Town of Rye, NY, October 26, 2023 – On October 31, 2023 at (9:00 AM), The Town of Rye, in conjunction with Heritage Consultants, LLC, of Berlin, CT, will commemorate Halloween in the most spirited of manner: launching a ground-penetrating radar, unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) and high-resolution photogrammetric gravestone survey at the townships’ historic African American Cemetery. Formally declared hallowed ground in 1860, the graveyard is believed to have more than 300 marked and unmarked graves, including 22 veterans of the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I & World War II.
The Town, the beneficiary of a $35,450 grant from the National Park Service (NPS), as part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program, intends for the project to increase awareness of/recognition for the landmark, cementing its historical significance to Town residents and anticipated visitors from around the state and nation.
Supervisor Gary Zuckerman notes, “We anticipate that there will be important discoveries made in regard to the number of burials that have taken place in this historic site. We are seeking to expand our knowledge of the cemetery, update the burial roster, and work to erect markers for all those without existing tombstones.”
The intent is to spread awareness of the cemetery and its historical significance to Town residents. With technology and expertise provided by Heritage Consultants, the Town will be better equipped to preserve and uplift the site, and plans to make the results of all the data collected easily accessible to our community via the Town’s website, online media and on-site signage. This work enables the Town to continue repairing/replacing existing, damaged headstones, while procuring new markers for newly-discovered internments.
What Does the Grant Fund?
The grant funds several surveys: completion of a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)survey, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) survey, and high-resolution photogrammetric gravestone survey of the National Register-Listed African American Cemetery. David Leslie, PhD, Director of Archaeological Research at Heritage Consultants, LLC, shares that the first step is to identify the unmarked graves using information collected via GPR, a non-invasive geophysical survey method which detects soil disruptions to locate indications of a human burial. According to this expert, GPR is a well-established method for detecting unmarked human graves, and has been successful throughout the country at locating and determining the scope of burials at unmapped African American cemeteries.
Technicians will also conduct a drone survey of Rye’s African American Cemetery to record a high-resolution three-dimensional, geo-referenced rendering of the cemetery; and create a geo-referenced documentation of the 160 gravestones that are currently known to exist within the cemetery.
Heritage Consultants estimates that the initial process will only take 4-5 days to complete; findings from the project should be available on the Town website within six months.
Dave Thomas, president of the Friends of the African American Cemetery, says, "This work ensures that we can continue to teach our community and nation about our collective past – and ensure that future generations recognize the struggle of those interred at the site. They will realize that these lives and their lives are intertwined in the history of our nation and mankind. We are all a part of history."