. The letters are scraggly and uneven but they were cut so deep that they are perfectly clear today.
The stone was erected for Augustine Moore, but who he was and how old he was, nobody seems to know.
Red-Faced City Aids Admit Tax Seizure of Tax-Free CemeteryPUBLISHED BY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, JULY 12, 1956
By Elinor Greene
There were red faces in high places yesterday as city officials tried to explain how Pa Knick happened to take over Woodside's historic Moore-Jackson Cemetery in a delinquent tax action on July 16, 1954. Queens records clearly show the old private burial ground has been tax exempt for more than 200 years.
Children now play among the weed-grown and debris-littered graves of at least 42 members of prominent early Long Island families buried in pre-Revolutionary through Civil War days.
Once lonely farmland carved from the wilderness, the cemetery now is highly desirable real estate in a wel-built-up area of homes and apartments.
Roughly rectangular in shape, midway between 32nd and 31st Avenues, the cemetery extends more than 200 feet east to west from 54th to 51st Streets, and is about 104 feet wide from north to south along those two streets.
The old burying ground repeatedly is listed as tax-exempt property in the 1953–54 assessment valuation book, on town plots and in all previous records checked at the Queens County office of the City Register, 161-04 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica.
Also filed there is a notation that in July, 1954, the city, through an in rem action (foreclosure against taxable property itself if taxes are four or more years in arrears) took over the tax-free cemetery.
Inquiries about the apparent snafu threw everybody concerned into an immediate tizzy. Nobody was willing to admit responsibility. Everybody referred inquiries to someone else.
IT was learned from an authoritative source, however, that the city's action in foreclosing on the tax-exempt cemetery was an unwitting routine in rem procedure.
Tax Men's Error
Official records reveal this action was based on incomplete information from Queens tax authorities. They listed unpaid taxes totaling $1,129.60 from Dec. 27, 1910, to June 17, 1952, and identified the property by lot, section and block numbers, failing to identify it as an existing cemetery.
John R. Lawrence, in charge of foreclosures in rem and receiverships at the Bureau of City Collection, Municipal Building, hurriedly referred a News reporter's embarrassing questions to his superior, Acting City Collector Joseph G. White.
White was politely reticent. He and Lawrence hastily passed the buck to Benjamin Cymrot, executive officer of the Board of Estimates's Bureau of Real Estate.
Cymrot, apparently equally harassed, said the cemetery land now has landed in his bureau's lap. He bruskly declared "the cemetery land will not be sold," and said "the last check by men from Queens Borough Hall showed the land was in good condition."
"You can be assured workers from Queens Borough Hall will visit the property immediately and clean it up," he tersely stated in ending the interview.
Those city workers will have quite a job removing rusty cans, broken bottles and other junk, and clearing up the overgrown weeds.
Through the years, most of the headstones have been destroyed or stolen by vandals and eroded by weather. Only 16 broken, badly defaced markers, some mere weather-beaten fragments of fieldstone, marble or brownstone, still stand.
Sadly enough, even these are not above the graves they once marked. that's because of "tidying up" done by WPA workmen in the mid-30s, according to two 30-year residents of the area.
Both recall the workers carefully gathered headstones knocked down or broken by storms and ghouls, and neatly arranged them upright in a section about 40 by 50 feet in the cemetery's southeast corner, adjoining 54th Street. This is about 132 feed north of the intersection of 54th Street and 32nd Avenue.
Chain Rusts Away
Several concrete posts then erected around this small section now bear traces of only a few rusty links to show they once were joined by a heavy iron chain.
As a result, neighborhood residents gradually have come to regard the tiny corner area as the cemetery. Only a very few remember there are graves in all parts of the cemetery, since none now are marked.
A published report on 28 old "Private and Family Cemeteries in Queens," compiled by the Queens Topographical Bureau in 1931, based on 1919 surveys and edited by Alice H. Meigs of the Queensborough Public Library, has a keyed diagram of the 42 known graves and a list of the then legible inscriptions on headstones in Moore-Jackson Cemetery.
The first known burial, according to this report was that of "S.P., dyed May ye 28th, 1733" Near the 51st Street end of the cemetery are the graves of Nathaniel Moore, who died in 1802, aged 78 years and 11 months, and George B. Rapelye, who died March 27, 1863, at 78. John Moore, who died in 1806, aged 84, and David Moore, who died in 1823, aged 66, rest near the 54th Street end.
Sided With British
During the Revolution the Moore and Rapelye families were Tory sympathizers and Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, commander of the British forces, used the Moore farmhouse, then standing near the cemetery, as headquarters during the English occupation of Long Island.
