Since 1916, the National Park Service has been entrusted with the care of our national parks. National Parks in New York City? Yes! There are 11 parks with a total of 23 different sites you can visit in all five boroughs and parts of New Jersey.
The now closed MTA Bus Depot on 126th in East Harlem had a greatly varied past. Once home to an amusment park, casino, and film studio, its most notable use was as an African burial ground.
More than 350 years ago, the land sat within the Dutch village of Nieuw Haarlem, which was then a sparsely populated agricultural area, far removed from the densely developed settlement of New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan. The Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem and its associated cemeteries were located in this Dutch settlement, with the first church building sitting near the shore of the Harlem River, on or near a portion of the former bus depot site. Adjoining the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem was a plot of land identified as the “African Burying Ground at Harlem,” now known as the Harlem African Burial Ground, which was active until at least 1856.
With documents to prove that the bus depot in Harlem was where African slaves were buried from the 17th through the 19th century, keepers of Harlem's history insisted that this site be landmarked. They were dismissed because no remains had been found, but in 2008, bodily remains were unearthed when the New York Department of Transportation began its environmental review process of the Willis Avenue Bridge.
By 2015, more than 140 bones and bone fragments had been discovered by archaeologists under contract to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. One of the most interesting was a skull with the cranium intact, that most likely came from an adult woman of African descent.
In 2016, the land was set aside for a mixed-use and mixed-income affordable housing development by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
Below is a rendering of a proposed memorial that will also live on the land.
Cover image: The 126th Street Bus Depot in East Harlem, where bones and bone fragments were found. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times