By Stephen J. Kotz
Members of the Eastville Community Historical Society gathered at the old St. David A.M.E. Zion Church Cemetery on Eastville Avenue in Sag Harbor Saturday morning to unveil a new historic marker.
Obtained with a $1,095 grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, the marker notes the cemetery, which was established in 1857, was the final resting place of early settlers of African-American, Native Americans and those of European ancestry.
“Under the continued stewardship of the Eastville Community Historical Society, we are here to commemorate the final resting place of many of the early residents of Eastville,” said Michael Butler, the chairman of the society’s cemetery preservation committee. “As the community around us continues to change and evolve, it becomes ever more important that this cemetery is recognized for the significant role that it maintains in the history of Sag Harbor and of the East End.”
The placement of the historical marker is just one of the things the society is doing to rehabilitate the old burial ground, which is looking a little rough around the edges, with some of its remaining headstones knocked off their bases by vandals and others worn down by the elements.
Last year, the society worked with archaeology students from the University of Minnesota who used ground penetrating radar to survey the roughly 28,000-square-foot cemetery on Eastville Avenue, just off Route 114. The society is waiting for the results of that work, which it hopes will show exactly how many people are buried there, according to executive director Georgette Grier-Key.
“Just because you don’t see headstones, doesn’t mean people aren’t buried there,” she said, adding that about 80 headstones have been counted, but records indicate that there may be as many as 100 people buried in the cemetery.
The last person buried there was Dorothy Smith, who died in 1997 and was a member of the Johnson family, which once owned the historical society’s Heritage House museum.
In the far corner of the burial ground, is the grave of Charles Dipp, who died on August 5, 1865, at the age of 23, and whose headstone, marked by a small American flag, identifies him as a member of the Connecticut volunteers, who, one could easily assume, served in the Civil War, which ended just five months before Mr. Dipp’s death.
The historical society took over the cemetery from the St. David A.M.E. Zion Church in 2001, when the dwindling congregation could no longer maintain it.
Recently, the society had a survey done and discovered that one of its neighbors was encroaching slightly on the cemetery. Once that is taken care of, “the next big step” will be a fundraising campaign to enclose the cemetery with cedar picket fence, according to Mr. Butler.
The society is hoping to match a $6,700 grant obtained from the Archaeology Institute of America for the work. Ms. Grier-Key said besides donations of money, the society would accept donations of labor and materials.
Anyone wanting to make a donation to the effort can send a check to Eastville Community Historical Society. P.O. Box 2036, Sag Harbor, NY 11963, or call (631-725-4711.