|Aerial view of site of United African Society in 1924|
A local church is hoping to preserve a long-forgotten burial ground for freed slaves that was discovered on the Elmhurst site where a five-story condominium building is slated to go up.
Leaders of the Saint Marks A.M.E. Church in Jackson Heights plan to meet on Thursday with the owners of the property, at 90-11 Corona Ave., to plead their case.
The church was founded in 1828 on the site of the burial ground as the United African Society. Over the years, the congregation’s name and location changed.
“The site is very significant because it is believed to be one of the first places where former slaves organized and started their own church,” said the church’s pastor Kimberly Detherage.
“In a time when people are tearing things down and building, it’s important to know our history,” she said.
The construction crew found the body of a woman in 2011 when a machine accidentally dredged up her iron casket as they were tearing down a decades-old warehouse. She is believed to have died in the 1850s.
“We dubbed her the Iron Lady,” said John Houston, owner of the Triboro Funeral Home, in Corona, where she is stored. “The body is so well-preserved they thought it was a [recent] murder.”
After the discovery, construction was halted and the owners of the site, 90 Queens Inc., hired an archeologist to research the burial ground. Bones of 15 more bodies were unearthed in October.
Houston said there’s no telling how many more are buried there.
The city issued a partial stop work order at the site, which is across the street from Newtown High School.
“We were never aware there was a graveyard there,” said the project’s construction manager, who declined to give her name. “We covered everything back and are talking to the Health Department to find out ... the proper way to [handle] this.”
The property owners did not immediately return calls.