The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground

Martin’s Field Honors the Community and the Site’s History

Saturday, November 18, 2006
No. 114

Parks & Recreation Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski today joined Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, City Council Member John C. Liu, State Senator Frank Padavan and community advocate Mandingo Osceola Tshaka to cut the ribbon on the $2.7 million reconstruction of Martin’s Field. The reconstruction project, funded by Borough President Marshall and City Council Member Liu, features a new playground and a memorial tablet to honor its history as a 19th century burial ground.

“The reconstruction of Martin’s Field allows both the needs of the surrounding community and the site’s history to be met,” said Queens Borough Commissioner Lewandowski. “The peaceful, rolling hills serve as a place to reflect and honor those who were buried there generations ago, while the new playground will be a place for the next generation to play and grow.”

“The total renovation completed represents a $2.7 million investment of city capital dollars secured through the steadfast efforts of Councilman Liu and myself,” said Queens Borough President Marshall. “Together, with the expertise of the Department of Parks and Recreation, the site has been transformed into a beautiful community asset that captures the essence of the past for today and tomorrow.”

“Today's dedication of Martin's Field marks a historic milestone in our City's race relations,” said City Council Member Liu. “In 1936, the City covered over the predominantly African American and Native American burial ground to house a park and playground. For more than a decade, this site of hallowed ground lay fallow, and worse yet, people were severely divided along racial lines on how to proceed. I had made it a top priority to bring people together in order to remake this site and, over the years, led extensive efforts to reach consensus between residents and advocates. Through our collective efforts, Martin’s Field has now been transformed into a beautiful asset for our community.”

“Martin’s Field is the only African American and Native American burial ground that remains in any of the five boroughs,” said community advocate Mandingo Osceola Tshaka, who extensively studied the site and has been instrumental in creating a memorial there. “While I always feel there is more we can do memorialize those who are buried here, Parks is really stepping up and doing the right thing by recognizing the site’s history and those who rest here.”

The two-phase project involved the reconstruction of the playground, as well as the landscaped areas to serve as a reflective memorial area for those buried at the site. The original playground was built in 1936 over the burial ground. Following surveys by an archeological team, the new playground was relocated and placed on a sill system foundation so as to not disturb the land. The playground features new play equipment for young children, as well as new benches, new irrigation and drainage, paving, and extensive greening. The rolling hills of the burial site now have a memorial tablet and beautiful landscaping to honor those buried there.

The site was originally purchased as a burial ground by the residents of Flushing around 1840. In 1914 the property was given to the Parks Department, and in 1936 a playground was built. Originally known as the “Paupers’ Burial Ground,” the site was renamed Martin’s Field in 1931 to honor tree conservationist Everett P. Martin. Between 1840 and 1898, 500 to 1000 people were buried at this site, primarily African Americans, Native Americans, and victims of four major epidemics in 1840, 1844, 1857, and 1867.

The upgrades to Martin’s Field do not stand alone in the borough of Queens. Over the past five years, Parks & Recreation has spent more than $157 million for Queens park improvements, adding two new parks and the largest recreational facility in any City park. Currently, Parks is in the midst of a major initiative to improve parks throughout Queens, with 33 projects costing $72 million under construction, and another 88 projects costing $67 million currently in design or procurement.

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