Category Archives: family burial grounds

Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery

A view of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery in Fort Totten Park, 2019 (Tom Loggia)

Since childhood, brothers Thomas and Vincent Loggia heard family stories about ancestors buried within Fort Totten, the former U.S. Army installation on the Willets Point peninsula in northern Queens. The Willets Point name derives from Charles Willets (1781-1833), who purchased the property in 1829. Before that, the peninsula belonged to the Thorne and Wilkins families. Englishman William Thorne (1617-1664) received the land from the Dutch in 1639, and the farmland remained in his family until 1788 when Ann Thorne married William Wilkins. Thomas and Vincent Loggia are descendants of Ann Thorne and William Wilkins. For many years, evidence of their family’s ancestral burial ground was lost and officials were unaware of its existence within the fort. After 20 years of painstaking research, the Loggia brothers recently proved the existence and location of the burial ground and had it recognized as the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

An 1860 map shows Wilkins Point (present-day Willets Point), the peninsula where Fort Totten is located today. Arrow denotes approximately location of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

The Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery is a small plot on a knoll about 500 feet inside the entrance of Fort Totten. A clause in the 1829 deed transferring the land from Jacob Thorne Wilkins to Charles Willets reserves the burial ground for the use of the family; this exception was reiterated in later transfers of the property. Some 30 members of the Thorne-Wilkins family are thought to be buried in the plot. Family progenitor William Thorne—one of the original patentees of Flushing, Queens, and a signer of the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance—may be among those laid to rest here. Exactly who is buried here is unknown—the only documentation of the graves was made by James Thorne, Jr., who visited the burial ground in 1857 and sketched five badly weathered tombstones.  Initials (“I.T.” and “A.T.”) and dates ranging from 1709 to 1775 were all that were visible on the stones.

This detail from an 1865 survey of property transferred to the U.S. government for Fort Totten shows the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery

Between April 1857 and April 1863, the U.S. government acquired the properties to create Fort Totten, which hosted a series of military services until a large portion of the land, including the cemetery plot, was secured by New York City Parks in 2001. At that time, only one memorial stone stood on the site of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery—a monument to Charles A. Willets, the man who acquired the property from the Thorne-Wilkins family. This marker is somewhat of a historical mystery. Records show that in 1855, the Willets family removed Charles A. Willets’ remains and his weathered tombstone from his “Flushing farm” to a plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His original burial place is not actually known; he may or may not have been interred in the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

Descriptions of the Thorne-Wilkins burial ground before the 1930s do not mention Charles Willets’ tombstone at the site, suggesting this marker was placed there sometime in the early 1900s, possibly to commemorate the namesake of Willets Point rather than as an actual gravemarker. Whatever the case may be, the existence of Willets’ marker at the site in the 20th century, along with the lack of any other headstones, contributed to the loss of association of the burial ground with the Thorne-Wilkins family. By the time the property was taken over by the Parks Department, officials did not know of the Thorne-Wilkins burial ground and mistakenly believed that Charles Willets was the only civilian who had ever been interred within the fort’s grounds.

Sketches of tombstones in the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery, 1857

In 2016, archaeologist Joan Geismar reviewed and analyzed the extensive material that Thomas and Vincent Loggia had amassed and presented it to the Parks Department to support the Loggias’ appeal to have the burial ground formally recognized as the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery. The request was successful and in 2019, with the full support of NYC Parks and other family members, Thomas and Vincent Loggia installed a one-ton boulder at the site. One side of the massive stone holds a plaque identifying the burial ground and its history; the opposite side has an inscription honoring their seventh great-grandfather, William Thorne.

Asked in a 2012 interview why he persevered in this family quest to seek out and memorialize the lost Thorne-Wilkins burial ground, Thomas Loggia responded: “People should acknowledge things of importance. Maybe nobody will ever go visit them again. But really, that’s not the point. The point is they existed.”

A 2018 aerial view of part of Fort Totten Park; arrow indicates location of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the City of New York and Its Environs (Walling 1860); Map of Survey of Land of Willets Point, Recently Purchased from Henry Day, Esq., by the United States (Trowbridge 1865); “Military and Civil Law Conflict,” New York Times Apr 21, 1895; “Willets Point Graveyard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle,  Dec 6, 1896; “Whitestone,” Brooklyn Times Union, Apr 26 1902; “Owned Property at Fort Totten,” Daily Star (Queens), Jan 10, 1907; “To Be Sold in Partition,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle,  Apr 4, 1911; “Legendary Tunnel of 1862 Traced at Fort Totten,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 17, 1937; “Until an Ancestral Graveyard is Found, No Time to Rest,” New York Times, Jun 1, 2012; Memo Report: Thorne/Wilkins/Willets Cemetery, Fort Totten, Queens (Geismar 2016); “Hidden in Plain Site: The Thorne-Wilkins Burying Ground,” New York Researcher, 28(4), Winter 2017; Thomas Loggia, personal communication, Jan 19, 2023

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.

