Catholic Cemetery, Williamsburg

The Catholic Cemetery on North Eighth St and First St (now Kent Ave) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1868

In 1840, Rev. James O’Donnell bought a parcel of land on the northeast corner of North Eight Street and First Street (now Kent Avenue) to establish the first Roman Catholic church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A small frame church was erected in the center of the property and the land all around it was reserved for a cemetery. The church, called St. Mary’s, was dedicated on June 27, 1840. This humble wooden building served the 500 Catholics of the parish, which at that time had a vast territory stretching from Hallett’s Cove on the north, Myrtle Avenue on the south, the East River on the west, and Middle Village on the east.

The number of Catholics in the parish grew quickly, and soon the little church was too small for the congregation. Fr. O’Donnell’s successor, Rev. Sylvester Malone, secured ground on Wythe Avenue near South Second Street for a new parish church, which opened in 1848. To avoid confusion with St. Mary’s parish in Manhattan, the diocese renamed the parish after Sts. Peter and Paul when the new building was dedicated. Sts. Peter and Paul parish endures in present-day Williamsburg, now worshipping at McCaddin Memorial Hall on Berry Street.

A newspaper announcement of the opening of the Catholic church and cemetery in Williamsburg in 1840

Many pioneer Catholics of Williamsburg were laid to rest in the burial ground on North Eighth Street, which the parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul kept on using for some time after they relocated to their new building and their original church building in the middle of the cemetery, St. Mary’s, was torn down. The last known burial here was in 1855. The Catholic cemetery with its headstones was for many years a Williamsburg landmark, but after it closed it became an eyesore, the graves overgrown with grass and weeds, the stones broken and their inscriptions obliterated.

In 1890, Bishop Loughlin of the Brooklyn diocese ordered the removal of the old Catholic cemetery at Williamsburg. The parish requested people who had relatives interred there to arrange for transfer of their remains; those that were unclaimed were dug up and reburied at St. John’s Cemetery in Queens. Once cleared, the former cemetery ground was sold and a factory was built on the site. In 2007, the property was redeveloped for residential use; the luxury condo building North8 is now on the site of Williamsburg’s first Catholic cemetery.

Excerpt from an article about Edward Neville, buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Williamsburg in 1855. Neville was the proprietor of Williamsburg’s Kings County Hotel; the discovery of his body in Gowanus Bay after a two-week disappearance created a sensation in November 1855.
A 2018 aerial view of the North8 condo building that is now on the former site of the Catholic cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Higginson’s 1868 Insurance Maps of the City of Brooklyn, Pl 67; Kings County Conveyances, Vol 93 p504-507, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; Memorial of the Golden Jubilee of the Rev. Sylvester Malone (Malone 1895); The Eastern District of Brooklyn (Armbruster 1912); The Catholic Church in the United States of America (Catholic Editing Co. 1914); “A Village Churchyard,” Historical Records and Studies 7 (Meehan 1914); “Burial of Mr. Neville,” Brooklyn Evening Star, Nov 26, 1855; “Coroner’s Inquest on the Body of Mr. Neville,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 26, 1855; “Body Found,” Brooklyn Evening Star, Mar 6, 1856, [The Body of Sarah Lake], Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 26, 1882; “An Old Landmark Doomed,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 27, 1890

Bay Ridge Methodist Church Cemetery

Removal of human remains at Bay Ridge United Methodist Church Cemetery in April 2008 (Left in Bay Ridge)

When Bay Ridge United Methodist Church decided to sell their church and grounds at Fourth and Ovington Avenues and remove human remains buried in their churchyard in 2008, their actions were met with shock and outrage from local community activists who accused the congregation of greed, disregard for the historic importance of their building, and disgracing the dead. Church leaders maintained that the diminished congregation did not have the resources to repair and restore the crumbling, 109-year-old building—nicknamed the “Green Church” for the color of its stone exterior—and that their Christian mission was community service, not historic preservation. They sold the property to a developer for $9.75 million and the church was demolished in October 2008.

