In mid-17th century Jan Nagle and Jan Dyckman traveled to the New World and settled in northern Manhattan. For more than two centuries the families farmed the land, raised cattle, planted orchards, built bridges and homes and even intermarried.
And while Dyckman is a familiar Inwood name, largely thanks to the preservation of the post-Revolutionary War farmhouse on 204th and Broadway, the Nagle’s history seems to have been reduced to a street sign.
Of course the ghosts of Inwood’s past can never truly be silenced. The next time you catch the one train at 215th street, take a look southeast to the train yards and shops below the elevated track. Just underfoot are the remains of a once important cemetery wiped clean by modern development.
What follows is a 1909 description of the site.
New York Tribune
March 3, 1909
“The city is anxious to find the owners of the Nagle Cemetery, occupying about half of the block, bounded by 212th and 213th streets and Ninth and Tenth avenues. Every real estate record which might furnish a new clue to possible claimants of the property has been carefully examined by experts of the Tax Department and the Controller’s office, with the result that the ownership is as much of a mystery as it was when the search was begun.
The parcel of land is in a rapidly growing section of the city. Many sites there are being improved with large apartment houses. The cemetery is valued between $50,000 and $60,000, and the person who is able to prove his title to the premises will not be called upon to preserve it, but will have the right to remove the tombstones and also disinter the bodies and place them in a plot of ground within the boundaries of the state.
It is said that there are over two thousand bodies buried in this cemetery, the history of which has apparently been forgotten. The cemetery has a frontage of about 165 feet on both 212th and 213th streets, and a depth of about 132 feet.
Originally, it was considerably larger, its southerly end extending some distance beyond the south side of 212th street. Some months ago the city cut through 212th street and this work involved taking up 212 bodies and replacing them in a plot in another part of the old cemetery. The contractor, Walter R. White, of 213th street and Tenth avenue, placed all the bodies taken from each family plot in one large coffin, so that claimants to the property might be able to later identify the bodies of relatives which years ago were buried in the cemetery.
In taking the southerly end of the cemetery for street purposes the city awarded $1,950 to the cemetery owners for depriving them of their rights on the property. That money is now held by the Chamberlain, and will be turned over to the person or persons who can prove to the satisfaction of the city officials that they are heirs of the original owners.
According to some real estate records, the property was bought about 1736 by John Nagil, who set aside the land for burial purposes. In 1829 Isaac Michael Dyckman acquired control of the greater part of the tracts forming this section of the city, and one of his purchases was the Nagel Cemetery property. Mr. Dyckman was a farmer, and most of his land was cultivated. This section of the city is called after him.
It is said that many soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War are buried in the cemetery, but the tombstones marking their resting places are so weatherworn that the inscriptions are no longer legible. The name of the original owner of the property is spelled Nagil in some realty records and in others Nagel. It is known on the city maps as the Nagel property.”
By 1926, the bones that had not been carried away by souvenir hunters were relocated to lot 16150 of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
In 1932, after the old cemetery had been wiped clean and replaced with the 207th street rail yards, pangs of guilt began to emerge in the neighborhood.
Working with the Department of Transportation, local historian Reginald Pehlam Bolton, whose family had once owned a large portion of today’s Inwood Hill Park, solicited bids for a proper monument in Woodlawn Cemetery. Bolton had, in fact, long supported the removal of the human remains from their original site.
Bolton had a personal stake in the old cemetery. One of his ancestors, who died in 1819, was buried alongside both neighbors and unknown numbers of Hessians and Patriots killed during the Revolution. An amateur archeologist, Bolton had once uncovered a mass grave in the largely neglected graveyard. He concluded the unmarked grave likely contained the bodies of soldiers felled in some unrecorded epidemic.
According to a July 15, 1932 article in the Lewiston Daily Sun, “ The monument, which will mark the graves of families whose names are still represented in the streets, avenues, schools and parks of Washington Heights, will stand in the middle of a plot measuring 1,590 feet.”
“It will be nine feet high and six feet wide at the base, octagonal in shape, of granite, and will contain a groove for filling records and other data concerning its erection. Of the 417 persons re-interred, 67 have been identified by name.”
“The old headstones, some of them with sentimental verses and aphorisms, were taken up and placed in the new plot. They bear names such as Berrian, Beaumont, Bogardus, Bolton, Childs, Dyckman, Garrison, Grout, Hadley, Hale, Montgomery, Nagel, Oakley, Post, Ryer, Sage, Sherman, Townsend, Vail, Vermilya, Wagner, Warner and Williams.”
Delving deeper into Inwood lore, Bolton discovered another connection of amazing historic significance. Likely buried on the Nagel grounds, if not in the cemetery itself, was Tobias Teunissen, the first European to settle northern Manhattan. In the early days of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam Teunissen lived a seemingly peaceful co-existence with the local Native Indian population until he acted as a scout on a Dutch military raid. For this betrayal he was killed by his former Indian neighbors in 1655. His wife and daughter were kidnapped in the raid. The women were released after a ransom was paid to the local Weckquasgeek Indians.
For years after the attack, the entire region was a no-mans land, considered unsafe for Indians and settlers a like. It was not until an uneasy peace was declared that the Dyckmans and Nagles settled the property in 1677.
Of course, this story likely begins thousands of years earlier. Mixed in with the remains of settlers, patriots and more recent graves, Bolton found evidence of previous Indian occupation on the site.
These original inhabitants are not included on the Woodlawn Cemetery marker which today reads, “About this stone rest the remains of 417, among them early settlers and soldiers in the Colonial and National Wars, interred 1664-1908, in Nagel Cemetery, West 212th Street, Manhattan, the site of which was covered by vast public improvement. Reinterred here 1926-1927 by the City of New York.”