Tag Archives: Lower East Side

St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery Churchyard and Cemetery

St. Mark’s Church stands on the site of the chapel built in 1660 by Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of Dutch New Amsterdam, and its grounds are all that remain of Stuyvesant’s vast “bouwerie,” or farm.  Stuyvesant was interred in the family vault beneath the chapel when he died in 1672.  During the 18th century, the chapel fell into a state of dilapidation, until little remained except the foundation and the Stuyvesant family vault beneath.  In 1793, Stuyvesant’s great-grandson, Peter Stuyvesant IV, donated the chapel property to the Episcopal Church with the stipulation that a new church be erected.  Originally intended to be a chapel of Trinity Parish, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery was completed in 1799 as the first New York City Episcopal parish separate from Trinity.  The Stuyvesant vault is still present under the east wall of the church; it was closed permanently when the last family member was interred there in 1953.

St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in 1836 (NYPL)
The churchyard and cemetery of St. Mark’s, 1852.

In addition to the Stuyvesant vault, St. Mark’s had two burial sites attached to its church during the first half of the 19th century—the yards surrounding the church, which were used exclusively for vault interments, and a cemetery further east along 11th Street for conventional graves. Peter Stuyvesant IV donated a 242 x 190 plot just east of 2nd Avenue, between 11th and 12th Streets, for the cemetery in 1803.  One of the stipulations in Stuyvesant’s grant of the plot was that any of his present or former slaves and their children have the right to be interred in the burial ground free of charge. An unknown number of individuals were buried at St. Mark’s Cemetery until burials there were prohibited in 1851.  The remains from this graveyard were removed to Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn in 1864 and residences were built on the site.

The first underground burial vaults were built in the grounds adjoining the church in 1807.  In these tombs lie the remains of many important individuals and members of prominent and wealthy families of 19th century New York.  Among those interred here are Mayor Philip Hone, English governor Henry Sloughter, and Daniel D. Tompkins, governor of New York and U.S. vice-president under James Monroe. Millionaire A.T. Stewart was interred in a vault in the east yard in 1876; two years later his remains were stolen and reportedly held for ransom. The suspicious events surrounding the theft and rumors of ransom demands were well publicized for several years following the crime.  The case was never officially resolved, although some stories hold that Stewart’s widow negotiated the return of the remains in 1881 and reinterred them elsewhere.

“Desecration of the vault of A.T. Stewart,” (Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 16, 1878)
The flat vault markers in the east yard can be seen in this view of St. Mark’s from ca. 1925 (MCNY)

As the neighborhood surrounding St. Mark’s changed from upper class townhouses to tenement slums during the first half of the 20th century, the churchyard fell into disrepair.  The Preservation Youth Project restored it for community use in the 1970s, creating a playground in the east yard and a quiet garden in the west yard.  Many of the flat vault markers can still be seen among the newer pavements.

Vault marker’s in the gravel surface of the east yard, 2008.
St. Mark’s west yard, 2008.

Sources: St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery; A Comprehensive Guide to the St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery Historical Site (St. Mark’s 1999); Memorial of St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery (St. Mark’s 1899); A New York Pantheon: The Burial List of St. Mark’s in-the-Bouwerie (St. Mark’s n.d.); “Public Notice” [Removal of St. Mark’s Cemetery], New York Times, Aug. 17, 1864; “Ghouls in New-York City,” New York Times, Nov 8, 1878; “New Rector Heard in His First Sermon at Old St. Mark’s,” New York Times Aug 3, 1959; “The Decline and Fall of the Commercial Empire of A.T. Stewart,” Business Review 36(3):255-286, Autumn 1962; “St. Mark’s Building Playground in its Cemetery, the City’s Oldest,” New York Times, Feb. 9, 1970; Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St.

11th Street Catholic Cemetery

The 11th Street Catholic Cemetery in 1851.
The 11th Street Catholic Cemetery in 1851.

Controversy erupted in 1883 when the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral announced plans to remove their cemetery at 11th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, so that the land could be sold.  The cemetery, which extended to 12th Street and occupied most of the block, was opened in 1833 to serve the city’s Catholic community after the burial ground around St. Patrick’s Old Cathedralreached capacity.  Fifteen years later, the 11th Street Catholic Cemetery was also full and burials there ceased after the church opened Calvary Cemetery in Queens in 1848. According to an 1899 article written by Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, over 41,000 interments were made in the 11th Street cemetery between 1833 and 1848.

By the time the removal and sale was proposed in 1883, the cemetery had been in disuse for several decades.  At a January 1883 meeting to consider the matter, the Trustees of St. Patrick’s advocated for removing the graves to Calvary Cemetery because, “The old cemetery has been neglected and has become a scene of desolation. The fences have been broken by boys, and stones, pieces of pottery, tin cans, and other refuse have been thrown into it, until it has reached such a condition that it has become a great source of trouble to the church to arrange for protecting its property against trespassers.”

An 1883 diagram of the cemetery (New York Herald)

Many lot-holders opposed disturbing the graves of their relatives, contending that the cemetery was sacred ground and that selling it would be sacrilegious.  Among the opponents was attorney Arthur J. Delaney, who had several family members interred in the cemetery.  Delaney obtained a temporary injunction preventing the removals, claiming that lot-holders, as purchasers of burial rights, had a perpetual interest in the ground that would be violated if the bodies were moved and the cemetery sold.  The State Supreme Court dissolved the injunction shortly after its issuance, saying that payment for interment in a cemetery gives no title to the land, only the rights to be buried and remain undisturbed for as long as the cemetery continues to operate and to have one’s remains removed and properly reburied in a new burial place once the ground ceases to be used as a cemetery.

Another 25 years passed before removal of the cemetery was carried out.  The church met with opposition again in 1907 when it resolved to proceed with the disinterments, but the graves were finally removed in 1909 and the remains of an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 individuals were reinterred in Section 4B at Calvary Cemetery.  It is not known what happened to the remains of the tens of thousands of other individuals that were said to have been interred in the 11th Street cemetery.  The property at 11th Street was sold in 1912;  East Side Community High School, Open Road Park, and Mary Help of Christians Church occupy the old cemetery site today.

The vacant cemetery site in 1911.
A present-day view of the former 11th Street Catholic Cemetery site.

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, borough of Manhattan Pl.12; NYCityMap; A brief sketch of the early history of the Catholic Church on the island of New York 119-120; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,Historical Records and Studies 1, 374; “Excited Roman Catholics: The Proposed Removal of Dead Bodies from a Cemetery,” New York Times Jan 4, 1883; “Selling the Graves,” New York Herald, Jan. 5, 1883, 6; “The Cathedral Cemetery Case,” New York Times Jun 5, 1883; “Catholics to Abandon East Side Cemetery,” New York Times Feb 3, 1907; “Give Up An Old Cemetery: Catholic Burying Ground in East Eleventh Street to be Abandoned,” New York Times Mar 28, 1909; “Sell Old Catholic Cemetery at Last,” New York Times, Nov 7, 1912.