The Tappan Cemetery is owned and operated by the Tappan Reformed Church and was established in 1694. It is the oldest “nondenominational” Cemetery in Rockland County and one of the oldest in the United States. Although historic, this cemetery is still open and fully operational.
Our Cemetery is rich in history, boasting members of the armed forces from most of the world conflicts that the U.S. has entered, dating back to the Revolutionary war. Grave stones from the Revolution can be seen if touring our historic sections of the Cemetery and markers for veterans of the Civil, WWI, WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars can be seen while walking throughout the acreage of our property.
There is also a portion of our cemetery off the North end of our Sanctuary that is the resting place of slaves to our founding fathers. It is said, that at the end of the Centennial year in 1876, there were solid rows of red sand stone head stones in what was once an “enclosure then separated”. Only two of those head stones remain today but from our records “There seemed to have been a family pride with the old fathers that the resting place of their slave should not go unmarked”. As of the 1923 records there had been five of the head stones still remaining and one stone near the street (which today is no longer there) read the inscription:
In Memory Of Samuel Harris, Of the Estate, Johaunes T. Harris, Died July 16-1822
Our fathers felt that in “the receiving of the slave, they were really doing an act of mercy, comparing his lot here, with his lot, as they understood it to be, in his native Africa. They did not consider him as an animal nor as a chattel, but as a ward, inferior to themselves, it is true, whom they must protect and care for. In return for which the services given by the slave was only right and proper. They allowed the slave a place in God’s house of Worship, they set with him at the Communion Table, thereby acknowledging a common brotherhood; at the death he also slept in ‘God’s Acre’ in a place set aside for him, among those the black man loved.”
The original graves that are in the north end of our Sanctuary were established early in our vast history, “where no price was paid” as many of the founding families of the Tappan Reformed Church felt that the properties of the church were “truly God’s Acres” and because our Dutch forefathers held our church as their common property; their interest in it and love for it, as members who were aging “entitled” them to be buried on the grounds at no cost, as they would have been, if they had been buried, as was the common practice at the time, on their own personal property.
Much can be learned upon walking the grounds of our cemetery. We have family sites of many of Rockland’s founding fathers such as the Harring’s and the Blauvelt’s. We have areas that are unmarked for the many remains of buried infants and indigents. There is an area of plots from the German Masonic Home that once resided nearby; along with our “celebrities” of John G. Bell, a local taxidermist, who accompanied Mr. Audubon on excursions and taught a young President Theodore Roosevelt Taxidermy. There is a German soldier who flew planes against the American armies that had been captured and kept in “jail’ at Camp Shanks during WWII. Upon his release he felt that he had been so well treated by the Americans that he became a US Citizen and settled and raised his family here in Tappan.
Throughout our 314+ years of history you can see the many changes of times and economics, from the grandiose statues and family plots of the earlier and Victorian years to the sparse headstones in our section 21/12 (named this due to the secretaries dyslexia; 50% of the plots listed as sect 21 and 50% listed as section 12), this section has many unmarked graves as it was active during the 1930’s & 40’s or “during the great depression”. People at this time could barely pay for a grave let alone a headstone or marker. Records of who are buried in this section are also sketchy as the “Cemetery Superintendant” at the time kept his records in his head and rarely wrote them down “cause he knew where everyone was buried!”
We have a memorial section in our cemetery where only ground level markers are permitted. This is where you will find most of our service men and women, but not limited to, and on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day you can truly feel the American pride as it becomes a sea of US Flags in honor of their service to our country.
The newest addition to the cemetery and an alternate to burial is the recently opened Cremation Garden. In a garden-like setting, ashed are placed and sealed in a covered niche. Each niche is individually memorialized with a metal plaque.
If you really do enjoy walking through peaceful historical surroundings and reading its history; walk the Tappan Cemetery! In the “Old Section” you can read the headstone of our murder victim which actually lists the name of his murderer. You can also read the headstone of a young daughter which has the following poem inscribed on it:
Death now no more I dread / But Cheerful close mine eyes / Death is a sleep, the grave a bed / With Jesus I shall Rise
As our mission states: “We are a Place of Beauty Forever”
We have a Beautification Fund which helps us to consistently beautify and improve our cemetery. This is done by donations of benches and evergreens in memory or in honor of loved ones, the donation of bird houses for the trees throughout our property that exhibit color and life to the trees during the barren winter months. Monetary donations are always welcome.
As an operational Cemetery there are always rules and regulations that need to be followed in order for us to remain as a quiet and beautiful resting place for our loved ones. These can be obtained though the Cemetery Office at 845-359-1330. We recently opened the final sections of our cemetery for purchase and burial, the last of which opened in the Spring of 2009.
Tours of our cemetery are offered for a small donation to small groups and are lead by our current Superintendent. They are not only informative and historical but you will find them very entertaining as you also learn cemetery trivia during your tour.
The Tappan Cemetery operates year round with office hours of Tuesday and Wednesday (except holidays) from 9 AM to 11:30 AM or by appointment.