Tag Archives: Removed cemeteries

St. Thomas’ Churchyard

An 1826 drawing of the first St. Thomas Church at Broadway and Houston Streets (St. Thomas Church )

St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue is one of America’s most beautiful places of worship, renowned for its glorious liturgical music and stunning architecture. Situated at the heart of Midtown since 1868, this Episcopal parish has its roots in the lower part of Manhattan. In 1823, a group from the city’s three largest Episcopal parishes—all located at the overcrowded southern tip of Manhattan—met to discuss the need for new church further uptown, where residents were migrating. In January of 1825, St. Thomas Church was incorporated and that July ground was broken for their church building at the northwest corner of Broadway and Houston Street, a location then at the edge of the settled city.

Detail from an 1852 map showing St. Thomas Church at Broadway and Houston. Burial vaults were located in the churchyard behind the building.

To raise money for their first house of worship, the vestry of St. Thomas decided to utilize open ground behind the church for burial vaults. Here they built 58 vaults, each 9×11 feet, that were sold for $250 each. At least 36 of the vaults were purchased by families of St. Thomas. Among those who acquired a family vault was William Backhouse Astor, a member of St. Thomas’ original vestry. William B. Astor’s father John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest man in the country at that time, was interred in William’s private vault in St. Thomas’ churchyard when he died in 1848.

The first St. Thomas Church was consecrated in 1826. Designed in the Gothic style, it had octagonal towers that rose over the countryside like a castle. After it was destroyed in an 1851 fire, a second church was built on the same site. But by that time, the once-fashionable neighborhood at Broadway and Houston Street had changed dramatically, the church shared the street with bawdy dance halls, saloons, and hotels, and many of its members had moved on. In the 1860s, the congregation made plans to relocate even farther uptown, acquiring land at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street for a new church.

An 1824 notice for burial vaults for sale at St. Thomas churchyard

Removal of the burial vaults in the churchyard posed a difficulty in the sale of St. Thomas’ church  property at Broadway and Houston. When the vestry originally sold the vault lots at the rear of the church, the deeds protected the rights of the vault owners for the duration of the church’s corporation. Consequently, the property as a whole could not be sold unless the vault owners agreed to surrender their rights or to sell the land back to the corporation. Many vault holders did agree to transfer the remains of their family members to other places; the remains of the Astors, for example, were removed to Trinity Cemetery. But some refused to give their consent and over a hundred bodies were still interred in the vaults at the time the property was to be sold.

Notice of John Jacob Astor’s funeral and interment in his son’s burial vault in St. Thomas Churchyard in 1848

After several years of legal wrangling, in 1868 a settlement was reached wherein the vestry was compelled to pay $48,550 to the owners of the 28 vaults that were still occupied and the remains were subsequently removed. On October 14, 1868, the cornerstone of the new St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue was laid. This structure was destroyed by fire in 1905 and replaced by the present sanctuary, a French Gothic Revival masterpiece completed in 1916. The site of the parish’s first church building and burial vaults at Broadway and Houston is now occupied by the Cable Building, built in 1892.

A modern map shows the Cable Building at the site of the original St. Thomas Church and burial vaults (NYCityMap)

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; “Private Vaults,” Evening Post, Apr 7, 1824;  “Funeral of John Jacob Astor,” New York Daily Tribune, Apr 1, 1848;  “Difficulties in St. Thomas’s Church,” New York Daily Tribune, Apr 20, 1860; “Removal of St. Thomas’ Church,” New York Times, July 31, 1860; “Sale and Removal  of St. Thomas’s Church,” New York Daily Tribune, July 28, 1860; “Sale of St. Thomas’ Church, in Broadway,” New York Times, Aug 2, 1865; “Sale of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church; The World, Aug 2, 1865; “Two More Landmarks Gone,” Evening Post, Jun 11, 1866; Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Wright 2001); From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); All Around the Town: Amazing Manhattan Facts and Curiosities (Bunyan 1999); The Gate of Heaven: The Story of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Our Town Films 1999)

St. Augustine’s Churchyard

An 1860 map of Morrisania shows St. Augustine’s parish complex, at the corner of Jefferson Street and Franklin Avenue. The burial ground was at the north end of the property, near today’s 170th Street.

In 1898, the New York Sun reported on the removal of a small cemetery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx:

Workmen are busy destroying another of Morrisania’s old landmarks, the old graveyard of St. Augustine’s Church. The graveyard was the churchyard of the old church which stood for many years on Jefferson street near Franklin avenue. The graveyard was at the rear of the church and extended back over the line of 170th Street.

Morrisania was one of the quietest of country villages forty years ago, when the first interment was made in the old cemetery. In the ten years that followed many a procession went to the churchyard, until some 250 persons slept under the shadows of the church.

St. Augustine’s Church was founded in 1850 to serve Morrisania’s Catholic community, which developed as Irish and German immigrants came to live in the area. The parish’s first wooden chapel at today’s Jefferson Place and Franklin Avenue was replaced in 1860 by a “handsome and commodious” brick church seating 800 worshippers. The churchyard served as a parish burial ground from 1850 until 1876, when the local Board of Health prohibited further interments there. Interments were also made in vaults beneath the brick church building.

1876 newspaper clipping announcing the prohibition of burials at St. Augustine’s Churchyard.

When St. Augustine’s Church was destroyed by fire in 1894, the parish built their new church a few blocks south, at the intersection of Franklin Avenue and 167th Street. Remains in the vaults beneath the church were removed shortly after the fire in 1894, and reinterred in plots at Woodlawn Cemetery and St. Raymond’s Cemetery. Though the old parish churchyard was long unused and separated from their new house of worship, St. Augustine’s continued to care for the site. At the time of the 1898 removals, The Sun noted that the burial ground was still “green and beautiful” and “visited by some of the older residents of the district.”

