One of Southold’s oldest and most historic locations has a new addition thanks to a donation from a frequent local benefactor.
The cemetery committee of The Old Burying Ground next to First Presbyterian Church of Southold dedicated a new entryway Friday morning. The project was completed thanks to a “very generous gift” from the Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation, said cemetery director Jane Andrews.
“The new entranceway honors the history of Southold Town and the contributions of the Puritan founders who are buried right there,” she said. “It will draw in more visitors to appreciate the artwork on the gravestones.”
Ms. Andrews said the “valuable” and “irreplaceable” grave markers are “museum exhibits that live outdoors.”
The open gateway welcomes visitors to the site, where some 750 gravestones, box tombs and footstones mark the resting places of some of Southold’s most notable founders and ancestors, including Barnabas Horton, who was buried there in 1680.
“It’s just so important to history and I’m so glad that I could give back to the town,” Mr. Reichert said after a ribbon-cutting to mark the occasion.
Mr. Reichert’s ongoing philanthropy in Southold Town, which has included donations to local schools and funding for an upgraded police department dispatch room, was recognized in 2016, when he was named The Suffolk Times’ 2016 Person of the Year.
The Old Burying Ground’s new entrance, featuring stone pillars topped with solar-powered lights, replaces a simple wooden gate that was difficult for some visitors to spot. It frames the cemetery’s Founders Monument and sports brochure holders with a guide to the site and information on its historic significance. It also features a plaque acknowledging the Reichert Family Foundation.
The project was designed by Ray Nemschick of Nemschick Silverman Architects, who envisioned the renovation of Cutchogue New Suffolk Library, and was supervised by project manager Zack Nicholson.
“For us I think it was an honor just to be chosen to work on it, not to mention how sweet and how accommodating everyone was to go through the process, and to have them enjoy the designs that we’ve done and also to be so easy to work with,” said Mr. Nemschick, who donated his time and design work to the cemetery committee.
Ms. Andrews said there was a challenge in achieving harmony between the new addition and the historic cemetery, which dates back to Southold’s settlement in 1640 and has been recognized as the oldest surviving colonial cemetery in New York State. But she added that when the committee members saw Mr. Nemschick’s design, it was “instant love.”
“We consider it comfortable and welcoming and [it] just did the job entirely,” she said of the completed project.
This past April, headstones at the burying ground were toppled and cracked, she said, and it’s still unclear if that was the work of vandals or a natural phenomenon. The stones are set to undergo an insurance review so they can be repaired.
The cemetery, once referred to as “God’s Acre,” is maintained by numerous volunteers, including Bill Milford of Southold, who said he recognized a diverse roster of people who have made contributions to local and national events.
“I think it’s worth saving our history and this is the earliest part of our American history,” he said.