Tag Archives: Manhattan

John Street Methodist Church Graveyard and Vaults

A 19th-century depiction of the Methodist Church erected on John Street in 1768 (NYPL)

“The church first, and then my family” was the motto of New York City merchant William Lupton, one of the founding members of the John Street Methodist Church. The first Methodist church in America, the John Street Church was erected in 1768 at 44 John Street in Lower Manhattan and rebuilt in 1818 and 1841. Considered the cradle of American Methodism, the John Street Church still stands today. It has an active congregation and a museum that tells the story of this historically and religiously significant property.

John Street Methodist Church and adjoining graveyard in 1807

The lot connected with John Street Church was the first place Methodists used for a burial ground in New York, and they had burial vaults under the original church building. But by the early 1800s, the congregation had acquired lots in a Methodist cemetery further uptown and stopped burying their dead at John Street. In 1817, when the congregation tore down their first chapel to build a new house of worship on the same site, they disturbed bodies buried there. Some of the bones were gathered together and reburied under one end of the new church and some were removed to other burial grounds.

Obituary of William Lupton, interred at John Street Methodist Church in 1796

William Lupton’s remains were among those removed and reburied during construction of the new church in 1817. Lupton had a private vault under the church where he was interred in 1796 when he died at age 69.  One of the wealthiest of the original trustees, Lupton was an Englishman who came to America in 1753 as a quartermaster in the British Army and served in the French and Indian War. Married twice—first to Joanna Schuyler and, after her death, to Elizabeth Roosevelt—he had eleven children. Lupton and his family lived next door to the John Street Church for some time. Legend has it, when a fire broke out in the neighborhood Lupton instructed the firemen to save the church before his home, thus proving him faithful to his motto.

Construction projects at the church in the 1880s and again in the 1940s uncovered the bones of more early Methodists; these were reburied beneath the basement of the present church building. More recently, in 1986 construction workers found fragments of human bones during work on the foundation wall of the church, and these also were reburied under the basement. Archaeologist Sherene Baugher, who led excavations at the church when the bones were found in 1986, observes that “the basement of the church has become a burial ground and, in a sense, a sacred site.”

John Street Methodist Church, July 2020 (John Street Church)
2018 aerial view of the John Street Methodist Church, overshadowed by surrounding office towers (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; “Died,” Daily Advertiser, Apr 11, 1796; Lost Chapters Recovered from the Early History of American Methodism (Wakeley 1858); “The General Conference,” The Methodist, Jun 4, 1864; Annals of New York Methodism (Seaman 1892); John Street Methodist Church: An Archaeological Investigation (LPC 1991); “The John Street Methodist Church: An Archaeological Excavation with Native American Cooperation,” Historical Archaeology 43(1); From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd ed. (Jackson et al 2010)

German Catholic Cemetery, 124th Street

An 1869 notice in the New York Herald announces the removal of remains from the German Catholic Cemetery on 124th Street

Even as New York’s Catholic population grew from no more than 200 at the end of the Revolutionary era to 400,000 by the mid-19th century, there was but one official cemetery for Manhattan’s Catholics, each closing in turn as it reached capacity. The first was around St. Peter’s in Barclay street, the second at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, the third on 11th Street, and, in 1848,  Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Parishes throughout Manhattan were expected to bury their dead in the authorized cemetery and were prohibited by the diocese (archdiocese after 1850) from establishing graveyards adjacent to their churches or elsewhere.

But Manhattan’s early German Catholics were eager to have their own burial places, separate from the Irish that dominated the designated cemetery for the diocese/archdiocese. Several German Catholic parishes established cemeteries, or attempted to do so, and were censured for their defiance and their burial grounds closed. One of these was the Church of St. John the Baptist on 30th Street, whose trustees opened a cemetery on property they acquired in 1848.  State Senator Erastus Brooks provides an account of this cemetery in an 1855 editorial letter:

On 123d and 124th streets, there is a burial ground covering eight lots, belonging to the Church of St. John the Baptist, built on 30th street. The owners were Germans. They built a church and selected a suitable place for the burial of their dead. For some time, without restraint from the Archbishop or others, they were permitted to inter the members of their congregation in these grounds, which were sacred both to the memory of the dead and to their friends. The Archbishop interposed, and prohibited the use of the grounds for this purpose.

The congregation, in a spirit of German independence, continued to bury their dead there, notwithstanding the prohibition of the Archbishop. It was then announced by authority from the pulpit, that burial services would not be permitted there any longer. Still the congregation persisted in exercising their rights as men, and in discharging their duty to the dead. For a time the dead were buried without the usual funeral ceremonies or services. The Archbishop in the exercise of his highhanded power, then took the Priest from the congregation, and, as a consequence, the Church had to be closed, and was closed for some time.

