Tag Archives: Episcopal cemeteries

St. John’s Cemetery

A view of St. John’s Cemetery by Alexander Jackson Davis, ca. 1860 (NYC Parks & Recreation).
A view of St. John’s Cemetery by Alexander Jackson Davis, ca. 1860 (NYC Parks & Recreation).

In 1890, the City of New York selected St. John’s Cemetery, located on the east side of Hudson Street between Clarkson and Leroy Streets in Greenwich Village, as a site for a new public park.  The property, which was connected with St. John’s Chapel of Trinity Church, served as a burial ground from 1806 to 1852 and an estimated 10,000 individuals were buried there. Following a five-year legal battle with Trinity, the city secured the property under the Small Parks Act, a law passed by the state legislature in 1887 that allowed the city to acquire property for the creation of small parks in crowded neighborhoods.

St. John’s Cemetery (identified here as Trinity Church Cemetery) at Hudson, Clarkson, and Leroy Streets, 1852.

St. John’s Cemetery served as a burial ground primarily for the poorer and middle classes, although some prominent individuals and members of well-known families, such as the Schermerhorns, Berrians, Leggetts, and Valentines, were also buried there. The cemetery had been in a dilapidated condition for many years by the time it was taken by the city in 1895, but in the first half of the 19th century it was said to be a pleasant, restful place, and Edgar Allan Poe reportedly roamed the burying ground when he lived nearby in the 1830s.  Helen Jewett, a prostitute whose 1836 murder became a media sensation, was briefly interred at St. John’s Cemetery; four nights after her burial, medical students stole, and subsequently dissected, her body.

When Trinity lost the battle to keep the cemetery property, their attorney stated, “We did not believe the city could take such property for parks, but the courts have decided otherwise, and if the city takes the ground it takes the remains also, and must make its own disposition of them.”  In 1896, the city announced that families wishing to remove relatives interred in the cemetery must do so by the end of that year; remains from only about 250 graves were removed before construction on the new park began in 1897.

In 1898, the new Hudson Park (renamed James J. Walker Park in 1947), opened on the site.  Remains beneath the park have occasionally been unearthed during construction work, as in 1939 when workmen encountered the coffin of six-year-old Mary Elizabeth Tisdall, who died in 1850.  One reminder of the old burying ground still exists – an 1834 monument to fallen firemen, one of the most prominent markers in the old cemetery, was preserved during the original construction of the park, and stands today along its north side.

Tombstones in St. John’s Cemetery, ca. 1895. The firemen’s monument can be seen at the right side of the photo. (NYPL)
The firemen’s monument at the north side of Walker Park is a remnant of St. Johns Cemetery. (Mary French)
A 2010 aerial view of James J. Walker Park (NYCItyMap)

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Before They Were Parks (NYC Parks & Recreation); Walks in Our Churchyards (J.F. Mines 1896), 152-164; Literary New York (Hemstreet 1903), 148; The Murder of Helen Jewett (Cohen 1998), 299; Report of the Tenement House Committee…Jan. 17, 1895, 42-43; “What Will Become of These Bodies?,” New York Herald, March 20, 1893, 4; “Old St. John’s Cemetery,” New York Times Sept 13, 1896; The Mummy in Trinity Church (The Archivists Mailbag).

French Church of Saint Esprit Graveyard

The French Church of Saint Esprit in 1807, located near the northeast corner of Nassau and Pine streets. The graveyard can be seen at the rear of the church, extending to Cedar Street (Bridges 1807)

Founded in 1688 to serve French-speaking Protestants of New Amsterdam, the congregation of the French Church of Saint Esprit had their church near the northeast corner of Nassau and Pine streets from 1704 to 1831.  Their burial ground was to the rear of the church, extending north to Cedar Street.  An 1830 article in the New-York Mirror described the church and graveyard:

This antiquated building, which is the oldest religious edifice now in the city, was erected in 1704 by the Huguenots, or French protestants . . . It is built in the plainest style, being constructed of stone, and plastered on the outside, with a very steep roof, and monastic looking tower . . . The building, which is 70 feet in length and 50 in breadth, has a southwest aspect, fronting on Pine street, just below Nassau street, and the tower is in the rear towards Cedar street, where a few moulding tombstones are still to be seen in the cemetery, behind the law buildings. (New-York Mirror July 17, 1830)

This 1905 engraving from Samuel Hollyer’s series of Old New York scenes depicts an 18th century view of the French Church and graveyard (NYPL)

In February of 1831, the congregation sold the church building and property and moved to a new building at Church and Franklin Streets. The graves in the churchyard were removed, and the congregation had remains of those that had not been claimed by their families reinterred in a vault that they had purchased at the cemetery of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. The property at Pine and Nassau streets was subsequently developed for business purposes, as Gabriel P. Disosway described in 1865:

L’Eglise du Saint Esprit, the French Protesant Church in Pine street, opposite the custom-house, was founded in the year 1704 . . . In our day it has been demolished, its dead removed, and the venerable sacred place, like many others in our busy city, is now devoted to mammon. Lawyers’ offices, custom-house brokers, a restaurant and lager-bier saloon, occupy the once hallowed spot.

A high-rise building now occupies the site.  The congregation of the French Church of Saint Esprit worships today in uptown Manhattan.

Sources: Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; The Earliest Churches of New York and Its Vicinity (Disoway 1865), 121; The Huguenot Church of New York: A History of the French Church of Saint Esprit (John A.F. Maynard 1938) 231, 256.