There are many superlatives possible when looking at New York City’s cemeteries — largest, smallest, most-filmed in. Today, we place our attention on the oldest cemeteries in New York City, focusing on those that are still intact — meaning, they still have bodies buried there and have gravestones or other markers indicating the locations of the bodies, or the location is recognized by the city as being a cemetery (and that is its primary designation) and is shown as such on maps. We found it necessary to put parameters because of the number of former cemeteries that exist in New York City, a few which may pre-date the ones here.
All of the oldest intact cemeteries date to before 1700 and span four boroughs of New York City. Buried within traditional graves or inside vaults are members of New York City’s most notable families and some of its most famous personages including Alexander Hamilton, Peter Stuyvesant, Lady Deborah Moody, and many more.
A visit to these cemeteries is truly a walk through the city’s history. Though Trinity Church’s cemetery may be the most famous, many of these are now in off-the-beaten-path locations and some are off-limits to the public unless prior arrangements are made.
1. St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Graveyard (Pre-1650)
It is believed that the burial ground at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx located at 2500 Westchester Avenue in the Westchester Square-area of the borough may have been established before 1650. The parish, one of the oldest in New York City, was organized in 1693 and the oldest extant gravestone today dates to 1716. An 1848 book The History of the County of Westchester notes that the earliest gravestone then was dated to 1702, so like in many cemeteries, the earliest markers have been lost.
The church erected its first building in 1700 on what was the village green, when this area of the Bronx was still part of the Town of Westchester. Six years later, Queen Anne of England bestowed upon the congregation a communion service that included a “chalice and paten, a communion table, a church Bible, a book of homilies, and a pulpit cloth.”
The current building, which dates to 1853, is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and is a New York City landmark. The landmarks designation report for the church states that it remains a “tangible reminder of the rural past of this section of the Bronx.” The cemetery also includes soldiers killed during the Revolutionary War, a vault for the Morris family, and some large mausoleums.