Cedar Grove Cemetery & Mount Hebron Cemetery

In 1893, Cedar Grove Cemetery Association acquired the 250-acre Durkee farm in South Flushing, Queens, to establish a nonsectarian burial ground.  A portion of the property had formerly been the Spring Hill estate of colonial politician Cadwallader Colden, whose 1763 home was used as the cemetery’s offices until it was demolished in 1930.  Colden is believed to have been buried in the 18th century Willett Family Burial Ground that was near Colden’s home on the Spring Hill estate.

Cedar Grove Cemetery in 1913.

A view of Cedar Grove Cemetery, ca. 1905 (LOC).

A 1925 view of the Spring Hill home of Cadwallader Colden. Built in 1763, Colden’s home served as an office building for Cedar Grove Cemetery until it was demolished in 1930. (NYPL)

When Union Cemetery in Brooklyn was sold in 1897, the remains of approximately 30,000 individuals were reinterred in a 10-acre plot at Cedar Grove Cemetery.  In 1909, some of Cedar Grove’s property was used to establish a separate cemetery for the Jewish community, Mount Hebron, which grew to occupy much of Cedar Grove’s original grounds. Now comprising 50 acres, Cedar Grove is a multi-ethnic cemetery that is the final resting place for over 65,000 individuals of diverse nationalities and religions.  Mount Hebron, with over 217,000 interments and 200 acres, has become one of New York City’s largest Jewish cemeteries.  It is home to a number of famous figures, including photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt, comedian Alan King, and mob boss Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, and the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance is among the hundreds of Jewish societies who have burial grounds there.  Mount Hebron is also the intended resting place of entertainer Barbra Streisand, who built a family mausoleum there in the 1990s.

The grounds of Cedar Grove and Mount Hebron cemeteries, located on the south side of the Horace Harding Expressway in Flushing.

A view of Cedar Grove Cemetery, April 2011. The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can be seen in the background.

Cedar Grove is the final resting place of individuals of many different nationalities and religions.

Mount Hebron Cemetery is noted for its Yiddish theater section.

A view of Mount Hebron Cemetery, April 2011.

View more photos from Cedar Grove Cemetery.

View more photos of Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Sources:  Cedar Grove Cemetery; Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s (NYPL); Genealogical Notes of the Colden Family in America (Purple 1873), 8-10; “City Road Tracks to Flushing,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 4, 1894; “Twenty Thousand Bodies,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Jan 18, 1898; Wolverton’s 1891 Atlas of Queens County, Long Island, Pl. 29;  Hyde’s 1913 Atlas of the Borough of Queens 3:Pl 19; “Colonial Governor Lies in Unmarked Grave,” Long Island Daily Press Aug. 29, 1935; Mount Hebron Cemetery; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 30, 92; The Jewish Communal Register of New York 1917-1918, 336; The Story of Yiddish (Karlen 2008), 112-113; “Yiddish Theater Bids Farewell to Shifra Lerer,” New York Times, Mar 15, 2011; OpenStreetMap.

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Willett Family Burial Ground

In 1762, John and Thomas Willett and their wives sold a 120-acre farm in South Flushing, Queens, to the then Lieutenant Governor of the Province of New York, Cadwallader Colden. The Willetts were a family of English ancestry who became prominent in the Flushing area during the late 17th century. Upon conveyance of the Willett farm to Colden, a reservation was made in the deed of “a certain antient burying place, fenced in with a stone fence or stone ditch (wherein the Family of the Willets have hitherto been interred) to and for the use of the Family of the said Willets to bury and deposit their dead from henceforth forever.” Lt. Governor Colden named his new estate Spring Hill and built a large home near the public highway at the northern line of the farm, just a hundred yards or so west of the Willett burying ground.  When Colden died in 1776, he was buried at Spring Hill, presumably in the old Willet graveyard.  After Colden’s son David forfeited the Spring Hill estate in 1783 because of his loyalty to the British during the Revolution, the property passed through several owners, finally becoming part of the 250-acre Durkee family estate that was acquired by Cedar Grove Cemetery Association in 1893.  A large portion of the nonsectarian Cedar Grove Cemetery, including much of the area that had formerly been the Spring Hill estate, later was used to create a separate cemetery for the Jewish community, Mount Hebron. Today the Willett graveyard is located at the northwest corner of Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Location of the Willet Family Burial Ground within the grounds of Mount Hebron Cemetery.

