Tag Archives: colonial cemeteries

Nagel Cemetery

Some of the remaining headstones in the Nagel Cemetery, ca. 1925
Some of the remaining headstones in the Nagel Cemetery, ca. 1925 (NYPL)

Late in November, 1926, I became aware that during the course of some excavations for the 207th Street Yard of the Rapid Transit System of New York City an obliterated burial ground was discovered between 212th Street and 213th Street, near the Harlem River. This district is in the northernmost part of Manhattan and within the present city limits of New York. Upon investigation by the Board of Transportation, it was learned that this site was the former Nagel, or Nagle, Cemetery. Altogether, 417 bodies were disinterred . . . Arrangements had been made by the Board of Transportation to reinter these bodies in the Woodlawn Cemetery. Toward their close I became informed of these operations and, with the permission of the Board of Transportation, was able to measure those skeletons still left unburied, provided my investigations did not interfere with the work of the contractors. Only twenty skeletons were available. The number of measurements was limited by the time allotted. Photographs were impossible, for I had the bad luck of having to work in the rain. (Shapiro 1930)

When the remains from an old cemetery in northern Manhattan were removed in 1926, anthropologist Harry Shapiro had a chance to collect data on some skeletons of colonial New Yorkers so that their physical characteristics could be compared with those of their counterparts in 17th century London (he found they were essentially the same).  The cemetery was of interest because it was a family burial ground for the Nagels, Dyckmans, and others who settled in northern Manhattan during the second half of the 17th century, and it was said to have graves dating back to 1664. In an 1806 deed, William Nagel asserted that the burial ground, which was on the Nagel farm, “has been made use for that purpose for ages past for sole us as a burial ground for the benefit of my family connections, relations, and friends.” In his will two years later, William Nagel expressly excepts the plot from his own holdings, and provides that it shall have “free access from the road to the same for interments.”

The Nagel Cemetery in 1836, on a lane from Broadway.
The Nagel Cemetery in 1836, on a lane from Broadway.
The Nagel Cemetery, ca. 1925 (NYPL)
The Nagel Cemetery, ca. 1925 (NYPL)

The cemetery, which in 1926 was bounded by 212th and 213th streets and 9th and 10th avenues, was a plot of about one acre, on the crown of a gently sloping knoll.  It was originally about 200 yards west of the Nagel homestead, known as the Century House, and was reached from Broadway by a little lane bordered with apple trees.  The southern end of the cemetery, which had extended south of 212th Street, was taken in 1908 when the street was opened and a number of bodies were moved and placed in another section of the cemetery. Earlier Colonial burials were in the eastern section of the burial ground in rows about nine feet apart, running due north and south, and marked only by small, unmarked blocks of local rock, set at head and foot of each grave. The western portion of the ground was filled with graves marked with the names of local families, including the Dyckmans, Vermilyes, Ryers, and Hadleys.

Prior to 1926, a number of bodies were removed from the Nagel burial ground to other cemeteries, most notably members of the Dyckman family that were moved to Oakland Cemetery in Yonkers. When the Nagel cemetery was removed in 1926, 417 bodies were transferred to a 1,500 square foot plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and marked with an octagonal granite monument, 9 feet high and 6 feet wide, with the inscription “About this stone rest the remains of 417, among them early settlers and soldiers of Colonial and National Wars, interred 1664-1908, in Nagel Cemetery, West 212th Street, Manhattan, the site of which was covered by a vast public improvement. Reinterred here, 1926-1927, by the city of New York.” The Nagel cemetery property was incorporated into what is today the MTA’s 207th Street Subway Yards.

The Nagel Cemetery in 1916.
The Nagel Cemetery in 1916.
Location of graves removed from the Nagel Cemetery in 1926.
Location of graves removed from the Nagel Cemetery in 1926 (Shapiro 1930)
A present-day view of the Nagel Cemetery site.
A present-day view of the Nagel Cemetery site.

Sources: Colton’s 1836 Map Of The City and County Of New-York; Bromley’s 1916 Atlas of the Borough of Manhattan Pl 188; “Who Owns Cemetery?” New-York Tribune Mar 3, 1909 p.1; Washington Heights, Manhattan, its eventful past (Bolton 1924), 202-203; “Old Burial Ground in Subway’s Path,” New York Times Feb 13, 1927 p. 22; “Old New Yorkers: A Series of Crania from the Nagel Burying Ground, New York City” (Shapiro 1930) American Journal of Physical Anthropology 14(3):379-404; “City to Honor Dead Moved for Subway,” New York Times Jul 11 1932 p.15; Burials in the Dyckman-Nagel Burial Ground (Haacker 1954), 1-11; “The Old Nagle Cemetery,” My Inwood, May 9, 2013; NYCityMap.

