All posts by Mary French

St. Monica’s Cemetery

Detail from an 1859 map of Jamaica, arrows denote the original St. Monica’s church and adjoining cemetery at the bottom of Washington St (now 160th St) and the new St. Monica’s church built in 1856 a short distance north of the original site.

In October 1838, the Bishop of New York sent Rev. Michael Curran to Jamaica, Queens, to establish a parish for the town’s growing Irish Catholic population. Many of the area’s large farms employed Irish laborers, and construction of the Long Island Railroad along Jamaica Avenue in the 1830s brought an increasing number of Irish workers to Jamaica. Property was secured on the west side of Washington Street (now 160th Street), near South Street, and here a small frame church was erected and dedicated to Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. This humble little structure, 80 feet long by 25 feet wide, accommodated the 200 Catholics who came from miles around to hear Mass each Sunday. Vacant land adjoining the church was employed as a parish burial ground.

An 1897 map depicting St. Monica’s Cemetery and St. Monica’s Church.

St. Monica’s parish grew rapidly and before long their tiny wooden church was no longer adequate. In 1856 the congregation moved to a new brick building at 94-20 160th Street, a short distance north of their original church and adjoining cemetery. The old church building was used for a time as a meeting hall and eventually sold and demolished. St. Monica’s parish continued at their new location until 1973 when the church closed and the City of New York took over the building and surrounding blocks as part of the York College Urban Renewal Project. Since 2009 the former church  has housed the York College Child and Family Center.

Obituary for an 1887 interment at St. Monica’s Cemetery.

St. Monica’s Cemetery is intact today at the southwest corner of 160th Street and Liberty Avenue, in the middle of the York College Campus. About one acre in size, it is maintained by Catholic Cemeteries Diocese of Brooklyn.  Some 3,000 local Catholics have been laid to rest here, and tombstones now standing date from about 1840 to the early 2000s. Names on the tombstones reflect the changing demographics of the area—earlier burials are largely Irish, while more recent markers represent Italian families who settled in the area in the 20th century.

St. Monica’s Cemetery is noteworthy in local history as the spot where “the most beloved dog in Jamaica” took up residence. In 1923, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the unnamed stray who was known to the neighborhood for years:

And now upon a grave, apparently neglected, with a small, obliterated wooden cross, he makes his bed. We observed him the other afternoon lying atop the little grave as though mourning someone he had known when a tiny pup or someone dear to his ancestors. A pathetic picture he makes, indeed. Neighbors say the nameless dog howls bitterly late at night and sometimes during the day, and that efforts to keep him off the burial ground have been vain . . . Out of sheer pity the kindly folks on the block have declined to interfere with the strange dog’s actions. They sympathize with him by bringing him food, and even shut their ears to his nightly howls. And already the kiddies on the block have saved their pennies so that someday when the faithful and homeless dog passes away he will be given a resting place.

A view of tombstones in St. Monica’s Cemetery, May 2016 (Mary French)
2018 aerial view of St. Monica’s Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of St. Monica’s Cemetery

Sources: Jamaica (Walling 1859); Sanborn’s 1897 Insurance Maps of Jamaica, Queens Co., Pl 10; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); The Catholic Church in the United States of America (Catholic Editing Co. 1914); “Andrew McCormick’s Funeral,” Brooklyn Times Union, Aug 26, 1887; “St. Monica’s Church Celebrates Half Century’s History,” Brooklyn Times Union, Oct 13, 1906; “St. Monica’s, Jamaica,” The Tablet, Jun 18, 1910; “Cemetery His Estate, Lonely Grave Top His Choice of Boudoir,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr 9, 1923; York College Child Care Center – St. Monica’s Church

Naval Cemetery

Detail from an 1869 map showing the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Naval Hospital, and Naval Cemetery (arrow)

Established in 1801 on the shores of Wallabout Bay, the Brooklyn Navy Yard served as one of the nation’s foremost naval shipbuilding facilities from 1801 until it was decommissioned in 1966. In 1824, the Navy purchased land directly eastward of the main Navy Yard property to build a hospital complex. Opened in 1838, the Brooklyn Naval Hospital became a leading center of medical innovation, developing new techniques in anesthetics, wound care, and physical therapy. The hospital closed in 1948, but the property remained in use as a naval receiving station until 1990.

