The first Methodist congregation in Greenwich Village was founded in 1805 and in 1810 erected a meeting house at the southeast corner of Bedford and Morton streets. This structure—a frame building with shingled sides—was enlarged in 1830, then replaced in 1840 by a red-brick church. The Bedford Street Methodist church became one of the largest and most prosperous congregations in the city, its membership ranging in size from 800 to 1,200 for most of the 19th century. Known as “a hot furnace of religious activity” for its evangelism, the Bedford Street Church congregation included the middle classes of old Greenwich Village as well as wealthy local families such as the McLeans, Brushes, DeGroots, Bakers, and Halls.
The original meeting house faced Bedford Street and behind it stretched a graveyard where approximately 3,000 bodies were buried until the new church was built in 1840. At that time, a system of burial vaults was constructed beneath the church and the cemetery plot along Morton Street was sold. Before the purchaser was allowed to take possession of the cemetery property, the ground was “carefully dug over by employees of the church, who gathered up every human relic and deposited it in the vaults,” according to one account. The vaults beneath the church continued to be used for new interments until about 1865.
The Bedford Street Methodist Church building stood over the bones of several thousand of the “best and truest people of Greenwich Village” until title to the church property passed to the city in 1913 for the southward extension of Seventh Avenue. Before the demolition of the building in January of 1914, remains from the burial vaults beneath the church were moved to a plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens. The homeless Bedford Street Methodist congregation merged with the Metropolitan Methodist Temple on Seventh Avenue and 13th Street, which was later renamed the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church.
Excavations for the Seventh Avenue subway line in 1916 uncovered remains that had been left behind in the old burial ground and vaults at the Bedford Street Methodist Church site. In a report entitled “The Catacombs of Seventh Avenue,” an engineer for the Bureau of Subway Construction detailed the discoveries and described the “huge underground tomb” still present where the church once stood. Constructed of brick and stone, it included 20 separate vaults and two lengthy passages that led to the individual burial chambers. The remains of about 50 people were found at the site and taken to Mount Olivet Cemetery for reburial.
For more than a century the Bedford Street Methodist Church stood at the heart of Greenwich Village. Today Seventh Avenue cuts through the former church site, and passengers on the 1 train ride through what was once the burial place of the Village’s earliest Methodist congregation.
Sources: Perris’ 1854 Maps of the City of New York, Vol 5 Pl 59; Annals of New York Methodism (Seaman 1892); The American Metropolis, from Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time, Vol 3 (Moss 1897); Nooks & Corners of Old New York (Hemstreet 1899); From Abyssianian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); “A Tour Around New York,” Evening Post, Mar 4, 1887; “To Dig Up Bodies Long Buried,” The Sun, Sep 23 1913; “Historic Church to Go,” New York Times, Oct 3, 1913; “Old Graves Block Street,” New York Tribune, Oct 24, 1913; “Old Church to Go,” New York Times, Nov 13, 1913; Laws of the State of New York Passed at the 137th Session of the Legislature, Begun January 7th 1914 and ended March 27th, 1914, Vol. I, Ch. 138 (New York 1914); “Wrecking of Bedford Street M.E. Church Removes a Historic Shrine,” New York Press, Dec 18 1913; “Ancient Cemeteries Dug Up in Subways,” New York Times, June 11 1916; Chris Bendall, personal communication, Nov 19, 2022