Presidents’ Row, Princeton, New Jersey

Presidents’ Row at Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This section of Princeton Cemetery is located in the southwest corner of the cemetery, near the corner of Wiggins and Witherspoon Streets. It is sometimes referred to as Presidents’ Row, as it is the final resting place of many of Princeton’s early presidents. Among these, probably the most famous were Jonathan Edwards, the theologian and pastor who was one of the leaders of the Great Awakening, and John Witherspoon, who was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. In addition, U. S. Vice President Aaron Burr—who was both the son and grandson of Princeton presidents—is buried here, and his headstone stands in the center of this scene.

The graves of the former Princeton presidents are arranged roughly in order of when they served, beginning on the far right with Aaron Burr Sr. He was the second president of the college, following the brief tenure of John Dickinson in 1747, and he served until his death in 1757. He was then succeeded by his father-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, who had previously served as pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts and then a missionary to Native Americans in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Edwards was also an influential author, and he was highly sought by the school’s trustees to replace Burr. Despite reservations about his abilities, Edwards accepted the position, and was installed as president on February 16, 1758.

However, Edwards’s time as president proved to be brief. He arrived in Princeton in the midst of a smallpox outbreak, and one of his first acts as president was to receive an inoculation, in order to encourage students to do the same. Ideally, the inoculation would give Edwards only a mild case of smallpox, which would then give him lifetime immunity. Instead, though, his condition only worsened, and he died on March 22, 1758, barely a month after becoming president. He was buried here in the cemetery, just to the left of Burr’s gravestone. Edwards’s daughter Esther, the widow of Aaron Burr Sr., had cared for him during his illness, and she subsequently contracted smallpox too, dying on April 7 at the age of 26. Her death left her two children orphaned, including the two-year-old future vice president. Edwards’s wife Sarah then briefly took custody of them, but she died later in 1758 from dysentery at the age of 48.

Neither of Edwards’s next two successors as president, Samuel Davies (served 1759-1761) and Samuel Finley (1761-1766), were president for a particularly long time, and both died relatively young. They are also buried here, with Davies on the left side of Edwards and Finley on the other side of Davies. It took the school several years to replace Finley, but in 1768 Scottish minister John Witherspoon accepted the position and immigrated to the American colonies. He went on to serve as pastor for more than 25 years, and during this time he was also involved in politics. He was a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress throughout most of the American Revolution, and in this role he signed both the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. Witherspoon remained president of the college until his death in 1794, and he was buried here in the cemetery on the left side of Finley; his gravestone is the fifth from the right side of the row.

The next president after Witherspoon was Samuel Stanhope Smith, who served from 1795 until his resignation in 1812. He is buried beneath the table monument with the pillars, directly to the left of Witherspoon. Beyond Smith’s gravestone is Walter Minto, a mathematics professor who died in 1796. He is one of the few non-presidents who is buried in this plot. Then, beyond Minto’s grave on the far left side of the scene is Ashbel Green, who served as president from 1812 to 1822, and died in 1848. There are several more gravestones beyond Green, including college presidents James Carnahan and John Maclean, but these are in the distance beyond the frame of these photos.

Aside from the college presidents, the other noteworthy burial here is Aaron Burr, whose tall narrow headstone is very different from the flat tables of the presidents. As his headstone indicates, he served as a colonel in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and he was subsequently vice president from 1801 to 1805, during Thomas Jefferson’s first term. However, he is best remembered for having killed Alexander Hamilton, and his reputation was also marred by his involvement in a bizarre plot to establish an independent country in what is now the southwestern United States. He lived in poverty for much of his later life, before marrying a wealthy widow when he was 77. However, they separated for months later, and she subsequently divorced him. Appropriately enough, her lawyer in the case was Alexander Hamilton Jr. Burr died in a Staten Island boarding house in 1836 at the age of 80, and he was interred here next to his parents and grandparents.

The first photo was taken around 1903, more than a century after many of the burials in this scene. Some of the stones appear to have fared poorly over the years, particularly those of Jonathan Edwards and Aaron Burr Sr., both of which are heavily chipped. However, the gravestones appear to have been restored since then, because they are more intact in the present-day scene than they were in 1903. Overall, this section of the cemetery has seen few changes since the first photo was taken, and the only major different in the current photo is the Princeton Public Library, which now stands in the distance on the other side of Wiggins Street.

Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, New York

The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

This church was made famous by Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but the building predates the story by more than a century, and it stands as the second-oldest existing church building in the state of New York. It was built in the late 1690s by Frederick Philipse I, a wealthy Dutch settler who owned a large tract of land along the Hudson River in Westchester County.

