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Vault Hill

Upon the death of Frederick Van Cortlandt in 1749, the family burial grounds were established on what has become known as Vault Hill in Van Cortlandt Park. The burial vault held the remains of many Van Cortlandt family members who were interred there until the land became a public park in 1888. After that time, the family purchased a large plot in nearby Woodlawn Cemetery.

Frederick died before the completion of his new manor home, the Van Cortlandt House, and his estate passed to his eldest son, 13–year–old James. At the onset of the Revolutionary War, City Clerk Augustus Van Cortlandt, James’s younger brother, was told by the Provincial Congress to find a safe place to secure the city records for fear that they might be destroyed during the British occupation of New York. In August 1776, Augustus wrote to his cousin John Jay that he had taken advantage of a visit to his ailing mother in Westchester to hide the records in the family burial vault.

Before they were permanently sealed, a bronze plaque was hung on each vault, one for the Van Cortlandt family and one for the Bailey family. The Baileys were a prominent family in the borough’s early history. In addition, the Rev. Luke Babcock, rector of St. John’s Church in Yonkers was buried here. He served as Frederick Van Cortlandt’s pastor. In 1890, Parks gained authority to issue all permits for repairs and restorations to Vault Hill. During the 1960s, the grounds were vandalized and headstones and markers were removed.

The square, stone–walled vault entrance is situated on a steep ridge of Fordham Gneiss, surrounded by the flats of the park’s Parade Ground to the south and west, and the Tibbetts Brook valley and Van Cortlandt Golf Course to the east. The rocky outcrops on Vault Hill rise 169 feet above sea level and offer an inspiring view of the Parade Ground and, on a clear day, the skyscrapers of Manhattan.