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Tombstones in the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 1925 (NYPL)

Throughout the five boroughs, New Yorkers are actively protecting the forgotten and neglected burial places of their neighborhoods. Some are silent guardians tending to these old plots with little fanfare, while others are vocal advocates striving for preservation. Most have no familial or cultural ties to those interred in the graveyards they caretake and defend but feel called to save these historic sites and honor their departed local forerunners.

For more than 25 years, Ceil Pontecorvo almost single-handedly maintained the Moore-Jackson Cemetery next door to her apartment building on 54th Street in Woodside, Queens. Noticing that the old graveyard had become a neglected dumping ground, she determined that the people buried there “deserve better than this” and began planting flowers and shrubbery, picking up weeds and garbage, and was among those who lobbied the city to landmark the Colonial-era site, which they won in 1997.

At left is a map detail showing location of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside, Queens (mid-block between 31st St and 32nd St, the site extends from 51st to 54th St). At right is a 1919 survey showing location of graves at the site.

The Moore-Jackson Cemetery was established by 1733 on the farm of Samuel Moore and Charity Hallett Moore, just north of their homestead on Bowery Bay Road (present-day 51st Street) at the outskirts of the colonial village of Newtown. The Moores were early English settlers of Newtown, played a prominent role in the development of Queens, and intermarried with such leading families as the Rikers, Berriens, Blackwells, and Rapelyes. Among those interred in the cemetery is Nathaniel Moore (d. 1802), the owner of the land during the American Revolution. A staunch loyalist, Nathaniel Moore housed a division of the British Army following its victory at the Battle of Long Island and some say the British capture of Manhattan was planned in the Moore home. A great-granddaughter of Nathaniel’s married into the Jackson family, from which the cemetery and nearby Jackson Heights get their names.

A view of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 1927 (NYCMA)

The cemetery remained in active use until at least 1868 and contained at least 51 graves which were marked with fieldstone, brownstone, and marble gravestones. By the early 20th century, most of the Moore descendants had moved away, and the burial ground fell into periods of neglect and rediscovery. In 1998, the last surviving heir of Nathaniel Moore transferred ownership of the site to the Queens Historical Society.

Today, about a dozen headstones still stand at the Moore-Jackson Cemetery and only a few have legible inscriptions. Most of the gravestones are clustered near the side of the property bordering 54th Street and although that section was well kept by Ms. Pontecorvo and others, the rest of the half-acre property, which extends to 51st Street, remained “a jungle” for decades. In 2017, several Woodside residents came together to clean up the overgrown lot and received permission from the Queens Historical Society to create a community garden on part of the property. The cemetery has now entered a new phase of neighborhood guardianship. While the burial area near 54th Street is preserved, the remainder of the site is a vibrant community garden that provides fresh food, green space, and programs for local residents.

A view of tombstones at the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in October 2010. The gravestone in the foreground, commemorating Augustine Moore, is the oldest legible marker at the site today (Mary French)
The aerial view at left shows the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 2018; at right is a more recent view depicting the raised planting beds and other features of the new community garden at the property (NYCThen&Now/Google)

Sources: Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932); Woodside: A Historical Perspective, 1652-1994 (Gregory, 1994); Moore-Jackson Cemetery Designation Report (Landmarks Preservation Commission 1997); Moore-Jackson Cemetery Phase IA Archaeological Assessment Report (Bergoffen 1999); “A Long-Orphaned Family Plot,” New York Times, Jan 19, 1997; “A Hidden Cemetery of an Earlier Era Becomes More Visible,” New York Times, Jul 2, 2000; “Volunteers Want Help Revitalizing Colonial-Era Cemetery in Woodside,” DNAinfo, Oct 11 2017; “Historic Woodside Site Revamped Into Community Garden,” Astoria Post , Jan 14, 2022; Moore-Jackson Cemetery and Community Garden

Cole Family Burial Ground

This detail from an 1853 map of southern Westchester county shows the Charles Darke and William O. Giles farms, properties that previously made up the the Jacob Cole estate. The Cole burial ground and vault was located at the southern end of Charles Darke’s farm.