Philipse immigrated to New York in the 1650s, about a decade before England gained control of the colony from the Dutch. However, the Dutch landowners here were allowed to retain their property, and by the 1670s he had acquired a significant amount of land, including the modern-day municipalities of Yonkers, Greenburgh, and Mount Pleasant. At the time, there was a small community here in North Tarrytown, including a graveyard here on the left side of this scene. However, the people lacked a permanent church building, so in the late 1690s Philipse had this stone, Dutch Colonial-style church constructed at the southern end of the graveyard for his tenant farmers. By some accounts, Philipse designed the church himself, and he also may have personally assisted with the construction work, including carving the pulpit.

The church is located on the west side of the Albany Post Road, modern-day US Route 9, on a hillside about a hundred yards north of where the road crosses the Pocantico River. During the American Revolution, this area around Sleepy Hollow was a sort of neutral zone, located between British-occupied New York City and the areas to the north, which were controlled by the Continental Army.

One of the most important wartime incidents here occurred in 1780, when Major John André was captured by American forces less than a mile south of the church. He had been returning south after a secret meeting with Benedict Arnold, and upon searching him the Americans discovered documents that incriminated Arnold in a plot to surrender West Point to the British. Arnold was able to evade capture after the plot was exposed, but West Point remained secure and André was subsequently executed as a spy, since he had been behind enemy lines in civilian clothing.

Another significant local event in the war was the Battle of White Plains, which was fought a few miles to the southeast of here in 1776. During the battle, a Hessian soldier was decapitated by an American cannonball, and this is said to have been the inspiration for the Headless Horseman of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” In the story, the narrator describes how, according to legend, the ghostly apparition had lost his head in “some nameless battle” during the war. He was buried here in the graveyard next to this church in Sleepy Hollow, but he would leave every night and travel to the battlefield in search of his head, although he always needed to return to the graveyard by dawn.

By the time Washington Irving published his story in 1820, this church was already over 120 years old. In the story, he emphasized the eerie, isolated location of the church, particularly in this passage:

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees.

The first photo shows the church as it appeared nearly a century later, around 1903. By this point, both the church and its surroundings had undergone changes. The church was damaged by a fire after a lightning strike in 1837, and the repairs included alterations to the building. It was partially restored to its original appearance in the late 19th century, but by then it was no longer in regular use. The congregation had moved to a new building in Tarrytown during the mid-19th century, and the old one here in Sleepy Hollow was subsequently used only for special events.

Also during this period, the land around the church became a new cemetery. Originally named the Tarrytown Cemetery, it was later renamed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at the request of Washington Irving, who was interred here after his death in 1859. Unlike the much older graveyard next to the church, this new cemetery reflected the mid-19th century trend of rural cemeteries. These were typically well-landscaped, with plenty of trees and winding footpaths that followed the contours of the ground, making cemeteries feel more like a park. Aside from Irving, many other prominent people have been buried here in Sleepy Hollow, including industrialist Andrew Carnegie after his death in 1919.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the 320-year-old church is still standing here alongside US Route 9. Remarkably little has changed in the scene during this time, and the building is still owned by the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, which continues to hold events and services here on occasion. Because of its historical significance, along with its literary associations with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the church was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Washington Irving Grave, Sleepy Hollow, New York

The gravesite of Washington Irving in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Washington Irving was the first widely-successful American fiction writer, best known for his short stories such as “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” His lifetime coincided with the early years of the country; he was born in New York City in 1783, just months before the Treaty of Paris, and he died in 1859, less than a year and a half before the start of the Civil War. Throughout this time, he published many works, including short story collections, biographies, and histories. He served in the War of 1812, as recognized by the flag next to his headstone, and many years later he served as the US minister to Spain during the John Tyler administration, from 1842 to 1846.

Although he grew up in New York City, and spent a number of years in Europe, Irving spent much of his later life in the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. In 1835 he purchased Sunnyside, his estate in nearby Tarrytown. With the exception of his time in Spain, it was his home for the rest of his life, and after his death he was buried here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The cemetery is located directly adjacent to the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow and its churchyard, both of which Irving featured in his “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Washington Irving never married, and he had no children, but he is interred here in the cemetery with a number of other family members. When the first photo was taken in the early 20th century, these included his parents William Irving and Sarah Sanders immediately to the left of his gravestone, and his brother Ebenezer Irving and Ebenezer’s wife Elizabeth Kip to the right.