Brinckerhoff Cemetery

The Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows, Queens, is a colonial-era burial ground used by Dutch families who settled in the area.  The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919,  identifying 77 graves with headstones dating from 1730 to 1872 for members of the Brinckerhoff, Adriance, Hoogland, Snedecker and other families.  When the descendants of these families moved out of the area, the old graveyard was abandoned, neglected, and eventually taken over by the city.  In the mid-20th century, the city sold the land at public auction to a developer, but plans to build on the site have been blocked for decades by Brinckerhoff descendants and the Queens Historical Society.  Today, no headstones are visible at the 45-by-120-foot cemetery, which is nestled between one-family homes on 182nd Street, north of 73rd Avenue.   The site is covered with brush but is kept free of garbage by neighborhood caretakers.  In May 2012, the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association issued an urgent appeal for landmarking the cemetery to protect it from development.  Update:  The city declared the Brinckerhoff Cemetery a landmark on August 14, 2012.

Location of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery.
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery as surveyed in 1919.
A 1927 view of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery (QBPL)
Tombstones of Stephen Rider (d. 1736) and Charyty Anthony (d. 1763), Brinckerhoff Cemetery, 1927 (QBPL)
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery, July 2010.
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery, July 2010.

Sources: Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens 36-37, 41; “Ghouls Despoil Cemetery,” North Shore Daily Journal, May 18, 1934;“Two Old Cemeteries Auctioned Off by City,” Long Island Star Journal, Feb. 9, 1962; “Suing to Reclaim a Family Plot, Gone but Not Forgotten,” New York Times, March 5, 2000; “Fighting to Keep Builder Off Colonial Graves,” NY Daily News, June 29, 2008; NYCityMap

Schenck Family Burial Ground

Beneath an industrial complex just northwest of Flushing Avenue in Bushwick lies a former burial ground of the Schencks, one of Brooklyn’s prominent Dutch colonial families.  The Bushwick Schencks descended from Johannes Schenck (1656-1748), who emigrated to America in 1683 and, in 1712, settled in Bushwick where he acquired a large plantation.  The family burial ground is believed to have been established around 1724 on a parcel of land purchased by Johannes’ son Peter “at ye head of ye kill adjoining land of said Peter Schenk” near the Queens-Brooklyn dividing line.  A 1770 conveyance of the property included the clause: “excepting and always reserving unto . . . Abraham Schenk, his heirs and assigns, the burying-ground . . . and also full and free liberty, privilege and license for the friends and relations of Johannes Schenk, deceased, to pass and repass to and from the said burying-ground at all times forever after.”

Location of the Schenck Family Burial Ground in 1880.

When local historians visited the site in the 1860s and 1870s, the burial ground was still in existence, a 40 x 100 foot plot located behind two barns on the farm of Nicholas Wyckoff. Tombstone inscriptions for 18 members of the Schenck family who died between 1740 and 1858 were recorded, including that of family progenitor Johannes Schenck, “ye First of the Family Depd this Life, Febry ye 5th, 1748, Agd 92.” The remains from the Schenck graveyard were removed during the late 19th century, some to Greenwood and some to Evergreens Cemetery.  The Museum of the City of New York has among its collections three tombstones from the Schenck family burial ground—that of Johannes Schenck, mentioned above, as well as the gravestone of his daughter-in-law Maria Schenck (d. 1740), and a marker from the double grave of Maria Schenck (d. 1776) and Maria Magdelena McPhern (d. 1782), a daughter and granddaughter of Abraham Schenck, respectively.

A view of the Schenck family burial ground, 1876 (P.L. Schenck)

Sources: A History of the City of Brooklyn, Vol. 2 (H.R. Stiles 1869), 377-378; Memoir of Johannes Schenk, the Progenitor of the Bushwick, L.I., Family of Schenck (P.L. Schenck 1876), 23-27; “Old Homes and Cemeteries,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 29, 1879; “Human Remains—Removing Bodies from the Old Schenck Cemetery at Bushwick,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Nov. 29, 1880; Hopkins’ 1880 Detailed Estate and Old Farm Line Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, Vol. 2, Pl. H; MCNY Cat. Nos. 39.327.1-39.327.3

St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery Churchyard and Cemetery

