Tag Archives: Methodist Cemeteries

Bedford Street Methodist Church Graveyard and Vaults

This vintage photo of Bedford and Morton streets in Greenwich Village shows part of the Bedford Street Methodist Church at the southeast corner, just before it was demolished in 1914 (NYPL)

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.

This detail from an 1854 map shows the Bedford Street Methodist Church at the southeast corner of Bedford and Morton streets in Greenwich Village. The empty lot next to the church along Morton Street is the former church grounds; by that time remains from the cemetery had been exhumed and removed to vaults beneath the church.

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.

Monument at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens marking the plot where remains exhumed from the Bedford Street Methodist Church graveyard and vaults were reburied (Chris Bendall)

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.

A 2018 aerial view of the southeast corner of the Bedford and Morton Streets, the former site of the Bedford Street Methodist Church and its burial places. Arrow denotes approximate location. (NYCThen&Now)
Location of the Beford Street Methodist Church reburial plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery (Mount Olivet Cemetery Map, with notation by Chris Bendall, Nov 2022)

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

Bay Ridge Methodist Church Cemetery

Removal of human remains at Bay Ridge United Methodist Church Cemetery in April 2008 (Left in Bay Ridge)

When Bay Ridge United Methodist Church decided to sell their church and grounds at Fourth and Ovington Avenues and remove human remains buried in their churchyard in 2008, their actions were met with shock and outrage from local community activists who accused the congregation of greed, disregard for the historic importance of their building, and disgracing the dead. Church leaders maintained that the diminished congregation did not have the resources to repair and restore the crumbling, 109-year-old building—nicknamed the “Green Church” for the color of its stone exterior—and that their Christian mission was community service, not historic preservation. They sold the property to a developer for $9.75 million and the church was demolished in October 2008.

This section of an 1890 map of Bay Ridge shows the original Methodist cemetery site at 6th Ave & 67th St (where the first Bay Ridge Methodist church was built in 1831) and the church at Fourth & Ovington Aves (where the remains were moved in 1901)

Before the demolition of the building, the church disinterred the remains of 211 early members of the congregation from a large underground vault in the churchyard and reburied them at Cypress Hills Cemetery. It was the second time these human remains were moved from their resting places. Bay Ridge United Methodist Church descends from the earliest Methodist congregation in Bay Ridge, who built their first church on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 67th Street in 1831 and had a graveyard adjacent to the church. After a fire destroyed this church in 1848, the congregation built a new church at another site but continued to use the Methodist cemetery at Sixth Avenue and 67th Street for burials. In 1878, the congregation again built a new church, their third, at the corner of Fourth and Ovington Avenues, and called it Grace Methodist Episcopal Church; this wooden structure was replaced in 1899 with the “Green Church” building. 

Detail of the Methodist cemetery site at 6th Ave & 67th St

The remains from the Methodist cemetery at Sixth Avenue and 67th Street were relocated to the churchyard at Fourth and Ovington Avenues in 1901 when the city seized the cemetery property for the extension of Sixth Avenue. The original cemetery site was the burial place for many old settlers of Bay Ridge, including members of the Van Pelt, Benham, De Nyse, Bogart, De Groff, and Stillwell families. A reporter who visited the cemetery in 1899 found about 30 tombstones still standing and examined church records that listed the interment of about 200 bodies, beginning with Susan Bayard, “a beautiful girl who died in 1832.”  To receive the remains removed from the cemetery in 1901, Grace Methodist Episcopal Church built a vault in the churchyard about 20 feet south of the church building, facing Fourth Avenue. Constructed of bluestone and Milwaukee brick, it was sunk 11 feet below the ground and was 15 x 18 feet in size. A large granite monument marked the reburial site.

In the 1930s, the former Bay Ridge Methodist cemetery site at Sixth Avenue and 67th Street became part of Leif Ericson Park. By the 1970s, the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church congregation was renamed Bay Ridge United Methodist Church and few remembered that an old cemetery was reburied under the monument in their churchyard.

A 1931 photo of the monument that marked the site in the churchyard at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church (later Bay Ridge United Methodist Church) where the remains from the Methodist cemetery were reinterred in 1901 (BPL)

The developer who bought the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church property in 2008 had intended to erect a luxury condo complex on the site, but the bottom fell out of the housing market before the sale was completed and he eventually sold the bulk of the property to the city to build a public school. The site of the churchyard vault that once held the relocated remains of Bay Ridge’s early Methodists is now beneath P.S./I.S. 30 Mary White Ovington School. Bay Ridge United Methodist Church now meets in a rented room at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Fourth Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway. They use the money from the sale of their property as they say Jesus has called them to do—to help the needy and to care for one another.

