NYC Parks Citywide Monuments Conservation Program (CMCP) conservators and summer apprentices, collaborating with Green-Wood Cemetery experts, will be resetting and restoring weathered and toppled gravestones at Old Gravesend Cemetery,
Established by Lady Deborah Moody in 1643, the historic Old Gravesend Cemetery contains over 350 grave stones ranging from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century. Early pioneer settlers of the area, as well as several individuals noted for their roles in the Revolutionary War, are buried there. The cemetery is currently closed to the public, but this restoration is one step toward allowing access there.
The cemetery is steeped in history. According to neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org, “The burial ground, occupying the original common ground of the south-west quadrant, remains today as Gravesend Cemetery, sole reminder of this pioneer community. With only 1.6 acres, it is one of the smallest cemeteries in the city. Although it was originally a square at the center of the south-west quadrant, subsequent donations of adjacent properties have given it the irregular shape it has today. For example, in 1687 John Milton willed his property to it. The burial ground existed as early as 1658 when twenty guilders were bequeathed in the will of Thomas Spicer to enclose the cemetery with a fence. The earliest recorded death in Gravesend (and perhaps interment in the cemetery) was in 1650, but most of the gravestone predating the 18th century have disappeared or became illegible.
The graves of several men notable in the Revolutionary War have been identified: Rutgert Van Brunt (d. 1812), member of the Provincial Congress and colonel of the Gravesend militia; Rem Williamson (d. 1825), captain of the Gravesend militia; and Joost Stillwell (d. 1827), captain of the Gravesend militia. The graves of most of the original patentees and many of their descendants are here. In 1863 Tennis G. Berger compiled a list of inscriptions from the Gravesend Cemetery; he noted that the oldest inscription “on a broken slab of grey field stone” read: “Ida G. born 1676 d. 1751 age 75. Among the many old family names he recorded are: Cowenhoven, Ryder, Van Nuyse, Suydam, Syckoff, Van Pelt, Gerritsen, Dyckman, and Van Sicklen. The Van Sicklen family maintained their own cemetery in the northwest corner of the Old Gravesend Cemetery. it is still separately fenced and identified as that of the family. Although, it has never been firmly ascertained, it is generally believed that the founder of this community, Lady Moody, was buried in the cemetery.”
Many of the headstone, some of which are slabs of brownstone, have inscriptions in Dutch and English. Some have carved angel heads with wings. The Old Gravesend Cemetery became a New York City Landmark in 1976, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
In 1997, the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program was launched with two initial goals: to augment through private investment the City’s care of its public art collection and to train the next generation of conservators.
The Citywide Monuments Conservation Program performs conservation and maintenance of the extensive and irreplaceable public art collection in New York City’s parks. The program is supported by individual, corporate, and foundation grants; the City Parks Foundation is its fiscal sponsor.
Since its inception, the program has conserved 60 sculptures and provided full-scale, high-quality annual care for more than 100 additional sculptures and monuments. The work crews consist of seasonal conservation trainees selected from graduate programs in historic preservation, objects conservation, art history, and fine arts. The apprentices work under the direction of the Monuments Program’s professional conservation staff.
Seeking to avoid cycles of renovation and decline, the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program performs regular follow-up maintenance of previously conserved statuary, ensuring consistently high aesthetic conditions.
With support from the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) the above film was taken in the 1930s by Karl Gruppe (1893-1982), chief sculptor of the Monument Restoration Project of the New York City Parks Department, from 1934 to 1937. It documents Gruppe’s modeling and creation of the Henry Hudson Monument in the Bronx, as well as Parks Monuments Restoration Crew activities in the mid to late 1930s.
The Old Gravesend Cemetery is one of many locations that will receive care this summer as part of the, a conservation training initiative now in its 23rd season.
The Old Gravesend Cemetery is located at Gravesend Neck Road and McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn.