The broken headstone, center, marking the grave of Martha Jagger (1875-1818) on the property of the Riverhead United Methodist Church on East Main Street. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Children playing in a historic cemetery that holds the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers. People urinating in the evergreens. Vandalism of an early 19th Century gravestone. Garbage left all over the front lawn.

Trustees of the Riverhead United Methodist Church are not happy with how some visitors to the popular Alive on 25 street festival have behaved on church property.

During the July 3 event, visitors “vandalized our property, desecrating one of the many headstones in our cemetery by removing pieces of it and throwing” them all over the church yard as well as onto the property of a neighbor, according to a July 11 to the town board from church trustee Jeanine Zeltmann.

Security camera video showed children running amok in the cemetery and around the church property, according to the trustee. They were banging on stained glass windows, running up and down the fire escape stairs, pulling plants out of planters, climbing up the front columns of the church building — even partially prying open the church’s pocket doors. Someone damaged an exterior electrical outlet on the property. And people urinated and defecated in parsonage shrubbery. When all was said and done, the next morning the pastor found the church yard strewn with garbage.

“While the Alive on 25 event is benefitting some businesses, it has becoming [sic] a liability to others who have not asked for it to spill over onto their properties,” Zeltmann wrote. “And while most attendees have been respectful, some have not.”

Zeltmann also sent an email July 9 to the Business Improvement District Management Association, which she attached to the letter to the town board. No one replied to her letters, she said yesterday.

The shady side yard of the Riverhead United Methodist Church on East Main Street is the final resting place of four American Revolutionary War veterans. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Having no response and with the next Alive on 25 event set for Thursday, Zeltmann and trustees president Barbara Damm went to town hall to address the board at yesterday’s town board meeting. But after a conversation before the meeting with Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, they didn’t go to the podium.

“The supervisor asked to meet with us tomorrow morning at the church, with the chief of police,” Zeltmann said yesterday.

Update: Church, BID agree on crowd control plan

In response to a request for comment, Riverhead BIDMA president Steve Shauger said he had not seen the email from the church.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” he wrote in an email to RiverheadLOCAL early this morning. “I am sorry that they were in this position after the last event and the BIDMA will do all we can to make sure their concerns are addressed,” he said.

“This is our 4th year of events and we have always made it a point to have our cleanup teams take extra care when cleaning the church grounds. Again, thank you for bringing this to my attention and I look forward to working with the United Methodist Church on a resolution,” he said.

Pieces of a historic headstone tossed onto a neightbor’s property now sit in a box in the church office. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Pieces of the slate headstone that the children were throwing around now sit in a box in the church office. The headstone marks the grave of Martha Jagger, who died July 12, 1818, the 33-year-old daughter of David and Abigail Jagger, who owned a large farm that included the church property. The cemetery is also the final resting place of four Revolutionary War soldiers. Many of the old headstones, like Jagger’s, date back more than 200 years and are cracked and broken.

The church has commissioned a memorial that will contain the names of all known individuals interred at the site and expect the memorial to be erected later this summer, Zeltmann said. Now church officials are concerned about that, too, being vandalized.

In addition to trespassers disrespecting church property, the town was using the church parking lot for festival parking before the start of the July 3 event, Zeltmann wrote in the letter to the town board. The parking lot is private property and posted with “no parking” signs that say so. A group that uses the church facility complained there were no available parking spots in the church lot that evening.

“Unless other arrangements are made with the Riverhead United Methodist Church, this property is no longer open to the public or town for functions,” the letter said.

The church trustees asked the BIDMA and the town to “open an immediate discussion” to prevent “a repeat of the July 3 event.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.