Category Archives: Bronx

Fordham Manor Church Cemeteries

This detail from an 1868 map shows the two burial places connected with the Fordham Manor Reformed Church—the old public burial ground on Highbridge Road (today’s Fordham Road) and the Church property on the north side of Kingsbridge Road. Red star denotes approximate location of the original church site on Fordham Road, across from the old cemetery.

The modern Fordham Manor Church on Reservoir Avenue near West Kingsbridge Road is the successor to one of the earliest congregations in the Bronx. In 1696, the Dutch Reformed Church organized a society in the area then known as the Manor of Fordham. In 1706 they built their first church on the north side of Fordham Road, in present-day Devoe Park. After this building was destroyed in the Revolutionary War, a new church was built in 1801 on property about a mile north, at Kingsbridge Road. This was the first of three edifices to stand on that site; the second church was built in 1849, and the present building was erected in 1940. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Dutch Reformed Church of Fordham Manor used two local cemeteries to bury their dead—a public burial ground near their original house of worship on Fordham Road and a small cemetery next to their church on Kingsbridge Road.

Public Burial Ground, Fordham Road

Until 1909, an “ancient Dutch burying ground” stood at the southeast corner of today’s Sedgwick Avenue and West Fordham Road, where an apartment building is located today. Exactly when this cemetery was established is not known; it may have been used as far back as the 1600s when Dutch families began to settle in the area. Deeds dated before the Revolution refer to the one-and-a-half-acre cemetery as a public burial ground and it was known to have been used as a free burial ground by local authorities into the 19th century. During its early history, this public cemetery was linked with the Dutch Reformed church that originally stood 200 yards from it, on the opposite side of Fordham Road. After the congregation moved up to Kingsbridge Road in the early 1800s, their ties with the village burial ground were eventually broken. By the late 1800s, the public burial ground at the intersection of Sedgwick Ave and Fordham Road was known to many locals as the “Berrian Cemetery,” for one of the families who owned land surrounding the cemetery and who had interred a number of their kinfolk in the graveyard.

A 1901 map depicts the old burial ground at the intersection of Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue

One 19th-century historian estimated that perhaps 1,000 people were interred in the cemetery on Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue. Genealogists who visited the site in the 1870s and 1880s recorded tombstones with family names including Berrian, Valentine, Cromwell, Laurence, DeVoe, Hart, and Rowland. The earliest date found was 1810 and the latest was 1863. Less than two dozen graves had headstones with identifiable inscriptions; many more graves were designated by rough, flat stones with no markings. Guarding the graveyard was a magnificent willow tree, over 20 feet in circumference, which stood at the edge of the property.

1906 view of the burial ground at Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue, showing toppled tombstones and the huge willow tree that sheltered the site (Comfort)

By the turn of the century, the cemetery was neglected and partially destroyed by street construction. The western portion of the graveyard was taken by the city in 1874 for the opening of Sedgwick Avenue and a section on the north part of the property was cut off in the 1890s when Fordham Road was widened. Many families had arranged to have their family members’ remains moved to other cemeteries, the numerous disinterments causing further disturbance to the burial ground. Newspaper articles describe it as a place of “sad havoc,” a mass of broken tombstones, brush, and rubbish. Ownership and responsibility of the property was a tangle of uncertainty until the early 1900s when a court-appointed referee ruled that the Camman family, who had acquired the Berrian farm in 1852, could sell the cemetery property once they arranged for removal of the remains. Workmen excavated the cemetery in the winter of 1908-1909 and packed up any bones they found. The exhumed remains were reburied in a plot at Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester. In 1927 a six-floor apartment building, still present, was erected on the site of the old Dutch burial ground of Fordham Manor. 