This section of an 1890 map of Bay Ridge shows the original Methodist cemetery site at 6th Ave & 67th St (where the first Bay Ridge Methodist church was built in 1831) and the church at Fourth & Ovington Aves (where the remains were moved in 1901)

Before the demolition of the building, the church disinterred the remains of 211 early members of the congregation from a large underground vault in the churchyard and reburied them at Cypress Hills Cemetery. It was the second time these human remains were moved from their resting places. Bay Ridge United Methodist Church descends from the earliest Methodist congregation in Bay Ridge, who built their first church on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 67th Street in 1831 and had a graveyard adjacent to the church. After a fire destroyed this church in 1848, the congregation built a new church at another site but continued to use the Methodist cemetery at Sixth Avenue and 67th Street for burials. In 1878, the congregation again built a new church, their third, at the corner of Fourth and Ovington Avenues, and called it Grace Methodist Episcopal Church; this wooden structure was replaced in 1899 with the “Green Church” building. 

Detail of the Methodist cemetery site at 6th Ave & 67th St

The remains from the Methodist cemetery at Sixth Avenue and 67th Street were relocated to the churchyard at Fourth and Ovington Avenues in 1901 when the city seized the cemetery property for the extension of Sixth Avenue. The original cemetery site was the burial place for many old settlers of Bay Ridge, including members of the Van Pelt, Benham, De Nyse, Bogart, De Groff, and Stillwell families. A reporter who visited the cemetery in 1899 found about 30 tombstones still standing and examined church records that listed the interment of about 200 bodies, beginning with Susan Bayard, “a beautiful girl who died in 1832.”  To receive the remains removed from the cemetery in 1901, Grace Methodist Episcopal Church built a vault in the churchyard about 20 feet south of the church building, facing Fourth Avenue. Constructed of bluestone and Milwaukee brick, it was sunk 11 feet below the ground and was 15 x 18 feet in size. A large granite monument marked the reburial site.

In the 1930s, the former Bay Ridge Methodist cemetery site at Sixth Avenue and 67th Street became part of Leif Ericson Park. By the 1970s, the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church congregation was renamed Bay Ridge United Methodist Church and few remembered that an old cemetery was reburied under the monument in their churchyard.

A 1931 photo of the monument that marked the site in the churchyard at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church (later Bay Ridge United Methodist Church) where the remains from the Methodist cemetery were reinterred in 1901 (BPL)

The developer who bought the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church property in 2008 had intended to erect a luxury condo complex on the site, but the bottom fell out of the housing market before the sale was completed and he eventually sold the bulk of the property to the city to build a public school. The site of the churchyard vault that once held the relocated remains of Bay Ridge’s early Methodists is now beneath P.S./I.S. 30 Mary White Ovington School. Bay Ridge United Methodist Church now meets in a rented room at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Fourth Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway. They use the money from the sale of their property as they say Jesus has called them to do—to help the needy and to care for one another.

This 2004 aerial view shows Bay Ridge United Methodist Church complex before it was sold and developed; arrow denotes approximate location of reburial vault (NYCityMap)
2012 aerial view, arrows denote approximate location of the original Methodist cemetery site in Leif Ericson Park and the reburial vault site, now underneath P.S./I.S. 30 (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Robinson’s 1890 Atlas of Kings Co., Pl 7; Reminiscences of Old New Utrecht and Gowanus (Bangs 1912); “A New Church,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 13, 1875; “A Donnybrook at Bay Ridge,”; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 31, 1888; “Village of Graef Tract,” New York Evening Post, Oct 21, 1899; “Emptying the Old Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 21, 1901; “Removing a Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jul 10, 1901; “Bay Ridge Church Changes Its Spots,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 18, 1931; “The Little Church That Couldn’t,” New York Times, Apr 1, 2007; “The Dead Speak at Ridge’s Doomed ‘Green Church,’”Brooklyn Paper, May 19, 2007; “Devil’s Work,” Left in Bay Ridge, Apr 24, 2008; “Grave Insult,” New York Post, Apr 25 2008; “Reverend Bob,” Radio Free Bay Ridge, Jun 18, 2021

