Bring Out Your Dead: Locations of Old Burial Grounds in the City of Poughkeepsie: Part Two
Last week, we talked about the old burial grounds that were once within the city limits. This week, we will continue our search using old maps and newspaper articles to help us locate more of these forgotten sites. We have learned thus far that there were burial grounds from several different denominations and families throughout the city. By the 1870s, the city of Poughkeepsie determined that there would be no more interments of human remains in city soil. Also, as the city expanded and a need for new buildings for both business and residential became clear, several of these old graveyards were moved to the newly formed Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.
On the east side of Jefferson Street, there once was a large graveyard that was owned by the Methodist Church. The ground was originally acquired in 1806 and a church was built there. In 1826, the church was torn down and moved elsewhere, but the land continued to be used as a burial ground. It appears that the first burial was not even a member of the congregation, but someone from out of town. 27-year-old Rev. Lansford Whiting had just attended the Methodist conference of 1811 in New York City when he got on a boat to sail north up the Hudson. During his journey, he became severely ill and it was suggested that he be dropped off at the next dock to see a doctor. The next stop just happened to be Poughkeepsie. He was taken to the home of Doctor James Covell, who determined that he had contracted smallpox. Sadly, the young reverend died within a few days. The last burial appears to have been sometime around 1861. By 1915, the burial ground was sold while the remains and headstones were removed to the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. The land is currently the site of the Harriet Tubman apartments.
In a previous blog post, we mentioned that there was once a church burial ground on Academy Street. Christ Church had two different locations for both the church and burial ground (depending on the time period). The first was on the northeast corner of Market and Church Streets (now the site of the old armory) and of course the current church is on Academy Street. With all of this moving around, we have to wonder what graves were located at each site and where are they now? There were at least 90 (perhaps more) burials in the original site behind the first church, including prominent families such as the Billings, Noxons, and Gills. In 1828, the church began using the ground on Academy Street and continued to use it through the 1860s. By the 1880s, the burial ground on Academy Street was in poor condition and overgrown. Both of these sites were removed to the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery by 1888.
At one point, there were two cemeteries on Pershing Avenue (once known as East Mansion Street); the smaller of the two is still there. The Brethren of Israel owned a small parcel of land at what once was 35 ½ Pershing Avenue. Today this site is known as the Historic Vassar burial ground for the Vassar Temple. There are not many tombstones still standing, but some of the oldest date back to the 1850s. Interestingly, this cemetery is not mentioned in the book “Old Gravestones of Dutchess County,” perhaps because many of the inscriptions are in Hebrew and could not be translated by the authors. St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church had their first cemetery just north of the Jewish grounds. This burial ground was in use from 1841 until 1884 and had roughly 108 graves within it. In 1930, the Reverend Monsignor Joseph F. Sheahan asked the parish to vote on “whether or not the human remains now reposing in the cemetery… shall be removed to St. Peter’s Cemetery in the Town of Poughkeepsie.” Between 1930 and 1932, all of the remains were moved to the current cemetery on Salt Point Turnpike. The site of the old cemetery is now the Pershing Avenue City Park.
Mason, T., Lane G. “Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church” 1813. – Google Books
Poucher, J. Wilson, Reynolds, Helen Wilkinson. “Old Gravestones of Dutchess County” 1924. LH 929.5 Pou
Miller, Irvin M. Ph.D. “The Jewish Cemeteries of Dutchess County” LH 929.509 Mil
Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 7 Jan 1931
* Special Thanks to Pat Moran, The Director of the St. Peter’s Cemetery, for providing information on the Old St. Peter’s Cemetery.
01 – Image of the 1834 Map of Poughkeepsie showing the location of the Methodist burial ground.
02 – Image of the 1834 Map of Poughkeepsie showing the location of the Episcopal burial ground.
03 – Photo of the original St. Peter’s Church on Pershing Ave. circa 1930s – LH Collections.