Tag Archives: Greenwich Village

St Luke’s Churchyard

An 1831 view of St. Luke’s Church (NYPL)

The Church of St. Luke-in-the-Fields, on Hudson Street between Christopher and Barrow, was founded in 1820 by a group of prominent residents of Greenwich Village who were desirous of an Episcopal church to serve their community.  Construction of their church, on land donated to the congregation by Trinity Church, began in 1821 and was completed the following year.  When the church was constructed, the congregation had about 100 burial vaults built beneath the yard adjacent to the church. Only the flat, inscribed tomb coverings were visible on the surface to indicate the vaults below the ground.  Around 700 of St. Luke’s parishioners were buried in the vaults until interments there were discontinued in 1852.

In 1891, the congregation of St. Luke’s moved to a new church in Harlem and their Greenwich Village church became a chapel of Trinity Church.  As part of the transfer of St. Luke’s to Trinity, the remains were removed from the burial vaults around the church. Some descendants transferred their relatives to family lots at other cemeteries, and many were reinterred at a large plot that St. Luke’s purchased at Mount Hope Cemetery in Westchester County.  Others were moved to plots at Trinity Cemetery in upper Manhattan and at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and one of the founders of St. Luke-in-the-Fields, was originally interred in one of the vaults at St. Luke’s; his body was moved to Trinity Cemetery in 1889.

When the last of the removals were made from St. Luke’s in December 1890, the New York Herald described the old vaults:

They are underground rooms, arched and walled with brick.  A slab bearing the epitaph is placed over the head of the stone stairway which leads to the surface . . . The coffins were piled one on top of the other in all the vaults.  The best preserved coffins were those which had been in the ground for the longest period.  Most of them were made of black mahogany.  The more modern coffins, with but few exceptions, had turned into dust, while some of those which have been in the ground for over sixty years are as solid as when they were built.

Dozens of the empty vaults were discovered under the topsoil in 1955, when workmen were in the process of constructing a new school, playground, and gardens on the grounds of St. Luke’s.  Most of the marble tomb covers were in place over the steps leading down into the brick vaults, and their inscriptions could still be read.  They were covered over again when the property was landscaped. In 1976, St. Luke-in-the-Fields again became an independent parish of the Episcopal Church. The old tombs, where hundreds of early residents of Greenwich Village once reposed, are likely still present under its grounds.

St. Luke’s Church, on the west side of Hudson between Christopher and Barrow, 1852 (Dripps 1852)
Beautiful gardens now cover St. Luke’s former burial grounds. (Mary French)

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; The Church of St. Luke in the Fields; Churchyards of Trinity Parish in the City of New York, 1697-1969 (J.V. Butler 1969), 8, 89-90; Meyer Berger’s New York (M. Berger 2004), 158-159; King’s 1893 Handbook of New York City, 512, 519; “St. Luke’s Cemetery Emptied,” New York Herald Dec. 14, 1890; “The Descendants Protest,” New York Times, Oct. 16, 1889; “Destroying Old Memories,” New York Times, Dec. 18, 1888.

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Carmine Street Lutheran Cemetery

In 1808, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew purchased six lots of land on the east side of St. John’s Cemetery in Greenwich Village to serve as a Lutheran burial ground. Adjacent to but separate from St. John’s, the Lutheran graveyard was at the junction of Carmine and Clarkson Streets, opposite the northern end of Varick Street.  The property was roughly triangular, having a frontage of about 100 feet on Carmine Street and 44 feet on Leroy Street.

The Carmine Street Lutheran Cemetery in 1852 (Dripps 1852)

The Carmine Street cemetery ceased use as a burial ground in 1846. In September 1869, St. Matthew announced plans to remove the remains from the cemetery so that the property could be sold.  The removals began on October 1, 1869, and progressed over several weeks.  The scene on the first day of the exhumations was described by the New York Herald-Tribune:

By nightfall more than a dozen graves were opened.  Large crowds of people gathered around the inclosure and looked curiously through the picket fence toward the groups of workmen inside.  Old gentlemen dressed in black stood by the graves superintending the laborers who were digging up the bones of those who were with them half a century ago.  Gray-haired men came with coffin-like boxes to receive the remains of their wives and children.  One gentleman, after working for an hour, found that the bones he had did not belong to his family.  In one place there stood a casket half filled with ribs, blackened silver plates, and tresses of hair, skulls, and shin bones were lying among the decayed coffins, awaiting a second burial.

