Category Archives: religious cemeteries

Polish National Catholic Cemetery

A view of the Polish National Catholic Cemetery, Apr 2017 (Mary French)

The Polish National Catholic Cemetery on Willowbrook Road in the Graniteville section of Staten Island is the parish cemetery of Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Church of Bayonne, New Jersey. Other than its location, this cemetery’s Staten Island/New York City associations are limited—most of those laid to rest here lived and worked in New Jersey—but it is of interest due to its connection to an important period in Polish American history.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Polish National Church, Bayonne, New Jersey, ca 1914 (Bayonne Public Library)

During the late 19th century, many Polish immigrants were unhappy with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States for several reasons, including an absence of a bishop of Polish birth or descent, lack of services in the Polish language, and disputes over ownership of church properties. These resentments smoldered into open revolt in many parishes, mainly in the Eastern states, and led to the founding of the Polish National Catholic Church in 1897. This independent Catholic denomination, headquartered in Scranton, Pennsylvania, comprised about 20,000 Poles who left the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Polish National Catholic Cemetery on Willowbrook Road was established during this time of conflict. In 1898, Bayonne Poles founded the Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel; shortly after it was incorporated, a schism in the parish resulted in a group breaking off to incorporate as St. Mary Carmelite Roman Catholic Polish Church. A dramatic struggle over church property ensued between the two corporations, including several church raids and a lawsuit that was decided in favor of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel delegation. In the aftermath, St. Mary Carmelite  became a parish of the Polish National Catholic Church and reorganized under the name Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This snippet from a 1907 map shows the Polish National Catholic Cemetery—identified here as St. Mary’s R.C. Church property—on Willowbrook Road

On March 14, 1902, the parish—still incorporated at that time as St. Mary Carmelite Roman Catholic Polish Church—paid $1,200 for the tract of land on Willowbrook Road for “its successors and assigns forever for cemetery purposes.”  Today the half-acre burial ground is enclosed by a chain-link fence that separates it from Lake Cemetery and Rehoboth Pentecostal Church on its north side and a housing development on its south side. The well-kept site is still an active parish cemetery of Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Church.

The Polish National Catholic Cemetery and surrounding properties in 1951
2012 aerial view of the Polish National Catholic Church Cemetery

View more photos of Polish National Catholic Cemetery

Sources: Robinson’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Richmond Pl 6; 1951 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Staten Island (Borough Of Richmond), Richmond County, New York; Richmond County Conveyances, Liber 289, p469-470, Richmond County Clerks Office; Bayonne Old and New (Sinclair 1940); Handbook of Denominations in the United States (Mead 1995); “Polish National Catholic Church,” Encyclopedia Britannica; “Church in Court,” The Jersey City News, Nov 19, 1901; “Parishioners Raid Church,” Passaic Daily News, Oct 23, 1903; “Louis Kubizna,” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), Nov 23, 1926; “Joseph Jaworoski,” The News (Paterson, New Jersey), May 19 1954; “Michael Archdeacon,” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), Nov 18, 1968; “Stanley Senkoski,” The Central New Jersey Home News, Feb 7, 1974; “Adolph S. Mager,” Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghampton NY), Nov 28, 1992; “Julia Obarowski,” Asbury Park Press, Apr 4, 2002; “Helen Bilinski,” The Jersey Journal, Nov 15, 2010; “Florence Vila,” The Jersey Journal , Dec 21, 2017; “Our Memorial Day Observance,” Heart of Jesus PNCC, June 2011

Methodist Cemetery, Jamaica

Detail from an 1859 map of Jamaica, showing the Methodist Cemetery on New York Ave (present-day Guy R. Brewer Blvd)

An overgrown lot behind a chain-link fence at the corner of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and Liberty Avenue in Jamaica, Queens, is a burial ground for some of the area’s earliest settlers. Although it is surrounded by York College, the cemetery is owned by the First United Methodist Church of Jamaica. This congregation is located today on Highland Avenue but traces its beginnings to the town’s original Methodist church, erected in 1811 on what is now 151st Street near Archer Avenue. By 1844, Jamaica’s First Methodist Church membership had increased to 100 and the congregation erected a new building on Jamaica Avenue and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. 

In 1850, four church members donated the lot at Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and Liberty Avenue to the First Methodist Church to use as a cemetery. The 125ft x 125ft site was already in use as a burial ground for the family and friends of Obadiah P. and Susan Leech (two of the four donors of the property) and the donation agreement reserved several sections for their future use. First Methodist Church moved bodies from its old burial ground, in the churchyard next to their original building on 151st Street, to the new Methodist Cemetery and continued burials here into the early 1900s. The last known burial in the Methodist Cemetery was in 1933.

A 1907 map shows the Methodist Cemetery; south of the cemetery is Jamaica Hospital, which was constructed in 1898 and demolished in the mid-1900s.

Many of the people buried in the Methodist Cemetery were prominent figures in historic Jamaica, including town officials, merchants, and Civil War veterans. One of the family plots contains the remains of John Dunn (d. 1827), a founding trustee of the First Methodist Church of Jamaica, his wife Deborah (who died in 1816 and is the oldest known burial in the cemetery), and their children and grandchildren. 