In the second row of the first photo, starting on the left, is Lewis Irving, the grandson of Washington Irving’s older brother William. Further to the right in the second row are Mary and Julia Irving, who were daughters of Ebenezer and Elizabeth Irving. On the far right is William R. Grinnell, the husband of Mary and Julia’s sister Charlotte. The two rounded headstones in the back row are Julia Granger and her husband Sanders Irving, and to the right are Amanda Tenant and her husband Edgar Irving. Both Sanders and Edgar were sons of Ebenezer and Elizabeth. There is also a flag in the back row, which might be a temporary marker for Washington Irving, the son of Edgar and Amanda, who died in 1910. The first photo was taken around this time, so it may have been taken after he died but before a permanent stone was installed.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much of this scene has remained the same; even the pine tree in the background appears to be the same one in both photos. However, the headstones are significantly more weathered than they had been in the early 20th century, and there have been several more interments here in the Irving family plot. Immediately behind and to the right of Washington Irving’s headstone is Catherine Irving, the last surviving child of Ebenezer and Elizabeth, who died in 1911 at the age of 95.

In the back row is the headstone of the younger Washington Irving, in the place of the flag from the first photo. Further to the left in the back row is his sister, Mary Irving Huntington. She died in 1932 at the age of 82, and hers is the most recent headstone in this scene. She was ten years old when her famous great uncle died in 1859, so she may have been the last living member of the family who would have had memories of Washington Irving.

George Washington’s Tomb, Mount Vernon, Virginia

George Washington’s tomb, at his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The tomb in 2018:

George Washington died on December 14, 1799, here on his Mount Vernon estate. Four days later, his body was interred in the Washington family crypt, which was located just down the hill from his mansion, on the banks of the Potomac River. This was intended to be only a temporary tomb for Washington, as there were several different plans for his final resting place. One proposal was to bury him underneath the Capitol rotunda, and a crypt was even constructed for this purpose. However, a different plan called for Washington to be reinterred in a new, larger tomb at Mount Vernon.

It would ultimately take more than three decades for this question to be resolved, and it was only addressed after a rather bizarre act of vandalism. In 1830, a gardener, who had been recently fired from his job at Mount Vernon, decided to respond by stealing George Washington’s skull. He broke into the tomb, which was filled with the remains of at least 20 members of the family, but he ended up taking the wrong skull. Washington’s body was left undisturbed, and the perpetrator was quickly caught, but the incident highlighted the need for a new tomb that was more fitting for the father of his country

The result was this brick tomb, as shown in these two photos. It was completed in 1831, and George and Martha Washington’s remains were subsequently moved here, along with the remains of the other family members. Then, in 1837, he was placed in a marble sarcophagus, which can be seen just beyond the right side of the gate. In the process, his coffin was opened for the only time, perhaps in order to verify that his head was still in place, and observers noted that his body had been well-preserved over the intervening 38 years.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the tomb had been joined by two obelisks at the front. The one on the right memorializes George Washington’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, who had inherited Mount Vernon upon Martha Washington’s death in 1802. He was also an associate justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, serving from 1798 until his death in 1829. The other obelisk is for John Augustine Washington II and his son, John Augustine Washington III. The elder John was a nephew of Bushrod Washington, and inherited Mount Vernon from him. The younger John later inherited the estate from his father, and he was the last member of the Washington family to own it before selling it to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1858.

Today, almost nothing has changed in this scene in nearly 120 years since the first photo was taken. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association continues to own the property, which includes the mansion, its many outbuildings, the surrounding grounds, and the tomb. The estate was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, exactly a hundred years after it opened to the public as a museum, and today it remains a popular tourist attraction, with around one million visitors each year.

Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia

The Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built over a period of 15 years between 1803 and 1818, and it was originally the home of George Washington Parke Custis. Born in 1781, Custis was the grandson of Martha Washington, from her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis. His father, John Parke “Jacky” Custis, had died when George Washington Parke Custis was only a few months old, and George and Martha subsequently raised him as their adopted son. George Washington died in 1799, and Martha in 1802, leaving Custis a significant inheritance. Also in 1802, Custis turned 21, thus inheriting a fortune in money and land from his late father.

Among his father’s land holdings was an 1,100-acre estate on the Potomac River, overlooking the newly-established national capital of Washington. He named the property Arlington, and soon began construction on a mansion, which would become known as Arlington House. For the design, he hired George Hadfield, a noted architect who was responsible for several important buildings in Washington. The exterior of the house featured a very early example of Greek Revival architecture, with its most distinctive feature being the eight large columns here on the front portico. Although it appears to be built of sandstone and marble, the exterior is actually stucco-covered brick, which was intended to give it the appearance of stone.

