Tag Archives: Jamaica

Methodist Cemetery, Jamaica

Detail from an 1859 map of Jamaica, showing the Methodist Cemetery on New York Ave (present-day Guy R. Brewer Blvd)

An overgrown lot behind a chain-link fence at the corner of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and Liberty Avenue in Jamaica, Queens, is a burial ground for some of the area’s earliest settlers. Although it is surrounded by York College, the cemetery is owned by the First United Methodist Church of Jamaica. This congregation is located today on Highland Avenue but traces its beginnings to the town’s original Methodist church, erected in 1811 on what is now 151st Street near Archer Avenue. By 1844, Jamaica’s First Methodist Church membership had increased to 100 and the congregation erected a new building on Jamaica Avenue and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. 

In 1850, four church members donated the lot at Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and Liberty Avenue to the First Methodist Church to use as a cemetery. The 125ft x 125ft site was already in use as a burial ground for the family and friends of Obadiah P. and Susan Leech (two of the four donors of the property) and the donation agreement reserved several sections for their future use. First Methodist Church moved bodies from its old burial ground, in the churchyard next to their original building on 151st Street, to the new Methodist Cemetery and continued burials here into the early 1900s. The last known burial in the Methodist Cemetery was in 1933.

A 1907 map shows the Methodist Cemetery; south of the cemetery is Jamaica Hospital, which was constructed in 1898 and demolished in the mid-1900s.

Many of the people buried in the Methodist Cemetery were prominent figures in historic Jamaica, including town officials, merchants, and Civil War veterans. One of the family plots contains the remains of John Dunn (d. 1827), a founding trustee of the First Methodist Church of Jamaica, his wife Deborah (who died in 1816 and is the oldest known burial in the cemetery), and their children and grandchildren. 

Obituary of Jane P. Holland, interred at the Methodist Cemetery in 1920

Over a dozen members of the Holland family are interred at the Methodist Cemetery, including Michael P. Holland (d.1859) and Fannie Holland (d. 1893), who are important in Queens history as pioneer settlers of Rockaway Beach. After owning a tobacco business and hotel in Jamaica, in 1857 Michael and Fannie Holland invested $350 to purchase 65 acres of land from today’s Beach 90 to Beach 95 Street in Rockaway, including a small hotel that would begin operating as the Holland Hotel. Michael Holland died shortly after they got their Rockaway venture going, leaving Fannie Holland to run the hotel and raise nine children alone. Over the next 50 years, the Hollands’ original investment grew to over $1 million and the family’s influence in the new community at Rockaway Beach continued for generations. Fannie Holland’s legacy includes founding the First Congregational Church of Rockaway Beach.

Part of the Methodist Cemetery can be seen in this 1948 photo of a house that once stood adjacent to the cemetery on its north side (QPL)

In the 1870s, the First Methodist Church congregation moved to a new building on Jamaica Avenue and 165th St; they would relocate again in the 1920s before settling at their current location in 1949. It was around this time that their cemetery went into decline and by the 1990s it had become a dumping ground and haven for drug addicts. Although it was cleaned up and fenced off for protection in the early 2000s, the historic Methodist Cemetery of Jamaica remains overgrown, unmaintained, and inaccessible.

Tombstones are barely visible through the overgrowth at the Methodist Cemetery, May 2016 (Mary French)
A view of the Methodist Cemetery enclosure along Guy R. Brewer Blvd, May 2016 (Mary French)
A 2018 aerial view of the Methodist Cemetery at Gury R. Brewer Blvd and Liberty Ave, Jamaica, Queens (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Jamaica (Walling 1859); Hyde’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Queens Vol 1 Pl 10; Inscriptions from the Methodist Cemetery at Jamaica, New York (Frost 1911); Cemeteries in Kings and Queens Counties (Eardeley 1916); The Methodist Cemetery of Jamaica, New York: A Brief History (Walski n.d. – Manuscript on file, Queens Library Archives); “Miss Jane B. Holland,” Brooklyn Times Union, Aug 18, 1920; “Firemen Fight Blaze in Cemetery Grass,” Long Island Daily Press, Jun 19, 1936; “A Grave Situation: Cemetery Turns in Drug Haven,” Newsday July 16, 1992; “Cemetery Maintenance Re-examined in Queens,” Queens Chronicle, Feb 9, 1995; “Where the Living Haunt the Dead,” Daily News, May 5, 1995; “Settler Burial Ground Falls Victim to Neglect,” New York Times, Sep 24 1995; “Cleanup at Historic Cemetery,” Daily News, March 14, 1997; “Mystery Cemetery Cleanup Has People Puzzled in Jamaica,” Queens Chronicle, Aug 16, 2001; Draft Environmental Impact State for the Queens Family Court and Family Court Agencies Facility, Jamaica, Queens Co. Appendix A: Phase IA Archaeological Assessment (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 1997); Rockaway Beach (Carter 2012); “Finding Fannie Holland,” Oy Vey Rockaway, Jan 25, 2012; Susan Walski, personal communication, 16 Mar 2022

St. Monica’s Cemetery

Detail from an 1859 map of Jamaica, arrows denote the original St. Monica’s church and adjoining cemetery at the bottom of Washington St (now 160th St) and the new St. Monica’s church built in 1856 a short distance north of the original site.

