Tag Archives: churchyards

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

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

John Street Methodist Church Graveyard and Vaults

A 19th-century depiction of the Methodist Church erected on John Street in 1768 (NYPL)

“The church first, and then my family” was the motto of New York City merchant William Lupton, one of the founding members of the John Street Methodist Church. The first Methodist church in America, the John Street Church was erected in 1768 at 44 John Street in Lower Manhattan and rebuilt in 1818 and 1841. Considered the cradle of American Methodism, the John Street Church still stands today. It has an active congregation and a museum that tells the story of this historically and religiously significant property.

John Street Methodist Church and adjoining graveyard in 1807

The lot connected with John Street Church was the first place Methodists used for a burial ground in New York, and they had burial vaults under the original church building. But by the early 1800s, the congregation had acquired lots in a Methodist cemetery further uptown and stopped burying their dead at John Street. In 1817, when the congregation tore down their first chapel to build a new house of worship on the same site, they disturbed bodies buried there. Some of the bones were gathered together and reburied under one end of the new church and some were removed to other burial grounds.

Obituary of William Lupton, interred at John Street Methodist Church in 1796

William Lupton’s remains were among those removed and reburied during construction of the new church in 1817. Lupton had a private vault under the church where he was interred in 1796 when he died at age 69.  One of the wealthiest of the original trustees, Lupton was an Englishman who came to America in 1753 as a quartermaster in the British Army and served in the French and Indian War. Married twice—first to Joanna Schuyler and, after her death, to Elizabeth Roosevelt—he had eleven children. Lupton and his family lived next door to the John Street Church for some time. Legend has it, when a fire broke out in the neighborhood Lupton instructed the firemen to save the church before his home, thus proving him faithful to his motto.

Construction projects at the church in the 1880s and again in the 1940s uncovered the bones of more early Methodists; these were reburied beneath the basement of the present church building. More recently, in 1986 construction workers found fragments of human bones during work on the foundation wall of the church, and these also were reburied under the basement. Archaeologist Sherene Baugher, who led excavations at the church when the bones were found in 1986, observes that “the basement of the church has become a burial ground and, in a sense, a sacred site.”

John Street Methodist Church, July 2020 (John Street Church)

2018 aerial view of the John Street Methodist Church, overshadowed by surrounding office towers (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; “Died,” Daily Advertiser, Apr 11, 1796; Lost Chapters Recovered from the Early History of American Methodism (Wakeley 1858); “The General Conference,” The Methodist, Jun 4, 1864; Annals of New York Methodism (Seaman 1892); John Street Methodist Church: An Archaeological Investigation (LPC 1991); “The John Street Methodist Church: An Archaeological Excavation with Native American Cooperation,” Historical Archaeology 43(1); From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd ed. (Jackson et al 2010)

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. 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)