When local historians visited the Willett graveyard in the late 19th century, boulders and a thick cluster of trees marked the site.  Present were a half a dozen headstones, most broken and covered with moss and weeds. All of the gravestones, which dated from 1722 to 1797, were for members of the Willett family.  No trace of Cadwallader Colden’s gravesite was found.  Some later sources stated that the Willett graveyard had been graded over and had completely vanished, but a 1935 article in the Long Island Daily Press reported that it was still present within a hedge just inside the gates of Mount Hebron. This small hedged plot, containing the tombstones of Elizabeth Willett (d. 1773) and S. Willett (d. 1722), can be found today about 200 feet east of Mount Hebron’s main entrance.

The Willet Family Burial Ground today.

Sources: Genealogical Notes of the Colden Family in America (Purple 1873), 8-10; Abstracts of Wills on File in the Surrogate’s Office, City of New York: Vol. 5 , 416-417; Historical Guide to the City of New York (Kelley 1909), 308; Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932), 74; “Colonial Governor Lies in Unmarked Grave,” Long Island Daily Press Aug. 29, 1935; “The Willett Family of Flushing, Long Island,” New York Genealogical & Biographical Record 80(1):1-9, 80(2):83-96; NYCityMap.

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Union Cemetery

The Union Cemetery of the Methodist Protestant churches of Manhattan and Brooklyn was founded in 1851 on 10 acres of land near the Queens county line in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The cemetery’s name was derived from the union of the Grand Street Methodist Protestant Church of Williamsburg and the Attorney Street Methodist Protestant Church of Manhattan in ownership and administration of the burial ground. The Union Cemetery in Bushwick was the second cemetery jointly held by the two congregations. The first Union Cemetery, which was used from about 1844 to 1851, was a two-acre graveyard situated a few blocks from the Grand Street church in Williamsburg; the remains from that site where relocated to the new cemetery in 1852.  The Union Cemetery in Bushwick was used as a burial ground for the two small churches but family plots and single graves where also sold to the general public.  By the 1860s, Union Cemetery was interring about 1,500 individuals annually.

Union Cemetery in 1869.

An 1897 view of Union Cemetery (NYPL)

In 1893, claiming that the cemetery was full and that the City of Brooklyn was threatening to cut streets through the property, the trustees of Trinity Methodist Protestant Church of Williamsburg (which formed from the merger of the Attorney Street and Grand Street congregations in the 1880s) announced plans to sell Union Cemetery and remove the remains from the site.  A number of lot owners protested the action and obtained a temporary injunction against the sale.  After four years of litigation, the state Supreme Court upheld the trustees’ right to dispose of the property and it was sold to merchant Henry Batterman, who proposed to subdivide it into building lots.  Grounds at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Queens were acquired for reinterrment of the remains from Union Cemetery.  Between December 1897 and January 1898, remains of an estimated 30,000 individuals were transferred to the new Union burial grounds at Cedar Grove.  The transfer was reportedly undertaken with great care—a single box was used for the contents of each grave, with the intention that each be reinterred in a plot or lot of the same size from which it was removed and in corresponding order along with any associated monuments.

Part of the Union Cemetery reburial grounds at Cedar Grove Cemetery, Queens.

At the end of the removal of the graves from Union Cemetery, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that the site had “the appearance of a battlefield, where a terrible struggle has taken place.”  Despite the lengthy fight to sell the property, the Union Cemetery site remained undeveloped and the ground was left with open, empty gravesites for a decade after the remains were removed.  In 1907, the city purchased much of the property and subsequently erected Bushwick High School and Bushwick Playground there.  The rest of the site was built over with residences.

