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Grant funds will restore historic cemeteries

The Wading River Cemetery Association received a $10,000 grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation in June, funds that will primarily be used to restore monuments at Wading River’s two historic cemeteries, according to a Saturday press release from the association. Oliver’s Hill Cemetery on Sound Road and Wading River Cemetery on North Wading River Road are home to notable historic monuments in need of restoration, including at the grave of Josiah Lupton, a Revolutionary War veteran, and others dating to the early 1800s.

“Restoring these historic monuments is an important step in preserving the history of Wading River and it will allow the public, when visiting the cemeteries, to have a more enriched experience,” said association president Fred Finter.

Work at both cemeteries is expected to start in September and is a collaboration between Joel Snodgrass of Steward Preservation Services of Huntington and Zachary Studenroth of Burying Ground Preservation Group. 

“What you do is, in response to the conditions, you observe,” said Mr. Snodgrass, adding that each stone has its own unique problems, depending on its material. Work could include repairing broken stones, removing lichens from the stone and righting a tilting stone that could break under its own weight. “We’re not trying to make them squeaky clean; we aim to bring back the structural and aesthetic integrity and slow down the deterioration process,” Mr. Snodgrass said.

Executive directors Kathryn Curran said, “The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation is pleased to make this award. Our historic cemeteries are a great historic resource, not only with genealogy, but also as material culture documents touching on various themes including religious progressions, economic trends and civic records.” 

Oliver’s Hill Cemetery (circa 1690) is one of the oldest on Long Island and was originally the burial ground for the Hudson family. Historical records show that “the graves of both the patriot Henry Hudson, who fought for the colonies during the Revolutionary War, and Major Frederick Hudson, known for his British sympathy, are in the cemetery.” Henry Hudson’s monument remains clearly visible, but Maj. Hudson’s has yet to be found.

Historical records indicate that the major’s son, Oliver, for whom the hill is named, is buried there as well. Janis Gilmore, a cemetery association trustee, , said his stone had been “missing” for about 20 years and was recently rediscovered. While checking on tree work underway at the cemetery, Ms. Gilmore  said she found about two inches of “something hard” under the soil. “When I went back with some tools, I discovered a monument under about three inches of soil and after some extensive cleaning, I was able to read the name Oliver Hudson. It was quite a moment.” 

This monument is among those slated for restoration.  

According to the press release, Wading River Cemetery was established March 11, 1847. The Religious Society of Wading River, which at the time was referred to as the Congregational Church, spent $125 to purchase 1.5 acres of land from Sylvester Miller for a cemetery. A second adjacent parcel was purchased July 14, 1871, from Thomas Coles ; the final parcel of the now five-acre cemetery was acquired from the Coles’ estate. The cemetery was operated by the Religious Society until Feb. 27, 1904, when it was deeded to the Wading River Cemetery Association.

The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, established in 1987, primarily supports the study of Long Island history and its role in the American experience. According to rdlgfoundation.org, its purpose is “to sponsor and encourage the preservation, restoration and exhibition by existing and future historical societies of at least one facility appropriate to such purpose.” 

Robert David Lion Gardiner was the 16th Lord of the Manor of Gardiners Island. The Gardiner family and their descendants have owned Gardiners Island since 1639, when it was obtained as part of a royal grant from King Charles I of England. The foundation is inspired by Robert David Lion Gardiner’s personal passion for New York history.

The Wading River Cemetery Association is a nonprofit governed by a Board of Trustees, and is dedicated to maintaining these historic cemeteries, both of which have been recognized with landmark status by Riverhead Town.