NYC officials proved to have short memories in the 1950s and 1960s when they repeatedly sold and then had to buy back a piece of land in Corona, Queens, after title searches revealed the property was an old cemetery. The plot in question, located near 94th Street and Alstyne and Corona avenues, was earmarked as a private cemetery under a last will and testament admitted to probate on January 3, 1821. It was once part of the estate belonging to the Burroughs family who settled in the area in the 17th century. By the late 1800s, the family had sold off most of their old farm land and retained only the ancestral burial ground. The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919, identifying 16 graves with headstones dating from 1793 to 1871 for members of the Burroughs, Vandervoort, and Waters families.
As the descendants of those interred there moved out of the area, the cemetery was abandoned, neglected, and became a dumping ground for neighborhood refuse. In 1954, the city seized the property in a delinquent tax action—erroneously it turned out, since private burial grounds, like all cemeteries, are tax exempt. The site was then mistakenly sold at public auction at least twice, in 1956 and 1960. In each case, the city refunded the buyers when they discovered they could not develop the property unless the cemetery was removed, a long and expensive process that would require tracing descendants to obtain permission to move the bodies. It is not known if the remains were ever removed from the Burroughs cemetery site, which is now covered with residential buildings and asphalt.
Sources: History of Queens County, New York (Munsell 1882), 344; Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens, 12-13; “City Stuck with Two Cemeteries,” Sunday News March 4, 1956; “Oops! City Discovers it Sold a Cemetery!” Long Island Daily Press, Jan 24, 1957; “City Digs Up Info on Lost Cemetery,” Long Island Star Journal, April 22, 1957, 3; “He Buys a Cemetery, Gets His 2Gs Back,” Long Island Star Journal, March 23, 1962, 3; NYCityMap.
Situated on a triangular lot near the busy intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, the Remsen Cemetery is a remnant of Queens’ colonial past and is the final resting place of a family of Revolutionary War patriots. The 2.5 -acre site, bounded by Trotting Course Lane and Alderton Street, originally lay within the property of the Remsen family, who immigrated from northern Germany in the 17th century and established a farm in the area that was then known as Hempstead Swamp.
The cemetery is believed to have been used as the family burial ground from the mid-18th through the 19th centuries. In a 1925 survey of the cemetery, the graves and brownstone gravemarkers of eight Remsen family members were identified, dating from 1790 to 1819. The oldest known grave is that of Colonel Jeromus Remsen, from 1790. Col. Remsen fought in the French and Indian War and, as a colonel of the Kings and Queens County Militia in the Battle of Long Island, he commanded the 7th New York Regiment in the Revolutionary War. His cousins Abraham Remsen, Luke Remsen, and Aurt Remsen were also Revolutionary War officers.
By 1925, all of the Remsen property had been sold off and the Remsen House, which was near the cemetery, was torn down to make way for residential development. Most of the cemetery’s old tombstones disappeared with time and vandalism, although the local American Legion post and other civic groups strove to maintain it over the years. In 1980, new marble gravemarkers were erected by the Veterans Administration to honor Col. Remsen and the other Revolutionary veterans buried there. A World War I memorial, with two doughboy statues flanking a flagpole, also was created at the site to commemorate Forest Hill’s service in that war. Remsen Cemetery was designated a New York City Landmark in 1981 and is now owned and maintained by the NYC Parks Department.
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 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 by the NYC Board of Transportation, 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 the 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.
Sources: Colton’s 1836Map Of The City and County Of New-York; Bromley’s 1916 Atlas of the Borough of ManhattanPl 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.
Here lies a youth in prime of life By death was snatched away. His soul is blest and gone to rest, Though flesh is gone to clay. He is gone forever his life’s sun is set. But its golden beams linger to comfort us yet. He has gone in the fulness of beauty and youth, An emblem of virtue, a witness for truth. Strangers, remember, you must die.
This poignant epitaph, concluding with a bleak reminder to the living, is from the gravestone of Samuel Cornell, who died in 1841 at the age of 20. His was one of four markers that were found by the Queens Topographical Bureau in 1923 in a plot located at today’s Little Neck Parkway and Nassau Blvd. Along with Samuel Cornell’s monument, the 67’ x 74’ graveyard had tombstones for John Cornell (d. 1847), Atletter Ann Herrick (d. 1849) and Emeline Penny (d. 1850). The site was a known burying ground of the Cornell family, who were among the earliest English settlers in Little Neck. The small cemetery, with the four markers still present, was discovered again in 1952 when a shopping center was built at the site. The remains from the graveyard were likely moved to the cemetery at Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, where other members of the Cornell family are buried.
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.
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.”
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.
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
In 1694, Jacobus Van Cortlandt acquired a tract of land in “Lower Yonkers” that became the nucleus of what is now Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Jacobus was the youngest son of Oloff Van Cortlandt, a wealthy Dutch merchant who founded the Van Cortlandt dynasty that was influential in New York from the colonial period into the 19th century. Jacobus added to his estate throughout his lifetime and in 1732 acquired the tract upon which his son Frederick built a family home in 1748-49. Frederick fell ill and died during completion of the house in 1749, and his will directed that he be buried in “a Family Vault which I intend to Build on my plantation on a little Hill which lies to the Northeastward of Tuttle Brook.” This burial vault was completed shortly after Frederick’s death and was used as a family burial ground until the Van Cortlandt estate was acquired for a city park in 1888.
The Van Cortlandt burial vault is situated atop a steep ridge that became known as Vault Hill. The site gained renown in 1776 when Augustus Van Cortlandt, Frederick’s son who was then New York City Clerk, hid the city records in the family burial vault to protect them from destruction during the British occupation of New York in the American Revolution. A fieldstone wall surrounds the burial ground but most of the headstones and markers were removed when the site was vandalized in the 1960s.