A plot to care for Farmingdale cemetery

Debbie Bolton, right, and her father Nelson, left,

Debbie Bolton, right, and her father Nelson, left, clean up their families cemetery plot at the historic Powell Cemetery in Farmingdale. (Dec.13, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

The historic Powell Cemetery, set back from the road in Farmingdale on a hill and hidden behind a white picket fence, is easily overlooked.

The site containing the graves of some of Farmingdale's oldest settler families has been abandoned, local officials and funeral directors said, and it shows. Some of several hundred headstones have been knocked over or fallen from neglect, the site is strewn with trash and debris, visitors say, and the grass needs mowing.

But the village and local historical society plan to change that for the better.

"The cemetery has needed a thorough cleanup for years," said Debbie Bolton of Massapequa Park, who regularly visits her family's plot with her father, Nelson Bolton, but seldom sees anyone else at the site on the south side of Quaker Meeting House Road west of Thomas Powell Boulevard.

The site "is littered with garbage, which I have cleaned up when we visit," Debbie Bolton said. While the grass is cut on rare occasions, she said, "We've come in the summertime when the grass was almost up to our knees.

"I have no idea who is in charge of the cemetery now."

Village officials and local funeral directors don't know the history of the cemetery or who last owned it. But village historian William Johnston said state law requires municipalities to provide minimal maintenance for abandoned cemeteries.

"What we're looking for is ongoing better maintenance," said Bolton, a retired Sewanhaka High School special education teacher. "Getting the grass cut, getting some of the brush cleared away and getting rid of limbs that have fallen."

Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said village employees have cut the grass periodically. Informed of Bolton's plea for more help, he said, "We can do that."

The Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society said it can help with maintenance. And the organization, which has adopted nearby abandoned cemeteries, is researching the Powell Cemetery's history as the first steps toward adopting it.

The historical society website says Farmingdale's "first nonnative settler, Thomas Powell, arrived in 1687. In 1695, he bought a 15-square-mile tract of land known as the Bethpage Purchase from three Native-American tribes. For a century and a half, Powell descendants and fellow Quakers were virtually the only inhabitants."

Bolton said: "If you look at the gravestones, we're surrounded by Ketchams, who were a founding family of Farmingdale, and Powells, who were the first family that settled here. There are people who are buried here well over 100 years ago. My great-grandparents are here . . . and my mom is buried here." The oldest family grave is her great-grandfather's, Robert, who died in 1917.

The oldest legible Powell headstone is for Jenny Powell, age 2 months and 24 days, who died in 1872.

"It's a beautiful cemetery," Bolton said, " . . . but unfortunately it's just been let go."

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