There is a true beauty to a historical cemetery with its old tombstones, its interesting artwork on the grave sites and the history behind the famous families who are buried there whose homes we tour and roads and parks that are named after them. The cemetery is located right in Downtown Salem, which serves as the County Seat for the County of Salem.
It was also home to one of the oldest oak trees in the country which fell in 2019. The over 500 year old oak tree has been part of the original virgin forest and is said to where town founder, John Fenwick, met with the Lenape Indians for the establishment of a settlement and for peaceful negotiations.
All that is left of the tree now is the rotting stump but three of its saplings still exist on the grounds and they look about two hundred years old. They grow majestically amongst the gravesites.
Inside the cemetery, the graves bear the names of founding fathers of the Town of Salem and prominent families who once made up the population with names such as Thompson, Reeves, Abbott, Wister, Bacon, Griscom, Waddington, Sickler, Lippencott, Goodwin, Bullock, Woodnutt and Bassett.
You will see these names on artifacts in the Salem Historical Society such as clothes, business document and household items. There names and influence still hold a position in the community.
The Salem Oak in the Friends Burial Ground before it fell in 2019 (Salem County Historical Society)
This is the spot where founder John Fenwick met with the Lenape Indians in 1675.
Take time to walk amongst the family plots and pay your respects to these important families who were once the founding members of both the community and of the great State of New Jersey.
When I was traveling to Salem and Cumberland Counties to visit historical sites, this was the last one on my list the first day of exploring. The Old Broad Street Presbyterian Church sits in the middle of a declining downtown in Bridgeton, NJ like a ghost of its former self. This graceful and elegant church is not used much anymore and sits like a majestic building overlooking a city that has passed it by.
The church was built in 1792 for the growing Presbyterian congregation who was living in Bridgetown as it was called at the time. The brick walls and roof were completed but it would take another three years for the interior to be finished (Cumberland History.org).
The cemetery is extremely interesting as you visit the historic tombstones and the family plots and try to figure out the connections. The biggest problem with the cemetery is that is has gotten very overgrown in parts of it. It needs a good mowing and the gravestones need to be cleaned as they are wearing away with the elements. It was hard to follow the historical listing but many famous residents and leaders of the community are buried here as well as members of the armed forces from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and earlier.
In some cases, when the families were buried together, it almost told the story of what happened within the family. I saw grave sites where the son or daughter either died in child birth or a disease or in battle and then the devastated parents followed a few years later which was a sad narrative. I saw this many times in the family plots. How many children died of diseases that today are solved by a pill.
Some of the notable people buried in the cemetery are Ebenezer Elmer, who represented New Jersey in the United States House of Representatives from 1801-1807 and Jonathan Elmer, who represented New Jersey in the United States Senate from 1789-1791. Lucius Elmer, who represented New Jersey’s First congressional district from 1843-1845. Eilas Seeley, who was the Eleventh Governor of New Jersey serving in 1833. William G. Whiteley, who represented Delaware in the United States House of Representative from 1857 to 1861. Joseph Archibald Clark and Clement Waters Shoemaker, who were two of the founders of Cumberland Glass Manufacturing Company (Wiki).
The Broad Street Church Cemetery
The history of the Broad Street Presbyterian Church and its cemetery:
(From Cumberland NJ Art.org)
For much of the 18th century in Bridgetown, which will eventually change its name to Bridgeton, there existed no church for Presbyterians, who were a large and growing segment of the local population. For church services, they were forced to conduct services in the Courthouse or travel to churches in Greenwich, Fairfield or Deerfield several miles away.
In 1792, about two acres of land were donated along King’s Highway, which was the main road from Bridgeton to Greenwich and ran along the south end of the church constuction site. In 1800, this main route was relocated to the north and is today Broad Street (Route 49).
The basic design of the Broad Street Presbyterian Church was set by it congregation and organizers who requested a masonry building with dimensions of at least forty by fifty feet. By December 1792, the brick walls and roof has been completed but it would take another three years for the interior to be finished.
The design of the Broad Street Presbyterian Church is that of a meeting house, almost square in proportion. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, many American houses of worship were built in the meeting house form. This design was in contrast to the more formal churches of the period, which were more rectangular than square with an alter and/or communion table and pulpit approached by a long nave and often divided from the congregation by a railing. Broad Street Presbyterian Church has a tall pulpit, accessed by a winding stair and surrounded on three sides by pews so as many congregations as possible could attend and sit as close as possible to the preacher.
Above the pulpit is one of the most significant architectural features of the church, the Palladian window with its central window and semicircular arch flanked on each side by smaller windows and all unified by an entablature supported by columns. The name “Palladian” comes from the Venetian architect who originated the design, Andrea Palladio, who worked in 16th century.
Architects in the 17th and 18th centuries would travel from other parts of Europe to Italy to study architecture and they brought the Palladian style back to England and the American Colonies. Thomas Jefferson acquired an intense appreciation of Palladian architecture and used it extensively in his desing for Monticello.
By 1835, the congregation had erected a new church but because the Broad Street church was surrounded by the cemetery, the congregation did not abandon or sell it but rather maintained it exactly as they left it, which is why today it is identified as one of the most pristine and unaltered examples of 18th century church architecture in the United States.