The Naval Hospital campus and Naval Cemetery in 1904

In the early 1830s, the Navy established a small burial ground on the eastern edge of the hospital campus. The two-acre Naval Cemetery was used from about 1831 to 1910 and was the burial place for more than 2,000 people of all races and creeds, most of them officers and enlisted men of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Interred here were two Congressional Medal of Honor winners, Vendovi, the “Fijian Cannibal Chief” who died in the Naval Hospital in 1842, and individuals from more than 20 different countries.

Among early interments at the Naval Cemetery were 28 sailors and Marines who perished when the U.S. receiving ship Fulton exploded while moored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in June 1829. Originally laid to rest at Wallabout Cemetery, in November 1834 the remains of those killed in the Fulton explosion were disinterred and escorted under Marine guard to a stone vault in the Naval Cemetery grounds.

In 1897, a New York Times reporter visited the Naval Cemetery and described the graveyard behind the Naval Hospital:

It is little larger than the ordinary city block, and is inclosed on the hospital side with a high brick wall, and on the other three sides with a tall iron fence, which is badly in need of a coat of paint. Outside this railing, and facing Flushing Avenue, are several foundries, machine shops, factories and stables that completely prevent a view of the cemetery from the street. The entrance is through a small street running back from Flushing Avenue, and separating the city and Government property. It is seldom traveled and never cleaned. The children in the neighborhood use the place as a playground. There are heavy chains and a stout padlock on the cemetery gate.

The cemetery is rarely visited. One’s first impression of it is that it receives no attention outside of keeping the grass cut and the trees trimmed… Scattered throughout the cemetery are tall elms. One of the things that strike the visitor most forcibly is the lack of monuments. There are no handsome stones to mark the last resting places of the men who gave their lives to their country. In fact some of the graves have no headpieces except the kind that the Government furnishes. Some of these have been broken away or lost, and it is not known who lies beneath. 

Newspaper clipping reporting a burial at the Naval Cemetery in February 1900

When the Times reporter explored the cemetery in 1897, most of the graves were marked with cast-iron markers about a foot square, many of them rusty, worn, and broken. These were replaced in 1899 with uniform marble headstones like those used in national cemeteries. Despite this improvement to the old Naval Cemetery, there was little room remaining for additional burials by this time and it closed to interments in 1910. In 1926 the Navy disinterred remains from the burial ground and reinterred them at Cypress Hills National Cemetery. The trees were subsequently removed from the property and the site graded to create a playing field. With the assumption that the area no longer contained burials, the Navy reused the grassy space of the former cemetery for a variety of primarily recreational purposes for the next 50 years or so.

Photo of the Naval Cemetery taken in February 1926, a few months before remains and headstones were removed and transferred to Cypress Hills National Cemetery (Brooklyn Times Union)

During the process of transferring the Naval Hospital campus to the City of New York in the 1990s, questions arose about the former Naval Cemetery. Extensive archival and archaeological investigations of the site concluded that the remains of 987 individuals were recorded as being relocated, leaving hundreds of burials unaccounted for and potentially still at the site. Replanted as a meadow, the site is now preserved and reopened to the public in 2016 as the Naval Cemetery Landscape, a park that is part of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. Its design includes a raised walkway that allows visitors to explore the landscape without disturbing the hallowed ground of the former cemetery.

A view of the Naval Cemetery Landscape just after it opened to the public in May 2016 (Mary French)
2018 aerial view of the Naval Cemetery Landsapce (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Dripps’ 1869 Map of the City of Brooklyn; Hyde’s 1904 Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn 3:1; “Interesting Ceremony,” Long Island Star, Nov 27 1834, “The Dead,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 2, 1875; “G.A.R. Services,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 23, 1887; “Jack Tar’s Burial Ground,” New York Times, Dec 19, 1897; “Heroes’ Last Resting Place,” Brooklyn Standard Union, Oct 24, 1899; “Burial at Naval Cemetery,” Brooklyn Times Union, Feb 23, 1900; “Talk of Closing the Old Naval Cemetery,” Brooklyn Times Union, May 16, 1907; “No Mourners for These Sailor Dead,” New York Times, Oct 16, 1910; “Navy Yard Cemetery Plan is Denounced as ‘Ghoulish,’” Brooklyn Times Union, Feb 24, 1926; “Capt. Blackwood Outlines Plans to Abandon Cemetery,” Brooklyn Standard Union, Feb 28, 1926; “Exercises to Mark Transfer of Last Body from Naval Cemetery,” The Chat, Oct 16, 1926; Archaeological Evaluation (Stage 1A Documentary Study), Former Naval Station (NAVSTA) New York, Navy Yard Annex Site Brooklyn, New York (Geismar 1996); State of the Research, Naval Hospital Cemetery, Historical Documentation, Naval Station Brooklyn, New York (Geismar 1999); “Prairie Heals an Old Wound at a Former Brooklyn Cemetery,” New York Times, July 11, 2016; Brooklyn Greenway Initiative—Naval Cemetery Landscape