The War of 1812 delayed construction of the house, but it was completed in 1818. Custis and his wife, Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, would go on to live here for the rest of their lives, until her death in 1853 and his in 1857. They had four children, although only one, Mary Anna Randolph Curtis, lived to adulthood. In 1831, at the age of 23, she married 24-year-old army officer Robert E. Lee, in a ceremony that was held here at Arlington House. It would be their home for the next 30 years, during which time Lee steadily rose in rank from a lieutenant to a colonel in the United States Army. He served in the Mexican-American War, and more than a decade later he led the group of soldiers that suppressed John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.

Lee’s wife Mary inherited Arlington House after her father’s death in 1857, but the family did not get to enjoy the property for much longer. On April 16, 1861, four days after the attack on Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the main Union army. However, Virginia declared its secession the following day, and Lee declined the offer. Instead, he resigned his commission in the the United States Army and joined the Confederate States Army, where he would command the Army of Northern Virginia for most of the war.

In the meantime, Arlington House quickly became a target for Union forces who were defending Washington. Because of its prominent location overlooking the city, it was imperative that it not fall into Confederate hands. The house was seized on May 24, 1861, and it subsequently became the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. Despite this occupation, though, the Lee family formally continued to own the house until 1864, when it was taken by the federal government for nonpayment of taxes.

Later in 1864, with the Union needing more space to bury soldiers killed in the war, the property became Arlington National Cemetery. Part of the intention behind this move was to forever deprive Lee of the use of the estate, and to that end many of the early burials were right near the house. The first interment occurred on May 13, and thousands more would follow in the remaining 11 months of the war. These included the remains of 2,111 unidentified Union and Confederate soldiers, whose remains were collected from various battlefields. They were buried in a vault behind and to the left of the house, and the spot is marked by the Civil War Unknowns Monument.

Following the war, neither Robert E. Lee nor Mary Lee ever attempted to reclaim the title of the estate, although their oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, successfully sued for its return. However, not interested in living in the middle of a cemetery, he then sold the property back to the federal government in 1883 for $150,000. In the ensuing years, though, the government directed most of its attention to the cemetery itself, with little concern for the mansion. By the time the first photo was taken around 1900, the house was largely unused, and the immediate grounds had been heavily altered from their prewar appearance.

The mansion was finally restored in the late 1920s, although the original focus was on the Custis family, as opposed to the Lees. However, in 1955 the house was renamed the Custis-Lee Mansion, and then in 1972 it became Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, thus placing a greater emphasis on Lee’s connection to the house. It has remained in use as a museum since then, although it was closed for renovations in early 2018, a few months before the first photo was taken. As part of this project, the house will be restored to its 1860 appearance, and the slave quarters and surrounding grounds will also be restored. The work will cost an estimated $12.35 million, and it is scheduled to be completed in January 2020.

Dwight L. Moody Gravesite, Northfield, Mass

The graves of Dwight and Emma Moody, at Round Top on the campus of the former Northfield School, around 1910. Image from All About Northfield (1910).

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in the previous post, the 19th century evangelist Dwight L. Moody was born here in Northfield, in a farmhouse that still stands just to the south of here, at the corner of Moody Street and Highland Avenue. Moody lived in Northfield until 1854, when, as a teenager, he moved to Boston and worked in his uncle’s boot and shoe store. He would not return to live permanently in Northfield until 1876, by which point he had become a world-renowned evangelist. He and his wife Emma subsequently purchased a house at the foot of this hill, on Main Street, and they lived there for the rest of their lives. During that time, Moody established the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, a private school for girls that was located on a campus behind his house.

Dwight L. Moody died on December 22, 1899, and was buried, in accordance with his wishes, on this knoll, known as Round Top. Located just 300 yards to the north of his birthplace, this spot provides dramatic views of the Connecticut River Valley and the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside. Northfield is located at the tri-point of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, so all three of these states are visible from the hill, although it is the Green Mountains of Vermont that dominate the background of this particular scene. Moody was buried here on December 26, and his grave was marked with a headstone that reads “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” His wife Emma died four years later, in 1903, and was buried beside her husband on the right side of the photo, with an inscription on her headstone that reads “His servants shall serve him, and they shall reign for ever and ever.”

In 1912, only a few years after the first photo was taken, the Northfield Seminary acquired a one-quarter ownership of the gravesite, with Moody’s heirs owning the remaining three quarters. The school later merged with the nearby Mount Hermon School for Boys, which had also been founded by Moody, and became the Northfield Mount Herman School. Both campuses continued to be used for many years, but in 2005 the Northfield campus was closed, and most of the property was sold. However, the school still retains its ownership interest in the plot here on Round Top, and very little has changed in this scene more than a century after the first photo was taken.