This 2004 aerial view shows Bay Ridge United Methodist Church complex before it was sold and developed; arrow denotes approximate location of reburial vault (NYCityMap)

2012 aerial view, arrows denote approximate location of the original Methodist cemetery site in Leif Ericson Park and the reburial vault site, now underneath P.S./I.S. 30 (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Robinson’s 1890 Atlas of Kings Co., Pl 7; Reminiscences of Old New Utrecht and Gowanus (Bangs 1912); “A New Church,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 13, 1875; “A Donnybrook at Bay Ridge,”; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 31, 1888; “Village of Graef Tract,” New York Evening Post, Oct 21, 1899; “Emptying the Old Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 21, 1901; “Removing a Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jul 10, 1901; “Bay Ridge Church Changes Its Spots,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 18, 1931; “The Little Church That Couldn’t,” New York Times, Apr 1, 2007; “The Dead Speak at Ridge’s Doomed ‘Green Church,’”Brooklyn Paper, May 19, 2007; “Devil’s Work,” Left in Bay Ridge, Apr 24, 2008; “Grave Insult,” New York Post, Apr 25 2008; “Reverend Bob,” Radio Free Bay Ridge, Jun 18, 2021

Westchester Methodist Church Graveyard

Tombstones from the Methodist Church Graveyard embedded in wall next to the parking lot of Westchester United Methodist Church, Oct 2010 (Mary French)

Three old tombstones embedded in a stone wall are the last traces of a vanished graveyard containing early Methodists of the Bronx. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church incorporated in 1809 in Westchester Village, today the East Bronx neighborhood known as Westchester Square. That same year, the town gave them a parcel of land on the north side of present-day East Tremont Avenue for a meeting house and burial ground. The congregation began burying their dead here as early as 1812, but it was not until 1818 that they erected their first church building on the property. After a muddled history that includes dissolving and reincorporating, losing their first church to fire at an unknown time, and building a second church on the same site, in 1915 the Methodist congregation demolished their wooden church with plans to erect a new brick edifice. A title dispute delayed construction of the new church until 1948 when the present Westchester United Methodist Church building was completed.

James Minor Lincoln’s 1909 sketch of the Westchester Methodist Episcopal Church and adjoining cemetery on West Farms Road (today’s East Tremont Ave)

The Methodist burial ground adjoined the old church on its east side. In 1909, James Minor Lincoln collected inscriptions from 51 tombstones in the Methodist cemetery, the earliest dating to 1812 and the latest to 1893. Names on the headstones recall past families of Westchester such as Berrian, Fowler, Parmlee, Breckenridge, Odell, Mallett, Searing, Kelly, and Mann.

When the congregation demolished the church in 1915, some families disinterred the remains of their relatives and transferred them to other cemeteries; the rest of the graves were moved to the rear of the church property to prepare for construction of the new church over the graveyard site. In 1963, Bronx historian John McNamara visited the new Westchester Methodist Church and found some of the tombstones from the Methodist graveyard flat in the ground and “neatly arranged in the shade of a peach tree” behind the church building. Although McNamara claimed that all the bodies were disinterred in 1940 and transferred to a cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, no confirmation of this removal, or what cemetery they were relocated to, has been found.

Practically invisible to the passerby, today the three surviving monuments from the former Methodist graveyard are in the low wall separating the Westchester United Methodist Church from its parking lot. These relics once marked the graves of Effie Hunt, wife of one of the church’s founding trustees, who died in 1844, aged 69; Henrietta Farr, died 1888, aged 30; and, on a shared headstone, 10-year-old Nettie Lynn (d. 1875) and one-month-old Hattie Rodgers (d. 1877).

A photo of Westchester Methodist Episcopal Church, ca. 1912. Tombstones can be seen in the graveyard to the right of the building (Jenkins)

2018 aerial view of Westchester United Methodist Church, which covers the site of the Methodist Church graveyard (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl. 16; Cemetery Inscriptions, St. Peter’s P.E. Church of Westchester…(Lincoln 1910, NYHS manuscript); The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); “Bronx Church, Century Old, Must Make Way for Modern Edifice,” Bronx Home News, Oct 7, 1915; “Westchester Church Wins Title to Plot as City Relinquishes,” Bronx Home News, Aug 7 1940; “All Around the Bronx: Old Deed Keeps Methodists ‘Underground,’” Bronx Home News, Nov 25, 1946; “The Bronx in History: Benjamin Fowler’s Remains…” Bronx Press Review, Oct 31, 1963; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; “Our Story,” Westchester United Methodist Church

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)

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 into 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 Statement 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