Continuing our Cemeteries of the Village series, today we look at the blocks surrounding 2nd Street and Second Avenue. Two landmarked cemeteries still exist here, and four other 19th-century cemeteries once called these blocks home, but little trace of them remains.
New York and New York City Marble Cemeteries
The New York Marble Cemetery, a 2014 Village Awardee, sits on the block bounded by 2nd Avenue, the Bowery, East 2nd East and 3rd Streets, accessible through a gate on 2nd Avenue. Founded in 1830 in response to a Yellow Fever outbreak, it was the first privately owned, nonsectarian cemetery in New York City. There are no headstones. The cemetery consists of 150 marble vaults buried 10 feet underground. Most of its burials took place between 1830 and 1870, with the last burial taking place in 1937. Many of the original 2,000 burials were later reinterred in larger outer borough cemeteries such as Green-Wood.
The New York City Marble Cemetery is just East of 2nd Avenue. This cemetery was founded in 1831 and was incorporated on April 26, 1832. Unlike its younger neighbor, this cemetery marked the position of each vault with a marble marker or monument. Several former NYC mayors are buried here, and it is believed that the first European men to be buried on Manhattan, the Dutch dominies, were moved to the “Ministers’ Vault.” President James Monroe was interred here before his remains were later moved to Richmond, Virginia. Both the New York City Marble Cemetery and New York Marble Cemetery are NYC Landmarks, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Second Avenue Presbyterian Church and the Church of the Nativity Vaults
In 1832, the Second Avenue Presbyterian Church was constructed at 44 2nd Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets on the same block as the New York City Marble Cemetery. In 1842 the property was sold to the newly formed Catholic Nativity Parish, and the Presbyterian remains were removed. The Church of the Nativity relocated remains in 1845, and the burial site is reported to have remained in use through at least 1883. The original building was demolished in 1970 after a fire and was rebuilt by its parishioners in a modern brutalist design. In 2015, the parish closed and merged with the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, and the site is planned to be redeveloped.
Methodist Episcopal East Circuit Cemetery
This cemetery opened in 1805 on the block now bordered by 2nd Ave, the Bowery, 1st Street, and 2nd Street before the Commissioners Plan of 1811 redrew the street map. In 1817 the construction of 1st street cut through the southern section of the cemetery. Between 1836 and 1851 this cemetery was used by the five churches of the Methodist Episcopal Church East Circuit, including the Forsyth Street, Seventh Street, Allen Street, Willett Street, and Second Street Methodist Episcopal Churches.
The cemetery was fully closed by 1851 and built over several years later after the bodies were reinterred at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Most of the former cemetery grounds lie under the Avalon Bay development, built in 2006.
Saint Stephen’s Church Cemetery
This cemetery opened in 1810 on the block now bordered by 1st Ave, 2nd Ave, 1st Street, and Houston Street. It also met its fate at the hands of the Commissioners Plan of 1811 when the newly mapped 1st street was built right through the middle of the cemetery in 1817. The bodies were reinterred at Cypress Hills Cemetery and other cemeteries.
Methodist Society Cemetery, aka Stillwell’s Cemetery
Just north of the Saint Stephen’s Church Cemetery, the Methodist Society Cemetery, aka Stillwell’s Cemetery, occupied an odd-shaped lot.
This Methodist Society of New York was an independent group formed in 1820 when it splintered off from the main Methodist Episcopal Church in 1820. The cemetery, developed in 1822, was referred to as Stillwell’s Cemetery for the Methodist Society of New York’s first pastor, William M. Stillwell. They subsequently built a church on First Street. In 1874 the Board of Education sought to remove 108 bodies in order to built the still extant Primary School 79 at 38 East 1st Street. In 1886 the school was built and in 1891 the remaining bodies were moved to Cypress Hills and other cemeteries. By 1944, the building had been converted into manufacturing and storage space and by 1997, most of the building was converted to residential use.
Click here to read more about Village cemeteries