Robert Blackwell, who died in 1828, and numerous members of the Moore, Berrian, Rapelye, Hallett, Middlemast, Hare, and Fish families also rest in the old graveyard, according to the official record.
Today only four headstones have inscriptions that are at all legible.
City-Owned Graveyards Get Brushoff, Not BrushPUBLISHED BY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, SEPTEMBER 7, 1956
By Elinor Greene
Pa Knickerbocker is stuck with two historic but neglected Queens cemeteries he doesn't know whether it is the job of Sanitation or Park Department workers or perhaps highway maintenance men to clean these city-owned burying grounds. S, despite the city's recent drive to have property owners clear rubbish and weeds from privately-owned vacant lots, the old tax-free private burial grounds seized by the city in delinquent tax actions in 1954 are eyesores today.
The Corporation Counsel's office and the State Division of Cemeteries, 270 Broadway, Manhattan, said that without special legislation in Albany neither the city nor the state has funds for upkeep of the two cemeteries, or even to fence them off from busy streets.
They are the .53-acre Moore-Jackson, between 31st and 32nd Avenues, and the .27-acre Burroughs Cemetery, between 94th Street and Junction Boulevard, off Corona And Alstyne Avenues, Elmhurst. A published report on 28 old "Private and Family Cemeteries in Queens," compiled by the Queens Topographical Bureau in 1931, based on 1919 surveys, shows that resting in unmarked graves in the two old private burying grounds are at least 58 known members of prominent early Long Island families, buried from pre-Revolutionary through Civil War days.
The city assumed responsibility for these two cemeteries in 1954 through foreclosures. No official knows or is willing to say what will happen to the two plots.
Once lonely farmland cut from the wilderness by sturdy early Americans, both are now desirable real estate in well built up, busy sections of Queens.
Last February, when The News called the weed-grown, littered condition of Moore-Jackson Cemetery to the attention of Benjamin Cymrot, executive director of the Board of Estimates's Bureau of Real Estate, he ordered it cleaned up by Queens Borough workers. They mowed, rakes and hauled away junk until the cemetery looked as spic and span as the public parking lot opened right next to it last fall.
But rumblings in Queens then indicated Cymrot might lack authority continually to assign borough workmen to care for Moore-Jackson Cemetery.
Today children play among high weeds hiding 16 broken, badly defaced markers, some only pathetic weather-beaten fragments of brownstone, marble or fieldstone. Standing in the southeast corner of the old graveyard, these are all vandals and weather erosion have left of 42 headstones which in 1919 marked graves in all parts of the rectangular 100x200 ft. cemetery.
One section of Elmhurst's historic Burroughs Cemetery also is in shocking condition. This graveyard was left in two parts, when Alstyne Avenue was cut through its unused center land about thirty years ago. The trash-heaped, weed-grown souther half of the cemetery is between two filling stations, and extends from Corona to Alstyne Avenues, just east of 94th Street.
It is in striking contrast to the Burroughs Cemetery portion lying north of Alstyne Avenue, which looks just like a well-tended private yard between two houses. A sturdy iron fence extends along the front, one side and back of this portion. Inside the fence a tall hedge, flower-bed and several shade trees stand.
Records show at least 42 members of the old Moore, Rapelye, Hallett, Blackwell, Fish, Hare, and Middlemast families are buried in Moore-Jackson Cemetery, where ghouls and weather erosion have left no traces of tombstones, are at least 16 graves of the old Burroughs, Vandervoort and Waters families.
Who Owns the Moore Cemetery?PUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND DAILY PRESS, JUNE 15, 1966
By Howard Reiser
Will the real owner of the Moore Cemetery in Woodside please stand up?
So far, no one is standing, not even the City of New York. The last time the city put in a claim to the history family plot was in 1954 when it took over the cemetery because of non-payment of taxes.
The only trouble is that taxes are not necessary on cemetery land.
The search for the owners of the plot, covered by dense weeds and litter on 54th Street between 31st and 32nd Avenues, was begun after Boy Scout Troop 32 in Woodside volunteered to clear th grounds of the weeds and rubbish.
"Look at that," declared Troop Chairman Frank Mathieu, pointing to the land. "That should be cleared up and we would like to do it. But we first want to obtain permission and we don't know to whom to turn."
A check of the files revealed the Department of Real Estate had taken over the property after it had illegally reverted back to the city for failure to pay the taxes.
"But we don't own it any more," said a spokesman for the department. "Actually the city never took title to the property."
"Who owns it now?" he was asked. "Did it revert back to the Moore family that settled on Long Island in 1652?"
