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Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum

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Historic cemetery in Washington Heights

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Washington Heights
Burial Site, Gathering Place


Eric K. Washington

Since it was established in 1842, Trinity Church Cemetery in Washington Heights has chronicled much of this citys eventful history through the lives of its culturally disparate citizenry. It is a nearly 24-acre memorial park, steeped in Revolutionary War, Civil War, civic history and social history. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, the ground constitute Manhattans only still-admitting cemetery. Far from being the end of the line, Trinity Church Cemetery is a stirring intersection between the present day and the past. Yet, despite its recognized importance and its continued use, this cemetery is a woefully forgotten heritage site for permanent New Yorkers of a bygone era.

The cemetery is equal to four city blocks, extending from West 153rd Street to West 155th Street, and from Amsterdam Avenue to Broadway (the Easterly Division) and from Broadway to Riverside Drive (the Westerly Division). The grounds are laid out in the park-likes style of an "ornamental," or "garden," cemetery. The Easterly Division upon the Washington Heights plateau is level ground for the most part, save for a notable mound near its southern (West 153rd Street) boundary. The grounds of the Westerly Division slope more dramatically from Broadway towards the Hudson River, requiring its main drive to form a serpentine switchback from bottom to top. Secondary paths throughout the cemetery are often obscured by growth. Numerous grave monuments are broken or dislocated from their bases.

The grounds are routinely tidied of leaves and fallen branches, and receive some horticultural attention; the cemetery is notably the flagship site of the Heritage Rose District initiated in partnership with Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer and the Heritage Rose Foundation. But there is no stewardship from "Friends" of family organizations, nor a resident historian. Archival records are maintained 10 miles away at Trinity Wall Street and show frequent discrepancies with the physical cemetery site. No formal census of gravestone inscriptions has been made since 1931 (by Ray C. Sawyer).

Last year I personally rediscovered the long-lost grave of Cadwallader D. Colden, Mayor of NYC (1818-1821), and an abolitionist who was a president of the New York Manumission Society to Promote the Abolition of Slavery. Colden presided over the rebuilding of the African Free School in 1815. Ive also brought numerous other notables to the attention of the cemetery authorities over the years, many of whom theyve incorporated into their updated literature. Ive generated and conveyed most of the original research on this cemetery through my published writing and walking tours.

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