The German Catholic Cemetery depicted on an 1851 map of upper Manhattan. Although it appears here that the cemetery extended over entire block, other sources indicate it was confined to the center of the block, in the area denoted by arrow

An 1851 map of upper Manhattan shows this German Catholic Cemetery and implies that it extended the entire block bounded by 123rd and 124th Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues (now Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass Boulevards). However, other documentary evidence and historical accounts indicate the cemetery was confined to a parcel at the middle of the block (indicated by arrow on the map detail above). No evidence has been found of the number nor names of those interred there.

As noted in Senator Brooks’ letter, the archdiocese interdicted St. John the Baptist for their cemetery, as well as for other disagreements with church authorities, and the parish was consistently troubled until it was reorganized under the control of Capuchin Franciscan friars in 1871. In 1869, the remains from the German Catholic Cemetery on 124th Street were removed to Calvary Cemetery. The property was subsequently sold to help fund a new church building for the resurrected St. John the Baptist parish; this building still stands at West 30th Street. Apartment buildings are at the former site of the German Catholic Cemetery on 124th Street.

2018 aerial view of the German Catholic Cemetery site today (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of New-York North of 50th St (Dripps 1851); “Catholic Cemetery and Catholic Burials,” New-York Freemans Journal and Catholic Register, Aug 23, 1851; The Controversy Between Senator Brooks and † John, Archbishop of New York…(Tisdale 1855); “Special Notices,” New York Herald, April 4, 1869; The Catholic Church in the United States of America (Catholic Editing Co. 1914); The Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics, 1815-1865 (Dolan 1975); Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd ed. (Jackson et al 2010); Ennis Francis Houses 1A Documentary Report (Geismar 2010)

88th Street Jewish Cemetery

An 1897 map shows the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery between Park and Madison Avenues

With the growth of New York City’s Jewish population and the increase in the number of synagogues, some two dozen Jewish graveyards were established in Manhattan between 1825 and the late 1840s. Most of these cemeteries were used for just a short time before their owners acquired new burial grounds at the large, rural Jewish cemeteries created in Brooklyn and Queens in the mid-1800s. By the turn of the century, the only Jewish cemeteries left in the city were those belonging to Shearith Israel, the city’s oldest Jewish congregation. In 1899, the last of Manhattan’s Jewish graveyards—excluding the Shearith Israel grounds—disappeared when “the old Jewish Cemetery” on 88th Street in Yorkville was removed.

This detail from an 1871 lot map shows the four lots that formed the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery. Shaare Zedek owned lots 282 & 283; Rodeph Sholom owned Lots 284 & 285

The cemetery originated in 1840, when Shaare Zedek (Gates of Righteousness)—a Polish Jewish congregation founded in 1837—acquired two lots on the south side of 88th Street, between present-day Park and Madison Avenues, as a burial place for their members. In 1842, a group of German Jews formed Rodeph Sholom (Pursuer of Peace) and in October of that same year acquired two lots adjoining Shaare Zedek’s. The conjoined burial grounds formed an 87-foot x 100-foot cemetery that was cooperatively managed by the two synagogues. In 1856, the sister congregations built a high, thick brick wall around the entire property and erected heavy iron gates at the cemetery’s entrance on 88th Street. At the time this enclosure was built to protect the 88th Street cemetery, Rodeph Sholom had discontinued burials here and was interring their dead at their new cemetery in Queens, Union Field. A few years later, Shaare Zedek established Bayside Cemetery in Queens and also ceased burials at the 88th Street cemetery.

An 1864 newspaper clipping reports a suicide at the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery

By the 1860s, the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery was inactive and soon fell into disrepair. In 1879, a reporter from the New York Times found the brick wall broken and crumbling and observed goats belonging to the neighborhood squatters nibbling the grass and lying on the toppled tombstones that crowded the grounds. Shaare Zedek’s trustees found a buyer for their part of the property in 1881 and made arrangements to remove the bodies, but their plans were defeated by the furious opposition of those with relatives buried there and by Rodeph Sholom’s refusal to sell the adjoining grounds. Finally, in 1899 the two congregations proceeded with the removals and sold their lots. In 1901, The Jewish Messenger announced that William B. Leeds had acquired the 88th Street Jewish cemetery property and planned to erect a private stable on the site. Today, Shaare Zedek and Rodeph Sholom worship at synagogues on the Upper West Side, and a condominium building is at the site of the old 88th Street Jewish Cemetery.

