Staring down 54th Street from 31st Ave in Woodside, Queens, a street lined with boxy brick apartments and a scant bit of foliage, one would not expect to find one of the oldest cemeteries in New York nestled in amongst the buildings…
But there it is, halfway down the block: the Moore-Jackson Cemetery, founded in 1733 (276 years ago) and a rare surviving example of a colonial graveyard in Queens.
While doing research on the Marble Cemetery on Second Ave, I came across a number of sites about the Moore-Jackson cemetery, which was once located on farmland belonging to the wealthy Moore family. I’m amazed by the idea that any part of a former Queens farm still exists to this day, much less an entire cemetery, and I had to take a look.
The cemetery is located halfway down the block on 54th Street btw. 31st & 32nd Avenues – you can see it in the below map as that grouping of trees. Though the cemetery entrance is technically on 51st Street, the area is immensely overgrown and no headstones are visible on that end. The entire graveyard is fenced and locked up, so you’ll have to take pictures from the street.
The cemetery resides on former farmland once owned by the Moore family, of whom Clement Clarke Moore (author of The Night Before Christmas) is a descendant. The Moore farmland, established by Samuel and Charity Moore, covered 100 acres, including the cemetery and a farmhouse located nearby (torn down in the early 1900’s, according to Forgotten-NY – check out their page for an excellent full history). The Moore Cemetery added the Jackson name when one John Jackson married into the family.
The Moore family didn’t always find itself on the right side of history: during the Revolutionary War, the family sided with the British and housed soldiers. Later, Clement Clarke Moore, a professor at Columbia, argued against abolition.
In the 1820’s, the Moore farmland was sold off save for the cemetery, which was stipulated by will to remain as the family burial ground.
The earliest grave dates to 1733; the last, 1868. All in all, there were approximately 42 burials here, of which only 15 headstones remain. Sadly, the graveyard fell into decay, to the point where by the 1920’s, the entire plot of land had become completely overgrown. Builders used the site as a garbage dump during the construction of the nearby apartment buildings, not realizing that headstones still remained. Many are now broken or illegible. Others have been moved.
The cemetery was restored after its rediscovery in the 1920’s, then forgotten again, left to become further overgrown. In the 1970’s, local residents uncovered it once more, and the cemetery has been looked after to varying degrees ever since. It received landmark status in 1997 – sorry, developers!
The oldest remaining grave visible from the street, dating to November 23, 1769 (240th anniversary is coming up), belonged to one Augustine Moore.
Another grave visible was for Margaret Moore, who died in 1790 just 1 year, 11 months old.
Another grave, this one belonging to Samuel Hallet Moore who died in 1813 at age 23:
This one farther back has been vandalized – someone wrote a name and “January 24, 1967” in marker…nice…
Others have faded or been destroyed.
There are three trees in the cemetery that I really like, small and gnarled, looking like claws reaching up from the ground:
Two of the trees up close:
You can see the posts of a fence, which probably once encircled the cemetery in a chain.
And a few more posts:
I love the idea that this tree just south of the cemetery probably stood when the surrounding area was farmland…
The entire rear of the cemetery is overgrown. According to The Queens Historical Society, the cemetery went through Phase 1 of a new restoration plan in June. They were looking for volunteers at the time, and I’ve emailed to see if Phase 2 is in the near future.
This is the 51st Street side, once the entrance to the cemetery. It’s amazing to see such a large pocket of overgrown foliage in the middle of Queens.
My trusty bike poses in another view of the cemetery:
The entrance path:
This is the plaque on the 54th Street side…Come on, City of NY, can we do a little better??
If it’s difficult for the Marble Cemetery in the middle of Manhattan to raise money for restoration, I can only imagine how hard it’s been for the Moore-Jackson cemetery. It’s unfortunate that the surrounding community hasn’t risen to the challenge – the graveyard could be such a beautiful park if the desire and respect was there. I hope to help out at the next restoration phase, and will post info on it when I hear.
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