This tiny cemetery, the smallest in Manhattan, was once only a corner of the Second Cemetery, built by the Congregation Shearith Israel.
The triangular cutoff of the Second Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (the cemetery’s full name) tucked away on West 11th Street is a result of the implementation of the New York City grid system, which was placed directly over the burial land. Before the grid system and concrete transformed Manhattan, Greenwich was surrounded by agriculture, and cows were said to have wandered through the cemetery after its establishment in 1805. However in 1830, the City of New York paid $1,099 to the Congregation Shearith Israel to disinter bodies and place infrastructure. The ones that remained in the corner are buried unusually deep due to the layers of dirt added to level the ground.
The graveyard as a whole was created as a secondary site to the main burial ground at Chatham Square, where the bodies of disease victims (mainly yellow fever), and other people not directly connected to the congregation could be buried.
Despite the oxidized plaque bearing the site’s statement of purpose, the cemetery is misperceived by many New Yorkers as an overgrown garden or small back yard. A peek behind the iron bars reveals deteriorating tombstones with mostly illegible engravings, a tall obelisk, and a single above-ground tomb.