Fordham Manor Church Cemetery, Kingsbridge Road

In 1801, Dennis Valentine, Sr., donated land for construction of a new Dutch Reformed Church at the Manor of Fordham. The plot, 90 feet deep and 74 feet across, was located near the northwest corner of what is now Kingsbridge Road and Reservoir Avenue. In 1836, the church appointed a committee to look for land for a burial place. The congregation apparently continued to use the old burial ground at Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue for some time after they moved to their new location, the donation having included only enough property to accommodate the building. In 1849, Dennis Valentine, Jr., donated additional lands adjacent to the 1801 church property to provide sufficient ground for erection of a new house of worship and for a burial ground. The new building was erected on the property immediately adjoining the 1801 structure and facing Kingsbridge Road. Land to the rear of the church was used for a cemetery. The last known interment here was in 1884.

1901 map depicting the Fordham Manor Reformed Church building on Kingsbridge Road, with the cemetery behind it

Several families had vaults in the church cemetery, including members of the Valentine, Briggs, and Archer clans. After Woodlawn Cemetery was established in 1863, each of these families acquired plots there and had the remains of their family members relocated to Woodlawn from the church cemetery. Notable among the removals from the Valentine family vaults were the remains of Virginia Clemm, wife of Edgar Allan Poe. In 1847, Virginia Clemm died while she and her husband were living in a rented cottage (preserved as Poe Cottage) on the Valentine farm. She was laid to rest in the private vault of Dennis Valentine, Sr., which he built in the 1830s on his land adjacent to the 1801 Fordham Manor Church building. Although officially separate from the church burial ground, it was generally considered part of the cemetery. When the Valentine family removed the remains from their vaults in the late 1870s, Virginia Clemm’s remains were taken to Baltimore for reburial alongside her husband, who died in 1849.

A 1912 view of the Fordham Manor Reformed Church building on Kingsbridge Road, erected in 1849. The church cemetery, located to the rear of the building, is not visible (Jenkins)

In August of 1912, the journal Genealogy published inscriptions from the Fordham Manor Reformed Church Cemetery. The burial ground behind the church was described as “a neglected corner plot, overgrown with weeds, where a few tombstones, some badly broken, still remain.”  Inscriptions from the 20 tombstones found at the site included members of the Poole, Webb, Archer, Horton, Corsa, and Webb families. The earliest dated to 1843 and the latest to 1870.

In the early 1920s, the Fordham Manor Reformed Church authorities made plans to purchase a nearby house and have it moved to the church property for use as a parsonage. Before this could be done, it was necessary to clear the cemetery of bodies. After receiving the necessary permissions, in 1925 the remains of 32 people were exhumed from the cemetery behind the church and reburied in a plot at Kensico Cemetery in Westchester. In 1940, the Fordham Manor Reformed Church demolished their 1849 church building and the parsonage, sold the southern portion of their property along Kingsbridge Road, and built a new edifice on the northern part of their land, where their cemetery once stood. The 1940 building, which faces Reservoir Road, is the home of the present Fordham Manor Church, now a nondenominational congregation.

A modern map with arrows denoting the former site of the cemetery at Fordham Rd and Sedgwick Ave and the present Fordham Manor Church at Reservoir Ave near Kingsbridge Rd, on the site of the former church cemetery. Red star denotes the approximate location of the original church site on Fordham Road (OpenStreetMap)
2018 aerial view of the apartment building on the former cemetery site at Fordham Rd and Sedgwick Ave (NYCThen&Now)
2018 aerial view of the present Fordham Manor Church property on Reservoir Avenue, formerly the site of the church cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl 8; Hyde’s 1901 Atlas of the Borough of the Bronx, Pl 25 & 32; Genealogy of the DeVeaux Family (De Voe 1885); History of Bronx Borough (Comfort 1906); The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); History of Fordham Manor Reformed Church, 1696-1946 (Attwood 1946); “Old Burial Grounds in Westchester Co, NY,”  NYG&B Record 20 (2) 1889; “Notes & Queries,” NYG&B Record 22 (4), 1891; “Neglected Graves at Fordham Heights,” Evening Telegram, May 7, 1892; “A Neglected Cemetery,” New York Times, Dec 22, 1901; “Facts About the Berrian Cemetery,” New York Times, Dec 30, 1901; “Old Historic Cemeteries,” Daily Argus (Mount Vernon, NY) Jan 9, 1905; “Historical Cemetery Despoiled,” Magazine of American History, 36 (11), Nov 1908; “Poole Family Burials,” Genealogy 2(6), Aug 10, 1912; “From a New York Cemetery,” Genealogy 2(7), Aug 17, 1912; “Church in Bronx to Have New Home,” New York Times, Feb 17, 1940; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016)