In the summer of 1895, general contractor Charles W. Collins got a contract with the city for grading part of Boston Road in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. His work proceeded smoothly and was almost complete when he encountered an unforeseen obstacle—a small graveyard, about 25 feet square, near what is today the intersection of Albany Crescent and Bailey Avenue. Containing several weather-beaten headstones and a ruined vault, the site was the burial place of between 40 and 50 members of the Cole, Schuyler, and Berrian families of Kingsbridge and Fordham. 

This burial place dated back to about 1820, when carpenter Jacob Cole acquired four acres of land near the junction of what was then Albany Post Road and Boston Post Road. By the 1840s, Jacob Cole’s property encompassed 52 acres between today’s Albany Crescent and West 238th Street. The burial ground, consisting mainly of a vault but with a few separate graves nearby, was situated at the south end of the Cole estate. Jacob Cole died in 1842, and in 1845 his son James and daughter-in-law Catherine sold the southern portion of the estate to Charles Darke, with an exception “reserving the vault for the use of descendants of Jacob Cole, deceased, twenty-two feet by forty feet.” Family members may have continued to use this burial place until the 1860s, afterward acquiring lots at Woodlawn Cemetery.

An 1867 property map (at left) shows the “Cole Grave Yard” on Charles Darke’s property; the 1873 topographical map at right depicts the burial vault.

The old Cole family burial vault, which was built into the slope of a hill and measured about 10 feet wide, 14 feet long, and 9 feet deep, first came to public attention in November of 1892 when heavy rainstorms caused the doorway to collapse and exposed the decayed and crumbling coffins to view. Children playing in the neighborhood discovered the open structure and carried off some of the skulls and bones. Descendants repaired the entrance to guard it against further vandalism, but their efforts would be short-term protection as it was only three years later that the site faced destruction.

When contractor Collins encountered the burial place during his roadway construction in 1895, he made arrangements with the city to remove the remains to St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens. This plan incurred the wrath of Cornelius B. Schuyler (known as “the man that owns Kingsbridge” according to a New York Tribune article), who threatened to shoot anyone that dared to desecrate the final resting place of his ancestors. Mr. Schuyler was eventually pacified when assured that he could transfer the remains to the Schuyler plot in Woodlawn Cemetery.

On August 20, 1895, Mr. Collins, Mr. Schuyler, and a representative of the Board of Health met at the site to witness the work of the undertakers who removed the remains from the vault and graves. When the vault was opened, they found the stone walls had crumbled and the shelves on which the coffins had been placed had sagged towards the middle of the vault, where there was a pile of bones several feet high. A few coffin plates and a set of false teeth were found, which Mr. Schuyler pocketed. Two headstones marking the graves outside the vault were taken along with the remains to Woodlawn. They bore the names of Jacob Cole and Berrian and were dated 1835. After the removal the vault was demolished; today the site is under the roadbed of Albany Crescent.

A 2018 aerial view of the former site of the Cole family burial ground and vault (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the southern part of West-Chester County, N.Y. (Dripps 1853); Map of Property Situate in the Town of Yonkers Westchester Co NY belonging to Charles Darke, 1867 (Westchester County Clerk Map #Vol3 PG17); Topographical Map Made from Surveys by the Commissioners of the Department of Public Parks of the City of New York of that part of Westchester County adjacent to the City and County of New York…(Department of Parks 1873); Westchester County Conveyances, Vol 109 p25-27, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “Skulls as Playthings,” Evening World, Nov 22, 1892; “An Old Burying Vault Disturbed, The Sun Nov 23, 1892; “Fifty in One Coffin,” New York Herald Sep 8, 1895; “An Old Graveyard Torn Up,” New York Tribune, Sep 8 1895; “An Old Graveyard Uncovered,” The Sun Sep 8, 1895; “Skeletons in the Kingsbridge Closet,” Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Spuyten Duyvil…(Tieck 1968); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City (Meade 2020)

Watt-Pinkney Family Burial Ground

An 1849 map shows Archibald Watt’s Harlem estate

On a June day in 1910, an undertaker and his assistants labored in the drizzling rain to remove coffins from the Watt-Pinkney estate that covered an entire city block between 139th street and 140th streets and 6th and 7th avenues (today’s Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard) in Harlem. Complete with magnificent trees, flower and vegetable gardens, two barns, and a row of chicken houses, this single-block enclave was a vestige of a vast farm purchased by Archibald Watt in 1826.