St. Mark’s Church stands on the site of the chapel built in 1660 by Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of Dutch New Amsterdam, and its grounds are all that remain of Stuyvesant’s vast “bouwerie,” or farm.  Stuyvesant was interred in the family vault beneath the chapel when he died in 1672.  During the 18th century, the chapel fell into a state of dilapidation, until little remained except the foundation and the Stuyvesant family vault beneath.  In 1793, Stuyvesant’s great-grandson, Peter Stuyvesant IV, donated the chapel property to the Episcopal Church with the stipulation that a new church be erected.  Originally intended to be a chapel of Trinity Parish, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery was completed in 1799 as the first New York City Episcopal parish separate from Trinity.  The Stuyvesant vault is still present under the east wall of the church; it was closed permanently when the last family member was interred there in 1953.

St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in 1836 (NYPL)
The churchyard and cemetery of St. Mark’s, 1852.

In addition to the Stuyvesant vault, St. Mark’s had two burial sites attached to its church during the first half of the 19th century—the yards surrounding the church, which were used exclusively for vault interments, and a cemetery further east along 11th Street for conventional graves. Peter Stuyvesant IV donated a 242 x 190 plot just east of 2nd Avenue, between 11th and 12th Streets, for the cemetery in 1803.  One of the stipulations in Stuyvesant’s grant of the plot was that any of his present or former slaves and their children have the right to be interred in the burial ground free of charge. An unknown number of individuals were buried at St. Mark’s Cemetery until burials there were prohibited in 1851.  The remains from this graveyard were removed to Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn in 1864 and residences were built on the site.

The first underground burial vaults were built in the grounds adjoining the church in 1807.  In these tombs lie the remains of many important individuals and members of prominent and wealthy families of 19th century New York.  Among those interred here are Mayor Philip Hone, English governor Henry Sloughter, and Daniel D. Tompkins, governor of New York and U.S. vice-president under James Monroe. Millionaire A.T. Stewart was interred in a vault in the east yard in 1876; two years later his remains were stolen and reportedly held for ransom. The suspicious events surrounding the theft and rumors of ransom demands were well publicized for several years following the crime.  The case was never officially resolved, although some stories hold that Stewart’s widow negotiated the return of the remains in 1881 and reinterred them elsewhere.

“Desecration of the vault of A.T. Stewart,” (Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 16, 1878)
The flat vault markers in the east yard can be seen in this view of St. Mark’s from ca. 1925 (MCNY)

As the neighborhood surrounding St. Mark’s changed from upper class townhouses to tenement slums during the first half of the 20th century, the churchyard fell into disrepair.  The Preservation Youth Project restored it for community use in the 1970s, creating a playground in the east yard and a quiet garden in the west yard.  Many of the flat vault markers can still be seen among the newer pavements.

Vault marker’s in the gravel surface of the east yard, 2008.
St. Mark’s west yard, 2008.

Sources: St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery; A Comprehensive Guide to the St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery Historical Site (St. Mark’s 1999); Memorial of St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery (St. Mark’s 1899); A New York Pantheon: The Burial List of St. Mark’s in-the-Bouwerie (St. Mark’s n.d.); “Public Notice” [Removal of St. Mark’s Cemetery], New York Times, Aug. 17, 1864; “Ghouls in New-York City,” New York Times, Nov 8, 1878; “New Rector Heard in His First Sermon at Old St. Mark’s,” New York Times Aug 3, 1959; “The Decline and Fall of the Commercial Empire of A.T. Stewart,” Business Review 36(3):255-286, Autumn 1962; “St. Mark’s Building Playground in its Cemetery, the City’s Oldest,” New York Times, Feb. 9, 1970; Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St.

Kingsbridge Burial Ground

In 1732, when Jacobus Van Cortlandt acquired the tract of present-day Van Cortlandt Park on which the Van Cortlandt House Museum now stands, George Tippett, who sold the property to Van Cortlandt, stipulated that a cemetery included in the tract should be reserved as a burying ground for Tippett and his heirs. This same cemetery is referred to in a 1717 document wherein George Tippett granted the Betts family the continued use of the site that had been “used as a burying ground for a great many years by the families of Betts and Tippitt.”  The tract had been connected to these families since 1668, when William Betts and George Tippett (grandfather of the George Tippett mentioned above) purchased the property.  The cemetery has been known by a number of names over the years, including the Kingsbridge Burial Ground, the Tippett Family Cemetery, and the Berrian-Bashford Burying Ground.  When local historian Thomas H. Edsall visited the burial ground in the 1880s, he found that most of the graves were marked by fieldstones containing no inscriptions or only the initials of the deceased. Five inscribed headstones were present. These dated from 1794 to 1808 and marked the graves of members of the Berrian, Bashford, and Ackerman families that were descendants of the Betts and Tippetts.  Today, this burial ground is situated east of the Van Cortlandt House and just west of the southern part of Van Cortlandt Lake. All of the grave markers are now gone and a stand of trees has grown up in their place. The site is enclosed by an iron pipe rail fence.

