THE CORNELL CEMETERY

Many of us in Far Rockaway are utterly unfamiliar with this peninsula’s only officially designated landmark, the Cornell Family Cemetery, one of the oldest in New York. It is located on the west side of Caffrey Avenue north of New Haven Avenue, roughly opposite the New Haven Manor Adult Residence, and adjacent to 1457 Gateway Boulevard. We can presume with some assurance that there would have been no Catholics or parishioners of St. Mary’s buried here. Yet since it lies within the parish boundaries and is of interest in itself, we will take a brief look at its story.

Richard Cornell (1625-1693) was the second non-indigenous owner of property on the Rockaway peninsula. In 1685 an Englishman named John Palmer bought the land of Far Rockaway from the Indian chief Tackapousha for 31 English pounds. Palmer sold most of it to Cornell on August 20, 1687, and he settled there with his wife and five sons in 1690 in a large house near what is now B. 19th St. between Plainview Ave. and Seagirt Blvd. This property became the location of first hotel on the peninsula in 1833, the Marine Pavilion, which is now the location of the Learning Center of St. John’s Hospital and several private homes. A Quaker, he is considered the first European settler on the Rockaway peninsula.

The Cornell graveyard contains the remains of many Cornell family members and friends extending over several centuries. Those resting there include Thomas Cornell (1703-1764) who was for 24 years a representative in the N.Y. State colonial legislature. Although it has been recently fenced in and is periodically cleaned up, unfortunately it needs a great deal of attention.

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St. Mary's Third Pastor

The Rev. Henry J. Zimmer was born in Brooklyn in 1847. He studied at the North American College in Rome and was ordained in 1872. He served as pastor here from 1879 until 1896 when he resigned for health reasons. He died in 1920 as the chaplain at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica. In 1883 Father Zimmer secured the property for the second church building, the “old church” that burned in 1974. He also erected a new rectory adjacent to the church, where the statue of St. Therese now stands. Some of the parish benefactors of the time included John Kelly (who donated the large oil painting of “Star of the Sea” which hung over the altar), Edward Roche (who donated the church bell) and James Caffrey. The schools of the parish continued to flourish during this time, usually presenting a fall and spring entertainment to the public. He was occasionally host to visiting bishops and clergymen who came to the seaside for refreshment. An annual lecture on a religious topic by a prominent clergyman also became standard practice at this era of formal speeches as entertainment. Father Zimmer left the parish to his successor completely free of debt.

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St. Mary's Second Church

In 1883 Father Zimmer purchased the land at the corner of Clark and Catherine Streets (now New Haven Avenue and Beach 20th St.) for a new church. It was completed in 1885 at a cost of $28,000, built in a Romanesque style and designed to seat 600. The architect of the new church was Thomas F. Houghton of Brooklyn, the contractor Patrick Byrne of Jersey City, and the mason Thomas Mc Goff. The major donors included J.J. Campbell, James Donohue, T. Dollard, Patrick Donohue, William Caffrey, Mrs. Nathaniel P. Jarvis and Mrs. D. McCabe. The first Mass in the church was celebrated June 14, 1885; and the first child baptized there was David Foster Cronin, son of Charles and Helen on July 5, 1885. Bishop Loughlin officially dedicated it on Sunday, August 16, 1884; the preacher for the occasion was the bishop of London, Ontario, Dr. Walsh. This church was enhanced and renovated from time to time over the years, the latest being under Father Mc Kenna in 1973. The church burned to the ground in an electrical fire in February 1974. Its 1897 church bell is enshrined in the new church above the Blessed Sacrament chapel.

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