In February 1863, the New York Times reported:
The rapid march of improvement, which forms so distinguishing a characteristic of the Manhattanese, is daily removing or transforming the old landmarks that have been to this generation silent reminders of olden days and a Knickerbocker ancestry. The resting places wherein were interred (as was thought for all time) the remains of those of our progenitors who have passed from earth, are no longer yielded up to the silent dead; the increase of business and population rendering the sites of their “narrow houses” more valuable to the mercantile and manufacturing community than when the practice of intramural interments was universal in Gotham…Among the other localities thus transformed, or to be transformed, is the old burying-ground corner of Amity and Wooster streets adjoining the Amity-street Baptist Church.
The “old burying-ground” at the corner of Amity Street (later 3rd Street) and Wooster was established in 1814 by the Fayette/Oliver Street Baptist Church; formed in 1795, the Fayette/Oliver Street church was among Manhattan’s earliest Baptist congregations. They buried some 1,200 congregants in their small Greenwich Village cemetery that was fenced in on the Amity and Wooster streets sides and bounded on the east by the Amity Street Baptist Church, an offshoot of the Oliver Street congregation that constructed their building in 1834 on an unused section of the cemetery land. By 1849, the Amity Street Baptist burial ground was full—so full, in fact, that it closed soon after the City Inspector found, during a visit in July of that year, “the coffin in one grave was only two feet from the surface; another, two feet four inches, and another, one foot ten inches. A child, buried on Monday last, was interred just two feet three inches below the surface; and there were ten new graves, in not one of which was the coffin three feet under the surface.”
In the 1860s, both the Oliver Street Baptist Church and the Amity Street Baptist Church followed the northward migration of residents and moved uptown, and the decision was made to sell the Amity Street property. Trustees of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, which had consolidated with the Oliver Street Church, purchased lots at Cypress Hills Cemetery and received permission from the city to exhume the bodies from the Amity Street burial ground for reinterment at Cypress Hills.
“Many of the wealthiest and most prominent Knickerbocker families in the City” were said to have ancestors interred in the Amity Street burial ground, and they were none too pleased by the church trustees’ decision to relocate the bodies. “One gentleman pronounced the proceeding disgraceful and unchristian, inhuman and barbarous,” the New York Times disclosed. Another man said “that if he acted on his own natural impulses, he would shoot the first man who attempted to unearth his mother’s remains;” a third declared the trustees “to be a soulless, godless corporation, in which no sentiment of honor or humanity existed.” Despite these protests, the Amity Street Baptist burial ground was emptied of its mortal remains, and the property was redeveloped. NYU’s Stern School of Business occupies the site today.
Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1784-1831 (City of New York 1917), 9:125; A History of the Churches of All Denominations in the City of New York from the First Settlement to the Year 1846 (Greenleaf 1846), 258-259; “The Cemeteries,” New York Herald, Jul 26, 1849; “More Removing of Dead Bodies,” New York Herald Feb 15, 1863; “Local Intelligence,” New York Times, Feb 16, 1863; “Special Notice,” New York Herald Feb 17, 1863; “Our Fathers—Where Are They? Exhumation of Remains in the Amity-Street Burial-Ground,” New York Times, Feb 17, 1863; “Record of Important Events,” Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, Vol 13, Jan/June 1883, 217; The Cypress Hills Cemetery 1880 [catalog & list of lot holders]; NYC Then&Now