We are stewards of two historic cemeteries in Park Ridge.
by: Carl W. Weil, Church Historian | edited by: Larissa Romero
In 1813, shortly after the founding of the church, a cemetery was established at the rear of the building. At that time a one room schoolhouse, built in 1808, stood at the north end of the church property. This school eventually evolved into Park Ridge High School. Years later a 10 x 12 inch bronze plaque on a metal pole was installed at the site of the original building. The plaque remained until early 1989 when it was discovered missing.
The first burial in the cemetery was that of six year old Katherine Blauvelt in 1813; the most recent burial occurred in 1972. After 180 years the gravestone for the first interment is still legible.
In 1893 several graves were moved due to the construction of an addition to the rear of the church. At this time the graves and their new locations are not known.
In 1959 49 grave sites were removed to permit construction of the present addition at the north end of the church. The remains of all were reburied in a vault, the front of which has a plaque containing the names and year of passing of all of the deceased. The gravestones for the aforementioned are mostly on the embankment at the east end of the cemetery and plans are being made to re-erect the stones at a suitable location in the cemetery as memorials.
In 1912 and 1913 the New Jersey Historical Society did a study of this portion of the church cemetery and noted a 1745 gravestone with no further reference. The inventory received is incomplete and an attempt to obtain a complete reference will be made to the Society.
On at least two known occasions, graves were moved to Pascack from other locations. One such occasion involved two members of the Wortendyke Family who were previously buried on a farm in Wyckoff. The other involved several graves from an old cemetery in Hillsdale west of Broadway and slightly north of Parkview Drive. Evidence of another possible relocation, a rough stone with the initials "L.H.", is located next to the grave of Ellen Holdrum, who died in 1820. It is possible that the grave marked "L.H." is that of a member of the Holdrum Family who died earlier whose remains and stone were moved to Pascack after the establishment of the church cemetery.
While records and maps for the cemetery at the rear of the church may exist, they are not in the church's possession. Many mysteries, therefore remain, including the discovery of human bones uncovered in 1965 when a trench was excavated for a new sanitary sewer line from Fellowship Hall to Wampum Road. When the time comes to replace the parking lot surface it is hoped that the area can be x-rayed for more remains especially the portion next to the cemetery directly behind Fellowship Hall.
When the church purchased the larger (southern) part of the church cemetery from the Wortendyke family in 1855, three older cemeteries already existed on the property: the Wortendyke Family Cemetery, the African American Cemetery, and the American Indian Cemetery.
The exact age of the Wortendyke Family Cemetery, located at the northeast corner of the larger cemetery, is not known, but the two oldest legible stones date to the year 1780. There may be older graves, however, since the Wortendyke Family had bought the property in 1735 and rented out land to several tenant farmers who lied in log cabins until Wortendyke moved from the present day Harrington Park in the year 1750.
The previously mentioned 1912 and 1913 inventory by the New Jersey Historical Society noted about 100 rough stones in the areas of the present day church cemetery all of which were noted as having "no marks" (inscriptions of any kind.) Several Terhune family field stones are listed as being somewhere in the church cemetery by the Ackerman and Goff study dated May 1946. The oldest Terhune burial is listed as "1766 I.T.H." and, along with the others, could be in the Wortendyke Family Cemetery. As of now only about 30 of the rough stones are visible and a future historical project is planned to raise all to their original elevation above ground and clean and study them for markings.
The African American Cemetery is located adjacent to the cemetery building directly behind the church parsonage and, like the Wortendyke Family Cemetery, is 50 feet by 100 feet in area. Its oldest known burial dates to 1834. Buried here are members of the families of Bergen County's Free Blacks of the pre-Civil War periods. In addition, many of the men buried in the African-American cemetery were Civil War Veterans who had served with a Connecticut Regiment.
To the east of this cemetery in a rectangular hollow, cleared at a very early but unknown date, lies the American Indian Cemetery. There are no markings of any type in this area and knowledge of the burial grounds existence has been passed on by word of mouth through the years.
The remaining area of the larger cemetery was laid out into 16 grave plots in 1855. Many of these plots were bought by the older area families, probably because the four and five hundred acre farms in the northern Bergen County area were being broken up into smaller parcels in the middle of the 19th century, and little room was left for family cemeteries.
With most of the older families leaving the area in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many of the plots were no longer used and in time the church saw fit to reclaim them through legal means and sub-divide the plots into smaller units.
In more recent times church members have purchased available smaller plots or' single grave sites. There are now about six burials per year in the Pascack Reformed Church Cemetery. Burials are limited to owners of plots, and new sales of the very limited number of plots is restricted to members of the Pascack Reformed Church.
It is hoped that in the near future all gravestones that are downed will be raised and those that are broken in both the main part of the cemetery and the one behind the church will be repaired.
When research concerning the three older cemeteries in the southern portion of the cemetery, an application will be made for the erection of a second historical marker which will be an additional tribute to the American Indian tribe of the area and the early African and European American settlers of the Upper Pascack Valley area of Bergen County.