In the summer of 1895, general contractor Charles W. Collins got a contract with the city for grading part of Boston Road in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. His work proceeded smoothly and was almost complete when he encountered an unforeseen obstacle—a small graveyard, about 25 feet square, near what is today the intersection of Albany Crescent and Bailey Avenue. Containing several weather-beaten headstones and a ruined vault, the site was the burial place of between 40 and 50 members of the Cole, Schuyler, and Berrian families of Kingsbridge and Fordham.
This burial place dated back to about 1820, when carpenter Jacob Cole acquired four acres of land near the junction of what was then Albany Post Road and Boston Post Road. By the 1840s, Jacob Cole’s property encompassed 52 acres between today’s Albany Crescent and West 238th Street. The burial ground, consisting mainly of a vault but with a few separate graves nearby, was situated at the south end of the Cole estate. Jacob Cole died in 1842, and in 1845 his son James and daughter-in-law Catherine sold the southern portion of the estate to Charles Darke, with an exception “reserving the vault for the use of descendants of Jacob Cole, deceased, twenty-two feet by forty feet.” Family members may have continued to use this burial place until the 1860s, afterward acquiring lots at Woodlawn Cemetery.
The old Cole family burial vault, which was built into the slope of a hill and measured about 10 feet wide, 14 feet long, and 9 feet deep, first came to public attention in November of 1892 when heavy rainstorms caused the doorway to collapse and exposed the decayed and crumbling coffins to view. Children playing in the neighborhood discovered the open structure and carried off some of the skulls and bones. Descendants repaired the entrance to guard it against further vandalism, but their efforts would be short-term protection as it was only three years later that the site faced destruction.
When contractor Collins encountered the burial place during his roadway construction in 1895, he made arrangements with the city to remove the remains to St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens. This plan incurred the wrath of Cornelius B. Schuyler (known as “the man that owns Kingsbridge” according to a New York Tribune article), who threatened to shoot anyone that dared to desecrate the final resting place of his ancestors. Mr. Schuyler was eventually pacified when assured that he could transfer the remains to the Schuyler plot in Woodlawn Cemetery.
On August 20, 1895, Mr. Collins, Mr. Schuyler, and a representative of the Board of Health met at the site to witness the work of the undertakers who removed the remains from the vault and graves. When the vault was opened, they found the stone walls had crumbled and the shelves on which the coffins had been placed had sagged towards the middle of the vault, where there was a pile of bones several feet high. A few coffin plates and a set of false teeth were found, which Mr. Schuyler pocketed. Two headstones marking the graves outside the vault were taken along with the remains to Woodlawn. They bore the names of Jacob Cole and Berrian and were dated 1835. After the removal the vault was demolished; today the site is under the roadbed of Albany Crescent.
Sources: Map of the southern part of West-Chester County, N.Y. (Dripps 1853); Map of Property Situate in the Town of Yonkers Westchester Co NY belonging to Charles Darke, 1867 (Westchester County Clerk Map #Vol3 PG17); Topographical Map Made from Surveys by the Commissioners of the Department of Public Parks of the City of New York of that part of Westchester County adjacent to the City and County of New York…(Department of Parks 1873); Westchester County Conveyances, Vol 109 p25-27, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “Skulls as Playthings,” Evening World, Nov 22, 1892; “An Old Burying Vault Disturbed, The Sun Nov 23, 1892; “Fifty in One Coffin,” New York Herald Sep 8, 1895; “An Old Graveyard Torn Up,” New York Tribune, Sep 8 1895; “An Old Graveyard Uncovered,” The Sun Sep 8, 1895; “Skeletons in the Kingsbridge Closet,” Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Spuyten Duyvil…(Tieck 1968); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; “Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City (Meade 2020)