Van Cortlandt Burial Vault on Vault Hill

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    • #1871

      I’ve been doing some writing for the Van Cortlandt Alliance about historical sites in the park.  I came across some contradictory information about Vault Hill.  This New York Times page states:

      It was established about 1749, after Frederick Van Cortlandt died. (After 1888, the family bought a plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, where the ancestral remains were reburied.)

      However, I referenced Patrick Raftery’s excellent book, “The Cemeteries of The Bronx,” and read the following:

      No removals were made from the old vaults to the new plot at Woodlawn.

      I had always heard that the Van Cortlandts were reinterred at Woodlawn but perhaps there is no evidence of this ever happening.  Raftery cites an act of the New York State Legislature, which states “that the remains of those interred in [the Van Cortlandt Vault] shall not be disturbed or removed.”  This act was signed by Governor David B. Hall in 1890.  In reading other reports, there are no references to the bodies being reinterred at Woodlawn so I am not sure where this idea originated (although I plead guilty to having repeated this claim as fact without checking sources).  I think Raftery is probably right and the old Van Cortlandts are still there on Vault Hill even though their burial ground is in rough shape.

    • #1872
      Thomas Casey

      Stephen Jenkins in 1912 ” The Story of the Bronx”  indicates that the Van Cortlandt’s bodies are still at Vault Hill.Jenkins 1912 Vault Hill

    • #1873

      Thanks for that, Tom.  That was 1912 so they hadn’t been removed before then.  Without any evidence to the contrary I would say they are still there.

      Cemeteries of The Bronx has a really good writeup on the site including many other things that I did not know.  For example, there are two side-by-side vaults within the walled in area.  One was used by the Van Cortlandts and the other by the Bayley and Craig families (they were connected to the Van Cortlandts by marriage).  One of the monuments for the Bayleys was only just removed by the Parks Dept. a few years ago after it was kicked over.  If there are any Van Cortlandts or Bayleys  still out there, I wonder how they would feel about the way the city has taken care of their family burial plot.

    • #1874

      A few more tidbits >

      When the subject of the transfer of graves came up, a docent at the Van Cortlandt House indicated by a shake of his head that there was no re-interment.
      A good while ago, I inquired about this via email to Woodlawn and did not get a response but I wasn’t very persistent. You may have better luck.

      In a letter to the New York Times (1962), the writer criticized the Parks Dept. for not caring for the Vault area. Charlotte Van Cortlandt responded (10/2/1962) that after Parks took over the area, the Van Cortlandts remained sole caretakers of the Vault. Charlotte lamented that much effort to keep the area clean and green too quickly became trampled on. Here’s the link which I just tried but could not access.
      Charlotte died 2/14/1972 and perhaps she was the last one to accept a caretaker’s role?

      Would you continue to care for the area if ancestors were no longer there?
      Perhaps some but not all were re-interred at Woodlawn?

      Not to say for sure that there weren’t graves moved and not marked but looking at the dates on the present stones in Woodlawn, the first is that of Charlotte Amelia Bayley, wife of Augustus Van Cortlandt and Daughter of Robert Henry Bunch 1826-1890.

      Of interest to some is that the first Charlotte Amelia Bayley (1759 – 1805) was buried at the Vault. She was the step-mother of American Saint Elizabeth Bayley Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity. Charlotte and Elizabeth’s father had separated. Charlotte was the sister of Catherine Amelia Barclay Van Cortlandt who was the second wife of Augustus Van Cortlandt (1728-1833) – which explains the Bayley vaults.


    • #1875

      That is very interesting about Charlotte Van Cortlandt taking care of the Vault Hill burial ground.  I could not get the link to work though.

      Van Cortlandt Park has had big problems protecting historic sites in the park from vandals.  Last year the Grand Central Stones were nicely cleaned off and restored by NYC Parks.  Just recently they were tagged again with graffiti.  A Parks worker painted over it with black paint, which only makes the process of removing the graffiti more difficult.  It is the same situation up on Vault Hill.  I am not really sure what the solution is.  You rarely see Parks Enforcement in Van Cortlandt and I have no idea if there are any patrols at night.

      It is funny that you should mention Vault Hill’s connection to the Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first saint born in America.  I just recently learned that fact myself from Patrick Raftery’s book.  However, I think NYC Parks recently removed the monument to her step-mother from Vault Hill.  With the death of Charlotte, I guess there are no Van Cortlandts around to complain about this sort of thing.

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