Knollwood Park Cemetery

Knollwood Park Cemetery, Jan 2016 (Mary French)

In 1947, Evergreens Cemetery sold a 20-acre notch of the northern part of their grounds to Knollwood Park Cemetery corporation, which opened the first new Jewish cemetery in New York City since 1915. Whereas their earlier counterparts sold much of their land to Jewish burial societies and other communal organizations, Knollwood Park publicized their modern cemetery as “New York City’s only Jewish burial estate dedicated exclusively to private family plots.”  Their early advertisements emphasize that they sold “no land to societies, lodges, and organizations”—thus avoiding the over-crowding of graves and monuments seen in many communal plots, as well as the neglect common in older Jewish cemeteries as many plot-owning organizations went defunct in the 20th century.

A 1950 newspaper ad for Knollwood Park Cemetery

Situated along the Brooklyn-Queens border, Knollwood Park Cemetery now has over 17,000 interments and is the last Jewish cemetery developed in the city’s five boroughs. Most of the cemetery is divided into plots with a family stone marking the plot and flat markers for individuals. In 2008, Knollwood Park was acquired by Mount Carmel Cemetery, the large Jewish cemetery located in nearby Glendale, Queens, and today is operated as a division of Mount Carmel.

Knollwood Park Cemetery, Jan 2016 (Mary French)
Location of Knollwood Park Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens

Sources:  “Knollwood Park Cemetery” [Advertisement], New York Post, Mar 15, 1950; “To Jewish Families” [Advertisement], New York Daily News, May 3, 1950; “News for Jewish Families” [Advertisement], New York Post, Jun 12, 1956; Green Oasis in Brooklyn: The Evergreens Cemetery 1849-2008 (Rousmanier 2008); “Knollwood Park Cemetery Burial Data Now Online,” Museum of Family History, Apr 27, 2010; OpenStreetMap

St. Ann’s Churchyard, Bronx

Depiction of St. Ann’ Church and Gouverneur Morris tomb by artist August Will, 1885 (MCNY)

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These words—the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution—were written by Founding Father Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), who is buried in a nondescript tomb near a gritty main drag in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx. The land where he is interred is a remnant of the vast estate established by brothers Richard Morris (1616-1672) and Lewis Morris (1601-1691), English immigrants who in 1670 acquired property in the Bronx that was expanded to create the 2,000-acre Manor of Morrisania. The Morris family became part of the powerful colonial aristocracy, producing several generations of military, political, and social leaders.

Early Morris family members were interred in burial grounds near their manor house that stood by the Bronx Kill, west of the Mill Brook, at today’s 132nd Street near Brown Place. Gouverneur Morris broke with this tradition, choosing to be buried in a field on his property east of the Mill Brook. Following his 1816 death, his wife Ann Cary Randolph Morris constructed a vault here to receive his remains; she was interred nearby when she died in 1837.

This extract from an 1860 map of the town of Morrisania shows St. Ann’s Church at top and the Gouverneur Morris house at bottom right, below 132nd St. At left, west of the Mill Brook, the old Morris manor house can be seen on the south side of 132nd St, between Morris and Willis Aves. Both homes were demolished around the turn of the 20th c.