Westchester Methodist Church Graveyard

Tombstones from the Methodist Church Graveyard embedded in wall next to the parking lot of Westchester United Methodist Church, Oct 2010 (Mary French)

Three old tombstones embedded in a stone wall are the last traces of a vanished graveyard containing early Methodists of the Bronx. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church incorporated in 1809 in Westchester Village, today the East Bronx neighborhood known as Westchester Square. That same year, the town gave them a parcel of land on the north side of present-day East Tremont Avenue for a meeting house and burial ground. The congregation began burying their dead here as early as 1812, but it was not until 1818 that they erected their first church building on the property. After a muddled history that includes dissolving and reincorporating, losing their first church to fire at an unknown time, and building a second church on the same site, in 1915 the Methodist congregation demolished their wooden church with plans to erect a new brick edifice. A title dispute delayed construction of the new church until 1948 when the present Westchester United Methodist Church building was completed.

James Minor Lincoln’s 1909 sketch of the Westchester Methodist Episcopal Church and adjoining cemetery on West Farms Road (today’s East Tremont Ave)

The Methodist burial ground adjoined the old church on its east side. In 1909, James Minor Lincoln collected inscriptions from 51 tombstones in the Methodist cemetery, the earliest dating to 1812 and the latest to 1893. Names on the headstones recall past families of Westchester such as Berrian, Fowler, Parmlee, Breckenridge, Odell, Mallett, Searing, Kelly, and Mann.

When the congregation demolished the church in 1915, some families disinterred the remains of their relatives and transferred them to other cemeteries; the rest of the graves were moved to the rear of the church property to prepare for construction of the new church over the graveyard site. In 1963, Bronx historian John McNamara visited the new Westchester Methodist Church and found some of the tombstones from the Methodist graveyard flat in the ground and “neatly arranged in the shade of a peach tree” behind the church building. Although McNamara claimed that all the bodies were disinterred in 1940 and transferred to a cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, no confirmation of this removal, or what cemetery they were relocated to, has been found.

Practically invisible to the passerby, today the three surviving monuments from the former Methodist graveyard are in the low wall separating the Westchester United Methodist Church from its parking lot. These relics once marked the graves of Effie Hunt, wife of one of the church’s founding trustees, who died in 1844, aged 69; Henrietta Farr, died 1888, aged 30; and, on a shared headstone, 10-year-old Nettie Lynn (d. 1875) and one-month-old Hattie Rodgers (d. 1877).

A photo of Westchester Methodist Episcopal Church, ca. 1912. Tombstones can be seen in the graveyard to the right of the building (Jenkins)
2018 aerial view of Westchester United Methodist Church, which covers the site of the Methodist Church graveyard (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl. 16; Cemetery Inscriptions, St. Peter’s P.E. Church of Westchester…(Lincoln 1910, NYHS manuscript); The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); “Bronx Church, Century Old, Must Make Way for Modern Edifice,” Bronx Home News, Oct 7, 1915; “Westchester Church Wins Title to Plot as City Relinquishes,” Bronx Home News, Aug 7 1940; “All Around the Bronx: Old Deed Keeps Methodists ‘Underground,’” Bronx Home News, Nov 25, 1946; “The Bronx in History: Benjamin Fowler’s Remains…” Bronx Press Review, Oct 31, 1963; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; “Our Story,” Westchester United Methodist Church

St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Harlem

Classified ad published in 1830, offering plots for sale in the burial grounds of St. Andrew’s Churchyard in Harlem

In the fall of 1829, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Harlem began running a series of classified ads in a New York City newspaper offering plots for sale in the grounds surrounding their church. The new congregation was in the process of constructing the church on a parcel comprising 18 lots on Fourth Avenue (today’s Park Avenue), 127th and 128th Streets, and was eager to use the large churchyard as a source of revenue. They had the grounds surveyed and arranged into plots of suitable dimensions for building burial vaults or for laying out gravesites. Their ads invited interested parties to avail themselves “of this opportunity to secure an undisturbed burial place, in all probability for more than a century to come.”  Less than 50 years later, St. Andrew’s would renege on this sales promise when they began removing bodies from their cemetery. By the turn of the century, St. Andrew’s Churchyard burial grounds were completely obliterated.

