Moving westward across the Village through our Cemeteries of the Village series, today we explore one former cemetery site in NoHo and one just north of the NoHo corridor, both with extensive ties to New York City history.
Saint Thomas Church Vaults
Saint Thomas Church and its burial vaults were located on the block-long site on West Houston Street between Mercer Street and Broadway along the southern edge of what is now the NoHo Historic District.
This Episcopal church was founded by members of three lower Manhattan parishes in 1823, including some of New York’s most prominent citizens — wealthy landowner William Backhouse Astor and Charles King, later the president of Columbia University. The first church building designed by Joseph R. Brady and the Rev. John McVickar opened in 1826, but burned in 1851.
Its replacement opened in 1852. As the neighborhood changed, the site was sold in 1866 and the cemetery was demolished in 1869. The Astor family remains along with some others were moved to Trinity. The congregation moved to its current location at 5th Avenue and 53rd Street in 1870 where it began the now famous traditional New York Easter Parade, which is said to have started on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1870 with the carrying of Easter flowers from the church one block north to the old St. Luke’s Hospital.
The lot on Houston Street is now the site of the Cable Building. Built 1892-94, the Cable Building was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White. The building was designed as both an office building and a powerhouse for the Metropolitan Traction Company. The Cable Building served as the central power station for the Broadway line that moved 100,000 passengers daily along Broadway between Bowling Green and 36th Street.
The heart of the cable system was located in the basement, which was home to four 32-foot wheels that held the cables to pull the streetcars. Within ten years cable traction had become obsolete and the company switched to electricity in 1901. That basement space once home to the property’s namesake cables is now the beloved Angelika Film Center.
The Cable Building was the only cable powerhouse in the country built by an architect of such prominence. Click here to read more about the Cable Building.
Zion Church Cemetery
This plot of land on Art Street, now known as Astor Place, was purchased in June 1809 for use as a cemetery for the Lutheran church located on Mott and Cross Street (later renamed Park Street, then Mosco Street). In 1810 the pastor and congregation joined the Episcopal Church and the land was transferred to Zion Church, which was incorporated on March 10, 1810 with a stipend from Trinity Church.
The church was destroyed in a fire on August 31, 1815. The high cost to rebuild led to the resignation of “its worthy Rector” Rev. Ralph Williston and several church-owned lots were put up for sale including “the lot and stable in Art Street, adjoining the burying-ground.”
On November 11, 1817, according to the History of the Church of Zion and St. Timothy of New York 1797-1894, written in 1894 by David Clarkson, “under a decree of the Court of Chancery, the following described property was sold by public auction at the Tontine Coffee House: A lot of ground situated near the two mile stone, Bowery Lane, in the vicinity of Vauxhall Garden, containing about 96 feet on the west, the same on the east, with a passage of 8 feet to Art Street and 79 feet on the north and south”
Art Street was later renamed Astor Place. This street follows the route of an old Native American trail westward to what had been the village of Sapokanikan, the area that later became Greenwich Village. This trail passed over a chain of sandy hills, Zantberg in Dutch. The English called it Sand Hill Road but later gave its western sections separate names Great Kill Road (most of which became Gansevoort Street in 1837) and Greenwich Lane. Around 1800 the easterly part of the Sand Hill Road, between the Bowery and the present Sixth Avenue, became Art Street, which was later renamed Astor Place following the death of John Jacob Astor in 1848.
The former cemetery site lies at approximately 2-10 Astor Place, which are 8-12 story office buildings built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the location of Village Awardee Astor Hair Stylists.