Obituary of Jane P. Holland, interred at the Methodist Cemetery in 1920

Over a dozen members of the Holland family are interred at the Methodist Cemetery, including Michael P. Holland (d.1859) and Fannie Holland (d. 1893), who are important in Queens history as pioneer settlers of Rockaway Beach. After owning a tobacco business and hotel in Jamaica, in 1857 Michael and Fannie Holland invested $350 to purchase 65 acres of land from today’s Beach 90 to Beach 95 Street in Rockaway, including a small hotel that would begin operating as the Holland Hotel. Michael Holland died shortly after they got their Rockaway venture going, leaving Fannie Holland to run the hotel and raise nine children alone. Over the next 50 years, the Hollands’ original investment grew to over $1 million and the family’s influence in the new community at Rockaway Beach continued for generations. Fannie Holland’s legacy includes founding the First Congregational Church of Rockaway Beach.

Part of the Methodist Cemetery can be seen in this 1948 photo of a house that once stood adjacent to the cemetery on its north side (QPL)

In the 1870s, the First Methodist Church congregation moved to a new building on Jamaica Avenue and 165th St; they would relocate again in the 1920s before settling at their current location in 1949. It was around this time that their cemetery went into decline and by the 1990s it had become a dumping ground and haven for drug addicts. Although it was cleaned up and fenced off for protection in the early 2000s, the historic Methodist Cemetery of Jamaica remains overgrown, unmaintained, and inaccessible.

Tombstones are barely visible through the overgrowth at the Methodist Cemetery, May 2016 (Mary French)
A view of the Methodist Cemetery enclosure along Guy R. Brewer Blvd, May 2016 (Mary French)
A 2018 aerial view of the Methodist Cemetery at Gury R. Brewer Blvd and Liberty Ave, Jamaica, Queens (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Jamaica (Walling 1859); Hyde’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Queens Vol 1 Pl 10; Inscriptions from the Methodist Cemetery at Jamaica, New York (Frost 1911); Cemeteries in Kings and Queens Counties (Eardeley 1916); The Methodist Cemetery of Jamaica, New York: A Brief History (Walski n.d. – Manuscript on file, Queens Library Archives); “Miss Jane B. Holland,” Brooklyn Times Union, Aug 18, 1920; “Firemen Fight Blaze in Cemetery Grass,” Long Island Daily Press, Jun 19, 1936; “A Grave Situation: Cemetery Turns in Drug Haven,” Newsday July 16, 1992; “Cemetery Maintenance Re-examined in Queens,” Queens Chronicle, Feb 9, 1995; “Where the Living Haunt the Dead,” Daily News, May 5, 1995; “Settler Burial Ground Falls Victim to Neglect,” New York Times, Sep 24 1995; “Cleanup at Historic Cemetery,” Daily News, March 14, 1997; “Mystery Cemetery Cleanup Has People Puzzled in Jamaica,” Queens Chronicle, Aug 16, 2001; Draft Environmental Impact State for the Queens Family Court and Family Court Agencies Facility, Jamaica, Queens Co. Appendix A: Phase IA Archaeological Assessment (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 1997); Rockaway Beach (Carter 2012); “Finding Fannie Holland,” Oy Vey Rockaway, Jan 25, 2012; Susan Walski, personal communication, 16 Mar 2022

St. Thomas’ Churchyard

An 1826 drawing of the first St. Thomas Church at Broadway and Houston Streets (St. Thomas Church )

St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue is one of America’s most beautiful places of worship, renowned for its glorious liturgical music and stunning architecture. Situated at the heart of Midtown since 1868, this Episcopal parish has its roots in the lower part of Manhattan. In 1823, a group from the city’s three largest Episcopal parishes—all located at the overcrowded southern tip of Manhattan—met to discuss the need for new church further uptown, where residents were migrating. In January of 1825, St. Thomas Church was incorporated and that July ground was broken for their church building at the northwest corner of Broadway and Houston Street, a location then at the edge of the settled city.

Detail from an 1852 map showing St. Thomas Church at Broadway and Houston. Burial vaults were located in the churchyard behind the building.

To raise money for their first house of worship, the vestry of St. Thomas decided to utilize open ground behind the church for burial vaults. Here they built 58 vaults, each 9×11 feet, that were sold for $250 each. At least 36 of the vaults were purchased by families of St. Thomas. Among those who acquired a family vault was William Backhouse Astor, a member of St. Thomas’ original vestry. William B. Astor’s father John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest man in the country at that time, was interred in William’s private vault in St. Thomas’ churchyard when he died in 1848.

The first St. Thomas Church was consecrated in 1826. Designed in the Gothic style, it had octagonal towers that rose over the countryside like a castle. After it was destroyed in an 1851 fire, a second church was built on the same site. But by that time, the once-fashionable neighborhood at Broadway and Houston Street had changed dramatically, the church shared the street with bawdy dance halls, saloons, and hotels, and many of its members had moved on. In the 1860s, the congregation made plans to relocate even farther uptown, acquiring land at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street for a new church.