A present-day view of the former Union Cemetery site.

Sources: Methodist Protestants and the Union Cemeteries of Brooklyn (1844-1894) (Biebel 2007); “The Homes of the Dead,” New York Times March 30,1866; “Old Burying Ground Sold,” New York Times May 4, 1893; “Trouble of the Cemetery,” New York Times June 6, 1893; “Old Union Cemetery Sold,” New York Times Dec 5, 1897; “Old Graves Laid Open,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Dec 13, 1897; “Removing the Bodies,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Dec 27, 1897; “Twenty Thousand Bodies,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Jan 18, 1898; “Graves with Many Bodies,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Jan 27, 1898;“Want Old Burial Ground for Park,” Brooklyn Standard Union, Nov 6, 1906; “Playground and School on Old Union Cemetery Site,” Brooklyn Standard Union, May 12, 1907; Dripps’ 1869 Map of the City of Brooklyn; Bromley’s 1907-08 Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn; NYCityMap.

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Mount Carmel Cemetery

Mount Carmel Cemetery consists of two large sections that straddle Mount Neboh Cemetery in Glendale, Queens.  Old Mount Carmel was founded in 1906 on a large parcel of rolling terrain situated on the south side of Mount Neboh Cemetery and just north of today’s Jackie Robinson Parkway. A decade later, New Mount Carmel was established on a tract of relatively flat land between Cooper Avenue and Mount Neboh.  Together the two sections contain about 100 acres and over 85,000 interments and include the gravesites for some of the most important individuals in Jewish American history.

Mount Carmel Cemetery in 1924. New Mount Carmel was still under development at that time.

Mount Carmel Cemetery today.

The Honor Row at the entrance to the Workmen’s Circle plot at Old Mount Carmel is home to a pantheon of artistic and political heroes of the Eastern European immigrant working class of late 19th-early 20th century America. Buried here are dozens of labor leaders and writers who gave voice to the Jewish proletariat, including Meyer London, the first socialist elected to U.S. Congress, Abraham Cahan, the founder of the renowned Jewish daily newspaper the Forward, anarchist writer Saul Yanovsky, and socialist poet Morris Winchevsky.  Also here is Mount Carmel’s most famous resident, Sholem Aleichem, the great Yiddish writer whose stories inspired the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Sholem Aleichem’s 1916 funeral drew hundreds of thousands of mourners and was the largest New York City had seen at that time.  He was originally interred at neighboring Mount Neboh Cemetery but was reinterred at Mount Carmel when the Workmen’s Circle created the Honor Row in 1921.  Among the other famous individuals at Old Mount Carmel are Bella Abzug, the first Jewish woman elected to U.S. Congress, and members of the Adler family acting dynasty that began with Jacob Adler, a legendary figure of Yiddish theater.  New Mount Carmel has its own share of notable residents, including comedian Henny Youngman, but is also distinguished by its section for recent Jewish immigrants that features row after row of the large, black granite monuments with etched portraits that are favored by Jews that came to New York after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

The gravesite of Sholem Aleichem, Mount Carmel’s most famous resident.

Monuments at the gravesites of recent Jewish immigrants at New Mount Carmel.

View more photos of Old Mount Carmel Cemetery.

View more photos of New Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Sources:  Mount Carmel Cemetery; The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Roskies 1999), 120-145; The Jewish Communal Register of New York 1917-1918, 336-337; “In Mourning, Traditions Mingle,” New York Times, Oct. 28, 1997; “A Reading to Recall the Father of Tevye,” New York Times, May 17, 2010; NYCityMap.

