The Factoryville Cemeteries: Part 1–Staten Island Cemetery

Patricia M. Salmon

Entrance to Staten Island Cemetery, 2015.   Photo by Scott Allen.

Yes, I am one of those people who just loves cemeteries. Mind you I do not like to contemplate death, but I do like to contemplate history. And what better place to focus one’s attention on history then in a cemetery. I have had the good pleasure to work with members of the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries over the years. Richard Dickenson, Marjorie Decker Johnson, and now Lynn Rogers. They, along with several others including Pearse O’Callaghan and Fred Crane have been at the forefront of a very difficult endeavor—saving the abandoned burial grounds of the borough. Whether by neglect, or families moving away or people simply forgetting that they owned cemetery plots, many cemeteries both on the island and off are forgotten and as dormant as autumn leaves. Perhaps one of the most interesting graveyards, or I should say three of the most interesting graveyards, are grouped together on Richmond Terrace (the old Shore Road) between Alaska Street and Van Street. These amazing sites are known as Staten Island Cemetery, Fountain Cemetery, and the Trinity Chapel Cemetery. Each has a past that is both fascinating and absorbing.

Today, Staten Island Cemetery is approximately three acres. Officially established in 1847, the cemetery entrance is on the south side of Richmond Terrace adjacent to Rogers Surveying (no relation to Lynn Rogers). Incorporated on December 4, 1851, a landscape architect simply known as Mr. Charlton designed the cemetery. The last recorded burial at Staten Island Cemetery took place in 1969.

An historic stone wall fronts the old burial ground. A bucolic setting, Staten Island Cemetery harbors native species and horticultural varieties. Mature oaks and maples tower over the old burial ground. Some specimens of American Chestnut, Castanea dentata survive to the early flowering stage against the onslaught of the Chestnut Blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) that reached Staten Island in 1908. The devastation wrought by this fungus left few representatives to reach maturity on Staten Island, much less across the United States.

Upon entering Staten Island Cemetery statues of Our Lady of Lourdes (the Virgin Mary) and the child Bernadette are situated on the eastern side of the cemetery. Originally the statues were in a Grotto on the grounds of Saint Vincent’s Hospital in West New Brighton. Around 2007, the hospital changed hands with the Sisters of Charity, the governing body of the facility at this time, donating the marble statues to the Staten Island Cemetery.

A flag pole stands near the statues as does a plaque in honor of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The original was installed in 1866, by GAR Post #524. The replacement plaque reads “Dedicated to the gallant Veterans of the Civil War 1861-1865.” It was installed on a field stone by the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island in 2004, to replace another plaque that was dedicated in 1931. Two original standard United States Government issued marble Civil War markers are behind the stone as is a well preserved iron Grand Army of the Republic star shaped flag holder(!).

A Potter’s Fields and Baby Cemetery were established on the northern edge of this burial ground. The Staten Island Cemetery Association had actually offered free burials for babies under the age of two in the nineteenth century. Grave markers were never installed. There are today approximately six hundred marble, brownstone and granite headstones in Staten Island Cemetery. Some stones are illegible due to a combination of damage from pollution, neglect, and vandalism. Other stones are remarkably clear and easily read. Intergenerational family plots were also established at Staten Island Cemetery. Some are surrounded or partially surrounded by small stone pillars and round metal rails. Of course, the size and design of headstones denote the financial and social standing of the interred.

Numerous soaring obelisks are present at Staten Island Cemetery. One massive standard obelisk hovers over the Barrett plot with the Barrett name prominently inscribed in raised letters. The parcel holds five locally quarried granite markers capped with a crowning floral pattern. At the Van Pelt plot an elaborate draped urn is atop a granite monument. It is surrounded by several of the previously mentioned locally quarried stones with crowned floral patterns.

Stone carver Orlando W. Buel (1818-1894) was a well-regarded gravestone dealer from Connecticut who relocated his stone yard to Staten Island. Prolific, Buel’s name appears on many Staten Island headstones, including the Barrett monument and its surrounding headstones. Mr. Buel is buried at neighboring Fountain Cemetery.

