Category Archives: public cemeteries

Bensonia Cemetery

A view of Bensonia Cemetery in 1898 (NYPL)
A view of Bensonia Cemetery in 1898 (NYPL)

An 1870 newspaper article describes Memorial Day observances held in Bensonia Cemetery:

Yesterday morning the members of Post Oliver A. Tilden, No. 96 of Morrisania, assembled at 6 o’clock, and marched to Bensonia Cemetery. Following the procession, with a wagon filled with flowers was the colored body servant of Capt. Tilden, who was during all the campaigns of the war in the field. The Post was under the command of Wesley Farrington. On their arrival at the cemetery, the men, numbering about fifty, formed a hollow square about the grave of Capt. Tilden with a solitary woman mourner in the inclosure. Commander Farrington then made a short address to his comrades and those gathered there, when he deposited on the monument a handsome wreath of white flowers. Chaplain Geo. G. Chase then made a short, appropriate prayer, after which he and the rest of the members of the Post each laid their floral gift on the grave. They then proceeded to New-York to take part in the parade and floral decorations at Cypress Hill Cemetery.  (New-York Tribune, May 31, 1870)

Bensonia Cemetery was established in 1853 as a community burial ground for the Town of Morrisania, which was then a part of Westchester County. In 1874 Morrisania was annexed by New York City and today comprises a portion of the South Bronx. Bensonia Cemetery was located along St. Ann’s Avenue, extending from Rae Street to Carr Street. Developed by James L. Parshall, one of the original settlers of Morrisania, the cemetery was a picturesque spot, densely shaded by elms, poplars, and evergreens.

Oliver Tilden, who was born and raised in Morrisania and enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, was buried at Bensonia after he was killed in combat near Chantilly, Virginia, in September 1862.  Tilden was the first soldier from this neighborhood to give his life for the Union during the Civil War.  His remains were transferred to Woodlawn Cemetery in 1878.

It is unknown how many other individuals were interred at Bensonia before it was closed to burials in 1868.   About a third of the cemetery was taken in 1870 when St. Ann’s Avenue extended through the site and a large number of disinterments were made at that time. More burials were disturbed in 1893, when German Place was laid out along the west side of the graveyard. By the turn of the century, only about two acres remained of the original Bensonia Cemetery, and the abandoned property, with just a few gravestones still standing, had become a dumping ground for neighborhood refuse. In 1908 Bensonia was taken by the city for public use and the graves were transferred to Woodlawn Cemetery. Public School 38 (now called the South Bronx Educational Complex) was built on the site in 1921.

Bensonia Cemetery in 1867.
Bensonia Cemetery in 1867.
Bensonia Cemetery in 1898.
Bensonia Cemetery in 1898.
A present-day view of the Bensonia Cemetery site.
A present-day view of the Bensonia Cemetery site.

Sources: “Decoration Day,” New-York Tribune, May 31, 1870, p. 1; “Suited for a Park Park Site: Bensonia Cemetery Now a Dirty Waste,” New-York Tribune, April 8, 1900, p. A4; “Do You Remember,” by Bill Twomey, Bronx Times, Nov. 25, 2009; Captain Oliver Triangle, NYC Parks & Recreation ; Annual Financial and Statistical Report of the Board of Education of the City of New York 1922 p. 147; Beer’s 1867 Plans of Westchester, West Farms, Morrisania, Westchester Co. and Part of New York County; Robinson’s 1885 Atlas of the City of New York Pl 34; NYCityMap

Strattonport Village Cemetery

From about 1851 to 1861, a village cemetery occupied the vicinity of present-day 125th Street and 15th Avenue, in College Point, Queens.  The site served as a community burial ground for residents of Strattonport, an area that was laid out into lots by land speculators in 1851 and was incorporated into the town of College Point in 1867.  John Flammer, one of the businessmen who developed Strattonport village in 1851, apparently provided the property that was used for the cemetery.  A map of the village from ca. 1860 (below) identifies four lots as “Cemetery given by Flammer.” These lots are shown on the south side of the Road to Whitestone (today’s 15th Ave), west of Amelia Street (125th St), extending to Wall Street (124th St).

In 1856, a local newspaper published the following notice regarding the cemetery:

Notice is hereby given to the inhabitants of Strattonport and all other persons, who have buried their dead on my lots at Strattonport, situated on the east side of Amelia Street, and known on the map of Strattonport as Lots numbered 677, 682, 683, and 684, to remove the same to some other place of burial by or before the 20th day of November next.  JOHN REED.  Dated, Sept 10, 1856. (Flushing Journal, Nov. 29, 1856)

Strattonport village map, ca. 1860, showing the “Cemetery given by Flammer” and the four lots identified by John Reed as a cemetery in his 1856 notice.

Reed’s notice states that the burials were located on lots on the east side of Amelia Street, whereas the village map from ca. 1860 shows the “Cemetery given by Flammer” on the west side of Amelia Street.  It is not known whether the map is incorrect, if the wrong lots are listed in the notice, or if the cemetery extended to both sides of the street. In any case, burials were certainly present on John Reed’s property and continued to be made even after his 1856 request for removal of the bodies.  In 1860, he gave another notice to the community:

Notice has been given by Mr. Reed to those who have friends interred in the Strattonport burying ground to have them removed by Feb. 1st as all bodies not removed by that time by friends, will be interred elsewhere. (Flushing Journal, Dec. 29, 1860)

Shortly after this last notice, family members removed the remains of 20 individuals from the burial ground to Flushing Cemetery, in nearby Flushing, Queens.  Flushing Cemetery recorded details about these individual removals and their records provide the only known information about individuals originally buried at the Strattonport cemetery.  According to their records, dates of death for the named individuals removed from the Strattonport cemetery ranged from 1853 to 1859, and surnames included Baker, Bien, Boyle, Derbing, Everhart, Gruner, Holdorff, Leopold, Loerbecker, Miller, Myers, Plitt, Schneider, and Simon.