Born in Scotland, Archibald Watt came to New York in 1820 and made his fortune as a merchant and land speculator. In 1827, he married Mrs. Mary Pinkney, a widow whose deceased husband came from a wealthy Maryland family. Archibald became stepfather to Mary’s two daughters—17-year-old Mary Goodwin Pinkney and two-year-old Antoinette Pinkney. Archibald and Mary would go on to have two additional children, Thomas and Grace Watt.

Watt-Pinkney mansion at 139th Street near 7th Ave, ca. 1910 (MCNY)

Archibald’s stepdaughter Mary G. Pinkney became his confidant and business secretary and was deeply involved in his real estate deals. When he was hard-pressed for ready cash during a financial downturn in 1843, it was Miss Pinkney who came to his rescue with a $40,000 inheritance left to her by her father. In return, Archibald willed her his Harlem estate “in consideration of love and affection.” Until her death at age 98, Mary Pinkney made her primary residence at the old family manor house near the corner of 139th Street and 7th Avenue and took great pride in the grounds. Dubbed “the wealthiest spinster in the world” when she died in 1908, her real estate holdings in upper Manhattan were worth an estimated $50 million.

The 14-month old daughter of Thomas Watt, Mary Pinkney Watt’s 1858 burial record notes her place of interment as “Vault in her grandfather Archibald Watt’s garden”

Mary Pinkney’s will included a clause directing that “the mortal remains of the members of my family that lie buried in the private burial grounds situate in the plot between 139th street and 140th streets and between Sixth and Seventh avenues shall be removed to the plot now owned by me at Woodlawn Cemetery.” Six of Mary Pinkney’s family members were laid to rest on the estate—her half-sister Grace Watt, who died at age seven in 1839; her sister Antoinette Pinkney, died 1841, aged 16; her 14-month-old niece Mary Pinkney Watt, who died in 1858; her stepfather Archibald Watt, died 1867, age 77; her half-brother Thomas Watt, died 1876 at age 48; and her 94-year-old mother, Mary Goodwin Pinkney Watt, the final interment, in 1883.

In each case, the coffins were enclosed in brick masonry and sealed at the top but left without a tombstone or any other exterior markings. Although the location of the burial vaults is described as “under the grape arbor” on the property, precisely where this was within the block is not known today. When the vaults were opened in 1910, the coffins were found to be in excellent condition, with the nameplates still readable. They were removed and put in zinc boxes for reburial at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The Watt-Pinkney manor house and grounds were sold in 1925;  the house was subsequently demolished and the land redeveloped.

View of Watt-Pinkney farm, ca. 1900. The mansion can be seen in the background (MCNY)
This 1909 map shows the Watt-Pinkney mansion on north side of 139th street near 7th Ave and the grounds and outbuildings that occupied the remainder of the block.
A 2018 aerial view of the former Watt-Pinkney block in Harlem, where the family burial ground was located (NYCThen&Now)
The Watt-Pinkney plot at Woodlawn Cemetery, Sept 2021 (Mary French)

Sources: Sidney’s Map of Twelve Miles around New-York, 1849; Sanborn’s 1909 Insurance Maps of the City of New York,  Vol 11, Pl 33; New York, U.S., Episcopal Diocese of New York Church Records, 1767-1970 (Ancestry.com); “Died,” Evening Post, Jul 23, 1839; “Died,” Log Cabin, Nov 13, 1841; “Died,” New York Daily Tribune,  Jun 1, 1858; “Died,” New York Herald, Mar 2, 1867; “Died,” New York Herald, Nov 12, 1876; “Died,” New York Herald, Mar 26, 1883; “Estate of Millions, Miss Pinkney’s Care,” New York Times, May 4 1902; “Obituary—Miss Mary G. Pinkney,” New York Tribune, Dec 9, 1908; “Miss Pinkney Buried,” The Sun, Dec 11, 1908; “$50,000,000 Pinkney Estate Goes to a Man and Two Women,” Evening World, Dec 15, 1908; “Pinkney Estate Cut in Four,” The Sun, Dec 16, 1908; “City Overspreads Old Watt Cemetery,” New York Times, Jun 17, 1910; “Historic Estate in Auction Market,” New York Times, May 7 1911; “Harlem to Lose Ancient Landmark,” New York Times, Nov 29 1925; Biographical Register of Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, Vol 2 (Macbean 1925)