July 2005 - Capital Project of the Month
Project Team: Steven Whitesell, project manager, Ruby Wei, specification writer, and Tohamy Bahr, environmental engineering, Anthony Williams, project resident phase 1.
Martins Field is located in Flushing, Queens within Community Board #7 and image of Martin's Field circa 2005Council District #20. It is bordered by 45 th and 46 th Avenues and 164 th and 166 th Streets. The park is primarily surrounded by single and multi-family housing and some commercial buildings. The Flushing Cemetery is across the street.
The site was originally purchased as a public burial ground by the residents of Flushing, Queens on June 15, 1840 for $400 and was augmented on the northern end, on March 11, 1873. Between 500 and 1000 individuals were buried there in subsequent years, of which the majority were African-American or Native-American. There were also a number of poor whites, as well as wealthier individuals that died during cholera and smallpox epidemics and were therefore not interred in the family plot for fear of contamination. From the evidence thus far uncovered, plots appear to be indiscriminately arranged, often unmarked and as shallow as six inches below the surface.
The last interment was in 1898. On December 2, 1914, the site was given to the Parks Department, but it was not until 1936 that a playground was built on the site. Early in the 1940s, a comfort station, a wading pool and a sand-pit were constructed but they were removed in 1985, along with a handball wall. Additionally, a portion of the playground was removed when 165 th Street was remapped in 1957, and further parcels were added in 1946, 1947, and 1983. The name of the park was changed on May 5, 1931, to Martins Field, in honor of a local tree conservationist Everett P. Martin.
The park is comprised of an open meadow, a playground site, a grove and a wading pool. However, most of the park is asphalt, the playground is in decline, and the wading pool is filled with moss and leaves, displaying a generally
unwelcoming environment. This renovation will create a passive landscape for community use, while remaining respectful to those who are buried there. The Plan includes the recreation of under-story plantings that will mimic a woodland edge, as well as the addition of necessary paths, benches, and a memorial. An earlier contract is already addressing the deteriorated playground.
Much thought and care went into the design of the park to prevent any disturbance to graves. Excavation will be kept to a minimum and will only be performed in the presence of an archeologist. The main portion of the site is being treated as a woodland landscape with much of the planting going into berms of added soil. This soil adds another layer of protection for the graves and allows for larger plant material to be added.
Many of the aspects of the park that are not directly commemorative would also reflect the park’s history. The use of traditional colors, as well as the introduction of many pre-settlement plants will serve as a reminder of the past in a way that does not inhibit present use. Additionally, the re-creation of a 19 th Century stone perimeter wall preserves a topographical “memory,” while oyster shells (which were typically used in African-American burial rituals) will be used as a building material. A simple marker will be used to identify the buried.