On March 10, 1861, John Reed had workers remove from his property the remaining 68 bodies that had gone unclaimed.  These were reinterred in two plots that he had purchased at Flushing Cemetery to serve as a common grave.  No one installed a gravestone at the reburial site when the remains were reinterred, and the gravesite remained unmarked until the Poppenhusen Institute in College Point placed a monument at the site in April 2007.

Since the early 20th century, homes have occupied both of the areas (the lots owned by John Reed and the area described as the “Cemetery given by Flammer”) near 15th Ave and 125th St in College Point that were identified as the location of the Strattonport Village Cemetery in the 1800s.

View of plots 20 & 21, Section J, at Flushing Cemetery – the reburial site of remains removed from Strattonport Village Cemetery in 1861.
The marker installed at the Strattonport Village Cemetery reburial site by the Poppenhusen Institute in 2007.

Sources:  Strattonport Cemetery document file, Poppenhusen Institute Archives; Map of the Village of Flammersburg, including the land called Strattonport between College Point and Flushing, Long Island (original on file at Topographical Bureau, Borough of Queens).

The New Burial Place Without the Gate of the City

Miller Plan of New York, 1695, showing the New Burial Place
Miller Plan of New York, 1695, showing the New Burial Place

In 1656, officials of New Amsterdam considered the necessity to establish a new cemetery to replace The Old Graveyard that was located on the west side of Broadway around present-day Morris Street.  Exactly when the new graveyard was created is uncertain, but the 1686 Charter of the City of New York identified “the new burial place without the gate of the city” among a list of public accommodations belonging to the municipality.

This burial ground is shown on the 1695 Miller Plan of New York (above), situated on the west side of Broadway just beyond the city gates that were located on Wall Street.  In 1703 the city conveyed this parcel of land to Trinity Church, which had, in 1696, purchased land adjacent to the burial ground to establish their church.  The city transferred the graveyard to Trinity on the condition that it be used as the “publick Church yard and burial place of this Citty for Ever.” It is contained in what is today the northern portion of Trinity churchyard, between Wall Street and Pine Street.  When there was a proposal to extend Albany Street through the northern portion of Trinity churchyard in 1847, a report opposing the extension described the burial ground:

It is nearly a century older than the other sections of the yard. It was originally a valley, about thirty feet lower at its extreme depth than the present surface, and has undergone successive fillings, as the density of interments rendered it necessary, to raise the land until it reached the present surface, so that the earth now, to a depth of several feet below the original and thence to the present time of interment, is in truth filled with human remains . . . The bodies buried there were those of many thousand persons of several generations, and of all ages, sects and conditions, including a large number of the officers and soldiers of the Revolutionary War, who died whilst in British captivity; and almost every old family that is or ever was in this city, has friends, relatives or connections lying there.

Diagram of the New Burial Place at the time it was transferred to Trinity Cemetery.
The northern section of present-day Trinity Churchyard  contains the New Burial Place.
The northern section of present-day Trinity Churchyard contains the New Burial Place.
The gravestone of five-year-old Richard Churcher, who died in 1681, is likely a remnant of the old burial ground.

Sources: Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 2:24-25; Charter of the City of New York, 1686, reprinted in The Memorial History of the City of New-York 437-446; Ecclesiastical Records, State of New York 2:1134, 1180Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1675-1776 2:221Treatise Upon The Estate and Rights of the Corporation of the City of New York 2:176-177, Diag. 2; NYCityMap.

The Old Graveyard of New Amsterdam

The Old Graveyard shown on the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660
The Old Graveyard shown on the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660

The earliest known cemetery of colonial Manhattan was located on the west side of Broadway, around present-day Morris Street.  It is unclear when it was first established as a burial ground, but by 1656 it apparently had been in use for many years as it was referred to in Dutch records at that time as “The Old Graveyard, which is wholly in ruins.”  The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660 (below) shows the cemetery’s location along the west side of the main highway that later became known as Broadway.  The dilapidated condition of the Old Graveyard was cause for concern again in 1665, when city officials described it as “open and unfenced, so that hogs root in the same.”  In 1676, the city ordered that the cemetery be broken into lots and sold at auction.

What happened to the burials in the Old Graveyard after it was disposed of by the city is unknown.  It is possible that the graves were moved to the new burial place that had been established further north along Broadway at what is now the northern end of Trinity churchyard.  A more likely scenario (and one that is seen repeatedly for the city’s later public cemeteries) is that the graves were left in place and the area filled in before the land was reused.  Evidence of the Old Graveyard was discovered in the mid-1800s when workmen uncovered human remains while excavating cellars in the area.  Today, the high-rise office buildings that cover the site have obliterated all signs of this early colonial graveyard.

The Old Graveyard (here called “The Old Churchyard”) shown in relation to present-day Morris street on Stokes’ Map of Dutch Grants.
Approximate location of The Old Graveyard site in present day lower Manhattan.
Approximate location of former site of The Old Graveyard in present-day lower Manhattan.

Sources: Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 2:24-25, 5:253Minutes of the Common Council of the city of New York, 1675-1776 1:47Manual for Corporation of the City of New York for 1856 444-447; The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 2:221-222, Pl. 87; NYCityMap.