Preliminary report uncovers over 100 potential unmarked burials at historic Rye cemetery

Using non-invasive ground penetrating radar (GPR) and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, researchers were able to study the 1.4-acre property.

News 12 Staff

Apr 18, 2024, 11:03 AM

Updated 31 days ago

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A preliminary report released at Thursday night's Town of Rye council meeting found "over 100 probable or possible unmarked burials" at the Rye African American Cemetery.
"There are many graves that are left to be marked and history to be uncovered as to who these people may have been," Rye Town Supervisor Gary Zuckerman said.
Using non-invasive ground penetrating radar (GPR) and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, researchers were able to study the 1.4-acre property.
The discoveries will unlock a new piece of Westchester's history. The town of Rye commissioned the work to help learn more about the people who were buried there. The project is being funded by a $34,500 grant from the National Park Service through its Historic Preservation Fund's African American Civil Rights grant program.
"There are unmarked burials in many, if not all, historic cemeteries but that doesn't minimize the importance in every cemetery," said David Leslie, one of the consultants who did the study.
The report is part of ongoing work being done by Heritage Consultants to identify all marked and unmarked burials at the site which was established in 1860. In the 19th century, farmer Underhill Halstead and his wife Elizabeth donated the land to the town as a place for African American families to bury their loved ones free of charge. Many Black veterans have been identified as buried there.
The cemetery was actively used for 100 years until the last burial in 1964. Since 2010, the nonprofit group, Friends of Rye African American Cemetery, led efforts to restore and preserve the grounds.
"This is part of our history and as much as we can find out we need to find out," Zuckerman said.
A final report which will include recommendations is still ongoing.
Town officials said they have no interest in digging up any of the graves and will instead work to identify those remains through historical records where possible.
"These people were buried by somebody and the question is how do we find those somebodies," Zuckerman asked.
Adding he hopes to find funding in the future to purchase markers and headstones to properly recognize and honor those who have been forgotten for centuries until now.


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