There were plenty of happy people gathered as the historic Allen Family Cemetery was restored to its original condition last week in the tiny strip of land behind the Gussack Plaza parking garage in Great Neck Plaza, but no one was happier than Vera Allen.
Allen, representing the family, along with her daughter Nancy, enthusiastically clapped her hands as the largest of six Allen headstones, eight feet tall and weighing almost 800 pounds, dating back to 1810, was carefully lowered into its original place by a special hoist.
For many years that headstone, marking the passing of Peggy Allen, and six others, including an infant from another family, had been left propped up against a fence in the neglected, approximately 200 square foot lot located between the houses at 15 and 17 Pearce Pl.
“I’m very pleased,” said Allen, a Port Washington resident, speaking of the return and restoration of the family headstones. It marked the completion of a project that took about three years to complete.
“I’m not a ‘blood’ Allen,” she said, modestly, as she stood next to her daughter, who also lives in Port Washington. “I only married into the family.”
Her husband, Richard Allen, passed away in 2005. His sister, Dorothy (nee Allen) Caputo), is the family matriarch, lives in Sands Point and is almost 97.
In 1861, Daniel K. Allen willed the farm that contained the cemetery to two of his nephews but stated that the cemetery must remain in the family. In 1938, the will of Richard E. Allen made a request that $500 be deposited with the county for the cemetery’s upkeep. The status of that interest bearing account and just how much the amount has grown is still being looked into by North Hempstead.
It is estimated that the Allen Family, at one time, owned nearly one third of the Great Neck peninsula. The family also owned the Saddle Rock Grist Mill from 1715 to the 1820’s.
“Howard Kroplick was the spearhead behind this,” Vera Allen added, referring to the Town of North Hempstead’s unpaid official town historian whose receipt of an anonymous phone call in 2012 led to the use of ground penetrating radar to actually locate the graves and their exact positions.
“He introduced himself to us and we cooperated,” said Allen. Kroplick eventually helped broker an agreement between the town and Great Neck Plaza, directly leading to last week’s event. The town provided the financing for new fencing, the stonework and soon to be installed bronze plaques to mark each grave.
The town will also install an historic marker on Pearce Place that will list a phone number for people to call if they wish to visit the cemetery. The Plaza cleared the lot, installed sod and will be responsible for maintenance.
The cemetery cannot be seen from the street and is only visible from the back wall of the upper levels of the Gussack garage. Access will only be from a right of way between the two houses on Pearce.
“It’s thrilling to see these historical headstones put back in place with such care,” said Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who watched the staff from Van Cott Setters work at the site. “I think everyone in Great Neck Plaza and the Town of North Hempstead can be proud that their history has been preserved with the respect and dignity that it deserves.”
Among those who also watched the return of the headstones were Councilwoman Lee Seeman, Kroplick and Alice Kasten, Leila Mattson and Charles Schneider from the Great Neck Historical Society.
Kroplick was especially pleased that the restoration was being completed. “I can’t thank Supervisor Bosworth enough for her support,” he said. “Everybody’s happy about this—the family, the town, the Plaza and the neighbors.”