Between Summit Place & Liberty Street
(with entrance on Summit Place north of Route 46)
Little Ferry, NJ 07643
Hours: Secured historic site: Open by appointment only.
Contact: (201) 336-7267
Call for accessibility information.
My review on TripAdvisor:
The three times I have visited the Gethsemane Cemetery, it was a very quiet place to reflect on the people who are buried here. Located by a stretch of Route 46 West, you would hardly notice it was there. Sitting on a small hill above the highway lies some of our Counties most prominent Black citizens as well as just ordinary people and freed slaves who were denied entry into other church cemeteries. They were interned here in their own cemetery.
Gethsemane Cemetery is located west of the Hackensack River in southwest Bergen County on a one acre sandy hill located in Little Ferry, NJ. The 1860 deed of sale identifies it as a “burial ground for the colored population of the Village of Hackensack.” In 1901, it was turned over to seven African-American trustees and incorporated as Gethsemane Cemetery.
The entrance to the Gethsemane Cemetery in Little Ferry, NJ
Although there are only 50 graves stones, the graves of over 500 people have been documented, including that of Elizabeth Dulfer, who was born a slave (c 1790), freed in 1822 and died in 1880. She became one of the wealthiest business owners and landholders in Bergen County. Three Civil War veterans, Peter Billings, Silas M. Carpenter and William Robinson are also buried here.
Gethsemane Cemetery figured the center of controversy surrounding the burial of Samuel Bass, sexton of Hackensack’s First Baptist Church. When he died on January 22, 1884, his family wanted to bury him in the Hackensack Cemetery but was refused due to his race. Mr. Bass was then buried in Gethsemane Cemetery.
New Jersey Governor, Leon Abbett, protested the denial: “The Legislator should see that the civil and political rights of all men, whether white or black are protected…It ought not be tolerated in this State that a corporation whose existence depends on the Legislature’s will…should be permitted to make a distinction between a white man and a black man.” Two months later in March 1884, New Jersey’s “Negro Burial Bill” was passed desegregating cemeteries in New Jersey.
In 1985, Bergen County acquired the neglected cemetery and dedicated it as a County Historic Site. It was entered into the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 1994 for the historical significance it played in the enactment of N.J.’s early Civil Rights legislation and for containing evidence of West African burial customs.
The County of Bergen marker
In 2003, the county celebrated the dedication of new meditation areas and historic interpretive panels that tell Gethsemane’s story and lists the names of 515 people known to be buried here.
The cemetery markers
New mediation areas and historic panels tell the story of the cemetery and list the names of 515 people who were buried here.
The cemetery is open only a few times a year to the public for special holidays and events. I came for the Juneteenth Celebration of the emancipation of slavery from the Union on June 19th. There was an independent tour on your own of the cemetery and the panels. If you had any questions, there are County representatives to guide you through.
(Information taken from the Bergen County Parks System guide).
Disclaimer: This information was taken directly from the Bergen County Parks Directory. Please call or email the above information for more details on visiting the cemetery. It can be opened for private tours.