This 1899 Jewish Messenger clipping notes the removal of the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery and laments the loss of the city’s Jewish burial grounds.
A 2018 aerial view with arrow denoting the former site of the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of that part of the Harlem Commons east of the 5th Ave. & Central Park : copied from the original map made by Joseph F. Bridges, City Surveyor, January 1826… (Holmes 1871); Bromley’s 1897 Atlas of the city of New York, Pl 30; New York County Conveyances, Vol 408 p325-327, Vol 1601 p184-185, Vol 430 p153-154, Vol 850 p616-618, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “The Clinton and Henry Street Congregations,” The Asmonean, Aug 22, 1856; “Suicide at a Graveyard,” The World, May 20, 1864; “Suicide,” The Jewish Messenger, May 27, 1864; “An Up-Town Cemetery,” The Jewish Messenger, Mar 7, 1879; “Some Old Grave-yards,” New York Times, May 18, 1879; “Selling a Cemetery, The Jewish Messenger, Jun 17, 1881; “Old Graves to be Disturbed,” The Sun, Nov 14, 1892; [No title], The Jewish Messenger, Feb 3, 1899; “Brevities,” The Jewish Messenger, Dec 14, 1900; “Finance and Trade, “ The Jewish Messenger, Apr 26, 1901; Laws of the State of New York, Passed at the One Hundred and Twenty-Third Session of the Legislature, Begun Jan 3rd 1900 and Ended April 6th 1900, Chap. 34; Rise of the Jewish Community of New York (Grinstein 1945); Within the Gates: A Religious, Social and Cultural History 1837-1962 (Monsky 1964);  Dust to Dust: A History of Jewish Death and Burial in New York (Amanik 2019); Our History – Congregation Shaare Zedek; Our History – Congregation Rodeph Sholom 

Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Cemetery

Snippet from the Mendelssohn Benevolent Society’s charter and by-Laws, 1914

From the time Jews first settled in colonial New York until well into the 19th century, synagogues had a monopoly on Jewish burials and controlled all the city’s Jewish graveyards. But as New York’s Jewish population grew from a few hundred residents in the 1820s to about 40,000 by mid-century, some new immigrants eschewed the synagogues to form independent groups that provided benefits to their members, including graves and funeral arrangements. One of the first of these was the Mendelssohn Benevolent Society, formed in 1841. The objectives of the Society included “mutual relief of the members thereof, and their families, when in sickness, want, and destitution or distress,” and to acquire “a suitable burial ground” and defray funeral and burial costs for members and their families. Membership was open to any Jewish male between the ages of 21 and 45, who was a resident of New York City and “in full possession of all his mental and physical faculties, and of good character.”

An 1871 map shows the three lots (delineated in red) Mendelssohn Benevolent Society acquired in 1845 on 87th Street, east of Fourth (now Park) Avenue. Only the strip along the eastern edge of the property was used for burials (approximate boundary denoted here by dashed line)

In May of 1845, Mendelssohn Benevolent Society purchased land on the south side of 87th Street, between today’s Park and Lexington Avenues, and used part of this property as the Society’s cemetery. Society members and their families were interred here until 1851 when the Society purchased new burial grounds at Salem Fields Cemetery in Brooklyn. In 1858, the Society sold their property on 87th Street, excluding the “strip of land running along the whole of the easterly side” of the premises, 21.2 feet fronting on 87th Street and 100.8 ½ feet in depth, which was reserved by the Mendelssohn Benevolent Society and their successors “for a burying ground forever.” As part of the transfer, the new owner agreed to build “a good and substantial fence” on the westerly side of the burial ground and “forever keep it in good repair.”

This entry from from one of the city’s Bodies in Transit registers records the removal of remains from Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Cemetery to Salem Fields in 1878

Mendelssohn Benevolent Society retained their cemetery on 87th Street until March of 1878 when they removed the remains to their plot at Salem Fields and sold the 21.2 ft x 100.8 ½ ft burial ground property.  Mendelssohn Benevolent Society was still active in 1941 when 400 people attended their 100th-anniversary dinner at the Hotel Astor. However, like the majority of organizations of its kind, the Society declined as members died off and were not replaced by a new generation and is now defunct.

