Category Archives: religious cemeteries

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)

Bedford Street Methodist Church Graveyard and Vaults

This vintage photo of Bedford and Morton streets in Greenwich Village shows part of the Bedford Street Methodist Church at the southeast corner, just before it was demolished in 1914 (NYPL)

The first Methodist congregation in Greenwich Village was founded in 1805 and in 1810 erected a meeting house at the southeast corner of Bedford and Morton streets. This structure—a frame building with shingled sides—was enlarged in 1830, then replaced in 1840 by a red-brick church. The Bedford Street Methodist church became one of the largest and most prosperous congregations in the city, its membership ranging in size from 800 to 1,200 for most of the 19th century. Known as “a hot furnace of religious activity” for its evangelism, the Bedford Street Church congregation included the middle classes of old Greenwich Village as well as wealthy local families such as the McLeans, Brushes, DeGroots, Bakers, and Halls.

This detail from an 1854 map shows the Bedford Street Methodist Church at the southeast corner of Bedford and Morton streets in Greenwich Village. The empty lot next to the church along Morton Street is the former church grounds; by that time remains from the cemetery had been exhumed and removed to vaults beneath the church.

The original meeting house faced Bedford Street and behind it stretched a graveyard where approximately 3,000 bodies were buried until the new church was built in 1840. At that time, a system of burial vaults was constructed beneath the church and the cemetery plot along Morton Street was sold. Before the purchaser was allowed to take possession of the cemetery property, the ground was “carefully dug over by employees of the church, who gathered up every human relic and deposited it in the vaults,” according to one account. The vaults beneath the church continued to be used for new interments until about 1865.

Monument at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens marking the plot where remains exhumed from the Bedford Street Methodist Church graveyard and vaults were reburied (Chris Bendall)

The Bedford Street Methodist Church building stood over the bones of several thousand of the “best and truest people of Greenwich Village” until title to the church property passed to the city in 1913 for the southward extension of Seventh Avenue. Before the demolition of the building in January of 1914, remains from the burial vaults beneath the church were moved to a plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens. The homeless Bedford Street Methodist congregation merged with the Metropolitan Methodist Temple on Seventh Avenue and 13th Street, which was later renamed the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church.

Excavations for the Seventh Avenue subway line in 1916 uncovered remains that had been left behind in the old burial ground and vaults at the Bedford Street Methodist Church site. In a report entitled “The Catacombs of Seventh Avenue,” an engineer for the Bureau of Subway Construction detailed the discoveries and described the “huge underground tomb” still present where the church once stood. Constructed of brick and stone, it included 20 separate vaults and two lengthy passages that led to the individual burial chambers. The remains of about 50 people were found at the site and taken to Mount Olivet Cemetery for reburial.

For more than a century the Bedford Street Methodist Church stood at the heart of Greenwich Village. Today Seventh Avenue cuts through the former church site, and passengers on the 1 train ride through what was once the burial place of the Village’s earliest Methodist congregation.

A 2018 aerial view of the southeast corner of the Bedford and Morton Streets, the former site of the Bedford Street Methodist Church and its burial places. Arrow denotes approximate location. (NYCThen&Now)
Location of the Beford Street Methodist Church reburial plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery (Mount Olivet Cemetery Map, with notation by Chris Bendall, Nov 2022)

Sources: Perris’ 1854 Maps of the City of New York, Vol 5 Pl 59; Annals of New York Methodism (Seaman 1892); The American Metropolis, from Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time, Vol 3 (Moss 1897); Nooks & Corners of Old New York (Hemstreet 1899); From Abyssianian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); “A Tour Around New York,” Evening Post, Mar 4, 1887; “To Dig Up Bodies Long Buried,” The Sun, Sep 23 1913; “Historic Church to Go,” New York Times, Oct 3, 1913; “Old Graves Block Street,”  New York Tribune, Oct 24, 1913; “Old Church to Go,” New York Times, Nov 13, 1913; Laws of the State of New York Passed at the 137th Session of the Legislature, Begun January 7th 1914 and ended March 27th, 1914, Vol. I, Ch. 138 (New York 1914); “Wrecking of Bedford Street M.E. Church Removes a Historic Shrine,” New York  Press, Dec 18 1913; “Ancient Cemeteries Dug Up in Subways,” New York Times, June 11 1916; Chris Bendall, personal communication, Nov 19, 2022

Mount Loretto Cemetery

Mount Loretto Cemetery, May 2017 (Mary French)

In 1908, the New York Tribune published the following verse from a poem entitled “A Visit to the Old Home”:

I stood within the graveyard, boys,
Among loved ones at rest;
And peered within the marble vault
Where lay our friends the best.
The Reverend Father Dougherty
And “Father John” Drumgoole,
Whose minds and hands both worked and planned
To teach the Golden Rule.

