Tucked right in Chelsea overshadowed by tall buildings is the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Cemetery, a sudden green respite on 21st Street fronted by wrought iron gates (and now a Citi Bike station as well). Its official name is the Third Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue because the cemetery of the religious organization had to move four times since the founding of the religious organization, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, in 1654.
The synagogue, (known today as Congregation Shearith Israel (Remnant of Israel), was first located in rented quarters in Mill Street and its first cemetery was possibly located in a corner of the African Burial ground, though no one is completely certain where it was located. In 1682, the synagogue purchased land at Chatham Square. Over the years, segments of the graveyard were taken by adjacent developments. For example, in 1855, 256 graves had to be moved to make room for the expansion of the Bowery.
In 1823, the 11th Street cemetery became the Synagogue’s next cemetery location. By 1830, the grid reached Eleventh Street and the cemetery fell victim to the surrounding development. The Synagogue moved its cemetery to 21st Street just west of Sixth Avenue, in 1829 in a real estate transaction of $2,750 for a parcel then on the outskirts of New York City. 250 souls are buried in the 21st Street location.
In 1851, the New York City prohibited burial in Manhattan below 86th Street and the Synagogue’s cemetery emigrated to Queens. Today, remnants of three of the cemeteries can still be seen.
Next, check out 12 former cemeteries and the surprising places they are now (hint: many of NYC’s parks!). This article also written by Benjamin Waldman.