West 11th Street Cemetery
The West Eleventh Street cemetery, the second historic cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel, was consecrated on February 27, 1805. Although several locations were initially considered for the Congregation’s second cemetery, the land ultimately selected was in an out-of-town field located on Milligan Street. The cemetery still stands today, on West 11th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, and is in dire need of repair and restoration. Learn more about our ongoing West 11th Street Cemetery Renewal Project here.
Initially, this graveyard was the burial site for victims of communicable diseases like yellow fever and malaria, for recently immigrated Jews who did not have strong ties to Shearith Israel, and for those who died at their own hand through suicide. Until 1825, Shearith Israel was New York’s only synagogue and therefore provided for the burial needs of all of the city’s Jewish residents. After 1823, when city public health ordinances banned burial in the congregation's first cemetery at Chatham Square, the West 11th Street Cemetery became the congregation’s only burial ground and was used much more generally. Among those buried here are the Revolutionary war veteran, Ephraim Hart, and the noted painter, Joshua A. Canter.
If you visit this cemetery today, just east of Sixth Avenue on W.11th Street, you will find a tiny triangular piece of land with an obelisk, two table-top graves, and several well-worn, often illegible gravemarkers set along the walls. By 1829, New York was growing and the development of the “grid” street system resulted in the city taking of a large part of the cemetery for the creation of W. 11th Street. This required the disinterment and re-interment of many of those buried in the West 11th Street Cemetery. In addition, because 11th Street was graded significantly higher than the cemetery, the new road also required the filling in of many cubic feet of earth in order to keep the cemetery level with the street. Thus the graves in the eleventh street cemetery are unusually deep. Yet again the city’s expansion resulted in the search for a new cemetery, and the congregation opened a third cemetery at 21st Street.