Forgotten Cemeteries of Inwood

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Pile of human bones disinterred near Isham Street and Tenth Avenue, 1903. Pile of human bones disinterred near Isham Street and Tenth Avenue, 1903.
Pile of human bones disinterred near Isham Street and Tenth Avenue, 1903.

It’s hard to imagine an Inwood with mansions on the hill, a dirt road below, and just east of that cemeteries….yep….Cemeteries.

Hundreds of years of even sparse population generated numerous graves. In some lay the long forgotten members of once famous families. In other plots were the remains of slaves, the fallen dead of the Revolutionary War; even Native Americans.

Nagle Cemetery between 9th and 10th Avenues,  1926, NYPL.
Nagle Cemetery between 9th and 10th Avenues, 1926, NYPL.

With development near the turn of the century, especially during the 1920’s construction of the subway, most of the remains, presumably, found their way back into proper graves.

Could there be a grave underfoot in your little corner of Inwood?

Here’s what we know:

Dyckman-Nagle Burial Ground – (near the 215th Street 1 train Station)

1917 Reginald Bolton map shows location of the Dyckman-Nagle burial ground.
1917 Reginald Bolton map shows location of the Dyckman-Nagle burial ground.

This colonial burial ground was established in 1677.  417 persons were buried in this graveyard located near what is today West 212th Street. In 1905 the Dyckman family remains, with the exception of the bones of States Morris and his family, who were still seen as traitors for their Loyalist stance during the Revolutionary War, were removed .

States Morris Dyckman
States Morris Dyckman

From the grave of States Morris Dyckman, the fifth son of Jacobus Dyckman:  “His manners were polite, his taste refined, his conjugal love was pure, his parental strong. His hospitality sprang from benevolence, his charity from feeling and a sense of duty. Highly esteemed in life, he was sincerely lamented in death.” Died August 14, 1806 Aged 51.

In 1909 the southern portion of the cemetery was moved to make way for 212th Street.

A letter to the editor of the New York Times dated December 29th, 1909 reads, “In the upper part of Manhattan Island, near the shores of the Harlem River, and just south of the 215th Street Station of the rapid transit railway, is an ancient cemetery bearing old time New York family names, such as Vermilya , Odell, Erskine, Sage and Dyckman.

Dyckman gravestones in Nagle Cemetery, 1904.
Dyckman gravestones in Nagle Cemetery, 1904.

The northerly advance of civilization has brought with it the opening of new streets in the neighborhood, involving an invasion of the old cemetery, and an utter disregard of the ordinary decencies and respect for the dead.

Children play in Inwood graveyard, New York Evening Post, June 21, 1924.
Children play in Inwood graveyard, New York Evening Post, June 21, 1924.
Ernest Lawson, Inwood graveyard, notice elevated train in background, ca 1912, Barnes Collection.
Ernest Lawson, Inwood graveyard, notice elevated train in background, ca 1912, Barnes Collection.

Tombstones are knocked down, broken in two, and trampled underfoot by man and beast. Stumps of fallen trees are being grubbed and improvements are in progress, apparently without first removing the remains of those who once ruled the destinies of the city.

Nagle Cemetery, 213th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.
Nagle Cemetery, 213th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.

This letter is written in the hope that it will attract the eye of some worthy descendant of those whose memory is thus being insulted, or some responsible city official with respect for the feelings of the living who will stop this heartless vandalism.

Inwood graves moved to Woodlawn Cemetery, New York Times, July 11, 1932.
Inwood graves moved to Woodlawn Cemetery, New York Times, July 11, 1932.

In 1926-27, the remaining bodies were reinterred in Woodlawn Cemetery. A decade later, in 1936, a monument was erected in Woodlawn Cemetery in memory of the many families from Kingsbridge and surrounding communities.

Inwood Monument in Wodlawn Cemetery.
Inwood Monument in Wodlawn Cemetery.

Colonial Burial Ground (Dyckman and Sherman)

Dyckman and Sherman Avenue, circa 1891.
Dyckman and Sherman Avenue, circa 1891.

In the spring of 1890 workers near the present junction of Dyckman Street and Sherman Avenue stumbled upon the fragments of a beautiful jar that appeared to be of aboriginal handiwork. Further digging uncovered large amounts of decaying oyster shells indicating a possible Indian feasting site.

According to an 1897 New York Times article, “an examination of the deposit revealed split bones, bits of rude pottery, and a number of arrow points of quartz.” Soon skeletons began to emerge from the earth, and with them proof that what was thought to be an Indian burial ground was actually an early colonial cemetery.

How the arrowheads made their way into the graves is anyone’s guess. Paging Indiana Jones.

Slave Burial Grounds (211th near 10th Ave)

211th and 212th Streets, map by Reginald Bolton.
Slave burial ground, 10th Avenue between 211th and 212th Streets, map by Reginald Bolton.

In March of 1903 construction workers digging near what is now 212th Street and 10th Avenue made a gruesome, yet bizarre, discovery. News accounts from the time describe about a dozen giant human skeletons, many buried upright in the earth. Workers said the heads of the skeletons were buried three feet beneath the surface. Some of the skeletons measured seven feet in length.

According to a New York Times article, “An old cannon ball was found in or near one of the strange graves. Each body rested beneath an uncut stone set endwise. Many similar stones near by as yet undisturbed indicate that more bones will be found.”

