For sale: Vacant lot in Queens that is home to an African-American burial ground

St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church needs to be consulted before developing the lot

The lot at 47-11 90th Street in Queens (Credit: Google Maps)
The lot at 47-11 90th Street in Queens (Credit: Google Maps)

A roughly one-acre vacant lot in Elmhurst has hit the market for $13.8 million. But unlike most vacant lots in the city, this one is a historic African-American burial ground where as many as 300 people—including several former slaves—could be buried.

The lot comes with an archaeological restriction that requires the St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church to be consulted before further developing the lot. Representatives for 90 Queens Inc., which owns the land, have proposed building a cultural space spanning 5,000 square feet on the first floor of a five-story condo at 47-11 90th Street, but the church has not signed off on this.

The firm has started marketing the lot after years of unsuccessfully negotiating with the church about what to do with the land. Church leaders and preservationists hope a buyer comes along to help preserve the site instead of develop it.

“It has been extremely hard for the church to find a partner that is willing to help us, to look at this piece of real estate from a historical perspective,” the church’s Rev. Kimberly L. Detherage told the Times.

A Cushman & Wakefield team led by Stephen Preuss is handling the listing.

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The year after slavery ended in New York, William Hunter, a white farmer, deeded land to five black residents who belonged to the United African Society, and an African-American cemetery likely predated the society’s ownership. It was also home to a Presbyterian church in the early 1800s where abolitionist James Pennington served as pastor, but this church converted to African Methodist Episcopal sometime later in the century.

The church sold the land in 1929 and moved to Jackson Heights. It requested to move all bodies from the burial ground to Maspeth’s Mount Olivet Cemetery, but the city turned down this request. The burial ground was largely forgotten until 2011, when the new owner began excavating the land for a new building, and construction workers found a well-preserved body.

Detherage told the Times she thought the city or a different cultural institution could step in to invest in the land and help run whatever gets developed on the site.

“This is our chance to educate, share our history and perhaps change what people think African Americans were like after slavery,” she said. [NYT] – Eddie Small