Remains removed from St. Augustine’s Churchyard in 1898 were reinterred at St. Raymond’s Cemetery. In 2013, St. Augustine’s Church at Franklin Avenue and 167th Street was demolished and the congregation merged with Our Lady of Victory on Webster Avenue. Today apartment buildings stand at the site of the old St. Augustine’s churchyard site.

2018 aerial view of the former site of St. Augustine’s parish complex; arrow denotes approximate location of the churchyard burial ground (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the Town of Morrisania (Beers 1860); Bodies in Transit Registers IX & X, Municipal Archives, City of New York; “Church of St. Augustine, Morrisania,” Irish American, Oct 2, 1858; “Dedication of a New Catholic Church,” New York Herald, Oct 3, 1860; “Dedication of St. Augustine’s Church, Morrisania,” Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, Oct 6, 1860; “Death of Rev. Stephen Ward,” Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, Jul 4, 1863; “No More Burials,” Eastern State Journal (White Plains), Mar 31, 1876; “A Catholic Church Burned,” The Sun, Apr 9, 1894; “St. Augustine’s Graveyard,” The Sun, Oct 30, 1898; “Old Cemetery Blocks Street,” New York Herald, Oct 31, 1898; History of Westchester County, Vol 1 (Scharf 1886); “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1 (1900); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016)

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)

Cole Family Burial Ground

This detail from an 1853 map of southern Westchester county shows the Charles Darke and William O. Giles farms, properties that previously made up the the Jacob Cole estate. The Cole burial ground and vault was located at the southern end of Charles Darke’s farm.

In the summer of 1895, general contractor Charles W. Collins got a contract with the city for grading part of Boston Road in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. His work proceeded smoothly and was almost complete when he encountered an unforeseen obstacle—a small graveyard, about 25 feet square, near what is today the intersection of Albany Crescent and Bailey Avenue. Containing several weather-beaten headstones and a ruined vault, the site was the burial place of between 40 and 50 members of the Cole, Schuyler, and Berrian families of Kingsbridge and Fordham. 

This burial place dated back to about 1820, when carpenter Jacob Cole acquired four acres of land near the junction of what was then Albany Post Road and Boston Post Road. By the 1840s, Jacob Cole’s property encompassed 52 acres between today’s Albany Crescent and West 238th Street. The burial ground, consisting mainly of a vault but with a few separate graves nearby, was situated at the south end of the Cole estate. Jacob Cole died in 1842, and in 1845 his son James and daughter-in-law Catherine sold the southern portion of the estate to Charles Darke, with an exception “reserving the vault for the use of descendants of Jacob Cole, deceased, twenty-two feet by forty feet.” Family members may have continued to use this burial place until the 1860s, afterward acquiring lots at Woodlawn Cemetery.

An 1867 property map (at left) shows the “Cole Grave Yard” on Charles Darke’s property; the 1873 topographical map at right depicts the burial vault.

The old Cole family burial vault, which was built into the slope of a hill and measured about 10 feet wide, 14 feet long, and 9 feet deep, first came to public attention in November of 1892 when heavy rainstorms caused the doorway to collapse and exposed the decayed and crumbling coffins to view. Children playing in the neighborhood discovered the open structure and carried off some of the skulls and bones. Descendants repaired the entrance to guard it against further vandalism, but their efforts would be short-term protection as it was only three years later that the site faced destruction.

When contractor Collins encountered the burial place during his roadway construction in 1895, he made arrangements with the city to remove the remains to St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens. This plan incurred the wrath of Cornelius B. Schuyler (known as “the man that owns Kingsbridge” according to a New York Tribune article), who threatened to shoot anyone that dared to desecrate the final resting place of his ancestors. Mr. Schuyler was eventually pacified when assured that he could transfer the remains to the Schuyler plot in Woodlawn Cemetery.

On August 20, 1895, Mr. Collins, Mr. Schuyler, and a representative of the Board of Health met at the site to witness the work of the undertakers who removed the remains from the vault and graves. When the vault was opened, they found the stone walls had crumbled and the shelves on which the coffins had been placed had sagged towards the middle of the vault, where there was a pile of bones several feet high. A few coffin plates and a set of false teeth were found, which Mr. Schuyler pocketed. Two headstones marking the graves outside the vault were taken along with the remains to Woodlawn. They bore the names of Jacob Cole and Berrian and were dated 1835. After the removal the vault was demolished; today the site is under the roadbed of Albany Crescent.

A 2018 aerial view of the former site of the Cole family burial ground and vault (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the southern part of West-Chester County, N.Y. (Dripps 1853); Map of Property Situate in the Town of Yonkers Westchester Co NY belonging to Charles Darke, 1867 (Westchester County Clerk Map #Vol3 PG17); Topographical Map Made from Surveys by the Commissioners of the Department of Public Parks of the City of New York of that part of Westchester County adjacent to the City and County of New York…(Department of Parks 1873); Westchester County Conveyances, Vol 109 p25-27, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “Skulls as Playthings,” Evening World, Nov 22, 1892; “An Old Burying Vault Disturbed, The Sun Nov 23, 1892; “Fifty in One Coffin,” New York Herald Sep 8, 1895; “An Old Graveyard Torn Up,” New York Tribune, Sep 8 1895; “An Old Graveyard Uncovered,” The Sun Sep 8, 1895; “Skeletons in the Kingsbridge Closet,” Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Spuyten Duyvil…(Tieck 1968); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City (Meade 2020)

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