Mahwah Cemeteries of the Past
This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in the “The Old Station Timetable” in March 1983.
For the most part churchyard cemeteries were the last resting places for the early farmers of the Ramapo Valley. Ordinarily they would attend the nearest church. The state line was no barrier to the people who lived at Suffern or in the Clove. The Ramapo Reformed churchyard holds many of the workers from Pierson’s Iron Works, and the miners and woodcutters who labored for the various local iron mines.
The choices were few. Those in the Masonicus area took their families to the Reformed Church in Saddle River. Those living in the Fardale section attended the Wyckoff Reformed Church or the Ponds Church in Oakland. Farmers in the upper Ramapo Valley went to the Reformed Church on Island Road in Mahwah. In each of these old cemeteries can be found grave markers inscribed with the names of oldtime landowners – at Wyckoff, Van Gelder, Ackerman and Terhune; at Saddle River, Doremus and Van Blarcom and De Baun; in Mahwah, the Wanamaker, Hennion and Hopper; and names from north of the line, Pierson, Suffern and Townsend.
Predating the Reformed churches was the Lutheran Church started by early incomers about 1724. It was a log, then wooden structure located on Island Road near Moffatt Road. It served the local families until 1785 when the Ramapo Reformed Church was formed. On Moffatt Road there is a very old cemetery. Since it is located in the old church area and there is a deed for a cemetery given to the Lutheran Church by a Maysinger, this is probably the old Lutheran Church burying ground and certainly many of the graves hold people who attended that church.
The earliest decipherable burial is 1770, only initials being given. Much earlier are the rough field stones with no inscriptions serving the purpose of marking before any gravestone worker appeared. There were over seventy burials and probably more. Many belong to the Wanamaker, Maysineer, Carlough, Bevans and Fox families. A notable stone marks the grave of John Suffern, infant son of John and Mary Suffern. Until Route 17 pushed through Mahwah, this was a pleasant rural countryside. The site of the cemetery on a sandy hill overlooked farms and pastures, a quiet, serene resting place.
The highway cut into the hillside almost to the graves at the edge. Moffatt Road was lined with new homes. Brush grew into trees, vandalism wreaked havoc among the stones, erosion wore down the steep gouged-out slope, threatening a final destruction of hundred year old graves. Today, this is a neglected place, reflecting the callous indifference of the town. A site that should be a monument to pioneer ancestors is a testimonial to historic insensibility.
The Ramapo mountain people did not come down into the valley for burials. We know about two small hidden cemeteries marked with field stones up in the hills. One was obliterated when the pipeline gouged through the mountains, the other is recognized as a burial place only by those who have hunted it out. The population was never very large and there may be more lonely forgotten unmarked graves scattered through the hills.
Throughout the valley some small plots of ground were set aside on the farms for a family cemetery where the graves were marked, kept in good condition and probably visited often. There are only a few under the bulldozer. A few were spared, known t6 town planners, with builders forbidden to disturb them. What is left of the family plot of the Youngs who farmed along Youngs Road lies between two houses in the Fawn Hill development. Anna and James and two of their children lie here with Pulis neighbors.
The new Apple Ridge townhouses on Airmount Ave. are being built around a small fenced family plot. Protected for years by its obscure location, it may be the last unprotected family cemetery in Mahwah.
Two local family cemeteries have survived in good condition because they have not been entirely neglected. The best known is the Hopper plot which is located on the grounds of the historic Hopper house on Valley Road. Because it is so near the road, it is an easy target for vandals, but for the same reason there is a measure of protection. Here are found graves marked with early names in the valley and the earliest known grave of a Bartholf. It may be that of the very first Bartholf to locate here.
Even more fortunate is the Bogert family cemetery on Chapel Road. Here an unknown number of Bogerts, Hoppers and Pulises are buried. The earliest date known is 1799, but there are a number of simple fieldstones which may predate that. The original plot is well cared for and this is a fair sample of what the Lutheran cemetery on Moffatt Road should look like. An additional area is the property of the Lutheran Redeemer Church of Ramsey.
There may be other small private burial sites hidden in brush covered field and not yet ploughed under. All of these early cemeteries provide us with a continuity with the past; a reminder of those early settlers who cleared the land, endured the rigors of pioneer life, lived through the raids and alarms of the Revolution, and left their names to many of the present inhabitants of Mahwah.