4. Newtown Playground

When the Village of Newtown (known today as Elmhurst) in Queens was settled in 1652, the land now occupied by Newtown Playground was set aside for use as a cemetery. For over 160 years, the Old Newton Cemetery was the only public cemetery in town. Among those buried there were members of such prominent families as the Fishes and Moores. After the cemetery closed around 1880, however, it began to suffer from neglect––one local farmer even used the land as a pasture for his cows and horses.

In 1915, when the city made plans to cut through the cemetery in order to extend Toledo Street (92nd Street) and install a sewer there, the locals started a campaign to get the city to turn the burial ground into a park so that the historic site could be spared. The cemetery was, in fact, transferred to the Park Department of Parks in 1917, but only after the extension of Toledo Street was completed. The first playground equipment was installed ten years later. Before construction began, the remaining 86 headstones were laid flat on the graves they marked and covered over with soil, although some people report that the graves were ground into pieces and mixed with the cement used to build the wading pool.