The Tribune reprinted this stanza from the December 1908 issue of the Mount Loretto Messenger, the class journal of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin of Mount Loretto, which was dedicated that month to the 25th anniversary of the Mission’s opening on the south shore of Staten Island. The Mission of the Immaculate Virgin was founded in 1883 by Father John C. Drumgoole as a facility to house and train homeless boys. Operated by the Archdiocese of New York, the main buildings were located north of present-day Hylan Boulevard and west of Sharrott Avenue. Girls were admitted beginning in 1897 and lived in St. Elizabeth’s, a Victorian building on the south side of Hylan Avenue.

This snippet from a 1907 map shows the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin complex and the Mount Loretto Cemetery (arrow)

By 1947, the facility at Mount Loretto spread over 700 acres and had 42 buildings—including the Church of Sts. Joachim and Anne— that housed 700 boys, 360 girls, 85 Franciscan nuns, and five priests. By that time, it had been the home of over 50,000 children and was the largest childcare institution in the U.S. As foster care emerged and orphanages declined, Mount Loretto transitioned in the 1970s. The Mount Loretto campus, much reduced in size, is now run by Catholic Charities of Staten Island and is home to numerous educational, athletic, and service programs that aid children and teens, the disabled, and those living with addiction and mental or physical challenges. 

The poem quoted above was written by Thomas J. Reynolds, one of the former “mission kids,” and describes a visit to the cemetery at Mount Loretto. The small graveyard is located in a clearing in the woods at the back of the Mount Loretto grounds, down a road east of the main buildings. The earliest known interments here were husband and wife Louis and Louise De Comeau in 1885. The De Comeaus were a wealthy local family that made generous contributions to the Mission. Their daughter Yolande donated $100,000 for the construction of a home for blind girls on the property. She later joined the Sisters of St. Francis and became Superioress of the motherhouse at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin in 1900. 

Mausoleum erected in 1899 for interment of Father Drumgoole’s remains (SI Advance)

Father Drumgoole was buried in Mount Loretto Cemetery when he died of pneumonia in 1888. In 1899  his body was moved from his grave to a mausoleum built by his close friend and successor as head of the Mission, Rev. James J. Dougherty. Rev. Dougherty is also laid to rest in the tomb, which stands on a gentle rise in the center of the cemetery. Msgr. Mallick J. Fitzpatrick, who headed the Mission from 1907 until he died in 1936, is interred beside his predecessors.

Mount Loretto Cemetery is the final resting place for children who died in the facility and for alumni raised at the Mission who died after they went out into the world but were returned to their old home for burial. Notable among these is U.S. Marine Angel Mendez, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Mendez died saving the life of his platoon commander Ronald Castille, who would later become the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Obituary of 10-year-old William Mulligan, who died at the Mount Loretto boy’s home in 1902 and was buried in Mount Loretto Cemetery

Dozens of rows of simple, flat headstones at Mount Loretto Cemetery mark the graves of the Franciscan nuns who taught at the Mission. Among them is the grave of Sister Mary Angela Flanagan, a Superioress of St. Elizabeth’s, the girl’s home at Mount Loretto. She died at age 40 of burns she received when candle flames ignited her robes as she knelt before a shrine for prayers on a December night in 1898. The Mount Loretto Cemetery is still actively used for interments of Sisters of St. Francis who were formerly connected with the Mount Loretto campus. One of the most recent burials is Sister Mary Beatrice Campbell, who entered the Order of St. Francis in 1928 and taught at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin from 1937 to 1945. She died in 2015 at age 105.

Flat headstones mark the graves of the Sisters of St. Francis interred at Mount Loretto Cemetery (SI Advance)

Today the old graveyard at Mount Loretto is maintained by staff of Resurrection Cemetery, which is located just east of the Mount Loretto campus and was created in 1977 from a large swathe of land transferred from the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin. Few know of the cemetery’s existence at Mount Loretto; no signs point the way to this historic burial ground beyond the modern school buildings and athletic fields. And those who stumble across are out of luck; it is protected by an iron fence and gate that is kept locked with a “no trespassing” sign warning away intruders.

But the cemetery does have occasional visitors. Each September, alumni return to Mount Loretto to reunite and reminisce on the grounds of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin. The cemetery is a favorite spot for the former “mission kids” and their families to visit on these annual Alumni Days, offering them a time to reflect on the hallowed ground where the Mission’s founder is laid to rest, along with others who served at the Mission or were raised there.

This 2012 aerial view shows the Mount Loretto complex today, north of Hylan Blvd. Arrow identifies location of the cemetery, shown in greater detail below (NYCityMap)

2012 aerial view of Mount Loretto Cemetery (NYCityMap)

Sources: Robinson’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Richmond, City of New York, Pl 21; Children’s Shepherd: The Story of John Christopher Drumgoole (Burton 1954); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “The Death of Mrs. De Comeau,” New York Herald, Dec 15, 1885; “Father Drumgoole’s Funeral,” New York Herald, April_3_1888; “These Boys Get Along,” The Sun, May 11, 1890; “Nun at Prayer Mortally Burned,” New York Herald, Dec 7, 1898; “Father Drumgoole’s Body Moved,” New York Tribune, Dec 1, 1899; “Death Notices,” Richmond County Advance, Sep 6, 1902; “Its Silver Jubilee,” New York Tribune, Dec 10, 1908; “Msgr Fitzpatrick Buried on Monday,” The Tablet, Dec 12, 1936; “A Push to Get Staten Island War Hero the Medal of Honor,” Staten Island Advance, Mar 16, 2009; “Sister Mary Beatrice Campbell, O.S.F.,” Catholic New York, Jul 9, 2015; “’Mission Kids for Life’ Reunite and Reminisce at Mount Loretto,” Staten Island Advance, Sep 24 2017; “Mount Loretto” Staten Island Advance, May 15, 2018; Hidden Staten Island: Exploring the Secrets of Mt. Loretto

St. Paul’s Churchyard, Cobble Hill

Cornelius Heeney monument at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, Cobble Hill, Oct 2022 (Mary French)

In the back garden of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, are several vaults, all that remains of the church’s small original graveyard. One of these is the tomb of Irish-born philanthropist Cornelius Heeney (1754-1848) who donated the land, at Court and Congress Streets, where St. Paul’s was built in 1838. Though his name is unfamiliar today, Heeney made incalculable contributions to the growth of the Catholic Church in New York and was once considered the city’s greatest philanthropist. 

After immigrating to America in 1784, Cornelius Heeney made a fortune selling furs in New York City and at one time was partnered with John Jacob Astor in the fur trade. Heeney devoted his wealth to charitable causes. He was a founding trustee of St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street in Manhattan— New York City’s oldest Roman Catholic congregation—and gave money to build St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mott Street. With the soapmaker Andrew Morris, he donated the property that became the site of the present St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. He was instrumental in establishing a branch of the Sisters of Charity in New York City and in 1820 he became the patron and guardian of a fatherless 10-year-old boy from Brooklyn, John McCloskey, who later became New York’s second archbishop and the first cardinal in the United States. Heeney also was one of the first Catholics to hold public office in New York, serving in the state legislature from 1818 to 1822.

An 1849 map shows Cornelius Heeney’s Brooklyn estate, bounded by present Court, Congress, and Amity Streets and the East River. St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church can be seen on land he donated at Congress and Court Streets (arrow)

After the Great Fire of 1835 destroyed his mercantile establishment in Manhattan, Heeney chose not to rebuild and instead retired to his house and 17-acre farm in Brooklyn, where he continued his philanthropic work. He donated part of his Brooklyn estate for St. Paul’s—the second Catholic church in Brooklyn—and for an orphanage and industrial school that adjoined it. In 1845 he formed the Brooklyn Benevolent Society to which he left a bequest enabling it to distribute more than $2 million to the poor and homeless of Brooklyn. When Heeney died, aged 94, in 1848, his funeral was held at St. Paul’s and afterward his remains were committed to their last resting place at the rear of the church.

A pathway along the side of St. Paul’s leads to the small yard with Heeney’s burial place and his monument that is set into the rear wall of the church. Beneath the garden is essentially one subterranean vault with subdivided walls creating separate tombs. In addition to Heeney’s tomb, among the others is that of the family of noted horticulturist André Parmentier. Parmentier came from Belgium to Brooklyn in 1824, where he established a botanical garden and was a founder and trustee of St. James, Brooklyn’s first Catholic church. He died in 1830.

The Parmentier vault at St. Paul’s, Oct 2022 (Mary French)

Parmentier’s widow and two daughters spent most of their time and income on works of charity; when Heeney laid out the vaults at the back of St. Paul’s, he insisted on donating one to the family. The remains of André Parmentier, his widow, daughters, and son-in-law are in this tomb. The last interment was Rosine Parmentier, who died in 1908, aged 79. Several Sisters of Charity that died between the 1840s and 1880s are in other vaults in the tiny garden burial ground behind St. Paul’s.

This detail from an 1886 map depicts St. Paul’s Church and the orphanage and industrial school (now the site of apartment buildings) that adjoined it.

Cornelius Heeney’s monument attached to the rear wall of St. Paul’s, Oct 2022 (Mary French)

A view of the back garden and vaults at St. Paul’s, Oct 2022 (Mary French)

A 2018 aerial view of St. Paul’s; arrow indicates back garden and burial vaults (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the City of Brooklyn (Colton 1949); Robinson’s 1886 Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, Pl 3; The Catholic Church in the United States of America (Catholic Editing Co. 1914); “A Village Churchyard,” Historical Records and Studies 7 (Meehan 1914); Cobble Hill Historic District Designation Report (Landmarks Preservation Commission 1969); An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn (Morrone 2001) Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd ed. (Jackson et al 2010); “A Card to the Benevolent Philanthropists of Brooklyn,” Brooklyn Evening Star Jan 11, 1842; “Died,” New-York Freemans Journal and Catholic Register, May 13, 1848; “Obituary,” Brooklyn Standard Union Feb 2, 1908; “Last Body to be Interred in Church Vault,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 5, 1908;  “Parmentier Home on Bridge Street Once Center of Great Charity Work,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 6 1918; “Heeney’s Charities Keep Memory Alive,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle,Apr 6, 1931; “New Rectory in St. Paul’s Parish,” The Tablet, Mar 11, 1939; “Do You Know the Way to Philanthropist Cornelius Heeney’s Cobble Hill Grave? Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 28, 2018

Catholic Cemetery, Williamsburg

The Catholic Cemetery on North Eighth St and First St (now Kent Ave) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1868

In 1840, Rev. James O’Donnell bought a parcel of land on the northeast corner of North Eight Street and First Street (now Kent Avenue) to establish the first Roman Catholic church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A small frame church was erected in the center of the property and the land all around it was reserved for a cemetery. The church, called St. Mary’s, was dedicated on June 27, 1840. This humble wooden building served the 500 Catholics of the parish, which at that time had a vast territory stretching from Hallett’s Cove on the north, Myrtle Avenue on the south, the East River on the west, and Middle Village on the east.

The number of Catholics in the parish grew quickly, and soon the little church was too small for the congregation. Fr. O’Donnell’s successor, Rev. Sylvester Malone, secured ground on Wythe Avenue near South Second Street for a new parish church, which opened in 1848. To avoid confusion with St. Mary’s parish in Manhattan, the diocese renamed the parish after Sts. Peter and Paul when the new building was dedicated. Sts. Peter and Paul parish endures in present-day Williamsburg, now worshipping at McCaddin Memorial Hall on Berry Street.

A newspaper announcement of the opening of the Catholic church and cemetery in Williamsburg in 1840

Many pioneer Catholics of Williamsburg were laid to rest in the burial ground on North Eighth Street, which the parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul kept on using for some time after they relocated to their new building and their original church building in the middle of the cemetery, St. Mary’s, was torn down. The last known burial here was in 1855. The Catholic cemetery with its headstones was for many years a Williamsburg landmark, but after it closed it became an eyesore, the graves overgrown with grass and weeds, the stones broken and their inscriptions obliterated.

In 1890, Bishop Loughlin of the Brooklyn diocese ordered the removal of the old Catholic cemetery at Williamsburg. The parish requested people who had relatives interred there to arrange for transfer of their remains; those that were unclaimed were dug up and reburied at St. John’s Cemetery in Queens. Once cleared, the former cemetery ground was sold and a factory was built on the site. In 2007, the property was redeveloped for residential use; the luxury condo building North8 is now on the site of Williamsburg’s first Catholic cemetery.

Excerpt from an article about Edward Neville, buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Williamsburg in 1855. Neville was the proprietor of Williamsburg’s Kings County Hotel; the discovery of his body in Gowanus Bay after a two-week disappearance created a sensation in November 1855.

A 2018 aerial view of the North8 condo building that is now on the former site of the Catholic cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Higginson’s 1868 Insurance Maps of the City of Brooklyn, Pl 67; Kings County Conveyances, Vol 93 p504-507, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; Memorial of the Golden Jubilee of the Rev. Sylvester Malone (Malone 1895); The Eastern District of Brooklyn (Armbruster 1912); The Catholic Church in the United States of America (Catholic Editing Co. 1914); “A Village Churchyard,” Historical Records and Studies 7 (Meehan 1914); “Burial of Mr. Neville,” Brooklyn Evening Star, Nov 26, 1855; “Coroner’s Inquest on the Body of Mr. Neville,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 26, 1855; “Body Found,” Brooklyn Evening Star, Mar 6, 1856, [The Body of Sarah Lake], Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 26, 1882; “An Old Landmark Doomed,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 27, 1890