Continuing our Cemeteries of the Village series, today we look at two historic cemeteries that predate the modern street grid: The St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery Vaults and the nearby but long gone St. Mark’s Cemetery. These two cemeteries both belonged to St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. The vaults beneath the Church still exist and remain the final resting place for many prominent early New Yorkers but the bodies were moved from the cemetery to make way for development more than 150 years ago.
St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery Vaults
The story of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery and these cemeteries begins on March 12, 1651, when Peter (Petrus) Stuyvesant, Director General of the Dutch West India Company, purchased the land between present-day 5th and 20th Streets, from Fourth Avenue to the East River. In 1660, Stuyvesant built a Dutch Reform Chapel that would be known as his “Bouwerie Chapel”, on the site that would eventually become St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. Stuyvesant died in 1672 and was interred in a vault underneath the chapel.
Stuyvesant’s great-grandson, also named Petrus, sold the chapel property to the Episcopal Church for $1 in 1793, stipulating that a new chapel be erected to serve the area. In 1795 the cornerstone of the St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery was laid. It was built over a 55-year period: the main building was constructed by 1799, the steeple was completed in 1828, the iron fence was added in 1838, and the cast-iron Italianate portico finished in 1854. Dating back to Stuyvesant’s chapel, it is the oldest site of continuous worship in New York City and the church and its grounds were designated a New York City Landmark in 1966.
The vaults hold the remains for many prominent New Yorkers. Dating back to Peter Stuyvesant, the Stuyvesant family vault was in use for almost 300 years, until its last family member was interred on August 14, 1953. Other residents of the vaults include Nicholas Fish, Daniel Tompkins, and Miriam Friedlander.
St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery Cemetery
In 1788, Petrus laid out a grid of streets oriented to Stuyvesant Street across his family’s farm in anticipation of the expansion of the city from the south. The Mangin-Goerck Plan of 1803 incorporated the grid laid out by Petrus. In 1803, Stuyvesant donated a plot of land along Stuyvesant Street for the cemetery on what would later be mapped just East of 2nd Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets.
However, just a few years later a new plan was developed that superseded the Mangin-Goerck Plan. The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 did not make accommodations for the entirety of Stuyvesant Street. Initially, most of Stuyvesant Street remained intact. Starting in the early 19th century, the cemetery interred an unknown amount of bodies until burials were prohibited there in 1851. But as the city developed northward, the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 could not be stopped and most of Stuyvesant Street was demapped and absorbed into the infamous grid. In 1864 all remains of the cemetery were moved the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn to make way for development.
However, vestiges of Stuyvesant Street remain.
We can see evidence of the former thoroughfare in the layout of the playground for P.S. 19 and the adjacent apartment building at 301-309 East 11th Street/304-310 East 12th Street. The street was filled in for the old St. Mark’s cemetery, which had a diagonal boundary that reflected the path of Stuyvesant Street