"It's possible," he said, "but we really don't know for certain."
The corporation counsel's office, we were told, "has all the records."
"I'm not a walking encyclopedia," remarked a spokesman for the corporation counsel's office.
"It would be a ticklish and painstaking job to track down the owners of the land," he said. "It might even be impossible to come to a conclusion."
He said it is possible the Moore descendants now have a legal right to the land.
The spokesman also declared that the Boy Scouts would be taking a risk if they choose to clean up the plot without permission.
"They could be sued for trespassing," he said. "They shouldn't take that chance."
A spokesman for the State Division of Cemeteries said that someone has title to the plot.
"But that doesn't mean they're identifiable," he said. "It could be difficult tracking them down."
However, he did say that the Boy Scouts should not hesitate to clean up the grounds if they wish.
"The risk would be minimal," he said. Anyone wanting to sue them would have to prove that they are causing damage to the grounds," he said. "And the only one who can chase them is the one who has a right to the cemetery."
The historic graveyard, lost several times, was rediscovered by WPA workers more than 30 years ago while they cleared the site on orders of the Health Department. Weeds have grown high over the grave stones since that time.
The Moores helped found Newtown, an historic 17th century village centered on what is now Elmhurst and which included about one-fourth of the present Borough of Queens.
The family lost the retains of its estate about 40 years ago when the John Jacob Moore mansion at Broadway and 45th Avenue in Elmhurst was torn down to make way for the IND subway.
Will the real owner of the Moore Cemetery please stand up?
Nobody to Claim Woodside Burial GroundPUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND PRESS, May 12, 1974
By Stan Trybulski
How do you turn a $150,000 piece of vacant property into a money-making proposition.
If it's a private cemetery, the answer is apparently you can't.
That is one reason why no one can find the owners of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside. Not even the City of New York will lay claim to the land.
The cemetery, located on a strip of land 104 feet wide between 51st and 54th Streets across from the Woodside Houses, is listed by the Queens Office of the City Register as a tax-exempt property.
Back in 1954, the city attempted to take over the cemetery for non-payment of taxes, then quickly backed off when it was discovered that the property was exempt.
Since then, several searches and an extensive investigation by a history buff have failed to determine the record title or ownership of the property.
According to Irving Saltzman, assistant corporation counsel in charge of the title bureau, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery has in fact been abandoned as a cemetery.
The answer to what happens next to the land, however, has become lost in a morass of legal complexities.
The cemetery, which predates the Revolutionary War, was once the private burial ground of the Moore family, which settled on Long Island in 1652.
The burying ground became the Moore-Jackson Cemetery just before the Civil War, when John T. Jackson, who married a Moore, took over the property according to Gene Cafaro, of 32-29 80th Street, Jackson Heights, the local history buff who is trying to make the plot a Landmarks Preservation Area.
Cafaro said that the burial grounds were part of the estate of Nathaniel Moore, a Revolutionary War figure who forfeited his property when it was discovered he was a Tory working against the Colonial side. This would make the cemetery the property of the state, Cafaro maintains, and it would be responsible for its maintenance.
Assessed by the city at $45,000 and worth over $100,000 at today's inflated prices, the cemetery in the 19th Century contained 47 tombstones. Only four are still legible. The last recorded burial took place during the Civil War.
For years the land was covered by brush and weeds, but recently a third-grade class from nearby P.S. 151 cleaned up the area. Last week the Department of Sanitation carted away 80 bags of rubbish.
According to Saltzman, if a descendant of any of the persons buried there could be found and that descendant laid claim to the property, even if it was held that the descendant owned the property, it would still be for burial purposes only.
"It is clearly established in this state that the ownership of a burial plot carries with it merely the right of interment and certain other collateral rights arising therefrom," he explained in a memorandum.
"Since the owner of a burial plot himself only takes an easement or license, and has no ownership right in the land on which the plot is located, it can hardly be argued that a descendant of the owner of such a plot can claim greater rights."
Saltzman said it was his opinion that in the absence of a definite legal owner, the property would still revert to the State of New York under the state's Abandoned Property Law, Section 200, which says: "All lands the title of which shall fail from a defect of heirs, shall revert, or escheat, to the people."
Since it has been established that Nathaniel Moore had been found guilty of treason during the American Revolution and his land abandoned, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery, as part of that land, would revert back to the state, Saltzman concluded.
"Should the state claim title to the land," however, he added, "it would have the responsibility of maintaining the cemetery as such."
So far, neither the city nor the state has show interest in the tiny strip of land. Only a history buff and a group of third-graders, on the even of their country's bicentennial, seem to care.