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

West Farms Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery

Detail from a 1901 map showing the location of the “Old Cemetery” – the West Farm Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery. By this time parts of the two adjoined cemeteries had been taken for E 172nd St and Boone Ave

“Blast Blows Bodies from Old Cemetery” was the alliterative headline of a 1911 New York Times article about graves unearthed in the West Farms section of the Bronx. As the article reports, in July 1911 employees of the Stanton Construction Company exposed an array of bones and pieces of coffins when using dynamite to excavate for a sewer line through Boone Avenue near East 172nd Street. After realizing their explosions had blown into part of a forgotten graveyard, the workmen gathered the remnants of the skeletons together and packed them into three boxes from which dynamite sticks had been removed. They then reburied the boxes among overturned headstones found along the roadside. In 2015, these three dynamite boxes with the repacked bones were among about 80 graves found by archaeologists during excavations conducted before construction of an affordable housing complex.

In 2015, archaeologists recovered this dynamite box packed with partial remains of at least 20 individuals that had been unearthed and reburied during sewer construction in 1911 (HPI)

The old cemetery disturbed by workmen in 1911 and excavated by archaeologists over a century later was actually two adjacent graveyards—the Hedger-Edwards burial ground and the cemetery of the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church. The two graveyards were situated at the northeast corner of present-day Boone Avenue and East 172nd Street and together formed a cemetery of about an acre and a half in size. The site was formerly part of the 100-acre farm of the Hedgers family, early settlers of West Farms who had their homestead between today’s Boone and Longfellow avenues. On the east side of their land, the Hedgers set aside a burial ground for their family and their Edwards kin. This family burial ground is mentioned in the 1769 will of John Hedgers, who reserved “a piece of land for a burying place for me and my family, in my orchard, where my sister-in-law lies buried.” 

In 1845, West Farms Reformed Dutch Church purchased a parcel immediately west of the Hedger-Edwards burial ground for use as a burial place for their congregation. Founded in 1839, the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church was located about a mile north of the cemetery grounds, at the southeast corner of the present intersection of Boston Road and East 179th Street, until they moved to a new church at Prospect Avenue and Fairmount Place in 1904.

One of the partial gravestones found during the 2015 excavations at the West Farm Reformed Dutch Church/Hedger-Edwards family cemeteries, it originally marked the grave of one-year-old William Henry Golden, who died 1848 (HPI)

By the end of the 19th century, the joined cemeteries were disused and neglected, and the City of New York made plans to extend Boone Avenue and East 172nd Street through the site. About 70 graves were exhumed and reburied at Woodlawn Cemetery between 1895-1900 in preparation for the street construction. Many other graves were left behind and bones were disturbed during roadwork in 1905 and during the 1911 sewer construction. In the 1920s, the “forlorn, deserted” cemetery still had a few stones standing, bearing familiar Bronx family names including Austin, Mapes, Butler, Corsa, Edwards, and Cortelyou. But by the mid-20th century, the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church had dissolved and a parking lot was built over the old cemetery site. 

Redevelopment of the site in 2015 once again unearthed graves at the forgotten cemetery, when archaeologists excavated human remains, coffin wood and hardware, personal effects, and partial gravestones from 79 burial shafts; 45 of these were within the Hedger-Edwards burial ground, 20 were within the church cemetery, and two were on the boundary line between the two parcels. In 2017, the human remains and artifacts recovered from the site were reinterred in a crypt in the Hillcrest mausoleum complex at Woodlawn Cemetery; the gravestones were transferred to the Bronx County Historical Society. The Crotona Park East Compass Residences development is now at the former cemetery site.