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Mount Neboh Cemetery

Mount Neboh is one of several Jewish cemeteries clustered near the Brooklyn-Queens border in Glendale, Queens.  Founded in 1886, this 14-acre cemetery is located on the east side of Cypress Hills Street between Cooper Avenue and Jackie Robinson Parkway and is flanked by the old and new sections of Mount Carmel Cemetery. Although its grounds are a bit timeworn today, Mount Neboh was considered one of the foremost Jewish cemeteries in New York at the turn of the century. An impressive sight is still provided by the two circular rows of fine mausoleums that stand just past the entrance, forming the the nexus of the cemetery’s layout. U.S. Congressmen Emanuel Celler and William Wolfe Cohen are among the approximately 15,000 individuals laid to rest here.  Mount Neboh Cemetery also was the original place of interment for Sholem Aleichem, the beloved Yiddish writer whose stories inspired the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Sholem Aleichem was buried at Mount Neboh upon his death in 1916 with the intention of returning his body to Russia after the end of World War I, but in 1921 he was permanently interred in a grave at neighboring Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Mount Neboh Cemetery in 1903, located on the east side of Fresh Pond Road (now Cypress Hills Street).

Mount Neboh Cemetery today, situated between the old and new sections of Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Mount Neboh Cemetery.

A polished black granite tombstone with etched portraits, a style favored by recent Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, stands among older monuments in Mount Neboh Cemetery.

View more photos of Mount Neboh Cemetery.

Sources: “City News Items,” New York Herald, Feb 25, 1886; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901), 56-57; “Cemeteries of Greater Ridgewood and Vicinity” (R. Eisen, Greater Ridgewood Historical Society Lecture, Aug. 1988); “Vast Crowds Honor Sholem Aleichem,” New York Times, May 16, 1916; Hyde’s 1903 Atlas of the Borough of Queens Vol. 2, Pl. 29; NYCityMap.

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Southside Burial Ground

In a 1934 article in the Leader-Observer, a longtime resident of Ozone Park described the area’s old community burying ground, remnants of which still exist at present-day Redding Street, Albert Road, and 149th Avenue in Queens:

In a little-known and seldom-visited corner of Ozone Park is one of the oldest burying grounds in New York . . . 15 years ago I often walked out there with my son, who was then a youngster, and we would wander about, reading the inscriptions on the stones and listening to the music of the birds that made the place their home.  In those days there were only a very few houses near it . . . The plot even then had long been neglected, but without the usual sad results of neglect.  Without man to spoil, nature ran riot . . . in the summer time the whole place was a glorious profusion of violets, lilies of the valley, tiger lilies, and even roses.  To this little paradise had repaired the birds that had gradually been chased out of the more settled sections, so that in a few minutes the casual visitor would see ten or a dozen different varieties of brilliant multi-colored songsters . . . Taken all in all, it seemed to me then the most fitting resting place for those pioneers of old I had yet seen . . . The names on these ancient . . . stones were almost all Dutch, names that today are well known.  Vanderveers lay there, and Van Wycks along with many others who gave meaning to the wilderness that once was this part of the country.

Today all is changed.  I walked out there a few days ago, for the first time in about 10 years, and I was shocked.  Since that time the Crossbay boulevard has been laid; a big cash-and-carry supermarket stands nearby; a development company has hedged in the little burying ground with raucously new brick houses.  Where the birds used to sing by the old pipe line, autos now roar by in an unending stream on the Sunrise highway. But what shocked me most was the condition of the cemetery itself.  The birds are gone, and the flowers.  The shrubbery that once gave the moss-covered stones a decent privacy are now but a bedraggled collection of broken weeds.  Even the stones are gone.  Where they went I do not know . . . Of the several hundred monuments that were standing ten years ago, not more than a dozen remain . . .

The Southside Burial Ground in 1849, situated near the junction of the Old South Road and the Road to Jamaica Bay.

The Southside Burial Ground in 1919.