In October 1838, the Bishop of New York sent Rev. Michael Curran to Jamaica, Queens, to establish a parish for the town’s growing Irish Catholic population. Many of the area’s large farms employed Irish laborers, and construction of the Long Island Railroad along Jamaica Avenue in the 1830s brought an increasing number of Irish workers to Jamaica. Property was secured on the west side of Washington Street (now 160th Street), near South Street, and here a small frame church was erected and dedicated to Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. This humble little structure, 80 feet long by 25 feet wide, accommodated the 200 Catholics who came from miles around to hear Mass each Sunday. Vacant land adjoining the church was employed as a parish burial ground.

An 1897 map depicting St. Monica’s Cemetery and St. Monica’s Church.

St. Monica’s parish grew rapidly and before long their tiny wooden church was no longer adequate. In 1856 the congregation moved to a new brick building at 94-20 160th Street, a short distance north of their original church and adjoining cemetery. The old church building was used for a time as a meeting hall and eventually sold and demolished. St. Monica’s parish continued at their new location until 1973 when the church closed and the City of New York took over the building and surrounding blocks as part of the York College Urban Renewal Project. Since 2009 the former church  has housed the York College Child and Family Center.

Obituary for an 1887 interment at St. Monica’s Cemetery.

St. Monica’s Cemetery is intact today at the southwest corner of 160th Street and Liberty Avenue, in the middle of the York College Campus. About one acre in size, it is maintained by Catholic Cemeteries Diocese of Brooklyn.  Some 3,000 local Catholics have been laid to rest here, and tombstones now standing date from about 1840 to the early 2000s. Names on the tombstones reflect the changing demographics of the area—earlier burials are largely Irish, while more recent markers represent Italian families who settled in the area in the 20th century.

St. Monica’s Cemetery is noteworthy in local history as the spot where “the most beloved dog in Jamaica” took up residence. In 1923, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the unnamed stray who was known to the neighborhood for years:

And now upon a grave, apparently neglected, with a small, obliterated wooden cross, he makes his bed. We observed him the other afternoon lying atop the little grave as though mourning someone he had known when a tiny pup or someone dear to his ancestors. A pathetic picture he makes, indeed. Neighbors say the nameless dog howls bitterly late at night and sometimes during the day, and that efforts to keep him off the burial ground have been vain . . . Out of sheer pity the kindly folks on the block have declined to interfere with the strange dog’s actions. They sympathize with him by bringing him food, and even shut their ears to his nightly howls. And already the kiddies on the block have saved their pennies so that someday when the faithful and homeless dog passes away he will be given a resting place.

A view of tombstones in St. Monica’s Cemetery, May 2016 (Mary French)
2018 aerial view of St. Monica’s Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of St. Monica’s Cemetery

Sources: Jamaica (Walling 1859); Sanborn’s 1897 Insurance Maps of Jamaica, Queens Co., Pl 10; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); The Catholic Church in the United States of America (Catholic Editing Co. 1914); “Andrew McCormick’s Funeral,” Brooklyn Times Union, Aug 26, 1887; “St. Monica’s Church Celebrates Half Century’s History,” Brooklyn Times Union, Oct 13, 1906; “St. Monica’s, Jamaica,” The Tablet, Jun 18, 1910; “Cemetery His Estate, Lonely Grave Top His Choice of Boudoir,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr 9, 1923; York College Child Care Center – St. Monica’s Church

Public Burial Ground, Queens Village

The Little Plains east of Jamaica village in 1852; arrow indicates site of the public burial ground

In the mid-1800s, the Town of Jamaica, Queens, needed a new public cemetery to replace their old village burying place, established in the 17th century at the center of the settlement. The original burial ground had expanded over time and transformed into a private burial ground known as Prospect Cemetery, providing family burial plots to the growing number of prominent families in Jamaica village and surrounding towns. The Jamaica Board of Trustees, therefore, at its meeting on April 7, 1844, voted to establish a new cemetery “to be used and appropriated as a free burying ground for the inhabitants of this Town forever.” The Trustees authorized the Town Superintendent to select a piece of land from the common grasslands known as “the Little Plains,” located east of the settled village, to use for the burial ground. The new Jamaica town cemetery totaled 2.14 acres situated on the south side of Hollis Avenue near Springfield Boulevard, in today’s Queens Village.

