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Volunteers bringing Patchogue burial ground back to life

The restored headstone of veteran Moses Wicks, at

The restored headstone of veteran Moses Wicks, at Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue, on Oct. 21. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

A Patchogue graveyard is coming back to life.

You won't find ghosts, goblins and ghouls lurking in the trees at Lakeview Cemetery, the 225-year-old burial ground on the northeast corner of West Main Street and Waverly Avenue.

More likely you'll find teams of determined volunteers cleaning up the ancient boneyard, righting fallen headstones and plotting ways to raise money to spruce up the 6-acre site.

Like the Village of Patchogue — a virtual ghost town two decades ago before rising from the ashes — the neglected cemetery had become a thicket of overgrown vines and grass before local residents came to the rescue.

“It was a jungle at that time and kind of got my goat," said Patchogue resident Hans Henke, recalling what the cemetery looked like in 1992 when he took it upon himself to cut the grass. "So I acted like a goat and cleaned it all up. It was a heck of a job.”

Today the ad hoc Cemetery Restoration Committee, an arm of the nonprofit Greater Patchogue Foundation, looks after the property and organizes regular cleanups. Brookhaven Town, Suffolk County and Patchogue officials also provide help to care for it.

The cemetery, which volunteers believe may hold as many as 1,700 graves, is actually five different graveyards, the earliest of which dates to burial plots established by Methodist, Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian congregations in 1794. Lakeview also includes cemetery property owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island and a former potter's field.

Among the cemetery's permanent residents are veterans of wars from the American Revolution to Vietnam, members of prominent Patchogue-area families such as the Smiths, Weeks and Conklins, and sailors who perished in shipwrecks.

Preserving and restoring Lakeview is a labor of love for volunteers. A new entrance was erected in 2006, lights and a flagpole have been installed, and gravestones are cleaned and repaired. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs replaces the headstones of documented war veterans, volunteers said.

There still is much work to be done: Volunteers hope to install new fences and plumbing to provide irrigation. On Nov. 16, the committee is holding its annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) fundraiser, when they hope to raise up to $3,000.

"A lot of us who grew up here remember it when it was so overgrown you couldn't walk through it," said Christopher Capobianco, chairman of the board of Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts and a cemetery committee volunteer. "We're raising money to fix headstones."

Lakeview is an active cemetery — families who own plots can be buried there — but volunteers say they don't want it to become too contemporary. The cemetery looks much the way it did two centuries ago, a collection of markers ranging from towering marble spires to simple granite stones.

Volunteers considered paving the gravel roadway that leads visitors inside, but decided against it.

"There are many connections that could be made to run the cemetery in a modern way," said Ralph Wright, a Presbyterian pastor and accountant. "But then it would lose its charm."

A history of Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue

1791: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches build meeting house at northeast corner of West Main Street and Waverly Avenue.

1794: Four cemeteries, named Union, Gerard, Rice and Old Episcopal, established behind meeting house. Graveyards known collectively as Waverly Cemetery.

Early 1800s: Lakeview Cemetery created when Ruth Newey Smith, member of a prominent local family, donates land to Episcopal Church. (Smith, one of Patchogue's four "Smith sisters," is buried there.)

1992: Patchogue residents begin cleaning and restoring cemeteries.

2006: Cemetery Restoration Committee formed by Greater Patchogue Foundation.

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