Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fire Place History Club news

Dear All,

Hoping everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving as we look forward to the upcoming holiday  season. 

We hope that you were able to attend some of our Fire Place History Club events during the  past year. These included a presentation on the human and cultural history of Carmans River, the restoration and rededication ceremony of the Rose Cemetery, a bike tour of our historic cemeteries, and, just this month, John Deitz's "Brookhaven Hamlet Cultural History 101." We plan to do several new presentations in the upcoming year, and I will send you announcements beforehand. 

The FPHC board has also been spending much of its time this year mowing, cleaning and maintaining the eight larger historic cemeteries  – all work that Brookhaven Town is required by NYS law to do, but refuses to. Recently, we received some help from the Bellport High School History Club, and you can see pictures at this link:

We see the cemeteries as a vital component of our historical and cultural heritage, and we have submitted a grant proposal for $11,000 to repair and restore them. However, all of this money and work will be in vain if Brookhaven Town doesn't commit to a long-term maintenance program. Much of the deterioration to these cemeteries was caused because of the Town's failure to maintain them. We have been pleading with the Town to do this minimal maintenance for many years to no avail. Now we are asking for your help: Please,  send either an e-mail or letter, sample below, to our Town Council members asking them to order the Town Parks Department to do their mandated job by mowing the lawns in our Brookhaven Hamlet historic cemeteries a few times a year and doing the minimal maintenance to ensure their conservation.

Sample letter or e-mail:

Dear Councilman/Councilwoman ________,

I am writing to urge you to preserve Brookhaven Hamlet’s unique history by ordering your Parks Department to do its job and maintain our historic cemeteries, which are deteriorating rapidly since the Town stopped maintaining them. If the 75 people employed by the Parks Department say that they don’t have enough personnel to do this, then the work should be done contractually.  


Our Town representatives can be contacted with the e-mail addresses below. Thank you in advance for your help.  


Brian Foley <bfoley@BROOKHAVEN.ORG>
Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld <fiore-rosenfeld@BROOKHAVEN.ORG>
Kathleen Walsh <kwalsh@BROOKHAVEN.ORG>


Anonymous said...

On Dec. 4, Marty sent the following letter to the Town Council:

Dear Town Council Members,

Some 20 years ago Dick Richardson showed us the location of some of the historic cemeteries that he and his father had a Town contract to mow on a regular basis, in accordance with NYS law. Since then Brookhaven Town has stopped maintaining all but one of these Brookhaven Hamlet cemeteries, with the occasional exception being when former Town Historian David Overton was able to convince a Parks Department crew to do something, usually in conjunction with a replacement headstone for a Revolutionary War veteran.

Over the years, requests to the Parks Department by both me and the Brookhaven Village Association have been answered with replies from Pete Cris telling us to “find volunteers to do it,” “we’re busy now..., we’ll do it in October,” “we don’t know where the cemeteries are, please give us the locations” (which we did) and, of all things, asking: ”is cemetery along a parade route?” Other excuses have included not having enough manpower (this was during the years the Town had too much money and cancelled taxes) and once even questioning whether the Town was responsible for abandoned cemeteries. Mostly, however, phone calls are not returned.

Shame on you, the Town Council, for not having control over your employees. One wonders what goes on in your minds during Veterans Day and the Fourth of July, with flags flying around you at some parade, when the hallowed grounds where these veterans and our Country’s founding members are buried now lie in ruins because you were too lazy or thoughtless to do the job of maintaining abandoned historic cemeteries required of you by law.


--Martin Van Lith

John said...

Members of the Brookhaven Town Board:

I am writing you concerning the duty of the Town of Brookhaven to maintain abandoned cemeteries within the Town.

On October 10, 2008, I was one of several signatories to a letter sent to you on behalf of citizens within Brookhaven and South Haven Hamlets urging that the Town perform cemetery maintenance pursuant to Article 17, § 291 of the Town Law of the State of New York. In summary, this law requires, as a minimum, that: "... the town board remove the grass and weeds from any such cemetery or burial ground in any such town at least three times in each year, and to erect and maintain suitable fences around such cemetery or burial ground."

This duty has not been performed by the Town for at least several decades of which I am aware, perhaps longer. This inaction is the most important contributor to the significant deterioration of fifteen historic burying grounds within Brookhaven and South Haven Hamlets -- all important to the cultural heritage of our community. Various individuals within our community have been petitioning the Town for the last several years for it to do its duty, with no responsible action. These have included meetings with representatives of the parks department and a council person.

In our October 10, 2008 letter, we indicated that we would bring a NYS Article 78 remedial proceeding in NYS Supreme Court unless we received indication that the Town was proceeding to its duty to comply with the law. You should be aware that we have arranged for and consulted legal council, and have received financial commitments from members of our community to pursue this action if necessary.

I am especially saddened that we have received no response to our letter. It just confirms to me that the Town of Brookhaven government is dysfunctional and on the whole unresponsive to the legitimate concerns of its citizens -- regardless of political party. As a neighbor said to me the other day, "if you represented a real estate interest, you would have received a phone call the next day."

The cost of doing this work is trivial. If I use as a guide the cost of weekly yard care for my home, the minimum maintenance care, if contracted out, would average less than $100/year per site. Based on the cemetery inventories maintained by the Town Historian, there are perhaps a total of 105-115 sites within the Town, or approximately $12,000/year in contracted services. This is less than 0.06% of the parks department budget. It is true that remedial action would initially be required at many sites to provide and repair fences, and remove scrub growth and invasive trees that has accumulated due to years of neglect. The Brookhaven/South Haven communities, through the Post-Morrow Foundation, have requested a Caithness grant to do this remedial work for the fifteen sites within our area; and we are optimistic that this request will be approved. I also understand that grants also available to towns from the State Cemetery Board to support the maintenance of these cemeteries.

Within the Brookhaven and South Haven communities, neighbors, through the Fire Place History Club, are actively engaged in restoring our local sites. During 2007-2008, we restored the historic Rose Cemetery, including headstone repairs, using volunteer labor and contributions from community members. During 2008-2009 we are working to restore the historic Azel Hawkins and Barteau cemeteries. The Brookhaven Village Association has established a separate fund to which community members may contribute toward cemetery restoration, beyond routine maintenance. On three occasions over the last year, students from the Bellport High School History Club have joined in this work (see ). These are all indications that this work is important to and supported by our community.

However, this work will come to naught if continuing sustained maintenance is not performed by the Town. Experience has shown that if minimal mowing and scrub brush removal is not done annually, it only takes but a year or so for a site to again become overgrown. Experience has also shown that a site that is not maintained and appears to be abandoned is more prone to vandalism.

Representing the community in this concern is Marty Van Lith, Brookhaven Village Association Historian and chairperson of the Fire Place History Club (, 286-5897)

As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: "Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you are."

I am hopeful of a response,

John Deitz
7 Locust Rd.
Brookhaven, NY 11719

More information on the historic burying grounds in Brookhaven and South Haven Hamlets may be found at: