Tag Archives: Chelsea

18th Street Methodist Episcopal Churchyard

An 1852 map shows the 18th Street Methodist Episcopal Church, with its grounds extending to 19th Street.

In 1836, members of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the City of New York established a church on property owned by the society on 18th Street, west of 8th Avenue. The church was erected on a site known as the “old Chelsea burying ground,” where, it was said, villagers had long been buried. Shortly after dedicating their new house of worship on 18th Street, the society built a number of burial vaults in the grounds surrounding the church. These were used by church members and residents of the rapidly growing neighborhood of Chelsea, and became a source of considerable income for the church. Approximately 500 bodies were interred in the vaults between 1836 and 1851, when a city ordinance forbade further burials below 86th Street.

A view of 18th Street Methodist Episcopal Church in 1885

The churchyard of the 18th Street Methodist Church consisted of a strip of land, 100 x 50 feet, running from the back of the church to 19th Street, and an additional 50 x 20 foot plot on the southeast corner behind the church parsonage. It contained 64 vaults, including large public vaults used by licenses, and smaller, private vaults acquired by deed. The vaults were “splendidly built of brickwork throughout;” the entrance to some was by a door on the side; to others admittance was gained by lifting a slab on top. In an 1886 article in the Evening Post, a Chelsea resident describes a funeral he attended in the 18th Street churchyard during the summer of 1849, when a neighbor and her and child died during a cholera epidemic of that year. “I do not remember in what vault the young mother, with her babe asleep upon her quiet bosom, was laid away,” he recalled, “but I remember going down some steps that were green and slimy with the breath of decay, and looking with awe-struck curiosity at the contents of some shelves that were already occupied by crumbling tenants.”

The Daily Graphic illustrated the removals from the 18th Street Methodist churchyard in 1886. At left coffins are shown stacked in the vaults; at right the grounds dug up behind the church.

By the 1880s, the members of the 18th Street Methodist Church viewed their defunct vault yard with disfavor, considering it unused land that could be a source of revenue. The trustees of the church, a young, “vigorous and business-like” group with no sentimental attachment to a generation that had long since passed away, in 1882 offered a resolution to remove the dead from the vaults in the strip of land extending from the rear of the church to 19th Street. Although many of the vault owners initially resisted the plan to clear out the vaults and sell the ground, by 1886 the Trustees had obtained consent to proceed with the disinterments and the bodies were removed to plots at Woodlawn and Cypress Hills cemeteries. After the removals, the church sold the section of the property fronting on 19th street for $26,000 and townhouses were built there. It’s not known when or if the bodies from the smaller plot to the rear of the parsonage, or the bodies from the earlier Chelsea Village burial ground, were ever removed from the church grounds.

The 18th Street Church continued as a place of worship for the Methodists in the Chelsea section until 1945, when they merged with the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church at 7th Avenue and 13th Street and subsequently sold their property on 18th street. During demolition of the church in 1950, workmen unearthed eleven human skulls and several dozen arm and leg bones when digging belong the surface of the lot. No evidence of the old vaults was reported at that time; the remains, which were found in a large pile in the ground, likely were left behind during the earlier removals. A six-story apartment building sits atop the site today.

A 2016 aerial view of the former site of the 18th Street ME church grounds

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; The History of the Charter Church of New York Methodism, Eighteenth Street, 1835-1885 (Force 1885); “Their Ancestor’s Bones,” New York Times, Jan 22 1882; “The City’s Old Graveyards,” The Chronicle (Mt Vernon NY), Aug 25 1882; “Opening a Charnel House,” New York Herald, Nov 15 1886; “Emptying a Graveyard,” Daily Graphic, Nov 16 1886; “A Tour Around New York,” Evening Post, Dec 15 1886; “Skulls Unearthed in Old Churchyard,” New York Times Mar 25 1950

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Third Shearith Israel Cemetery

West of the Sixth Avenue is a large open space which testifies silently yet strongly to the time when all this part of the island was quiet country side and the city still was very far away.  It is the Jewish graveyard—the Beth Haim, or Place of Rest . . . the Beth Haim was established here—on a lot which possessed the advantages of lying within one of the blocks of the new City Plan and therefore was safe against the opening of new streets, and which also could be reached by an already opened country road.  Although long since superseded by the Beth Haim on Long Island, this graveyard still is cared for zealously—as may be seen by looking from the back windows of the big dry-goods shop on the Sixth Avenue upon its rows of seemly monuments, whereon legends in Hebrew characters tell of “Rest” and “Peace.”  And, truly, looking out from the bustle and clamor of the shop upon the grassy quiet place, with its ivy-clad deadhouse and its long lines of marble gravestones whereof the whiteness has become gray as the years have gone on and on, there is a most pleasant sense of rest and peacefulness amidst this calm serenity of ancient death. (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1893).

The third cemetery of Congreation Shearith Israel in 1836, on 21st Street, just west of 6th Avenue (Colton 1836)

When Congregation Shearith Israel was forced to close its graveyard in Greenwich Village in 1829, it established a new cemetery in an area even further away from the city center.  The new burial ground had a frontage of 80.5 feet on the south side of 21st Street, about 75 feet west of 6th Avenue.  It was dedicated as Beth Hayim Shelishi (the Third Cemetery) in August 1829 and the first interment took place in November of that year.  A Metaher house, or chapel, (the “ivy-clad deadhouse” mentioned above) was built near the cemetery’s entrance in 1830, but has long since disappeared.

The 21st Street cemetery served as the congregation’s burial ground until 1851, when the city banned burials below 86th Street.  An exception to this prohibition was made in 1855, when remains removed from Congregation Shearith Israel’s graveyard at Chatham Square were reinterred at the 21st Street cemetery.  Today hemmed in by buildings, the cemetery has survived relatively intact and remains the largest of the three Shearith Israel burial grounds in Manhattan.  The congregation is currently in the process of renovating and preserving the cemetery.

The Third Shearith Israel Cemetery in 1852, identified as “Jews Cemetery” (Dripps 1852)
The Third Shearith Israel Cemetery today (NYCityMap)
View of the Third Shearith Israel Cemetery, West 21st Street, Manhattan (Mary French)
Headstones in the 21st Street cemetery (Mary French)

See more photos of the Third Shearith Israel Cemetery.

See recent renovations at the Third Shearith Israel Cemetery.

Sources: Colton’s 1836

Map Of The City and County Of New-York; Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Portraits Etched in Stone 133-141 (David de Sola Pool 1952); “Down Love Lane,Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1893, p. 586; “Debris Falls on Historic Jewish Cemetery,” New York Times, June 9, 2006; “Continent’s Oldest Congregation Unveils Plan to Preserve Flatiron Cemetery,” DNAinfo

, June 14, 2010 (includes video of cemetery); NYCityMap