Grave concerns have arisen at a proposed affordable housing development site.
A descendent of one of the founding families of the Bronx has written to the Episcopal Bishop of New York expressing his concern that his great-great-grandmother and other ancestors may be buried in vacant parcel of land next to St. Peter’s Church’s cemetery in Westchester Square.
The church wants to lease the property to a private developer who intends to build an 11-story affordable housing complex on the parcel.
John Arnow, whose family name is memorialized on Arnow Avenue and once owned Arnow Mansion on Williamsbridge Road, has located documents that may contain a list of individuals interred at the site along with a hand-drawn map of the Quaker Burial Ground.
These recently found papers purportedly prove that there were indeed interments at Quaker/Fox Cemetery that fall within the planned development’s footprint.
Arnow’s documents provide a comprehensive list of scores of burials, and a map that appears to show the burial area for two different Quaker meeting houses that once used the property.
However, the documents do not identify the exact locations of the burial sites, said Arnow.
Arnow said he is requesting DNA testing on all remains found at the location, adjacent to St. Peter’s Church churchyard at 2500 Westchester Avenue, during the excavation.
In a letter sent to the Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche, of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, Arnow states that while it would be great for the church to develop the land if it were vacant, his genealogical research indicates otherwise.
“The future plans to lease the Quaker/Fox Burial Plot south of St. Peter’s Church for a large construction project, is based on the assumption, the ‘hope’ that there are no bodies buried in the Quaker/Fox Cemetery,” stated Arnow, adding “However, this assumption, that the Quaker/Fox Cemetery land is vacant, is a false assumption and the enclosed copies of documents and records that I am providing you prove so.”
As previously reported in the Bronx Times, according to the parish, tests on the ground known to the community as ‘lot 6’ were conducted and indicated that there were no bodies buried there.
A spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese, Nicholas Richardson, said it plans to review Arnow’s documents but couldn’t offer more comment without further investigation.
He said that the Episcopal Church wouldn’t develop the land if it is determined to be a cemetery.
He also said that the bishop would have to sign off on any projects undertaken by its parishes.
St. Peter’s Church developed the housing proposal at the parish level.
Richardson confirmed that the parish has received Arnow’s letter and his supporting documents.
Jason Labate, the parish lawyer, released a statement on the latest news:
“St. Peter’s takes its responsibility as the steward of its cemetery and surrounding land very seriously,” it read. “The bishop has forwarded Mr. Arnow’s documents to the parish.
“The correspondence is voluminous and we are giving its review due care. In the meantime, we continue to work with Landmarks and archeological professionals to ensure that we are meeting our responsibilities as care-taker and stewards of the cemetery.”
At its general board meeting on Thursday, June 20, Matt Cruz, Community Board 10 district manager, said that Arnow had reached out to him and that the office was in conversation on the matter.
Arnow added that he has requested a copy of a 1920s deed from the NYC Department of Buildings that stipulates that St. Peter’s had to maintain the Quaker land as a cemetery.