Location of the Kingsbridge Burial Ground within Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
A view of the Kingsbridge Burial Ground, ca. 1910 (MCNY)
The Kingsbridge Burial Ground site today.

Sources: The Story of the Bronx (Jenkins 1912), 301; 1914 NYC Parks Dept Annual Report (Part 3), 213; “Notes & Queries,” New York Genealogical & Biographical Record 14(3):144; “Notes & Queries,” New York Genealogical & Biographical Record 14(4):191; “The Tibbitts or Tibbetts Family. Descendants of George Tippett of Yonkers, NY,” New York Genealogical & Biographical Record 50(4):363; Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy; Museum of the City of New York

Southside Burial Ground

In a 1934 article in the Leader-Observer, a longtime resident of Ozone Park described the area’s old community burying ground, remnants of which still exist at present-day Redding Street, Albert Road, and 149th Avenue in Queens:

In a little-known and seldom-visited corner of Ozone Park is one of the oldest burying grounds in New York . . . 15 years ago I often walked out there with my son, who was then a youngster, and we would wander about, reading the inscriptions on the stones and listening to the music of the birds that made the place their home.  In those days there were only a very few houses near it . . . The plot even then had long been neglected, but without the usual sad results of neglect.  Without man to spoil, nature ran riot . . . in the summer time the whole place was a glorious profusion of violets, lilies of the valley, tiger lilies, and even roses.  To this little paradise had repaired the birds that had gradually been chased out of the more settled sections, so that in a few minutes the casual visitor would see ten or a dozen different varieties of brilliant multi-colored songsters . . . Taken all in all, it seemed to me then the most fitting resting place for those pioneers of old I had yet seen . . . The names on these ancient . . . stones were almost all Dutch, names that today are well known.  Vanderveers lay there, and Van Wycks along with many others who gave meaning to the wilderness that once was this part of the country.Today all is changed.  I walked out there a few days ago, for the first time in about 10 years, and I was shocked.  Since that time the Crossbay boulevard has been laid; a big cash-and-carry supermarket stands nearby; a development company has hedged in the little burying ground with raucously new brick houses.  Where the birds used to sing by the old pipe line, autos now roar by in an unending stream on the Sunrise highway. But what shocked me most was the condition of the cemetery itself.  The birds are gone, and the flowers.  The shrubbery that once gave the moss-covered stones a decent privacy are now but a bedraggled collection of broken weeds.  Even the stones are gone.  Where they went I do not know . . . Of the several hundred monuments that were standing ten years ago, not more than a dozen remain . . .

The Southside Burial Ground in 1849, situated near the junction of the Old South Road and the Road to Jamaica Bay.
The Southside Burial Ground in 1919.

This community cemetery was set aside as a burying ground about 1680 and was situated at the junction of two colonial highways—the Old South Road that crossed southern Queens from east to west, and the Road to Jamaica Bay, which later became Woodhaven Boulevard. Each neighboring family, among them the Ryders, Van Wicklens, Durlands, and Stoothoffs, was allotted a share in the burial ground at the time it was established. Known today as the Southside Burial Ground, the old graveyard has been referred to by a number of names over the years, including the Van Wicklen Cemetery, Aqueduct Cemetery, and Homestead Cemetery. The half-acre burial ground was used and remained intact until the housing boom and street construction that began in the 1920s destroyed much of it.  About half of the cemetery was lost when 149th Avenue was extended through the southern portion of the site, and most of the monuments had disappeared by the 1930s.  In 1935, Long Island Daily Press reporter Sarah Wilford called the Southside cemetery the “most desolate in Queens,” after workmen chopped down all the trees at the site and burned it over to clear it of vegetation.  What remained of the cemetery gradually became a dumping ground.  Concerned citizens of the area fought for decades to protect and preserve the burial ground, and today the NYC Parks department manages the site.  Four gravestones still exist in the northern section of the old graveyard, which remains on the east side of Redding Street, between Albert Road and 149th Avenue.  A remnant of the southern portion of the cemetery also exists in the park on the other side of 149th Avenue; although no stones are present in this section, it is distinguished by a chain-link fence that separates it from the adjacent ball field.