An 1851 map depicts St. Andrew’s Church and Churchyard at Fourth Ave (Park Ave), 127th Street and 128th Street in Harlem

St. Andrew’s was the first Episcopal church in Harlem, completed on June 7, 1830. The frame building, 42 x 64 feet, occupied a “beautiful site, commanding an extensive and delightful view of Harlem and East Rivers, with the adjacent country.” In 1831 St. Andrew’s had 40 pew holders, including several members of the illustrious Morris family of the Bronx. But when the Morrisses opened St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in 1841, many of the wealthiest and most influential members of St. Andrew’s parish withdrew to St. Ann’s, and St. Andrew’s experienced a long period of hardship until Harlem’s increasing population brought more members to the parish. St. Andrew’s was in a period of regrowth in 1871 when a fire destroyed their building.

A page from St. Andrew’s parish record books lists some of the burials in their churchyard in 1851 and 1852

Between 1832 and 1871, when the church burned down, St. Andrew’s interred over 400 people in the vaults and graves in their churchyard. When the congregation planned to build a new, larger church after the fire, they proposed to use part of the property that was occupied with these vaults and graves, necessitating the removal of burials to plots at Woodlawn Cemetery and elsewhere. In an 1872 parish history, the rector of St. Andrew’s, Dr. George B. Draper, comments on the resistance the church experienced from those who did not want their loved ones removed from the churchyard. “Difficulty, opposition, and delay encountered us on every hand, at every step,” he states. “We were determined to do nothing, unless we could do it fairly, kindly, reverently, with the consent and with every regard for the wishes and feelings of surviving friends. I think we succeeded, but we went through worse than fire.”

Detail from an 1879 map showing the new St. Andrew’s Church building covering part of the original burial grounds

The new St. Andrew’s Church was completed in December 1873 and stood at the original site—along with what was left of the defunct church burial ground—until 1890 when the building was taken down stone-by-stone and rebuilt at its current location at Fifth Avenue and 127th Street. Between 1889 and 1891, the rest of the remains at St. Andrew’s Churchyard were exhumed and reburied at Woodlawn or other cemeteries. Today the site of the original St. Andrew’s Church and burial ground is covered with a parking lot, an auto repair shop, the Harlem Islamic Cultural Center, and part of the AK Houses apartment complex.

A 2018 aerial view; red lines indicate approximate boundaries of the former St. Andrew’s burial grounds (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of New-York North of 50th St (Dripps 1851); Bromley’s 1879 Atlas of the Entire City of New York, Pl 28; Episcopal Diocese of New York Church Records, 1767-1970 (; Bodies in Transit Registers VIII & X, Municipal Archives, City of New York; A Chapter in the History of St. Andrew’s Church, New York (Draper 1872); History of St. Andrew’s Church (Harlem) in Two Chapters A.D. 1829-1889 (Draper & Dayton 1889); “Vault Lots for Sale by St. Andrew’s Church, Harlaem,” New-York American, Oct 30, 1829; “Lots for Sale by St. Andrew’s Church Harlaem,” New-York American, Jul 8, 1830; “Lots for Sale by St. Andrews Church,” New-York American, Feb 24,1831; “Died,” Evening Post, Feb 14, 1832; “St. Andrew’s Church,” New York Times, Dec 1, 1873; “A New Episcopal Church,” The World, Dec 1, 1873; “St. Andrew’s Church, Harlem,” New York Herald, Dec 1, 1873; “Removal of St. Andrew’s Dead,” New York Times, Sep 22, 1888; “St. Andrew’s to Move,” New York Herald, Dec 16, 1888; East Harlem Rezoning Project Archaeological Phase 1A for Potential Development Site V and Projected Development Site 4 Block 1775 Manhattan (Geismar 2017)