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Laboring for the Love Of History

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

By Christopher Capobianco

originally published in Great South Bay magazine in March, 2019, and updated for this page in December 2023.


Patchogue Volunteers Reclaim Sacred Historic Site

 

Now commonly called “Lakeview Cemetery,” the property on West Main Street between the YMCA and Waverly Avenue in Patchogue Village [is actually] five separate cemeteries with a rich history that volunteers are working to restore.

The first church building in Patchogue was a meeting house that Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians jointly built at the northeast corner of West Main Street and Waverly Avenue in 1791. Union, Gerard, and Old Episcopal cemeteries were established on the property behind the building in 1794, and collectively are often called Waverly Cemetery. This section contains graves of dozens of war veterans - from the Revolution to Vietnam. Also interred here is the original Baptist minister, Rev. Luke Ruland, who settled in Patchogue in 1755, served in the Revolutionary War, became a minister and was buried here in1809.

To the east is Lakeview Cemetery, donated to the Episcopal Church in the early 1800s by Ruth Newey Smith, one of the four Smith sisters of Patchogue, whose plot in the cemetery has four 20-foot-high memorial columns. Ms. Smith also created the center carriage way, with the large monument to the Smith family in the circle at the end.  Lakeview also contains the stones of thirteen sailors from two different ships which were wrecked off the south shore of Long Island in the 1800s. [The eastern part of the property also includes Rice Cemetery, donated to St. Paul's by Rachel Rice in 1878].

By 1992, decades of neglect saw the cemeteries largely overgrown with trees and bushes. Since sporadic cemetery clean-ups were ineffective, Hans Henke, a Patchogue resident and Village of Patchogue Historian, began rescuing the property from ruins. The Village assisted his efforts, but progress was slow. 

In the Mid 1990s, Steve and Roy Ruland had begun research into their family history, which brought them to Waverly Cemetery, so overgrown that they could not find anything until a second trip, when they found the overgrown family plot including the headstone of their great, great, great, great, great grandfather Rev. Luke Ruland - the oldest piece of family history they’d found in their research.

In the Mid 2000s, a new group of local volunteers began to come together under the leadership of Steven Gill, and great progress was made to clear the property of brush, create gardens around many of the monuments, and set stones upright. The Cemetery Restoration Committee (CRC) of the non-profit Greater Patchogue Foundation [now Friends of Lakeview Cemeteries] was formed in 2006.  Funds were raised for installation of a lighted flag pole and a replica gated Lakeview Cemetery archway on West Main Street, designed by local architect John Giaccio.

In 2007, the Ruland Family came back to see the family plot again and found work going on to restore the historic property, with mown grass and work continuing to remove overgrowth.  Unfortunately, they were crushed to learn that the historic Rev. Luke Ruland headstone was missing, and was for 21 years until last fall, when CRC was contacted by the Burying Ground Preservation Group of Sag Harbor.  An anonymous donor had given them the Rev. Luke Ruland stone and asked them to find its rightful home. CRC took ownership and began a fund-raising campaign to cover the cost of cleaning and re-setting the stone. Two other Revolutionary War era stones [were] rehabilitated and the three [were] dedicated on July 4, 2019.

Maintenance by Town of Brookhaven Parks department and twice-yearly volunteer Clean Up Weekends have created a more welcoming place than has been seen in over a generation.  Suffolk County Grants and private donors funded installation of lighting throughout. The 2018 grant brought monument and security lighting to the Waverly side, and the 2019 CRC wish list includes a second lighted flagpole to be dedicated on Flag Day, assuming funds can be raised. [note - the funds were raised, and the flagpole is now in place.]

The US Veterans Administration and private donors helped CRC to replace damaged or missing headstones for ten civil war veterans, dedicated on Veterans day 2017 and 2018 in solemn ceremonies attended by veterans’ groups, scouts, civil war re-enactors, elected officials and interested citizens.  CRC plans to have more new [veterans] stones installed.

What’s next?  There are still many fallen or vandalized headstones, so repair work is a high priority. Some stones are intact but not vertical, so they need to be raised and set in concrete. Broken stones can sometimes be re-assembled and re-set. In both cases, CRC has used a professional monument company to be sure the work is done correctly. They have made progress, but much more work needs to be done and CRC has limited funds.

Other “wish list” CRC projects include a storage shed for equipment, replacement of the gravel carriageway, repair of the concrete sidewalks, and much more, depending on their fundraising efforts and available volunteers. [Note: a storage shed was built in 2020 thanks to a grant from Suffolk County and the efforts of Boy Scout Troop 47, who built the shed as part of Noah Smith's Eagle Scout project. The carriageway and sidewalks were replaced by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island in 2020. ]

 

To volunteer or  support CRC with a gift, call 631-207-1000, donate on line at https://patchogue.com/about-the-foundation/ or send a check to Greater Patchogue Foundation/CRC 15 North Ocean Ave, to Patchogue NY 11772

 

 

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