A view of the crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery where remains excavated from the West Farms RD Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery were reinterred in 2017 (HPI)
Aerial views of the cemetery site in 2012, when it was covered with a parking lot, and today, occupied by the Compass Residences (NYCThen&Now/GoogleEarth)

Sources: Hyde’s 1901 Atlas of the borough of the Bronx, Vol. 2, Pl. 6; Cemetery inscriptions copied from a cemetery in the Bronx formerly located at 172nd St and Boone Ave. WCHS Call #200#50, Cemeteries file, Bronx County Historical Society; Early Wills of Westchester Co from 1664 to 1784 (Pelletreau 1898); Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Family History of New York, Vol III (Pelletreau 1907); “Digging Among the Dead,” The Evening World, Sep 17 1895; “Unmarked Graves Dug Open,” New York Sun, Mar 13, 1906; “Blast Blows Bodies from Old Cemetery,” New York Times, Jul 30, 1911; “Coffins Unearthed by Men Digging Sewer in Bronx,” New York Press Jul 30, 1911; “A Neglected Cemetery, New York Tribune, May 26, 1921; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; Phase IB Archaeological Field Investigation, Crotona Park East Compass Residences (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2017); Julie Abell Horn, personal communication, Sep 23, 2022.

Stockbridge Indian Burial Ground

Stockbridge Indian Monument at Van Cortlandt Park, Sept 2010 (Mary French)

A small, grassy clearing at the northeastern corner of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx is the burial place of Chief Daniel Nimham and about 17 of his fellow members of the Stockbridge Indian Company who died while fighting with the Patriots during the Revolutionary War. Daniel Nimham was the last sachem of the Wappinger confederacy of Indians of the lower Hudson River Valley. Made head of his tribe in 1740, Nimham came to prominence for his efforts to recover tribal homelands and for his service to the English during the French and Indian Wars. 

1778 sketch by Capt Johann von Ewald, a Hessian officer who fought for Britain during the Revolution, depicting a member of the Stockbridge Indian Company

By the 1750s, Nimham and his clan had joined with allied Mohican groups at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. At the start of the American Revolution, members of the Stockbridge tribes pledged their loyalty to the American cause. Daniel Nimham was given a military commission as a captain in the Continental Army and his son Abraham Nimham was put in charge of the Stockbridge Indian Company. In April of 1778, the Nimhams and the Stockbridge militia unit joined Washington’s army at White Plains.

In the summer of 1778, the Nimhams and their detachment of some 60 Indians found themselves skirmishing with British and Hessian troops alongside American militia units operating on the Bronx border. On August 31, 1778, the detachment was outflanked and surrounded by a formation of British rangers and Hessian jaegers during fighting along a ridge in today’s Van Cortlandt Park. Outnumbered five to one, Daniel, Abraham, and at least 15 other Stockbridge men were killed. The Nimhams and the other slaughtered Indians were buried in a common grave near the battle site.

This Sept 3, 1778 article from the Royal American Gazette, a Tory newspaper published in British-occupied New York, reports the death of Chief Nimham, his son, and other Stockbridge Indians earlier that week

In 1906 the Bronx Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument to Chief Nimham and his men. Consisting of a stone cairn and a plaque, the monument is near the intersection of Van Cortlandt Park East and Oneida  Avenue; the burial ground is in the field behind the monument. The plaque is inscribed “August 31, 1778.  Upon this Field Chief Nimham and Seventeen Stockbridge Indians, as Allies of the Patriots, Gave their Lives for Liberty.” The Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, and other groups frequently honor Daniel Nimham and the other fallen Stockbridge warriors with ceremonies at the monument. In 2005, veterans from the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians held a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial, with the United States Military Academy West Point providing the Honor Guard for the event.