Gouverneur Morris, Jr. (1813-1888)—the only child of Gouverneur and Ann Morris—built St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in 1841 as a public memorial to his mother, erecting it on the hallowed ground where his parents were laid to rest. Situated at what is now St. Ann’s Avenue and East 140th Street, the church was constructed of fieldstone, followed a simple Gothic Revival design, and featured burial vaults beneath the building and in the grassy yard along its east side. Morris, Jr. had his mother’s remains moved to one of the vaults beneath the church, leaving his father’s remains in the tomb outside the church.

An 1866 property map shows the layout of burial vaults in the yard on the east side of St. Ann’s Church, including the Gouverneur Morris vault next to the building.

Remains from the earlier Morris family burial ground near the old manor house were moved to vaults under St. Ann’s in 1866. Morris family descendants and other members of the local community purchased the rest of the interior and outdoor vaults, and interments at St. Ann’s were made into the mid-20th century. Individuals of exceptional historical significance are interred here, including Judge Lewis Morris (1671-1746), first Governor of New Jersey, and Major General Lewis Morris (1726-1798), a member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Portrait of Gouverneur Morris by Alonzo Chappel, 1862

Today, St. Ann’s Church is the oldest surviving church building in the Bronx. It still serves as a parish church; its current congregation is predominantly Hispanic, as is the surrounding neighborhood. Gouverneur Morris’ half-sunken tomb is located outside the old church, next to the southeast corner of the building and surrounded by an iron fence. The most remarkable figure of his distinguished American family, Gouverneur Morris was revered by his peers—both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison deemed him a “genius”—and he emerged as one of the leading figures of the Constitutional Convention. In addition to writing the Preamble, Morris drafted the final version of the Constitution; the beautiful, powerful prose of that document is almost entirely his work.

Gouverneur Morris tomb at St. Ann’s Churchyard, April 2016 (Mary French)
2018 Aerial View of St. Ann’s Church complex (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the Town of Morrisania (Beers 1860); St. Ann’s Church Property and Cemetery on St. Ann’s Ave (Greene 1866), Westchester County Clerk Map 538; A History of the County of Westchester (Bolton 1848) Vol 2; The History of the Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester (Bolton 1881); History of Westchester County (Scharf 1886) Vol 1; The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); National Portrait Gallery of Eminent Americans (Duyckinck 1862), Vol 1; “Colonial Days: How the Land of North New York was Conveyed,” New Rochelle Pioneer, Apr 26 1884;“Neglect of Gouverneur Morris’s Grave at Last Stirs Public,” The Sun and New York Herald Sunday Magazine, May 2 1920; Some Descendants of Richard Morris and Sarah Pole of Morrisania (Wilkinson 1966); National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form—St. Ann’s Church Complex, Oct 1979; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “St. Ann’s Church; A Son’s Homage, Hallowed by Time,” New York Times, Sept 20, 1987; “The Forgotten Founding Father,City Journal, Spring 2002; “The Framer’s Intent: Gouverneur Morris, the Committee of Style and the Creation of the Federalist Constitution,” SCOTUSblog, Aug 5, 2019

New/Middle Dutch Churchyard

A view of the New Dutch Church (later known as Middle Dutch Church), ca. 1731 (Stokes)

In the early 18th century the Reformed Dutch Church at Exchange Place in Lower Manhattan found it necessary to build a second church to accommodate their growing congregation. The New Dutch Church opened in 1729 on the east side of Nassau Street, between Cedar and Liberty Streets. It was a substantial stone building, 100 feet long and 70 feet wide, with a tall steeple and bell. In the winter of 1732-33, an administrative committee established rules and regulations for burials in the churchyard of the New Church. Plots for vaults or graves “shall be at least six feet long and nine broad,” the rules read, and “at least six feet from the Church wall.” Vaults were to be built of stone or brick at the plot owner’s expense, and the owner was responsible for keeping it in repair. For the sum of £15 “in New York currency,” the owner acquired the right of burial in the plot “for himself and his heirs forever.”

Obituary for Capt. John Stake, interred in the New/Middle Dutch Churchyard in 1798

Obituaries for those interred in the churchyard of the New Dutch Church appear with great frequency in early New York newspapers. Among them are death notices for John Van Der Speigel, “a Gentleman of unblemished Character” interred in the family vault in the New Dutch Churchyard in 1770; Ann Low, “an affectionate Wife and indulgent Mother” laid to rest here in 1772; Nicholas Gouverneur, “an ancient and respectable inhabitant of this city” transported to the family vault after he died at his country seat near Newark in 1786; and Martha Washington Clinton, the 13-year-old daughter of then-governor  (and later United States vice-president) George Clinton, whose remains were “conveyed from the Government House and deposited in a vault in the New Dutch Church Yard” in 1795.