Today the Broad Street Presbyterian Church is used for special services and opened to the pubic by appointment. It is carefully maintained by the Presbyterian congregation of First Presbyterian Church located on Commerce Street in Bridgeton, NJ.
On my last stop of touring Historic Morris County for the “Pathways for History ” event, I visited the Whippany Burial Yard at 325 Route 10 in Whippany. The old cemetery is steeped in history as one of the oldest cemeteries in New Jersey and home to many Revolutionary and Civil War veterans. As we learned on the tour later on, the only people that can be buried there now are former Mayors of the Town of Whippany who have died.
Two of the founding families of the town have many family members buried here, the Tuttle’s who still have relatives living in the area and the Kitchel’s. The guide for the afternoon took us on an hour tour of the cemetery, pointing out prominent members of the war years including Timothy Tuttle (died 1754), a founding judge of Morris County, Keturah Tuttle Platt (died 1850), who was a Charter member of the First Presbyterian Church, Captain Timothy Tuttle (II of III-died in 1816), who was a member of George Washington’s First Regiment in the Continental Army, Samuel Tuttle (died in 1762) and Colonel Joseph Tuttle, a blacksmith and Deacon at the Presbyterian Church who served in the French & Indian War.
The entrance to the Whippany Burial Yard
The Kitchel family was prominently represented as well with Abraham Kitchel (died in 1741), who was one of the six original judges of Morris County and his wife Sarah, whose family was claimed to date back to Charlemagne, Emperor of France, Abigal Kitchel (died in 1768), Uzal Kitchel (died in 1813), a Militiaman in the American Revolution and his wife, Anna (died in 1815). Many of these people as well as their ancestors made major contributions to the growth of the surrounding community.
We were also given a lesson in the construction and care of the old tombstones, some of which were beyond repair. Some of the original grave sites were made from sandstone, marble and granite with granite becoming the popular choice later on. Here and there some of the tombstones were decorated with winged skulls or cherubs. These show morality images of the dead (Whippany Burial Yard pamphlet).
We were also walking by the river that the graveyard sits on and were told that current erosian is affecting some of the grave sites. These might have to be moved in the future and the tour guide was not sure if any have been lost over the years. The old Presbyterian Church that sat on the site (built in 1718 and removed in 1755) has since disappeared and there is no trace of it now.
The Whippany Burial Yard has many different types of tombstones
At the end of the tour, the guide explained to us that the old Tuttle House, dating back from the late 18th Century was just left to the town by its last owner to be preserved as a museum for the community. The Tuttle house will need a lot of work in the future.
I ended my tour of the cemetery here as the graveyard was closing for the evening but planned on coming back in the future. There are more interesting things to see amongst the tombstones.
History of the Whippany Burying Yard:
(From the Township of Whippany website/The Township of Hanover Landmark Commission):
The Whippany Burying Yard is the oldest graveyard in North Central New Jersey. It contains the oldest dated colonial artifacts in Morris County. It was established in 1718 before the United States was conceived before New Jersey was a state and before Morris County was founded. Two of Morris County’s first governing judges and many Revolutionary War soldiers are buried here.
The three and a half acres of land was donated by John Richards for a “meeting house, schoolhouse, burying ground, training field and for public use. Mr. Richards was the first one buried here when he died in 1718. His grave is the oldest in Morris County, NJ.
For the next 200 years, the burying yard was maintained by the members of the Presbyterian Church with which it was closely associated. In 1914, the Presbyterian Church elected trustees for a group that would be known as The Whippany Cemetery Association. They maintained the yard for the next sixty-one years.
The graveyard is legally, publicly owned but no particular entity or institution in named in the deed. The grantee is interpreted to be the “Christian friends and neighbors in Whippanong”. It was formally maintained and administered by the Whippany Cemetery Association until its maintenance and administration was transferred to the Township of Hanover in 1976 as an historical site. The Township gave the responsibility for the Burying Yard to its Landmark Commission, where it remains.
The Burying Yard holds about 450 graves that include 11 veterans of the American Revolution, nine Civil War veterans. In 2011, the Burying Yard was listed on both the State and the National Register of Historic Places. When visiting the Yard, you can see that the gravestones are made out of three different materials: sandstone, marble and granite. Visitors can see a 300-year time span of various commemorative styles. The Burying Yard is also home to two prominent families in the area: The Tuttle’s and the Kitchel’s.
Some of the prominent members buried here are John Richards who was the schoolmaster who donated this land for public use, Abraham Kitchel who was an early settler from Newark, NJ and one of the six original judges of Morris County. Joseph Tuttle Sr., who was a blacksmith, had served as a Colonel of Morris County militia in the French and Indian War and Timothy Tuttle who was a Sergeant of the First Company under Captain Joseph Morris in Lord Sterling’s First Battalion of New Jersey’s First Regiment in Washington’s Continental Army.
This 1796 National Register site is the house of Samuel Tuttle, the grandson of Joseph Tuttle, a Colonel in the Morris Militia. The Tuttle’s were among the first to setting in Hanover and they played an important role in its development.
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.