Tag Archives: Reformed Dutch Church cemeteries

West Farms Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery

Detail from a 1901 map showing the location of the “Old Cemetery” – the West Farm Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery. By this time parts of the two adjoined cemeteries had been taken for E 172nd St and Boone Ave

“Blast Blows Bodies from Old Cemetery” was the alliterative headline of a 1911 New York Times article about graves unearthed in the West Farms section of the Bronx. As the article reports, in July 1911 employees of the Stanton Construction Company exposed an array of bones and pieces of coffins when using dynamite to excavate for a sewer line through Boone Avenue near East 172nd Street. After realizing their explosions had blown into part of a forgotten graveyard, the workmen gathered the remnants of the skeletons together and packed them into three boxes from which dynamite sticks had been removed. They then reburied the boxes among overturned headstones found along the roadside. In 2015, these three dynamite boxes with the repacked bones were among about 80 graves found by archaeologists during excavations conducted before construction of an affordable housing complex.

In 2015, archaeologists recovered this dynamite box packed with partial remains of at least 20 individuals that had been unearthed and reburied during sewer construction in 1911 (HPI)

The old cemetery disturbed by workmen in 1911 and excavated by archaeologists over a century later was actually two adjacent graveyards—the Hedger-Edwards burial ground and the cemetery of the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church. The two graveyards were situated at the northeast corner of present-day Boone Avenue and East 172nd Street and together formed a cemetery of about an acre and a half in size. The site was formerly part of the 100-acre farm of the Hedgers family, early settlers of West Farms who had their homestead between today’s Boone and Longfellow avenues. On the east side of their land, the Hedgers set aside a burial ground for their family and their Edwards kin. This family burial ground is mentioned in the 1769 will of John Hedgers, who reserved “a piece of land for a burying place for me and my family, in my orchard, where my sister-in-law lies buried.” 

In 1845, West Farms Reformed Dutch Church purchased a parcel immediately west of the Hedger-Edwards burial ground for use as a burial place for their congregation. Founded in 1839, the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church was located about a mile north of the cemetery grounds, at the southeast corner of the present intersection of Boston Road and East 179th Street, until they moved to a new church at Prospect Avenue and Fairmount Place in 1904.

One of the partial gravestones found during the 2015 excavations at the West Farm Reformed Dutch Church/Hedger-Edwards family cemeteries, it originally marked the grave of one-year-old William Henry Golden, who died 1848 (HPI)

By the end of the 19th century, the joined cemeteries were disused and neglected, and the City of New York made plans to extend Boone Avenue and East 172nd Street through the site. About 70 graves were exhumed and reburied at Woodlawn Cemetery between 1895-1900 in preparation for the street construction. Many other graves were left behind and bones were disturbed during roadwork in 1905 and during the 1911 sewer construction. In the 1920s, the “forlorn, deserted” cemetery still had a few stones standing, bearing familiar Bronx family names including Austin, Mapes, Butler, Corsa, Edwards, and Cortelyou. But by the mid-20th century, the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church had dissolved and a parking lot was built over the old cemetery site. 

Redevelopment of the site in 2015 once again unearthed graves at the forgotten cemetery, when archaeologists excavated human remains, coffin wood and hardware, personal effects, and partial gravestones from 79 burial shafts; 45 of these were within the Hedger-Edwards burial ground, 20 were within the church cemetery, and two were on the boundary line between the two parcels. In 2017, the human remains and artifacts recovered from the site were reinterred in a crypt in the Hillcrest mausoleum complex at Woodlawn Cemetery; the gravestones were transferred to the Bronx County Historical Society. The Crotona Park East Compass Residences development is now at the former cemetery site.

A view of the crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery where remains excavated from the West Farms RD Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery were reinterred in 2017 (HPI)
Aerial views of the cemetery site in 2012, when it was covered with a parking lot, and today, occupied by the Compass Residences (NYCThen&Now/GoogleEarth)

Sources: Hyde’s 1901 Atlas of the borough of the Bronx, Vol. 2, Pl. 6; Cemetery inscriptions copied from a cemetery in the Bronx formerly located at 172nd St and Boone Ave. WCHS Call #200#50, Cemeteries file, Bronx County Historical Society; Early Wills of Westchester Co from 1664 to 1784 (Pelletreau 1898); Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Family History of New York, Vol III (Pelletreau 1907); “Digging Among the Dead,” The Evening World, Sep 17 1895; “Unmarked Graves Dug Open,” New York Sun, Mar 13, 1906; “Blast Blows Bodies from Old Cemetery,” New York Times, Jul 30, 1911; “Coffins Unearthed by Men Digging Sewer in Bronx,” New York Press Jul 30, 1911; “A Neglected Cemetery, New York Tribune, May 26, 1921; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; Phase IB Archaeological Field Investigation, Crotona Park East Compass Residences (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2017); Julie Abell Horn, personal communication, Sep 23, 2022.