Remains of an estimated 1,500 individuals were removed from the Carmine Street cemetery and reinterred at the new Lutheran Cemetery (now known as All Faiths Cemetery) that was established in Queens in 1850.  The Hudson Park Library and Carmine Street Public Bathhouse (today’s Tony Dapolito Recreation Center) were built on the Carmine Street cemetery site in the early 1900s.

The site of the Carmine Street Lutheran Cemetery in 1911 (Bromley 1911)

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Bromley’s 1911 Atlas of the City of New York Pl. 9; “Removal of Remains from the Carmine-street Lutheran Cemetery,” New York Times Sept 29, 1869; “The Carmine-St. Cemetery Exhumations,” New York Tribune, Oct. 2, 1869 p8; “Exhumation of Human Remains at Carmine-street Cemetery,” New York Times, Oct. 30, 1869.

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 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.

St. John’s Cemetery (identified here as Trinity Church Cemetery) at Hudson, Clarkson, and Leroy Streets, 1852 (Dripps 1852)
Tombstones in St. John’s Cemetery, ca. 1895. The firemen’s monument can be seen at the right side of the photo. (NYPL)
The firemens monument at the north side of Walker Park is a remnant of St. Johns Cemetery. (Mary French)

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).

Second Shearith Israel Cemetery

Among the more notable of the remnants of the time when the Greenwich region for the most part was open country are those at the southeast corner of Eleventh Street and Sixth Avenue: the little triangular graveyard and the two old framed dwellings which now rest on the lines of the street and the avenue, but which primitively stood—a few feet from their present site—on the now almost obliterated Milligan’s Lane. The triangular graveyard is a remnant of the second Beth Haim, or Place of Rest, owned on this island by the Jews . . . a plot of ground with a front of about fifty feet on Milligan’s Lane, and thence extending, a little east of south, about one hundred and ten feet. In the year 1830, when Eleventh Street was opened on the lines of the City Plan . . . almost the whole of the Jewish burial-ground was swept away. The street went directly across it—leaving only the corner on its south side, and a still smaller corner on its north side. (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1893)

Present-day location of the Second Shearith Israel Cemetery. Dotted lines represent approximate boundaries before 11th Street was extended through the cemetery in 1830 (NYCityMap)

In 1804, Congregation Shearith Israel purchased land in Greenwich Village to serve as a burial place to supplement its old graveyard near Chatham Square.  The new property, about 50 x 100 feet on Milligan Street,* was dedicated as Beth Haim Shenee (The Second Cemetery) in 1805.  When first established, the new cemetery was used mostly as a burial place for those dying of contagious diseases and for new immigrants who had no family ties to the old graveyard.  When the Chatham Square cemetery fell out of use following city ordinances in the 1820s that prohibited burials in lower Manhattan, the cemetery on Milligan Street became the Congregation’s primary burial ground.  It functioned in this capacity only until 1829—in 1830, 11th Street was extended through the cemetery, leaving just a small remnant of the graveyard intact.  Burials that were in the path of the street were reinterred in this portion of the cemetery, which exists today as a small trianglar plot on the south side of 11th Street, just east of the Avenue of the Americas. A few dozen headstones are still present at the site.

View of Second Shearith Israel Cemetery, 76 West 11th Street, Greenwich Village (Mary French)
Gravestones in the Second Shearith Israel Cemetery (Mary French)

See more photos of the Second Shearith Israel Cemetery.

*According to Old Streets of New York, Milligan Street ran perpendicular to Greenwich Avenue from its present intersection with West 10th Street, through the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 11th Street, to what is now the south side of 12th Street about 200 feet east of Sixth Avenue. It was obliterated when the city’s grid plan was imposed on the area.

Sources: “Greenwich Village,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1893, p. 356; Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909, 5:1429, 1689; Portraits Etched in Stone 123-133 (David de Sola Pool 1952); NYCityMap