As you can imagine, theories abounded in Inwood as to the identity of these unknown dead. Some speculated the graves were those of convicts who had been buried alive in chains.

The Slaves Burying Place, Reginald Bolton scrapbook, Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.
“The Slaves Burying Place,” Reginald Bolton scrapbook, Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.

An Inwood old-timer named Walter White, at the time of the discovery, recalled that in his youth it was a well known fact that the Dyckman, Vermilye and Hadly families had once used the little knoll as a burying ground for slaves.

We know for a fact that the Dyckman and Nagle family plots were in the same vicinity.

According to a New York Times article, “Capt. Flood of the Kingsbridge Police Station had directed that the old bones be decently reburied, but nobody has so far deemed it incumbent upon himself to obey and the bones, such as have not been carried off by relic hunters, lie in a confused mass in an old soap box near the scene of the work.
The Feast of the White Dog

In January of 1895 workers grading the landscape on 209th Street near the Harlem River discovered a series of canine burials. All of the dogs had been buried under a heap of clam and oyster shells as well as many shards of Indian pottery.

Indian burial ground on Seaman Avenue, early 1900's.
Indian burial ground on Seaman Avenue, early 1900’s.

Archeologists at the time speculated that since the dogs showed no signs of injury they were more likely the victims of some sort of Indian sacrifice than the remains of someone’s dinner.

Native American excavation on Cooper Street.
Native American excavation on Cooper Street.

Archeologist W.L. Calver, whose turn of the century research in Inwood uncovered countless Indian artifacts, pronounced the canine graves were indeed of Indian origin. Calver said the practice was common among the New York’s Onondaga Indians who themselves called the ceremony the “White Dog Feast.”

8 COMMENTS

  1. cuando fui a new york y visite inwood me llamo la atencion esa casa antigua,pero no sabia de quien era la casa ni como era la familia que vivia ahi.Ahora se por tu pagina que es la casa Dyckman.
    Tambien me gustaron mucho las fotos del antes y despues.
    La verdad,me gustaron mucho tus investigaciones.
    muy bueno!

  2. Cole – Bravo! Your historical mini-essays are marvels of clarity and brevity. You’ve managed to not stint on details while keeping your text highly readable. It’s much appreciated, and I hope you continue to add more content.

  3. Don,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. You can count on plenty more articles in the future. Every time I research a particular aspect of the neighborhood I come across five or six new story ideas. Please stay in touch with any ideas you might have. My wife has already commissioned a piece on the Henry Hudson Bridge, so I do take requests. –Cole

  4. This was both fascinating and sobering-all the more so since these people were my ancestors and having written their story (Manhattan Seeds of the Big Apple) I feel as if I knew them intimately. I can’t help but wonder if Rebecca Waldron Dyckman and her children were among those bones removed that ended up thrown together in an old soap box by a construction site. I also wondered if Resolved Waldron’s wife, Tennake Nagle Waldron was also included in the confused mess. Her husband once worked for Peter Stuyvesant in the days of New Amsterdam and in that capacity arrested Flushing resident, John Bowne. The arrest, trial and determination considered by many as the first case of religious freedom in America. Waldron was one of the first settlers of Harlem and the first police after the English took over in l664. Rebecca Dyckman’s sister, Aeltie Waldron was married to Capt. Vermilye who was embroiled within the Leisler Rebellion. After Leisler’s execution Vermilye spent a year in prison for treason but was acquitted and his properties restored. In their time the name of Dyckman, Waldron, Vermilye, Nagle were in New York as well known as Obama, Patterson, and Smith are today.

  5. Absolutely fascinating. Born and raised on Nagle Avenue. I remember exploring the neighborhood as a child in the 70’s. How exciting it would have been to come across something like a graveyard! Came across a lot of other interesting things, but never that.

  6. Thank God they didn’t take down the Dykman House I’m sure they would have if someone didn’t protect it. Those burial grounds should have been restored and protected. It’s Inwoods history and total greed took so much away. Thank you Cole.

  7. Great article, this is a little off the mark, but I remember a Pet Cemetery and crematorium up in that area as late as the 1970’s…Headstones, plots and a huge chimney etc.
    Have you come across info on that?

  8. […] According to an 1897 New York Times article, “an examination of the deposit revealed split bones, bits of rude pottery, and a number of arrow points of quartz.” Soon skeletons began to emerge from the earth, and with them proof that what was thought to be an Indian burial ground was actually an early colonial cemetery. In March of 1903 construction workers digging near what is now 212th Street and 10th Avenue made a gruesome, yet bizarre, discovery. News accounts from the time describe about a dozen giant human skeletons, many buried upright in the earth. Workers said the heads of the skeletons were buried three feet beneath the surface. Some of the skeletons measured seven feet in length. According to a New York Times article, “An old cannon ball was found in or near one of the strange graves. Each body rested beneath an uncut stone set endwise. Many similar stones near by as yet undisturbed indicate that more bones will be found.” An Inwood old-timer named Walter White, at the time of the discovery, recalled that in his youth, “it was a well known fact that the Dyckman, Vermilye and Hadly families had once used the little knoll as a burying ground for slaves.” [Read full article: Forgotten Cemeteries of Inwood] […]

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