Amateur digs out lost title of cemeteryPUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND PRESS, May 23, 1976
By Steve Letzler
After almost four years of research, leg work and detecting, an amateur historian has concluded that the Penn Central Railroad most likely owns an overgrown but historic cemetery.
Eugene Cafaro, 39, of Corona, has conducted a title search for four years to find the owners of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside because he wants to have the cemetery—which dates back to at least 1733 and may go as far back as the late 1600s—declared a landmark. And according to a spokesman for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee, that can only be done when there is a clear title.
The path to the title ownership of the cemetery was a convoluted one and Cafaro said that, even now, title is not fully cleared except in a negative sense. however, that may be enough.
Cafaro followed several false leads before finding what now appears to be the right path. At first, he thought the property had been taken over by the state, since Nathaniel Moore, the first man who owned the property, was a notorious Tory during the Revolutionary War and much of the property held by Loyalists was confiscated following the British defeat.
But that lead petered out and Cafaro went to work trying to find descendants of either the Moore or Jackson families in hopes that they might have papers showing title. That also produced no results.
So Cafaro started the laborious process of searching through all the sales of property of the Moore farm, and found it was bought by Charles A. Kneeland. Kneeland, in turn, conveyed it to John A. Mecke in April, 1863.
After Mecke's death, his widow, Julia, sold the property to Henry G. Schmidt and Co. on Sept. 18, 1867. The land deed included a reference to "the burying grounds."
In 1871, the land was then conveyed to the Bricklayers Cooperative. But then came a huge gap in time.
Cafaro began tracing the records, and finally found a reference to the original deed in the file of Stuyvesant Real Estate, which conveyed part of the property, but not the cemetery grounds, to the N.Y. Connecting Railroad in 1947.
A search by the Corona man for records of the rest of the property proved futile, with no record existing that Stuyvesant ever divested themselves of the rest of the land.
In 1955, Stuyvesant merged with a company called Manor Real Estate. And Manor Real Estate is one of the prime real estate holding companies of Penn Central.
A spokesman for Penn Central said the giant railroad firm would have to conduct its own title search to determine whether it did, in fact, own title to the cemetery. The spokesman said that could take two months of more.
The property is tax-exempt, but the 140-by-100-foot strip of land is listed as assessed as $40,000, and is worth at least $150,000 as a piece of real estate if used for development.
But if Cafaro has his way, the cemetery between 51st and 54th Streets will remain a cemetery. He said that, unless otherwise prevented, the owners of the property could get permission to exhume the remains and then do whatever they wished with the land.
"I want to see the cemetery declared a landmark," Cafaro said. And he is prepared to take the Landmarks Preservation Commission to court, if necessary, to get the land so designated.
If the cemetery is declared a landmark, by law it must be maintained in the state in which it currently exists. Responsibility for maintaining the property falls on the title-holder and if Penn Central does in fact own title it would have to take care of the cemetery.
The only problem the 39-year-old amateur historian and title-searcher has now is getting the Landmarks Preservation to accept the cemetery for designation.
Beverly Moss Spatt, chairman of the commission, said it would be happy to consider the cemetery, provided there was a clear title and it is in good condition. But the cemetery—the object of only occasional cleanups by local schools and volunteer groups—is now in a state of disrepair.
"In its present state, we would be unable to consider it for designation," Mrs. Spatt said.
Cafaro is not about to accept that, however.
"When I submitted the Moore-Jackson cemetery for consideration in 1973, the commission was well aware of the physical state of the cemetery then," he said. "The only prerequisite obligation for consideration then was to establish ownership. Now that I am coming close to the consummation of the issue, they are raising the requirements."
The Corona resident said he was prepared to seek legal action to force the commission to accept the cemetery as a landmark, and was seeing the help of Councilman Thomas J. Manton, Long Island City Democrat.
The historical significance of the cemetery is unquestioned. Although only about a dozen tombstones are still standing, and only four are readable, its first documented burial was in 1733, and there may be unmarked graves going back to the 160s when the land was first acquired by Nathaniel Moore. The last recorded burial there was during the Civil War. At least 40 people are known to have been interred at the cemetery.
Cafaro, asked why he has so singlehandedly pursued his search for the missing title holder to the cemetery for four years of his life, said, "I guess I owe the cemetery."
In fact, he probably does. A high school dropout at age 15, his interest in the cemetery got him interested in history, and in further education. After becoming involved in the cemetery title search, he received a high school equivalency certificate and went on to LaGuardia Community College to study for a degree in history.
"It's something I have to do," he said.