A standing shouldered brownstone with a decorative star and a simple urn cut into the stone is located at Staten Island Cemetery. The marker is to the memory of Hannah Johnson who died in 1821. An intact shouldered brownstone marker to the memory of John Merrell also stands at the graveyard. A flourishing grandly engraved “J.M.” is inscribed at the top of the stone. It is adorned with two flowers and a decorative scalloped design near its top. Mr. Merrell passed in 1826.

John Merrell Brownstone

Brownstone marker of John Merrell, no date. Courtesy of the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries.

Staten Island Cemetery was the first inter-racial cemetery on Staten Island. It was founded by African American Joseph Ryerss when he established a family burial ground, or a Homestead Graveyard, on his property. This is the first known African-American Homestead Graveyard on Staten Island. The earliest known burial occurred in 1829, when another Joseph Ryerss was interred. No headstones exist for the Ryerss Homestead Graveyard owing to atmospheric or environmental conditions, or perhaps to vandalism. Early grave markers were made of wood which disintegrates or field stones which were often moved or removed. Only more expensive markers exist owing to the improved material used for such purposes. Strong documentation of the existence of Ryerss’ graveyard is found in a study and report by Staten Island’s most reliable historians William T. Davis, Charles W. Leng, and Royden W. Vosburgh. In 1923, they undertook a thorough review of Staten Island, Fountain and Trinity Chapel cemeteries. The results of this study were published in 1924. They verified that the earliest recorded burial at what would become Staten Island Cemetery occurred in 1829, after the first Joseph Ryerss died on April 10. Ryerss family members Margaret, who died on May 2, 1835, and Samuel, who died on March 20, 1837, were later interred.

On April 24, 1811, the second Joseph Ryerss, who was a slave, went before Judge David Mersereau of Richmond County. Ryerss presented the last Will and Testament of his owner Judge Gozen Ryerss who was dead. This document stated that upon the judge’s death Joseph would be set free and he was. This Joseph Ryerss owned and farmed the land that is now Staten Island Cemetery until his death around 1845. He was eighty-two years old and was buried in the already established Homestead Graveyard. His property was originally owned by relative Henry Ryerss who had bought one-and-one half acres from James and Mary Barton in 1811. Again in 1815, Henry bought three tenths of an acre behind Trinity Chapel from Benajah Leffingwell.

As part of the New York State Rural Cemetery Act of 1847, Attorney Lot C. Clark purchased land from the estate of African-American Joseph Ryerss for the purpose of creating a cemetery. Staten Island Cemetery has features reflecting the rural cemetery movement which called for an appreciation of the natural landscape. While no formal plan for the cemetery exists the natural topography and vegetation of the property was preserved during the nineteenth century to provide a park like setting.

Fountain, Staten Island and Trinity Chapel Cemeteries hold the remains of prominent families that developed Staten Island. They are historically noteworthy for many reasons including the fact that they were part of the acreage once owned by New York’s first Colonial Governor Thomas Dongan who was in office from 1682 until 1688. Dongan owned vast amounts of land on Staten Island and he built a manor house (Manor Road) for purposes of relaxation and hunting.

Historically Fountain, Staten Island and Trinity Chapel Cemeteries as a group were referred to as the Factoryville Cemeteries, since the surrounding area was known as Factoryville from around 1836 through the 1860s. It was an industrial and commercial location that was established around Barrett, Tileston and Company, a concern that opened around 1820. This business dyed and cleaned various types of material during its long history.

In 1871, the community was officially renamed West New Brighton. During the nineteenth century West New Brighton was a bustling location with a ferry landing on the Kill Van Kull. Numerous successful nineteenth century manufactories were established in the community, while transportation along the Shore Road (now Richmond Terrace) in front of the cemeteries was evolving from horse car to rapid transit trains and trolley cars. Prominent citizens, including industrialists and sea captains, resided in mansions along the nearby shorefront, while laborers and maritime workers lived in modest housing in the area. Though they were members of different classes many were buried in Staten Island Cemetery.

Coming soon Fountain Cemetery…

For further information on the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries please visit and LIKE the group’s Facebook page.

Sincere thanks to Gina Sacco for assisting with this article.




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