The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground

The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

What was here before?

Originally called the Public Burial Ground, this site is the final resting place for roughly one thousand people, mostly of Native American and African American descent. The grounds went through a variety of name changes from inception to present, including “Town Ground,” “Pauper’s Burial Ground,” “Colored Cemetery of Flushing,” and “Martin’s Field.”

The Town of Flushing suffered a cholera epidemic circa 1840 and a smallpox epidemic in 1844. Most people were usually buried in their family’s private churchyard. However, living relatives feared the bodies of the ill would contaminate church burial grounds. The town purchased this plot of land from the Bowne family to serve as a separate public burial ground for this express purpose. Ten years later, medical scientist John Snow discovered the link between cholera and contaminated water, which led to improved hygienic practices that helped ward off such diseases. As a result, the burial ground fell out of use.

In the late 1800s, the grounds were set aside for the African American and Native American communities. The Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church had run out of burial space and urged the town of Flushing to reserve a public burial ground for their use. The site appears to have been used most extensively during this time. No details were given on the locations of the burials, but a topographic survey done in 1919 shows four marble headstones marking the graves of the Bunn family and Curry family, who were parishioners of the Macedonia AME Church and the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Flushing, respectively. Death records indicate that more than half of those interred were under the age of five, and archaeological studies imply the site was a mixture of individual and mass graves. While there are reports of wooden grave markers on site, this has not been confirmed nor recorded.

How did this site become a park?

After the final interment in 1898, the grounds sat undisturbed and overgrown until 1910 when the City of New York considered resuming the use of the burial ground. Articles written around that time stated that people were worried about the value of their real estate, and one account notes the need for more playgrounds in Flushing. This discussion continued as the Parks Department acquired the property in 1914, and the land acted as a ‘town commons’ or ‘green’ for the neighborhood for the time being.

In 1931, the site was renamed Martin’s Field, in honor of Everett P. Martin, a local tree conservationist, and in 1936, a large portion of the site was developed under the Works Project Administration (WPA) to create a playground and comfort station. Bodies had not been relocated, and during the excavation, news articles reported “bones galore” being excavated along with coins that had been placed on the eyes of the dead—a burial practice also found during the reconstruction of the African Burial Ground in Manhattan.

In the 1990s, archaeological studies confirmed that the site still contained human remains. A group of community activists drew attention to the historic site, advocating for the grounds to be redesigned as a commemorative space, respecting and remembering those who were buried here.

In 2004, the Borough of Queens allocated funding to establish a memorial to honor the interred—the largest improvement here since 1938. The playground was relocated to an adjacent property to the north. New pathways through mature oak trees led to a plaza. A large granite disc inscribed with the site’s history was placed in the center of the plaza, along with the cardinal directions in the Matinecock language. A historic, stacked stone wall that marked the original boundary was recreated and engraved with the four names from the headstones found in 1919. Established in 2007, The Olde Towne of Flushing Conservancy advocated for the site’s maintenance and renaming. In 2009, the site was officially renamed The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground, and in 2018 the burial ground received national and New York state historic designations.

Unveiled in 2021, the grounds were redesigned to honor the site’s history. While the stacked stone wall remains, a new commemorative wall has been installed and engraved with the names of 320 people that were identified, with room for additional names that may be discovered. Plaques on the face of the wall represent the four original marble headstones found in 1919. The plaza holds a butterfly garden with seating, giving the space a feeling of peace and tranquility. The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground remains a place of remembrance, respect, and history.

Park Information

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