A 2018 aerial view shows the site of the former Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Cemetery; arrow denotes approximate location (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of that part of the Harlem Commons east of the 5th Ave. & Central Park : copied from the original map made by Joseph F. Bridges, City Surveyor, January 1826… (Holmes 1871); New York County Conveyances, Vol 465 p439-440, Vol 762 p621-624, Vol 1445 p407-408, Kings County Conveyances, Vol 285 p178-182, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; Bodies in Transit Register IX:1874-1880, Municipal Archives, City of New York; Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Charter and By-Laws, 1914; “Group Marks 100th Year,” New York Times, Oct 12, 1941; Rise of the Jewish Community of New York (Grinstein 1945); Dust to Dust: A History of Jewish Death and Burial in New York (Amanik 2019); Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City (Meade 2020)

Shaaray Tefila Cemetery, 105th Street

This detail from an 1856 plan for Central Park depicts Shaaray Tefila’s cemetery (denoted as “Jews’ Cemetery”) at 105th Street west of Fifth Ave

In 1845, a group of about 50 English and Dutch members of B’nai Jeshurun seceded from the synagogue to form Congregation Shaaray Tefila (Gates of Prayer). Shaaray Tefila built their first synagogue in 1846 on Wooster Street and continues today at their present temple on 79th Street in the Upper East Side.

The first concern of the new organization was the purchase of property for a burial ground and in January of 1846—before Shaaray Tefila was yet legally incorporated—two founding members, Morland Micholl and John I. Hart (both former presidents of B’nai Jeshurun) acquired land for this purpose. Situated on the south side of 46th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, the property purchased by Micholl and Hart was quickly found not to be suitable for burials and was resold. On November 24, 1846, Louis Levy (Shaaray Tefila’s first president) purchased another parcel, on 105th Street near Fifth Avenue, that would go on to serve as Shaaray Tefila’s cemetery for the next decade. Levy transferred ownership of the property to the congregation when they received their charter in 1848.

Diagram from an archaeological survey of Central Park, showing the location of the site of  Shaaray Tefila’s former cemetery within the modern Conservatory Garden

Shaaray Tefila’s cemetery was located on the south side of 105th Street, west of Fifth Avenue, at the north end of today’s Central Park. The burial ground, 100 x 100 feet, was in the area now part of the Conservatory Garden. Just west of the former cemetery site is the Mount, where the Sisters of Charity established the religious community of Mount St. Vincent in 1847. Construction of Central Park forced both the Sisters of Charity and Shaaray Tefila to abandon their properties here. In 1856, Shaaray Tefila purchased a portion of the land held by its parent congregation, B’nai Jeshurun, at Beth Olam Cemetery in the Cypress Hills area of Brooklyn, and the two congregations decided to administer their burial grounds together. Remains from Shaaray Tefila’s 105th Street Cemetery were removed to their new burial ground at Beth Olam in 1857, at “very heavy expense to the Congregation,” according to an auditor’s report from June of that year.

A notice for the dedication of Morland Micholl’s monument at Shaaray Tefila’s 105th Street cemetery in 1854

It is not known how many members of Shaaray Tefila were interred in the 105th Street cemetery before its closure, but among their number was founding member Morland Micholl (mentioned above). A native of Chesham, England, Micholl was interred at the 105th Street cemetery when he died of a “short and severe illness” at age 56 in 1853. He was a prominent member of the city’s Jewish community for 30 years, and his obituary in The Asmonean asserts “his integrity as a merchant, his uprightness as a citizen, his piety as a religionist, and his charity as a man.”  Friends of the late Mr. Micholl assembled at the 105th Street cemetery on October 29, 1854, to dedicate his monument—a 10-foot-tall marble obelisk that faced the cemetery’s entrance. Micholl’s monument would stand for just a few years before the cemetery’s removal to Beth Olam, where he is now laid to rest.

2018 aerial photo of the Conservatory Garden at Central Park; arrow shows approximate location of the Shaaray Tefila cemetery site (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Plan of Buildings at Mount St. Vincent, Fourth Division—Central Park (Bacon 1856); New York County Conveyances, Vol 467, p520-522, Vol 489 p212-214, Vol 485, p207-208, Vol 668, p256-258 “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,”FamilySearch; “Morland Micholl,” The Asmonean⁩⁩, Apr 22, 1853; “Special Notice,” The Asmonean⁩⁩, Oct 27 1854; “Monument to the late Morland Micholl,” The Asmonean, Nov 3, 1854; “The Cemeteries,” The Asmonean⁩⁩, Feb 22, 1856; “Shaaray Tefilla and the Cemetery Question,” The Asmonean⁩⁩, Jul 4, 1856; “The Cemetery Question,” The Asmonean, Aug 29, 1856; “Auditor’s Report: Congregation ‘Gates of Prayer,’” The Jewish Messenger, Jun 5, 1857; A Preliminary Historical and Archaeological Assessment of Central Park to the North of the 97th Street Transverse…(Hunter Research, Inc.1990); Shaaray Tefila: A History of its Hundred Years, 1845-1945 (Cohen 1945); National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form—Beth Olam Cemetery, Jan 2016; Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City (Meade 2020)