Section of Van Cortlandt Park Alliance map showing location of the Stockbridge Indian monument
A view of Stockbridge Indian memorial and burial ground, Sept 2010 (Mary French)
A panel from the “Native New York” exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in  NYC depicts present-day Stockbridge-Munsee veterans visiting the burial ground

Sources: “New-York, September 3,” Royal American Gazette, Sep 3, 1778; “Old Historic Cemeteries,” Daily Argus (Mount Vernon, NY), Jan 9, 1905; Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Vol 2 (Hodge 1910); The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); “The Indian Field Massacre,” Bronx County Historical Society Journal Vol XIV(2)(Fall 1977); “The Nimhams of the Colonial Hudson Valley, 1667-1783,” The Hudson River Valley Regional Review 9(2) (September 1992); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “A Trip for the Ages,” Mohican News, November 15, 2005; “Remembering the Sacrifice of a True Patriot,” DAR Blog, Sep 8, 2021; “Why We Serve—Origins of Native American Military Service” (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian); “Native New York,” (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)

St. Augustine’s Churchyard

An 1860 map of Morrisania shows St. Augustine’s parish complex, at the corner of Jefferson Street and Franklin Avenue. The burial ground was at the north end of the property, near today’s 170th Street.

In 1898, the New York Sun reported on the removal of a small cemetery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx:

Workmen are busy destroying another of Morrisania’s old landmarks, the old graveyard of St. Augustine’s Church. The graveyard was the churchyard of the old church which stood for many years on Jefferson street near Franklin avenue. The graveyard was at the rear of the church and extended back over the line of 170th Street.

Morrisania was one of the quietest of country villages forty years ago, when the first interment was made in the old cemetery. In the ten years that followed many a procession went to the churchyard, until some 250 persons slept under the shadows of the church.

St. Augustine’s Church was founded in 1850 to serve Morrisania’s Catholic community, which developed as Irish and German immigrants came to live in the area. The parish’s first wooden chapel at today’s Jefferson Place and Franklin Avenue was replaced in 1860 by a “handsome and commodious” brick church seating 800 worshippers. The churchyard served as a parish burial ground from 1850 until 1876, when the local Board of Health prohibited further interments there. Interments were also made in vaults beneath the brick church building.

1876 newspaper clipping announcing the prohibition of burials at St. Augustine’s Churchyard.

When St. Augustine’s Church was destroyed by fire in 1894, the parish built their new church a few blocks south, at the intersection of Franklin Avenue and 167th Street. Remains in the vaults beneath the church were removed shortly after the fire in 1894, and reinterred in plots at Woodlawn Cemetery and St. Raymond’s Cemetery. Though the old parish churchyard was long unused and separated from their new house of worship, St. Augustine’s continued to care for the site. At the time of the 1898 removals, The Sun noted that the burial ground was still “green and beautiful” and “visited by some of the older residents of the district.”

Remains removed from St. Augustine’s Churchyard in 1898 were reinterred at St. Raymond’s Cemetery. In 2013, St. Augustine’s Church at Franklin Avenue and 167th Street was demolished and the congregation merged with Our Lady of Victory on Webster Avenue. Today apartment buildings stand at the site of the old St. Augustine’s churchyard site.

2018 aerial view of the former site of St. Augustine’s parish complex; arrow denotes approximate location of the churchyard burial ground (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the Town of Morrisania (Beers 1860); Bodies in Transit Registers IX & X, Municipal Archives, City of New York; “Church of St. Augustine, Morrisania,” Irish American, Oct 2, 1858; “Dedication of a New Catholic Church,” New York Herald, Oct 3, 1860; “Dedication of St. Augustine’s Church, Morrisania,” Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, Oct 6, 1860; “Death of Rev. Stephen Ward,” Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, Jul 4, 1863; “No More Burials,” Eastern State Journal (White Plains), Mar 31, 1876; “A Catholic Church Burned,” The Sun, Apr 9, 1894; “St. Augustine’s Graveyard,” The Sun, Oct 30, 1898; “Old Cemetery Blocks Street,” New York Herald, Oct 31, 1898; History of Westchester County, Vol 1 (Scharf 1886); “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1 (1900); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016)