Celebrate Black History with a Sunday Afternoon at Elmendorf




Elmendorf Reformed Church. Source: Wikipedia, from Abyssinian to Zion and AIA Guide to NYC (5th edition)

Celebrate Black history at the home church of the Harlem African Burial Ground. Founded in 1660, Elmendorf Reformed Church is the oldest church in Harlem, and through research into its records, the church has identified more than 40 names of those interred at the burial site. Learn this Black history — and the future of the burial ground — during a Sunday afternoon of jazz, gospel and blues at the church. You’ll be treated to the Antoinette Montague Experience, featuring Antoinette Montague (vocals), Bobby Sanabria (drums), Danny Mixon (piano), Melissa Slocum (bass) and A.C. Lincoln (tap).

Hosted by Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala in partnership with Elmendorf Reformed Church, Uptown Grand Central, and the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative.

The site takes us back to 1660 when Nieuw Haarlem was charted by Dutch settlers on indigenous land. In the mid-1660s, Low Dutch Reformed Church (predecessor of today’s Elmendorf Reformed Church) was founded. The church had two distinct cemeteries. One for people of European decent, and one for both freed and enslaved people of African decent.

Those buried in the European section of the cemetery were transferred from that location in around 1869. But those of African decent, buried at that location, remained. In time, the ground was leveled and parts of the Harlem River shoreline were filled in.

The site became home to a beer garden and casino from 1885-1917, named Sulzer’s Harlem River Park. From 1917 to 1918, the land became barracks for the 15th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment ~ an all-Black unit. It became  home to movie studios from 1918 to 1945, with one of the studios belonging to William Randolph Hearst. From 1945 to 1962, the site was the Third Avenue Railway Company trolley barn. The current New York City Transit Authority bus Garage was built there in 1947. From 1962 to today, it has been the home of the MTA/New York City Transit Authority Bus Garage, as an active facility until 2015, when the mat agreed to move the Depot.

A view of the former site of the first Harlem burying ground/African Burial Ground in 1903, viewed from 127th Street near the Willis Avenue Bridge. At that time the site was part of the Sulzer’s Harlem River Park. Image via nycemetery.wordpress.com

In 2010, the church as listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On September 22, 2022, Patricia A. Singletary became the first female minister of the Elmendorf Reformed Church.

As for the African Burial Ground, in August, 2023, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative (HAGBI) announced the beginning of a new phase of archaeological work at the historic footprint of the Harlem African Burial Ground, located within the site of the decommissioned 126th Street Bus Depot in East Harlem on 126th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.