Townsend Cemetery in East Hills and Davis Family Cemetery in Coram are two of the three historic cemeteries restored with grants from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. Credit: Johnny Milano; Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

The condition of three historic Long Island cemeteries has become a little less grave.

Restoration crews are cleaning dozens of headstones — propping up some that had fallen — at graveyards in Coram, East Hills and Yaphank. The ancient burial grounds contain the remains of Revolutionary War veterans and prominent 18th-century Long Islanders.

After decades of harsh weather and vandalism, the aging grave markers were cracked and covered in dirt before repairs began this spring, officials said.

“You wouldn’t have been able to read anything on these stones,” Suzanne Johnson, vice president of the Davis Town Meeting House Society, told Newsday. The nonprofit history group manages the Davis Family Cemetery in Coram.

The cemetery was rededicated on June 18 after headstones and footstones at two dozen graves were cleaned of lichen and moss and re-set on stone bases.

“These are pristine now compared to what they were,” Johnson said of the grave markers.

Restoration work began several weeks ago at the Townsend Cemetery in East Hills. Work at Hawkins Cemetery in Yaphank will start Sunday.

Officials with local history groups that manage the sites said they had struggled for years to stem deterioration of the stones.

Before the restoration project, said Suzanne Johnson of the the Davis Town Meeting...

Before the restoration project, said Suzanne Johnson of the the Davis Town Meeting House Society, it was impossible to read names on grave stones dating back to the Revolutionary War at Coram's Davis Family Cemetery. Credit: Johnny Milano

But in a plot twist, the Riverhead nonprofit, Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, provided $10,000 grants for each group, so they could pay for cleanup efforts.

“It’s about the historic nature of the cemetery [and] for genealogical research," Gardiner Foundation executive director Kathryn Curran told Newsday. "The tombstones themselves are artifacts. ... It’s a wonderful historical resource that’s underutilized.”

Headstones at all the graveyards are being treated with D2, a non-bleach antimicrobial substance that eats away at mold and lichen, said Kurt Kahofer, co-principal of Burying Ground Preservation Group of Sag Harbor. The company and its affiliate, Steward Preservation Services of Huntington, are restoring the three cemeteries.

Work in Coram took about a month, Kahofer said, adding it takes about three months for D2 to eradicate microbials in cracks and crevices. 

“Davis was done pretty quickly because the weather was pretty good," he said. "A few of the stones needed to be straightened. A few of them had cracks.”

Robert Kessler, president of the Yaphank Historical Society, said the Hawkins Cemetery's granite and limestone headstones are mostly in good shape but many must be set back up after falling into the dirt.

Johnson said the Coram restoration has made a big difference.
Markers that had been partially buried were dug up and re-set, she said last week during a tour of the graveyard. She pointed to a freshly restored headstone marking the final resting place of Lewis G. Davis, who died three centuries ago.

“Now it’s good for another 300 years,” Johnson said.

Howard Kroplick, of the Roslyn Landmark Society, which worked with Town of North Hempstead officials to restore the East Hills site, said the cleanup revealed 250 headstone fragments.

“Because of this restoration, we’re finding all new discoveries in this cemetery,” he said. “Right now, it’s probably in its best shape it’s ever been.”

Undertaking a cleanup

Professional grave cleaners are restoring headstones and footstones at these historic, centuries-old burial grounds.

Davis Family Cemetery, Coram

Who's buried there: Members of the Davis family, whose home served as Brookhaven Town Hall for about a century

Graves: About 24

Oldest: 1786

Most recent: 1879 

Townsend Cemetery, East Hills

Who's buried there: Members of the Townsend, Willis, Horsfield, Jackson and Boerem families; the Townsends were among Oyster Bay's founding families

Graves: 31

Oldest: 1790

Most recent: 1894 

Hawkins Family Cemetery, Yaphank

Who's buried there: Members of the Hawkins family, a prominent Yaphank family in the 18th and 19th centuries

Graves: 30

Oldest: 1737

Most recent: 1854

SOURCES: Davis Town Meeting House Society, Roslyn Landmark Society, Yaphank Historical Society

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