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

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