Detail from a 1797 map showing the New/Middle Dutch Church on Nassau Street between Liberty and Cedar Streets

Around the turn of the 19th century, the New Dutch Church on Nassau street became known as the Middle Dutch Church because it was situated between the old Dutch Church (or South Dutch Church) on Exchange Place and the North Dutch Church built in the late 1700s at William and Fulton streets. As Lower Manhattan became increasingly devoted to business activity in the 1800s, families moved northward and all three of the Reformed Dutch Church congregations eventually relocated uptown. In 1839, the Middle Dutch Church moved to a new building at Lafayette Place and Fourth Street; the congregation continues today as the Middle Collegiate Church at Second Avenue in the East Village. 

A view of the Middle Dutch Church in 1877, after it had been converted into a post office (LOC)

In 1844 the Middle Dutch Church building at Nassau Street was leased to the United States government and converted into a post office. The following year, the church obtained permission from the city’s Board of Aldermen to remove remains from the churchyard to their new property at Lafayette Street, but it is unclear if removals were actually made at this time. When the U.S. government sought to purchase the Nassau Street property in 1860, the title was disputed because many of the vaults surrounding the building were still tenanted and owners were actively using them for interment of family members. Some families were surprised to find that their vaults had been emptied without their permission and accused church trustees of boxing up and removing remains “stealthily and at night to a distant part of the city.” 

Coffins and human remains were found in several of the old burial vaults in 1877 when the post office (the former Middle Dutch church building) was converted into shops. Workers removed 49 boxes of human remains from the site between November 1882 and January 1883 when the building and vaults were demolished to make way for the Mutual Insurance Company building; these remains were transferred to a plot at Greenwood Cemetery. Most of these burials could not be identified, but coffin plates recovered from one vault in November 1882 named three of those interred there. One plate read “Gerrard Steddiford, died 3d April 1820, aged 67 years, 7 months, and 7 days;” another was inscribed “Louisa Matilda Von Antwerp, died 1st March 1822, aged 3 years 11 months;” and the third was marked “Peter Kemble, Jr. died 19th November, 1813, aged 26 years.”  Today One Chase Manhattan Plaza stands atop their former burial ground.

2018 aerial view of the former site of the Middle Dutch Church and burial grounds (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Taylor-Roberts 1797 New and Accurate Plan of the City of New YorkA History of the Churches of All Denominations in the City of New York from the First Settlement to the Year 1846 (Greenleaf 1846); Ecclesiastical Records, State of New York, Vol 4; The Iconography of Manhattan Island: 1498-1909 (Stokes 1915-1928), Vol 1; Bodies in Transit Register X:1881-1894, Municipal Archives, City of New York; “John Van Der Spiegel,” New-York Journal, Aug 30, 1770; “Ann Low,” New-York Journal, Oct 8, 1772; “Nicholas Gouverneur,” Daily Advertiser, Nov 18, 1786;“Died,” New-York Weekly Chronicle, Feb 26, 1795; “Brigade Orders,” Commercial Advertiser, Mar 26, 1798; “The Middle Dutch Church,” Evening Post, Jan 17, 1845; Journal and Documents of the Board of Assistant Aldermen of the City of New York, Vol XXV Dec 2 1844 to May 12 1845; “Efforts to Establish a Title for the Sale of the Dutch Church,” New York Herald, Aug 8, 1860; “Removal of the Dead,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep 18, 1860; “The Post Office,” New York Herald, Aug 30, 1875; “Among the Forgotten Dead,” New York Tribune, Jul 6, 1877; “Found at the Old Post Office,” New York Times, Nov 21, 1882; “Five Skeletons Discovered,” New York Times, Nov 24, 1882; “The Old Post Office Building,” New York Times, Nov 26, 1882; “City and Suburban News,” New York Times, Nov 28, 1882; “Demolishing an Old Church,” New York Tribune, Mar 27, 1887