An 1824 notice for burial vaults for sale at St. Thomas churchyard

Removal of the burial vaults in the churchyard posed a difficulty in the sale of St. Thomas’ church  property at Broadway and Houston. When the vestry originally sold the vault lots at the rear of the church, the deeds protected the rights of the vault owners for the duration of the church’s corporation. Consequently, the property as a whole could not be sold unless the vault owners agreed to surrender their rights or to sell the land back to the corporation. Many vault holders did agree to transfer the remains of their family members to other places; the remains of the Astors, for example, were removed to Trinity Cemetery. But some refused to give their consent and over a hundred bodies were still interred in the vaults at the time the property was to be sold.

Notice of John Jacob Astor’s funeral and interment in his son’s burial vault in St. Thomas Churchyard in 1848

After several years of legal wrangling, in 1868 a settlement was reached wherein the vestry was compelled to pay $48,550 to the owners of the 28 vaults that were still occupied and the remains were subsequently removed. On October 14, 1868, the cornerstone of the new St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue was laid. This structure was destroyed by fire in 1905 and replaced by the present sanctuary, a French Gothic Revival masterpiece completed in 1916. The site of the parish’s first church building and burial vaults at Broadway and Houston is now occupied by the Cable Building, built in 1892.

A modern map shows the Cable Building at the site of the original St. Thomas Church and burial vaults (NYCityMap)

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; “Private Vaults,” Evening Post, Apr 7, 1824;  “Funeral of John Jacob Astor,” New York Daily Tribune, Apr 1, 1848;  “Difficulties in St. Thomas’s Church,” New York Daily Tribune, Apr 20, 1860; “Removal of St. Thomas’ Church,” New York Times, July 31, 1860; “Sale and Removal  of St. Thomas’s Church,” New York Daily Tribune, July 28, 1860; “Sale of St. Thomas’ Church, in Broadway,” New York Times, Aug 2, 1865; “Sale of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church; The World, Aug 2, 1865; “Two More Landmarks Gone,” Evening Post, Jun 11, 1866; Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Wright 2001); From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); All Around the Town: Amazing Manhattan Facts and Curiosities (Bunyan 1999); The Gate of Heaven: The Story of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Our Town Films 1999)

St. Joseph’s Cemetery

A view of monuments in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)

Each spring and fall, about 150 people from the parish of St. Joseph-St. Thomas participate in clean-up operations at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in the Rossville section of Staten Island. Including members of the Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, parish sports teams, and other groups, the crew clears graves of underbrush and ivy, pours fresh dirt on old graves that have sunken in, and spreads grass seeds to fight erosion. Putting belief into action, the people of St. Joseph-St. Thomas volunteer their time and energy to maintain a safe and respectful burial place where family and friends can visit the graves of their loved ones.

This snippet from an 1874 map shows St. Joseph’s Church on Washington St (now Poplar Ave) and their parish cemetery one block away on Glen Ave (now Barry St)

In keeping their cemetery in good condition, the people of St. Joseph-St. Thomas are also preserving the legacy of their parish. St. Joseph’s Church was founded in 1848, by Father Mark Murphy, pastor of St. Peter’s Church (the first Catholic church on Staten Island), when he celebrated Mass for 58 Catholics in a house on Rossville Avenue as a mission of St. Peter’s. In 1851, a small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph was completed on what is now Poplar Avenue. In 1855, St. Joseph’s became an official parish—the third oldest of Staten Island’s parishes after St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s. In 1862, St. Joseph’s purchased land for a cemetery about one block away from their church, on the south side of today’s Barry Street. Now comprising 2.5 acres, St. Joseph’s Cemetery is the final resting place of over 1,000 Catholics, including many veterans of the American Civil War, Spanish-American War, First World War, Second World War, Korean War, and Vietnam era.

A 1903 newspaper clipping about the death of Thomas R. Murphy, who is interred at St. Joseph’s Cemetery

In 1959, the parish of St. Joseph merged with St. Thomas the Apostle in Pleasant Plains to become the parish of St. Joseph-St. Thomas. Both St. Joseph and St. Thomas continue to offer services and their combined parish is one of the largest and most active on Staten Island. And burials are still made at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, which is operated by the parish and cared for by its community. Cardinal John O’Connor commented on the community’s dynamism at the parish’s 150th anniversary celebration in 1998. “This is truly a living parish,” he said. “It is so important that what you leave to those who will follow you is at least equal to what you have received from those who went before.”

These two Hungarian markers at St. Joseph’s Cemetery may mark the graves of immigrants who worked in brickyards that operated in the nearby Kreischerville section (now Charleston) of Staten Island during the 19th and early 20th centuries (Mary French)
2018 aerial view showing St. Joseph’s Church and parish cemetery in Rossville (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of St. Joseph Cemetery

Sources: Beers 1874 Atlas of Staten Island, Sec 23; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “Killed at the Crossing,” Richmond County Advance, Dec 12, 1903; “‘150 Years New,’” Catholic New York, Jul 2, 1998; Denis P. McGowan, comment on “The Ruins of Rossville,” Forgotten New York, Nov. 15, 2015

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)