Do You Remember

St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site is located at 897 South Columbus Avenue in Mount Vernon. It once served the entire northeast Bronx and played an important role during the American Revolution. - Photo by Bill Twomey

Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site, located in Mount Vernon, once served a large portion of the northeast Bronx when we were part of Westchester County and even thereafter.  It played an important role during the Revolutionary War when it was occupied by British and Hessian forces and used as a military hospital.  Those forces took over the church on October 18, 1776 following the crucial battle that took place on today’s Split Rock Golf Course in Pelham Bay Park.  The grounds of the church was also the town meeting site where an important election took place which was to lead to the Peter Zenger trial.  The outcome of that trial would lead to the freedom of the press that we all take for granted today.

Their historic church graveyard is of special interest as it is where their church bell was buried prior to the British occupying the site.  The parishioners knew that the bell would be melted down for ammunition so they decided to bury it.  They knew that the intruders would not be apt to start digging up what appeared to be a grave.  After our war for independence was over, the bell was dug up and hung in the belfry where it is located to this very day.  The graveyard is full of wonderfully entertaining stories such as this.  Did you know, for instance that the remains of any number of Hessian mercenaries from the Revolutionary War are still interred therein?  Numerous secrets have been taken to the grave but some of the stories of those buried at St. Paul’s will be revealed and will pique your interest enough that you will surely want to visit the historic site. 

Edward Gay, the Irish landscape painter, is one name that comes to mind and his tombstone is actually a bench which was designed by his son, Duncan, a sculptor.  It is a bench for lovers and is inscribed with a phrase from John Milton: “Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.”  You can hear more about the fascinating history of this churchyard at the upcoming meeting of the East Bronx History Forum.  Come and enjoy this fascinating lecture which will expand your knowledge in so many fields.  Mr. David Osborn, the speaker, is the director of Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site and the leading expert on this subject. 

The East Bronx History Forum will host this lecture at the Huntington Free Library, conveniently located at 9 Westchester Square adjacent to the Apple Bank for Savings just south of Benson Street near entrance to the Pelham Bay line of the IRT.  The lecture is free and open to the public.  It will start promptly at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21, and those seeking further directions may contact Catherine McChesney, the librarian, at (718) 829-7770.   The forum meets on the third Wednesday of each month with the exceptions of July and August. 

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