The Potter’s Field at Queens Village is depicted on this 1891 map, situated on the south side of Hollis Ave near Springfield Blvd

Although intended as a free burial ground for Jamaica’s poor and unknown dead when first established, in 1878 the Jamaica Town Trustees authorized the Queens County Superintendents of the Poor to inter in the Town burying ground at Queens Village. For a fee of two dollars, charged to the Superintendents, paupers that died in any of the towns in Queens County (at that time, Jamaica, Flushing, Newtown, Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay) could henceforth be buried in the Queens Village public burial ground.

How many people were buried in the cemetery at Queens Village during the time it was the Jamaica town burying ground or later, when it served as a potter’s field for Queens County, is unknown. Scant information exists about the site; the sole known description is a short newspaper article from 1872, which notes that the Queens Village Potter’s Field “looks desolate” and “has no tombstones.” Graves were laid out with no system other than to bury white persons in one area of the cemetery and “colored” persons in another. Only a wooden stake, that would eventually rot away, marked the graves.

This 1872 article is the only known description of the Queens Village public burial ground

When Queens County and its towns were incorporated into the City of New York in 1898, use of the Queens Village public cemetery ceased and the site became city property. That same year, the city began construction of a new school—P.S. 34—adjacent to the cemetery, on Springfield Boulevard and Hollis Avenue. The abandoned potter’s field next to P.S. 34 lay unused and unkempt until August of 1907 when a petition was circulated among Queens Village residents to turn the cemetery into a public park. A year later, in March 1908, a bill was introduced into the State Legislature authorizing the Board of Estimate to appropriate $5000 to convert the burial ground into a public playground. In 1912, when the Department of Parks began converting the site—renamed Wayanda Park—they reported that all traces of the graves had by then been obliterated. No attempts at disinterment were made of burials that may have remained underground.

A 1913 newspaper notice about the transformation of the burial ground into Wayanda Park

The city made improvements to Wayanda Park several times over the 20th century, but there is no evidence any remains of the Queens Village public burial ground were disturbed until 2002 when a skull and other human bones were encountered during renovations. Archaeologists, working with the Parks Department and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, then developed a plan to ensure the project would not further impact any burials beneath the park.

An 1856 map of property at Brushville (today’s Queens Village) includes a survey of the town burial ground
Aerial view of Wayanda Park and P.S. 34 in 2018

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of Kings and Part of Queens Counties, Long Island N.Y.; Wolverton’s 1891 Atlas of Queens County, Long Island, Pl 28; Map of Property Situated at Brushville in the Town of Jamaica (Nostrand 1856); “The Potter’s Field,” Whitestone Herald, Feb 7, 1872; History of Queens County (Munsell 1882), 213; Laws of the State of New York, 131st Session (1908), Chap. 401; Journal of Proceedings (Board of Estimate 1911), 6628-6630; “Indian Name for a New Park,” Long Island Farmer, Apr 30, 1912; “Jamaica Notes,” Long Island Democrat, Aug 21, 1912; “Parks of Queens Have Been Improved,” Brooklyn Times Union, Feb 10, 1913; The Story of Queens Village (Seyfried 1974), 105-107; “Century-Old Bones Found Under Qns. Village Park,” Qns.com, Sep 26, 2002; Phase 1 Cultural Resource Survey of Wayanda Park (Loorya & Ricciardi 2003)

Passionist Monastery Cemetery

View of the Passionist Cemetery, Nov. 2010.
View of the Passionist Cemetery, Nov. 2010 (Mary French)

This cemetery is on the grounds of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica Estates, Queens, and is exclusive to members of the Passionist order. The Passionists founded the parish in 1924, when they purchased 16 acres of hillside property and established a monastery, church, school, and gardens.  The cemetery has been used since the 1960s as a burial place for senior priests from Immaculate Conception Monastery and elsewhere.

The small cemetery contains the graves of about 70 Passionist priests and brothers.  Dates on the headstones range from 1961 to present.  In addition to the graves, the cemetery has memorials to a number of Passionist missionaries who died overseas.  Among those buried in the Passionist Cemetery is Rev. Leo Joseph Gorman, who for many years hosted “The Sunday Mass” syndicated television program.

Location of the Passionist Cemetery on the grounds of Immaculate Conception parish (NYCityMap)
Passionist Cemetery, Nov. 2010 (Mary French)
Passionist Cemetery, Nov. 2010 (Mary French)

Sources:  Jamaica Estates (Carl Ballenas 2010); Carl Ballenas, personal communication, Sept. 1, 2010; NYCityMap.