The Southside Burial Ground today.
Tombstones in the northern section of the Southside Burial Ground.
Remnant of the southern portion of the Southside Burial Ground, adjacent to Vito Locascio Field (formerly Loring Field).

Sources: Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932), 54-47; Sidney’sMap of Twelve Miles around New-York, 1849; The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park (Seyfried 1985), 119; “Ozone Park Burial Ground Has Rich History,” Leader-Observer, Jan 4, 1996; “LIer Fights to Get Cemetery Removed from City Tax Rolls,” LI Press, July 2, 1972; “Historic Tombstones Found,” The Forum, Nov. 23, 1985; “South Side Cemetery Most Desolate in Queens,” LI Daily Press, Dec 12, 1935; “Crossbay Blvd Wipes Out Old Burying Ground,” Leader-Observer, Nov. 22, 1934; NYCityMap.

Hopper Family Burial Ground

The Hopper Family Burial Ground in 1884.

In 1879, a New York Times reporter described a small burial ground that stood at the corner of 9th Avenue and 50th Street in Manhattan:

On the line of the New-York Elevated Railroad is a station commonly known as the “Grave-yard Station.”  It is at the junction of Ninth-avenue and Fiftieth-street, and receives its name from a little grave-yard, about 50 feet square, that occupies the south-west corner of the intersecting streets.  It is some six feet above the level of the street, and is not much noticed by those on the side-walk, who see nothing but the heavy stone wall surrounding it; but from the platform of the station its handful of gray, crumbling tombstones can be plainly seen, and its forlorn and neglected condition noted.  It is bounded on two sides by the streets, on a third by the high blank wall of a store, and on the fourth by a wooden tenement-house, from which a door opens upon it, and to which it makes a convenient front yard.  Near this door some of the mounds have been leveled, and a patch of ground a few feet square has been dug up and raked over, so as to form a bit of a garden.  Dirty children tumble and play over the other graves, and among the tottering stones, and above all, lines of newly-washed garments are blown about in the wind.  No tender recollections appear to cling to the spot, and its appearance is pathetic.  As the passenger on the railroad, while waiting for his train, attempts to decipher the almost obliterated inscriptions on the monuments beneath him, and questions the employees of the road, who prove to know as little as himself, he wonders that a place so neglected should be retained for its present uses instead of having been built upon long since, as has every other available plot of ground in the vicinity.  He notices that on all of the stones upon which the inscriptions are legible the name is “Hopper” . . .

This burial ground was originally part of the Hopper farm, a large estate that extended from 6th Avenue to the Hudson River between 49th and 54th Streets.   Mattias Hopper, the son of Dutch settlers who came to New Amsterdam in 1652, acquired the land in 1714 in the district that was then known as Bloomingdale.  Mattias’ son, John Hopper, took possession of the farm around 1750.  When John Hopper died in 1778, his will ordered that the farm be divided into six equal portions among his heirs, who entered into an agreement that the family graveyard would be reserved as a burial ground forever.  The graveyard continued to be used until 1840, and members of the Hopper, Varian, Cozine, and Horn families were buried there.

In 1846, portions of the graveyard were cut off when 50th Street and 9th Avenue were laid out to the north and east of it and the remains of several individuals were relocated to another part of the cemetery.  Buildings rose on the other sides of the property, and the old cemetery was forgotten and neglected. The Hopper farm was famous for a number of 19th century legal battles concerning rights to the estate, including litigation that followed the removal of the burial ground in 1885.  Ellsworth L. Striker, a Hopper family descendant who claimed possession of the property, removed the graves and subsequently built an apartment house on the site.  Striker’s rights to the property were disputed, but the state Supreme Court eventually decided in his favor. Sources disagree as to whether the remains from the Hopper burial ground were reinterred at Trinity Cemetery in upper Manhattan or at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Surveys of the Hopper Family Burial Ground from 1820 (left) and 1857 (right).
Present-day view of the Hopper Family Burial Ground site.
Present-day view of the Hopper Family Burial Ground site.

Sources: “Some Old Grave-yards,” New York Times, May 18, 1879; “The Hopper Burial Place,” New York Herald-Tribune, April 28, 1885, p. 1; Mott, Hopper, Striker; The New York of Yesterday: A Descriptive Narrative of Old Bloomingdale; Blackman v. Striker; 1820 Map of Land Belong to the Estate of John Hopper; Perris’ 1857 Atlases of New York City, Pl. 101; NYCityMap.