This community cemetery was set aside as a burying ground about 1680 and was situated at the junction of two colonial highways—the Old South Road that crossed southern Queens from east to west, and the Road to Jamaica Bay, which later became Woodhaven Boulevard. Each neighboring family, among them the Ryders, Van Wicklens, Durlands, and Stoothoffs, was allotted a share in the burial ground at the time it was established. Known today as the Southside Burial Ground, the old graveyard has been referred to by a number of names over the years, including the Van Wicklen Cemetery, Aqueduct Cemetery, and Homestead Cemetery. The half-acre burial ground was used and remained intact until the housing boom and street construction that began in the 1920s destroyed much of it.  About half of the cemetery was lost when 149th Avenue was extended through the southern portion of the site, and most of the monuments had disappeared by the 1930s.  In 1935, Long Island Daily Press reporter Sarah Wilford called the Southside cemetery the “most desolate in Queens,” after workmen chopped down all the trees at the site and burned it over to clear it of vegetation.  What remained of the cemetery gradually became a dumping ground.  Concerned citizens of the area fought for decades to protect and preserve the burial ground, and today the NYC Parks department manages the site.  Four gravestones still exist in the northern section of the old graveyard, which remains on the east side of Redding Street, between Albert Road and 149th Avenue.  A remnant of the southern portion of the cemetery also exists in the park on the other side of 149th Avenue; although no stones are present in this section, it is distinguished by a chain-link fence that separates it from the adjacent ball field.

The Southside Burial Ground today.

Tombstones in the northern section of the Southside Burial Ground.

Remnant of the southern portion of the Southside Burial Ground, adjacent to Vito Locascio Field (formerly Loring Field).

Sources: Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932), 54-47; Sidney’sMap of Twelve Miles around New-York, 1849; The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park (Seyfried 1985), 119; “Ozone Park Burial Ground Has Rich History,” Leader-Observer, Jan 4, 1996; “LIer Fights to Get Cemetery Removed from City Tax Rolls,” LI Press, July 2, 1972; “Historic Tombstones Found,” The Forum, Nov. 23, 1985; “South Side Cemetery Most Desolate in Queens,” LI Daily Press, Dec 12, 1935; “Crossbay Blvd Wipes Out Old Burying Ground,” Leader-Observer, Nov. 22, 1934; NYCityMap.

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Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery

Situated in the middle of a blockful of buildings at 96th Street and Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, Queens, the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery is a relic of the area’s early history. The 85 x 266 foot tract is named for two families of Dutch descent who, around 1785, set aside equal portions of their adjoining farms for a local burying ground.  About 200 area residents, including members of the Lott, Eldert, Suydam, Snedeker, and Wyckoff families, were buried there until it ceased to be used in the late 1800s.

Location of the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery.

Abandoned as descendants of the old families died out or moved away, the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery became neglected and dilapidated during the early 20th century.  In 1901, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church was built on 96th Street, abutting the west side of the cemetery, and single-family homes and other buildings gradually surrounded the remainder of the graveyard.  A 421-foot path from Jamaica Avenue, a perpetual right-of-way to the burying ground, transformed into an alley lined with garages.  In 1962, St. Matthew’s Church purchased the cemetery for $500 at city auction after it had been seized for non-payment of taxes. Members of the parish, along with volunteers from the Queens Historical Society and Woodhaven Historical Society, have worked to restore the site, periodically clearing it of growth and debris and righting toppled tombstones.  Around 100 gravestones are still present in the cemetery today, ranging from early fieldstone and brownstone markers to later marble and granite monuments.  About 30 trees, all over 100 years old, also remain, adding to the bucolic atmosphere of the old graveyard.

The Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery in 1912.

Tombstones in the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery.

See more photos of the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery.

Sources:  Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932), 48-53; The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park (Seyfried 1985), 9; “Children Play Among Gravestones,” Long Island Daily Press, Sept. 18, 1935; “Two Old Cemeteries Auctioned Off by City,” Long Island Star Journal, Feb. 9, 1962; “A Cemetery in Woodhaven,” Leader-Observer, Oct. 31, 1974; “The Dead of New York,” The Economist, Jan. 18, 2008; Hyde’s 1912 Atlas of the Borough of Queens 1:Pl. 4; NYCityMap.

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